May 8, 2006
I started this blog in May. This is my second post.
A reader asked (in comments to first post) if I know the work of Ani Rucki. I don't know Rucki's work.
It is the case that there's a boatload of children's books about American Indians out there. Kate Shanley, an enrolled Assiniboine woman from the Fort Peck reservation and professor of Native American Studies at the University of Montana-Missoula, has a terrific article in which she talks about "the Indians America loves to love." That love drives a lot of people to write what they think are stories about American Indians. Their stories, however, are based on pop culture and romantic/savage ideas about who we are. (Note: Shanley's article is called "The Indians America Loves to Love and Read," in AMERICAN INDIAN QUARTERLY, 1997, p. 675-702.)
I don't know anything about Rucki, but my experience has taught me that, chances are, any given children's book about American Indians has major flaws.
I've been studying and writing about children's books about American Indians since 1994 when I began work on my PhD. Prior to that, I taught elementary and middle school in New Mexico and Oklahoma. I am tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. I was raised there, and return home for the usual (weddings/funerals), but also for religious and spiritual gatherings.
As a schoolteacher, I taught my students about bias and stereotypes, about how books can be wrong. In graduate school, I honed my research and critical analysis skills. I've learned a great deal from others. Some key books include:
Slapin and Seale's THROUGH INDIAN EYES: THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Seale and Slapin's A BROKEN FLUTE: THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Kathleen Horning's COVER TO COVER
Betsy Hearne's two articles CITE THE SOURCE and RESPECT THE SOURCE
Below are some of the questions I have in my head whenever I sit down to analyze a Native story that is called a folktale. I invite conversation/discussion with readers of the blog about the questions.
When I consider a folktale, some things I look for are:
1) Is the person listed as the author listed as a "reteller"? That is, on the cover and/or on the title page, is the book "By Ani Rucki" or "Retold by Ani Rucki."
2) In the author's note, or in a source note, does Rucki say where she heard the story, or what source she found it in?
3) If Rucki provides info about her source, does she provide enough detail so that I could find the source if I wanted to?
4) In the author's note, does Rucki tell the reader the ways in which she changed/edited the story and why?
5) In a couple of reviews, there is mention that this is a Navajo folktale. How is that information provided in the book? Is it implied in the story itself or stated on the cover or title page?
I hope readers of the blog are interested in conversation about the questions I've listed above. My first post was a list of books, but my goal is for others to learn how to critically evaluate children's books about American Indians. With such skills, you own that knowledge and can carry and apply it with you wherever you go.
Before you leave this post, take a look at Headlines at National Native News and once there, click on "Today In History.".