Monday, August 14, 2006


A reader (Amanda) wrote to me about Indian Bunny, a picture book she found in her local public library. In the story, a bunny decides he wants to be an Indian. According to the Library of Congress catalog, Indian Bunny (written and illustrated by Ruth Bornstein) was first published in 1973 by Childrens Press. But, as Amanda found out, it was republished in 2003 with a new title. It went from Indian Bunny to Brave Bunny. Why the change from "Indian" to "Brave"?!

Other than the title, it is the same book. At the Amazon site, you can get the older one in a used copy. There are three reviews which say in part:
"Despite what some would consider a politically incorect titile, INDIAN BUNNY is a sweet story that young chilren enjoy and instills in them a small amount of respect for cultures other than their own."
"A very pro-native American (and pro-Pagan) introduction for the very young. "
"This was my first and favorite book in the world! It is a simply written and illustrated tale of a bunny who decides, one day, that he wishes to be an Indian. His story unfolds accordingly, along the banks of streams, and in fields and trees where he meets and befriends sacred animals and practices the ancient ways. The beauty of the story is its simplicity and profound sense of respect and mystery. It is a gentle spiritual quest suitable for even the youngest children or early readers. I still love it!"

Of course, bunnies appear frequently in children's books, and there is at least one very popular book that features bunnies dressing up like Indians. Ten Little Rabbits by Virginia Grossman came out in 1991. The illustrations (by Sylvia Long) are attractive. No doubt, some view the title as a clever take-off on "Ten Little Indians" which many children still sing in their pre-school classrooms.

It is a counting book, so (by definition), each page features a numeral and objects to count. In this case, the objects for counting are rabbits dressed in the regalia (note I did not say 'costume')* of a specific tribal nation. I urge readers---especially Native ones---to take a look at the book. Is your tribe represented? Is it correctly represented?

As some of you may know, I am Pueblo Indian, tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico. In Ten Little Rabbits, there is a page intended to show Pueblo Indians. On that page, two male rabbits are shown dancing in Pueblo-like attire, standing in front of an adobe wall. But! They are shown facing each other, and there are only two of them (this is the page for the numeral two). There are no dances at Nambe that are done that way.

At the end of the book is a double-page spread (two pages facing each other) that have "information" about each tribe depicted in the book. I deliberately put "information" in quotation marks, because the "information" about Pueblo people is wrong. Grossman says that we "stage" a dance in which the male dancers "leap and stamp to wake up the spirits."

Sadly, this "information" makes the book more attractive to parents and teachers who are trying to bring accurate and authentic books to the classroom. I'm sure that Grossman and Long didn't intend to dupe their readers, but I think they've done all children a disservice. Once again, Native people are objectified (one little, two little....), and these gorgeous illustrations and "information" add to the already too-big pile of hooey that passes for knowledge about American Indians.

Next time you're in your local library, see if Ten Little Rabbits is on the shelf. If you're willing, approach the librarian, and point out problems with the book. It has FACTUAL errors. In my view, it should be weeded (pulled off the shelf and taken out of circulation).

If you're interested in reading more about Ten Little Rabbits, see Theresa L. McCarty's article "What's Wrong with Ten Little Rabbits?" published in 1995 in a journal called The New Advocate (volume 8, #2, page 98).

1 comment:

Rinda M. Byers said...

Just wantd to say that twenty years ago, when I taught preschool, I taught my little ones in my class to sing "One, Little, Two, Little Three Little Bunnies..." if they heard "Ten Little Indians." Ineveitably, they will be exposed to the "Indian" version, and I wanted them to experience how much more fun my bunny version (we could wiggle ears and bunny pufftails and hop all around and really have fun.)so they could have an ACTIVE alternative to sing and do and show off to others.
(Last line goes Ten littel bunny boys and girls!) it all fits in if you do the rhythm right)
Just a simple idea