Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Pueblo" in Shoulders and Brannen's THE ABC BOOK OF AMERICAN HOMES

This morning, I am looking (online) at the "P" page in Michael Shoulders and Sarah S. Brannen's picture book, The ABC Book of American Homes.

The text reads:

P is for Pueblo. These communal homes were invented by the Pueblo Indians of America's Southwest. Pueblos are apartment-like dwellings with thick walls of adobe, a mixture of dirt, clay, and straw. Since pueblos are made of earthen materials, rain can damage them. For that reason, pueblos are built in very dry places. Although some pueblos are painted, many owners leave them their natural color. These pueblos blend into their surroundings as if they sprang from the earth.

Reading that Pueblo Indians "invented" this style of dwelling sounds odd. Is that word used to describe the structures cultures of the world created? Maybe so. I have to look into it.

Shoulders and Brannen's description of adobe walls is not wrong, but it isn't right either. The walls are made of dirt, clay, and straw. But how? These are raw materials, but just how do they become walls?

I know the answer to that question because I helped my father and grandfather make adobe bricks. We made thousands for the home that my parents live in today. "Dirt, clay, and straw" is only partially correct. The "dirt" in New Mexico has a lot of clay in it. We use dirt, sand, and straw. I know the straw makes the adobe brick hold together better, much like rebar strengthens cement. I assume the sand does the same thing, but I'd have to ask my dad. (Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know that I am tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Nambe is a couple of hours away from Taos.)

Because the adobe brick (and the walls) have a lot of clay in them, they are actually quite resistant to water. New Mexico is considered to be a dry place, but it does rain and snow a lot. The adobe brick walls are plastered with an adobe plaster. Though rain does erode the plaster and it can get to the adobe bricks beneath, repairs are simple.

Shoulders and Brannen say that, due to the problems of rain, pueblos are built in 'very dry places.' That doesn't make sense. It suggests that the pueblo people tried to build adobe homes in other places but decided they could only be built in a dry place, so, they (Pueblo people), wanting to make homes out of adobe, had to look for a dry place to build them. That's backwards. Any culture, any people, anywhere around the world, builds with resources at-hand.

The text says "some pueblos are painted."  As I read the text, the use of "pueblos" is incorrect. Its used indiscriminately. A more correct use would be "some pueblo homes" are painted. Pueblo is the entire village, not just the structure. The book is showing Taos Pueblo. Most of the structures like the one they show are hundreds of years old and generally speaking they have an adobe mud plaster that cannot be painted. Walls that are painted today are those that are plastered with a cement-based stucco.

As I study the illustration, it is obvious that the illustrator is depicting Taos Pueblo, located in northern New Mexico. Cues are the mountains in the background, and the blue doors and windows on some of the homes.  Errors in the illustration include:

  • If you study photographs of Taos, you will see that most of those blue doors are screendoors, not front doors. The homes have both---screen doors, and front doors, and windows with glass and screens over those glass windows. One might argue that it is a small distinction, but, the illustration in ABC Book of American Homes also includes children in present-day clothing, so, it is reasonable to show the screen doors. I notice this particular aspect of the doors because in a lot of tourist brochures, items like screens, glass windows, telephone wires and the like are photo-shopped out of the image in order to portray a more "untouched by civilization" image.

  • The logs that protrude from the upper section of the walls are vigas (beams) that support the roof. The home in the foreground on the "P" page has tiny logs protruding, and most of the ones in the background have none at all.

  • The illustrator put way too many ladders in the illustrations. One way I can interpret that is that Shoulders/Brannen thought that every family would have a ladder all their own rather than sharing one ladder amongst several families. The idea of 'community' is lost.

My analysis of this page might seem picky, but these small details add up, on this page, and to the already-massive body of misinformation about American Indians.

It would not have been difficult to get these items right. I don't have the book itself, so my comments are specific to a single page in the book.