Saturday, November 20, 2010

Loren Long's illustration of Sitting Bull in Barack Obama's OF THEE I SING

I've been on the road the last few days, unable (till now) to write about, or join the conversations about, Barack Obama's book for children, Of Thee I Sing.

Early on the morning of the day I hit the road (we left early afternoon), news stories in London focused on his inclusion of Sitting Bull. Some people there speculated that certain segments of American politics would object to Sitting Bull being someone who Obama would praise. I mentioned it in my Intro to American Indian Studies course, Brianna (a student) said that Fox News had already brought it up. 

Last night I was finally online, catching up on the Obama/Sitting Bull discussion, reading email, etc. In my mail was one from Roger Sutton at Horn Book, noting that he wonders what I think of the book.  Conservative political groups don't like it, and he wonders if Obama's book will draw the ire of progressives (me) as well.  Roger wrote that:
Loren Long chose to depict Sitting Bull as a sort of landscape, with buffalo for eyes, hills and cracked earth for nose and mouth, and some pine trees placed so they form eyebrows (and, dare I say, boogers). It's the old one-with-nature stereotype, which wouldn't be so bad had all of the other subjects of the book not been depicted realistically.

I went online and found this image:

Roger said the other illustrations of people are realistic. I can't get to a bookstore to get a copy of the book, but I did find this video:

And, as I watched it, I see what Roger means. All the other people in the book are portrayed in a realistic fashion. They look great! In contrast, "Sitting Bull" is kind of scary looking. I can imagine a kid reading (or being read) the book. Turning the pages, seeing the realistic art, and then coming upon this one?! I imagine kids leaning in closer to the page in confusion...  Long definitely bought into the one-with-nature stereotype...   Visit Long's website and roll your cursor over the sketches. They'll change to the colorized pages in the book. I wish he'd done Sitting Bull in a realistic fashion. Looking at his site, I see the new edition of The Little Engine that Could---wherein there is an Indian doll... I wrote about it in July of 2008.

Once I get a copy of Of Thee I Sing, I'll be able to say something about the text for the Sitting Bull page. 

For now, see the Native commentary at Indian Country Today in Rob Capriccioso's article,  Fox News gets Sitting Bull history wrong.


marcia said...

Stereotypical? I'll grant you that. Scary? no. I think it's cool. Kids are really attracted to that kind of optical illusion art. That would be the one picture in the book they would really remember. Now, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I don't know. Taken JUST as art, without any social/historical/political implications...that's a cool picture.

Unknown said...

I have only seen the one page, read a few reactions, but still the problems are obvious. The illustration belies a shallow appreciation for the man, which is in turn backed up by the text. Tatanka Lotanka was not a "medicine man" in the stereotypical and prevalent sense of the word. He was a spiritual leader, deeply respected and loved. And what up with the dude on the side with the single arrow and what look like conch decorations on his pants? I love Barack; I want to love this book. I want to be honored that he included one of our special leaders, but it's clear that Barack didn't care enough to ask someone within the culture their thoughts. That hurts, and probably causes more damage than if we had been excluded in the long run. With just a little effort, this could have been a huge boon for all people; as it is, it's business as usual...we are romantic, magical, of the earth...and gone.

Doret said...

I finally got a chance to look at this yesterday. I also found the illustration for Sitting Bull strange. If everyone featured was protrayed in an abstract matter this would fine.

In context, I actually think Sitting Bull will be seen as scary to children. Since the style itself is out of context.

Before the child gets to Sitting Bull's entry they have only seen realistic drawings of well known Americans.

Then out of no where comes this face in a landscape (those do look like boogers)

I love Long's style, everyone else looks great. I don't understand why not keep the same approach for Sitting Bull.

John Dall said...

There seems to be some fuss over something that if it appeared anywhere else besides this book it would be seen as what it is suppose to be...ART. Should it have been done by a Native probably, should a Native been consulted I don't think so. But You know as well as I do that there are images done by Natives that are of a similar nature, and a good many that are far more politically volatile and culturally incorrect than this image was ever meant to be, and know one went for any consulting to produce those pieces of art. If you're looking for something to be upset about in Indian country this doesn't, and shouldn't even register on your radar. I do normally understand the direction you gravitate to in regards to literature but I do believe you're looking for a problem that is not there.

hschinske said...

Okay, did NO ONE look at this picture and think "He's got dark green snot coming out of his nose"? Because the kids sure will.

Helen Schinske, who is obviously 9 at heart

Anonymous said...

Helen, you are not the only superannuated nine year old in the crowd. I thought the same thing.

hschinske said...

Oh, I didn't even see that Roger (and Doret) had already pointed that out. Ne'mind!

Helen Schinske

Fitness shoes said...

I have only seen the one page, read a few reactions, but still the problems are obvious.

Anonymous said...

i read the book. my problem is not with this picture, but with the "realistic" looking kids. why does the Native American kid have to wear a feather in his head??? that is worse stereotyping to me. none of the Native American people i know dress in traditional garb unless there is a very special event going on. the Sitting Bull image is awesome. the stereotypical Indian boy is not.