Saturday, November 13, 2010

"You will not behave like a Red Indian, Michael"

This morning on his Facebook page, Philip Nel (a professor in children's literature) pointed to Anita Silvey's blog: Book-A-Day Almanac. Silvey is well known in children's literature.

On November 13th, 2010, she featured Mary Poppins, by P. L. Travers. I wondered if Travers included any stereotypical Indians in her book. I ran a search of the book (I used Google Books) and found (on page 199):
"You will not behave like a Red Indian, Michael!"
That line appears in the chapter called West Wind. At that point, Mary Poppins has left and the children are upset that she's gone. The line is delivered by Mrs. Banks when, in his distress, Michael grabs her skirt, shakes it, and cries "Did she say she'd come back?"  In pulling on her skirt, he nearly knocks her over.  Crying out and vigorously pulling on her skirt must, to Travers' way of thinking, be the sort of thing a "Red Indian" would do...

"Red Indian" is a phrase commonly found in England. It appears, for example, in Arthur Ransom's Swallows and Amazons. According to Silvey's post, Mary Poppins was published in 1934. Travers is Australian but emigrated to England.

In her 100 Best Books for Children, Silvey writes:
In the seventies and early eighties, Mary Poppins, like many books of its era, came under attack for racism and stereotypes. In typical P. L. Travers fashion, she took this matter into her own hands and rewrote the sections others found offensive. Hence the chapter "Bad Tuesday" now contains the changes made in the 1981 revision.
As I started research into the changes, I find that I need to locate the older version so I can see what she changed. In that chapter, Mary Poppins took the children north. In the revised version, once in the north, they encounter a polar bear. What was there before? I'll have to check into that... Right now, I've got to get ready for my presentation today at Navy Pier.


Update, Monday, Nov 15, 5:04 PM

In comments to the post above, Katharine shared a link to her photos of pages from The Magic Compass, which is the Bad Tuesday chapter, turned into a Little Golden Book.  Take a look at the pages she photographed. Clicking on the link will take you to one page. On the right are thumbnail-size images. Click on the each one to see all the pages she photographed. The Magic Compass was published in 1953.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE - "Pioneers with a sense of ENTITLEMENT (um, Manifest Destiny)"

I am reading Elizabeth Bird's blog this morning and saw this:
Wow!  So somehow I was unaware that Lisa Brown (she of the recent picture book Vampire Boy’s Good Night) had created a large archive of three panel cartoon reviews of various works of classic literature.  Or, if not classic literature, at least well known literature.   Some of you, I know, will be fond of the Little House one.  Thanks to Educating Alice for the link.
With the mention of Little House, I clicked on it and scrolled down to find Browns review. Because her work is copyrighted w/all rights reserved, you'll need to click on this link to see the Little House review. Lisa Brown's cartoon reviews are published at the San Francisco Chronicle

In her review, the first two panels show Ma and Pa in a wagon. Ma and the ox that pulls the wagon are looking at Pa, who (from my point of view) is hanging his head. In apology? In shame? The text reads
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Pioneers with a sense of ENTITLEMENT (um, Manifest Destiny)...
The third panel is a log cabin in the midst of one tree and four stumps. The text for that panel is a log cabin.  

On her bio page, Brown says that her presentations include "rants about historical accuracy." I think that may be part of what she's pointing to with her review of Little House. Pa built a log cabin. Thinking about that cabin and the title of the book, there's a bit of a disconnect. The word "house" summons up something quite different from a log cabin. In the book itself, Wilder gives us a lot of information about building that cabin. Its rustic, and they do their best to make it a home, but it is, nonetheless, a cabin, and we know that it is a cabin. It is given to us explicitly in the book text.  Using "House" however (in the title) brings to mind something different. It invokes civilization. I had never really thought about that before, but like her use of "papoose," I think it is another word that conveys a lot that we aren't necessarily aware of. She could have used "baby" instead of papoose, but, using papoose puts a distance between a reader thinking of Indian babies as being babies like anyone else's babies. Using papoose marks that baby as "other" and "not like me." It works, subtly, on the deep structures of knowledge that we all carry around inside of us. House works the same way. It makes Laura and her family more like the reader. 

Brown uses the word "entitlement" --- which is sure to get a lot of people fired up, for different reasons.

Another thing I see in her review is a comment on behavior of pioneers... cutting down trees. Maybe those stumps are just there to show that the logs in the cabin walls came from those trees, but I think it can also be viewed as what happens to the natural environment when a lot of people move in and set about changing it. We all do that, of course, but to varying degrees. If you're interested in a present-day story of clearcutting, a video called "Clearcut: The Story of Philomath Oregon" is one option. I haven't seen the entire video, but the trailer is provocative.

To wrap up this post, thanks, Betsy, for pointing to Lisa Brown's reviews.  

