Sunday, March 07, 2010

Anne Rockwell's BIG GEORGE: HOW A SHY BOY BECAME PRESIDENT WASHINGTON

Several years ago, Anne Rockwell wrote a book called Thanksgiving Day. Reading it as a Native mother and scholar in American Indian Studies, Thanksgiving Day book is a mess. Rockwell seems not to know that a lot of American Indian people call that day "Thankstaking" or "A day of mourning." In that book, one of her characters, playing the part of a Pilgrim, says (bold is mine):
Michiko was thankful that she and all the other Pilgrims were greeted kindly by the Wampanoag people, who shared the land with them.

Last year, that word "shared" appeared in her picture book biography, Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington (published in 2008 by Harcourt). On the opening page, she writes (bold is mine):

Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America.

In the one called Virginia, a tall boy loved to get on his horse and gallop through the woods alone. He wasn't afraid of bears, or wolves, or the native hunters with bows and arrows who shared those woods.

Sharing is a big part of what we teach children in early childhood classrooms. Hence, the sharing aspect in both of these books work well in those settings.  Course, in those settings we're talking about a toy, or a book, or a special chair. Rockwell is talking about something else completely. The land and woods she's referring to are not the same thing as a toy, or a book, or a special chair.

Note that in the Thanksgiving Day excerpt above, Rockwell says the Pilgrims were greeted "kindly" by the Wampanoag people. In text and illustration of the book, it looks like the Pilgrims and Wampanoags were great friends! Course, by then, the historical record shows, the Wampanoags were familiar with the ways of the Europeans.

In Big George, Rockwell tells her readers that the woods are dangerous... The young George has to be mindful of bears, wolves, and Native hunters with bows and arrows.  Putting Indians-to-be-feared in the same sentence as animals-to-be-feared is a common thing for writers to do. It is, however, a problem, because it equates Indian people with animals. Laura Ingalls Wilder did it, too, in Little House on the Prairie way back in 1935, but Rockwell repeats that error 74 years later. When will that stop?

Let's look at the sentence again...

He wasn't afraid of [...] the native hunters with bows and arrows who shared those woods.

Doesn't make sense, does it? Why should he be afraid of Indians who share the woods with George?

Please see Part 2 of my analysis of Big George.

5 comments:

Big Tootles said...

You raised a very good point at the end. How can you share with someone you are afraid of? Unfortunately, very few people would catch that fact. Thank you for bringing this issue to light.

soonerscotty said...

I haven't read the Thanksgiving book, but the fact there's a Pilgrim named "Michiko" should be a gigantic red flag to anyone whether you know the Native version of the story or not.

Sounds like a crap story from both sides of the feast.

Debbie Reese said...

Soonerscotty,

Michiko is a child in the classroom, playing the part of a Pilgrim girl. Rockwell's book features a diverse classroom, all coming together to put on a Thanksgiving play.

My critique is here:
http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2007/11/anne-rockwells-thanksgiving-day.html

Shell said...

I see your point, but I think the comment about natives with bows should have been broadened to hunters. I'd be just as afraid of hunters as those animals, and possibly more so. Hunters are planning to aim at moving things, after all, whether they are Native or not.

soonerscotty said...

Oh, well that makes sense then...at least that part.