Monday, June 18, 2007

Debbie and Michael Shoulders' D IS FOR DRUM: A NATIVE AMERICAN ALPHABET

Some time ago, I received a copy of D is for Drum: A Native American Alphabet by Debbie and Michael Shoulders. Right away I groaned. The cover shows a Pueblo Indian Buffalo Dance. Or rather, it attempts to show that dance, but gets it wrong. Any of you who've seen our Buffalo Dance will recall that the male dancers move in unison, as one. It isn't the case that one would face one direction and another would face a different way, as shown.

Moreover, the Buffalo Dances done by the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos typically include women dancers. There is usually a buffalo at the front, and then a woman, and then a buffalo and then a woman. Four dancers.

Toddy's illustration of each dancer is correct---as far as attire is concerned---and I really like that. And he shows the correct kind of drum we use, and a drumstick held by the drummer (too many illustrations incorrectly show Native people playing a drum with the hand, which is incorrect).

Toddy also shows people in the background, watching the dance. That is accurate, too. Family and tribal members and tourists both watch, but this watching is more akin to a gathering of people in a church. What is being 'watched' is not performance. It is prayer. Tourists and non-tribal people who gather generally know NOT to clap (thank goodness!). I don't know what they feel or experience. I hope they don't use the word "primal" to describe what they feel when they hear the drumbeat. I imagine they feel some of what I do when I'm in a church where a magnificent pipe organ is being played.

As for what is inside the book, below is Beverly Slapin's review of D is for Drum. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.

____________________

Shoulders, Debbie and Michael, D is for Drum: A Native American Alphabet, illustrated by Irving Toddy (Diné). Sleeping Bear Press, 2006. Unpaginated, color illustrations, grades k-4.

This title presents a mishmash of Indian cultural snippets, presented alphabetically and in rhyme, paired with side panels that purport to offer more information about each topic. Abysmally written, with trite error-laden rhymes and boring yet confusing “informational” text, the poor attempts at iambic pentameter highlight this cockamamie piece of dreck, typical of the quality of work of a press known for its picture books of made-up “Indian legends” that have become best sellers in Michigan and the Great Lakes Area.

The text veers between past and present tense, the selections are illogical and odd, and the rhymes are even odder:
Native Names are important words.They’re given to newborns with care.Honi means wolf, Woya means dove,and Nita is Choctaw for bear.
Toddy’s artwork, for the most part, is better than the text. But most of the faces lack individuality and bodies are distorted, there’s an eagle feather fan lying on the ground, and the horses look like they’re starving.

Finally, it shouldn’t have to be said that there is no such thing as “a Native American alphabet.” Perceiving some 600 nations of people as one giant ethnic group is as ridiculous as, say:
O is for Original Sin: A Fundamentalist Christian Convert AlphabetS is for Shetyl: An Eastern European Immigrant AlphabetP is for Polyester: A Suburban Episcopalian Alphabet
—Beverly Slapin

3 comments:

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I love "P is for Polyester: A Suburban Episcopalian Alphabet." That said, as I go through your current and archived posts, it strikes me as odd that, over and over, the non-Native authors aren't consulting people who are actually knowledgable about what the authors are attempting to write. It's embarrassing, and I don't understand why, with all of the resources available (including your own excellent blog), people are still just making stuff up.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

P.S. One of the alternative books would actually be "S is for Shtetl," not shetl.;)

Beverly Slapin said...

Hi, Alkelda—

As an alternative book, "S is for Shtetl" (the place) would have been a good example, too. I meant "S is for Sheytl" (the wig). In any event, it was a typo. Good catch.