Monday, November 08, 2010

"Bestsellers in Children's Native American Books"

A colleague wrote to ask if I know of a study of the most-assigned Native author in schools. I don't know of one, but will be looking for one, or, trying to figure out how to get the answer to the question, which is basically, "What book about American Indians is most-often taught/assigned in school?" Course, that would vary by grade level and school and other factors like state, public/private, etc.

One thing I (always) wonder about is best-selling books. One source of info is Amazon. In their "Bestsellers in Children's Native American Books" (time/date of list: 7:23 AM, Central Time, November 8, 2010) are the following titles. Some are on their more than once. In some cases, its clear that the duplicate is a Kindle edition, but others seem to just be repeats. There isn't, for example, a note that says it is an audio copy.

It is, overall, a disappointing list and it makes me grumpy on this Monday morning...  I'm glad to see Native authors on the list, but duplicates of some really problematic books like Touching Spirit Bear?! And it is pretty easy to see that Amazon's customers want works of historical fiction or "myths, legends and folktales."  

#1 - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
#2 - Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
#3 - One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims, by B. G. Hennessy
#4 - Island of the Blue Dolphins (Kindle), by Scott O'Dell
#5 - Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, by Joseph Bruchac
#6 - Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
#7 - North American Indians, by Douglas Gorsline
#8 - Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times
*#9 - Encounter, by Jane Yolen
#10 - Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell
#11 - The Rough-Face Girl, by Rafe Martin
#12 - Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling C. Holling
#13 - Diamond Willow, by Helen Frost
#14 - Red Fox and His Canoe (I Can Read Book), by Nathaniel Benchley
#15 - The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare
#16 - The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, by Tomie de Paola
#17 - Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale, by Gerald McDermott
#18 - Touching Spirit Bear (Kindle) by Ben Mikaelson
#19 - Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
#20 - Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
#21 - Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, by Lois Lenski
#22 - Mountain Top Mystery (Boxcar Children), by Gertrude Chandler Warner
#23 - Grandmother's Dreamcatcher, by Becky Ray McCain
#24 - On Mother's Lap, by Ann Herbert Scott
#25 - Horse Diaries #5: Golden Sun, by Whitney Sanderson
#26 - The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynn Reid Banks
#27 - Sacagawea: American Pathfinder, by Flora Warren Seymour
#28 - Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War II, by Joseph Bruchac
#29 - The Heart of a Chief, by Joseph Bruchac
#30 - Little Runner of the Longhouse (I Can Red Book 2) by Betty Baker
#31 - Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling C. Hollins
#32 - Love Flute, by Paul Goble
#33 - Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, by Cornelia Cornelissen
#34 - The Journal of Jesse Smoke: A Cherokee Boy, Trail of Tears, 1838, by Joseph Bruchac
#35 - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
#36 - The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich
#37 - The Legend of the Bluebonnet, by Tomie dePaola
#38 - Buffalo Woman, by Paul Goble
#39 - Cheyenne Again, by Eve Bunting
#40 - Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker, by Carolyn Meyer
#41 - Julie, by Jean Craighead George
#42 - Children of the Longhouse, by Joseph Bruchac
#43 - Sacred Fire, by Nancy Wood
#44 - Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
#45 - Mama, Do You Love Me, by Barbara J. Joosse
#46 - The Year of Miss Agnes, by Kirkpatrick Hill
#47 - Sweetgrass Basket, by Marlene Carvell
#48 - Sitting Bull: Dakota Boy, by Augusta Stevenson
#49 - The Talking Earth, by Jean Craighead George
#50 - Rainbow Crow, by Nancy Van Laan
#51 - The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, by Paul Goble
#52 - The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale, by Lydia Dabcovich
#53 - The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, by Paul Goble
#54 - Song of the Seven Herbs, by Walking Night Bear
#55 - Ten Little Rabbits, by Virginia Grossman
#56 - The Lost Children: The Boys Who Were Neglected, by Paul Goble
#57- Moccasin Trail, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
#58 - Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, by Scott O'Dell
#59 - Meet Kaya: An American Girl, by Janet Beeler Shaw
#60 - When the Legends Die, by Hal Borland
#61 - Sacajawea, by Joseph Bruchac
#62 - Knots on a Counting Rope, by John Archambault
#63 - The Porcupine Year, by Louise Erdrich
#64 - Star Boy, by Paul Goble
#65 - Jim and Me, by Dan Gutman
#66 - Kaya: An American Girl: 1764/Box Set, by Janet Beeler Shaw
#67 - Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places, by Joseph Bruchac
#68 - Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
#69 - Weasel, by Cynthia Defelice
#70 - When the Shadbush Blooms, by Carla Messinger
#71 - On Mother's Lap, by Ann Herbert Scott
#72 - The Captive Princess: A Story Based on the Life of Young Pocahontas
#73 - Powwow's Coming, by Linda Boyden
#74 - The Gift of the Sacred Dog, by Paul Goble
#75 - Streams to the River, River to the Sea, by Scott O'Dell
#76 - Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, Massachusetts - Rhode Island, 1653 (Royal Diaries) by Patricia Clark Smith
#77 - Indian Trail (Choose Your Own Adventure) , by R. A. Montgomery
#78 - Arrow Over the Door, by Joseph Bruchac
#79 - At Seneca Castle, by William W. Canfield
#81 - Pocahontas, by Joseph Bruchac
#82 - Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, by Joseph Bruchac
#83 - Christmas Moccsains, by Ray Buckley
#84 - The Game of Silence, by Louise Erdrich
#85 - Encounter, by Jane Yolen
#86 - Beyond the Ridge, by Paul Goble
#87 - Death of the Iron Horse, by Paul Goble
#88 - The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
#89 - Island of the Blue Dolphins (illustrated) by Scott O'Dell
#90 - Frozen Fire: A Tale of Courage by James Houston
#92 - Blood on the River: James Town 1607, by Elisa Carbone
#92 - The Give-Away: A Christmas Story in the American Tradition, by Ray Buckley
#93 - Mystic Horse, by Paul Goble
#94 - Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners, by Lucilee Recht Penner
#95 - Mysteries in Our National Parks: Cliff Hanger, by Gloria Skurzynski
#96 - Jim Thorpe, Olympic Champion, by Guernsey Van Riper Jr
#97 - Good Hunting, Blue Sky (I Can Read Book) by Peggy Parish
#98 - Guests, by Michael Dorris
#99 - Hiawatha and Megissogwon by Henry W. Longfellow
#100 - Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell

