Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Censorship of WANJA, a Picture Book by an Indigenous Australian Author/Illustrator

On Tuesday (August 17, 2010), listservs and Facebook were buzzing about author Pete Hautman's blog post, "The Nasty Thing in the Corner" wherein he talks about Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank and Impulse, being dis-invited to a Texas book festival because of the content of her young adult novels. Hautman's piece is definitely worth reading. Some of my colleagues in children's literature plan to add it to their required readings this coming semester.

The next day, I got an email from Katherine in the UK who reads American Indians in Children's Literature.  She thought I might be interested in Nigel Pearn's "Teaching children to read the Aboriginal world." She was right.

Pearn's article was published on August 18, 2010, in an Australian publication called Eureka Street. I'm unfamiliar with the publication, but really like Pearn's article. Like Hautman's blog post, it is about censorship. In Hautman's case, it was the author being dis-invited to a festival. In Pearn's article, it is about a book being removed from an Australian library.

The book at the center of Pearn's article is called Wanja, One Smart Dog. For some reason, I'm unable to upload the cover, but you can read the entire book online at Indij Readers.  As I clicked around the site, I see a lot of books I'd love to read. I'm glad to know about this publisher...  From their website:

Indij Readers is an innovative and unique, not-for-profit company that develops and publishes contemporary, Indigenous literacy materials for Indigenous and non Indigenous students learning to read and write. Indij Readers Ltd is listed on the Australian Register of Cultural Organisations and donations to Indij Readers are tax deductible.

Indij Readers For Big Fullas and Little Fullas is a collection of literacy acquisition classroom stories, accompanying teachers’ guides and other support materials (CD/audio, VHS/DVD film). The collection comprises stories from urban and rural communities around NSW and Victoria.

The aim of Indij Readers’ stories is twofold: to help students learn to read; and to encourage and support teachers to explore with their students, contemporary Indigenous perspectives and issues, and thus progress Reconciliation in Australia. The stories deal in a relaxed and often amusing way with issues that affect the lives of all children: culture, family, self esteem, pride, setting goals and working toward them, good health, humour, tolerance and school attendance.
Their authors and illustrators are from Indigenous communities in Australia. Wanja, One Smart Dog is written by Aunty Barbara Stacey and illustrated by Adam Hill. You can read their bios here. Reading bios of other authors and illustrators there increases my interest in Indij Readers.  

As I started looking into the controversy over the book, I learned that Wanja was a real dog. He lived in "The Block" --- a neighborhood in downtown Sydney --- with the author, Aunty Barbara Stacey. In 2008, a documentary was made about the Block. You can view the trailer here. (Like the cover of the book, I'm having trouble with this upload!!!)

According to Pearne, parents thought the book is inappropriate because it teaches kids that police are bad. We would agree, I think, that we want children to view police as good, but, who is the 'we' that we are talking about? I hesitate to create binaries, but, there's ample data about police, racism, racial profiling... 

In the video and the picture book, Wanja chases police vans because they brought police into the neighborhood---police who harassed the indigenous people, including children, in the Block. That is what anyone wants a dog to do, right? Protect us and our children from those who threaten us?

Do read Pearne's article. He provides a lot of history and context that push us to think carefully about things that on the surface seem clear cut. I want a copy of Wanja (order it from the Indig Readers website) and I plan to teach the book, coupling it with Peane's article. The book is an important one for all of us.


Debbie Reese said...

Oh dear... I got one error message after another while trying to upload the video, so I gave up. When I hit the upload button, I see that the video is there... TWICE! It does not, however, show at all in my editing window. I apologize for the duplicate.

Debbie Reese said...

Was able to delete one duplicate but still not getting the book cover to upload...