Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Proceed with Caution: Using Native American Folktales in the Classroom"

The January 2007 issue of Language Arts, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, is out. In it is "Proceed with Caution: Using Native American Folktales in the Classroom," an article I wrote. In it, I discuss the ways that American Indian story is appropriated and distorted when authors retell those stories in picture books for children.

Specifically, I discuss McDermott's Arrow to the Sun, Pollock's Turkey Girl: A Zuni Cinderella Story, and Rodanas's Dragonfly's Tale. All three are widely available in bookstores, public and school libraries. But, all three are deeply flawed. Good stories, perhaps, but they provide little value in terms of informing readers about Pueblo Indians. And as many of you know, teachers often use children's books like these to teach their students about, in this case, Pueblo Indians.

Have you used one of these books in your teaching? Do you have it in your library? I hope the article is helpful to you, and that you view these books and others like them in a different way after reading the article.

I'll say again, I do not blame any teacher for embracing these books. We're all products of a society that romanticizes American Indians. That can change, though, and this article is one tool you can use to bring about that change.

1 comment:

jpm said...

Elsewhere I have mentioned Dovie Thomason's essay that appears in Seale and Slapin's A Broken Flute: the Native Experience in Books for Children. In Dovie's essay, she talks about being part of an audience that had come to hear a noted children's author speak. This author, whose identity, including gender, remain discretely confidential, is one who has made a career of "retelling" traditional tales from other people's cultures. Dovie says, "It couldn't be said that this Noted Children's Author had made a career from appropriating Indian stories -- it was everybody's stories that had built him or her a successful career." When she realizes that no one else is going to call the Noted Author on this practice of appropriation, Dovie asks The Questions: "What is your position on the appropriateness of your writing your own version of these stories and creating your career and reputation off of them?" The response, Dovie notes, appeared to have been well-rehearsed (apparently the author had been asked that before) but of course wasn't really an answer. I'm not doing justice to this essay. Its on pp. 6-7 in Broken Flute. It's pertinent to the issue Debbie raised. Read and enjoy, read and learn!