Observations? Books by four Native authors are on the list: Sherman Alexie, (Update on Sep 30 2023: I no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki? Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Michael Dorris.  I'll return to this list later to share analyses and observations. Right now, I gotta head to class. The class? American Indian Studies 101, where, over the course of the semester, students gain insight and skills in recognizing problematic depictions of Native peoples. It is encouraging to see that development in them. I wish everyone in the US could take an Intro to American Indian Studies course. Then maybe there'd be some CHANGE in what they buy.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Kalamazoo Youth Literature Seminar 2010 - Cynthia Leitich Smith and Gillian Engberg

Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of several terrific books and short stories, was the keynote speaker at the Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar. The seminar was started in 1978 by Rife, and named after her when she retired in 2001.

At every step of the way, Sue Warner at the Kalamazoo Public Library and her staff went above and beyond the norm to welcome and help me with anything I needed.  I had never been to Kalamazoo, but had been looking forward to it for some time because of a news story I heard a few weeks ago about the Kalamazoo Promise. Basically, students who start kindergarten and then graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools are eligible for a scholarship covering 100 percent of their college tuition (as long as they maintain a 2.0 GPA)!

First stop on Thursday evening was a visit to the library where Cynthia Leitich Smith was giving a talk. The library is one of the most beautiful places I've been to! On her blog, Cynthia shared several photos taken at the library and the next day at the Fetzer Center on the campus of Western Michigan University.

I think it was in 2002 that I met Cynthia at an NCTE Convention in Atlanta. In Kalamazoo, I was engrossed by her presentation. I tried to take notes, but was so taken with the remarks, that I don't have much on my notepaper! She gave us context for the places and times she was born and grew up, and how reviewers and fans, too, characterize the stories and histories of Native peoples as ones best described as a "plight" and "caught between two worlds." Both are (using my words, not hers), a "deficit model" of framing who we are. Both rely on a romantic, tragic framework, rather than one of resilience and strength. She pointed to publication numbers (referencing the CCBC stats) and how very little growth we see in terms of publication of books by or about American Indians.

One phrase that I underlined is that certain things in a book can "undermine the magic" of the story. Though she wasn't necessarily talking about depictions of Native peoples in children's books, that is what happens to me, and to Native children, way too often. We may be happily reading a children's picture book or a young adult novel, and suddenly there's a word that breaks the magic of the story. Earlier today I pointed to that sort of thing...  Stereotypical images in picture books, and a few months ago, I pointed to the frequency of that sort of thing when I did an analysis of Indian imagery in Elizabeth Bird's Top 100 Novels list. Cynthia said that she read just about every Newbery Award winner, but that she very deliberately avoided ones like Sign of the Beaver...  Ones that, I think, would undermine the magic for her---a Native reader. Cyn also referenced RaceFail --- a conversation that mostly took place in LiveJournal, but I don't recall why she mentioned it. If you're interested, this is a good compilation of posts about RaceFail. 

