Friday, May 01, 2009

Barbara Cooney's MISS RUMPHIUS

Though it is much loved and winner of an American Book Award, every time I think of Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius, the image that I recall is not the lovely lupines she walks amongst... Instead, I remember the page with three Indians. Did you see them?

Update: Try really hard to remember them... and if you can't, I've uploaded the page at my Images site.

Here's the image (added to AICL on September 20, 2012, 9:40 AM CST):

(Source for image:

And, here's the text for that page (also added on Sept 20, 2012):

Now he worked in the shop at the bottom of the house, making figureheads for the prows of ships, and carving Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores.
Source: Oklahoma Historical Society
Noted Creek writer, Alexander Lawrence Posey, said that the cigar store Indians "are the product of a white mans's factory, and bear no resemblance to the real article." Posey died in 1908. Is Cooney wrong for including this information in her book? It is factual as Cooney wrote it--carvers of that time period did carve figureheads for ships and wooden Indians, too--but given that Miss Rumphius was published in 1982 and the information about these carvings being stereotypical is quite old, perhaps she could have inserted "stereotypical" in front of "Indians." If she had done that, it would read:

"Now he worked in the shop at the bottom of the house, making figureheads for the prows of ships and carving stereotypical Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores."

Course, if she did that, the story wouldn't be as charming, but it would be more accurate, and it could prompt teachers, parents, and librarians to address stereotypes whenever they read the book to children.


Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Library said...

Don't know how to think about this one. I gather it's more or less really about her Great Aunt Alice.
She could have left her multi-great grandfather's cigar store figures out of her story, but probably didn't invent them gratuitously. We can't know what she might show if she were drawing it today.

If you noticed them, so will other Native American parents and children. I sure didn't, but I came to the book as an adult. Do you think it is harming the subliminal awareness of non-native kids?

Debbie Reese said...

One book can't do anything all by itself, but it dovetails with a lot of other similar representations that seem to go unnoticed.

These fit into the positive, noble Indian stereotype. There are cigar store Indians today, in restaurants and cigar stores, and some of you may remember seeing one in an episode of Seinfeld.

Anonymous said...

On the other blog someone commented that they were "shocked" to see cigar store indians in the story. My response is "Why would you be shocked?" They were something that was rather common back when the book was set. I don't see the problem.