In her session Gillian Engberg opened by talking about language and translation. She read from a May 22, 2000 New York Times article in which Louise Erdrich (author of Birchbark House) talked about learning Ojibwe. Erdrich wrote that her English and her Catholic training touched her intellectually and symbolically but never engaged her heart. Does reading that last sentence make your heart twist somehow? It does mine, and, listening to Gillian read these words at the conference, I felt that same sensation in my heart then. Erdrich wrote:
Ojibwemowin is also a language of emotions; shades of feeling can be mixed like paints. There is a word for what occurs when your heart is silently shedding tears. 
I'm really grateful, Gillian, that you pulled from Erdrich's article in your talk. Hearing (in my mind) your voice, quietly reading those words to us in Kalamazoo, and then reading them again today in my office, I'm so moved by words and what words can do, on many levels, in many languages...

The symposium was about borders, and, what is possible when we're willing to do more than simply cross a border, but to know what it really means to cross borders, and what it means to be amongst people on the other side of those borders. In my presentation, I placed my discussion of Little House on the Prairie in historical context, arguing that it is factually inaccurate in its portrayals of Native people. I showed a clip from the Trail of Tears segment of the We Shall Remain series on PBS.

So much is possible if we're willing to think about words and how they touch all of us. I'll close with two questions. Can you imagine knowing the word for what occurs when your heart is silently shedding tears? And can you imagine being a Native child for whom a story's magic is broken by a word like "squaw"? 


For further reading: "Two Languages in Mind, but Just One in the Heart" by Louise Erdrich.  

Update, November 9, 7:07 AM
I just read Elizabeth Bird's Fusenews: "swinish Milneish parts" post at SLJ. She's from Kalamazoo, and, in her post, notes that both Cynthia Leitich Smith and I referenced her SLJ blog. She wrote:
Debbie Reese made reference to the Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll and the stereotypical images in some of those books.  All well and good, and we will assume that she made it clear that this was a poll I conducted and not my own personal list conjured out of my own head.  It’s more interesting when you take into account the number of folks who voted.
I did talk about the list, but as I commented on her post a few minutes ago, I don't know if I said it was the outcome of a poll, rather than her own personal list.  Because I think it important to be clear with words and ideas conveyed, I'll certainly pay attention to precisely what I say about it--and other things--in lectures, writing, etc. 

International Books at the Kalamazoo Youth Literature Seminar 2010

Thursday of last week, Jean Mendoza and I drove to Kalamazoo for the Kalamazoo Youth Literature Seminar. I was looking forward to it because we'd be spending time with Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Jingle Dancer, a book I feature in every presentation I give. Cynthia gave an outstanding talk. I'll write about it in another post.

The theme for the seminar was "Crossing Borders." It opened with an introduction to international picture books, given by Elizabeth P. Amidon and Maria A. Perez-Stable. I was (and am) unclear whether or not the books being discussed are ones the presenters recommend, or are meant to be a sampling of what's available.

I say that because the presenters talked about stereotypical images of Indians in three of the books. After the third one, she (can't recall if it was Amidon or Perez-Stable) said something like "what IS it with Europeans and stereotypes of Indians?" I didn't get a chance to talk with them later, but I did take a couple of photos of the images they were referencing. I'll write to them and see if they can clarify for me. Anyway, here they are.

The first one is from Heleen Van Rossum's Will You Carry Me?, illustrated by Peter van Harmelen. Written in Dutch, the story itself is about a little boy who, after a morning of play in the park, is too tired to walk home. His mom won't carry him, but comes up with ideas to get him there (jumping, swimming, flying...). I really wish (now) that I'd had more time and could have read the book so I could see why this child is shown in with paint on his face and a feathered headband. The book has been selected for distinction. It is a "Children's Book Sense Pick" and it is a "New York Magazine Top 5 Books for Summer Reading" (this info from the website for the US publisher, Kane/Miller. From the author website, I see that it was one of the top ten best picture books of the year (2004) in the Netherlands.  I'm also quite disappointed to see that it is recommended in Early Childhood Education Journal, (Volume 34#1, August 2006) in an article titled "Building Literacy Links for Young Children." In the introduction, Zeece, Harris, and Hayes write that children's books can help parents and teachers cope with transitions. Children's books can---and do---many wonderful things, but I wish that the authors of this article, and the presenters at the Kalamazoo conference had said "let's NOT use this book with young children."

The second book is And What Comes After a Thousand? by Anette Bley. In this book, it is a little girl and an elderly man who are shown wearing feathers in their hair. She imagines herself to be shooting buffalo with a slingshot. This one is originally published in Germany. In her review in Booklist, Hazel Rochman wrote "The vague references to Native American traditions are superfluous." Then she writes "What will hold and comfort even young preschoolers are the honesty of the loss and the enduring love, expressed in the exuberant pastel pictures of Lisa and Otto in the garden they both love." Hold and comfort WHAT preschoolers? My daughter would likely have enjoyed the book until she came to that page. I recall vividly the day I picked her up at kindergarten and she insisted on showing me, right then and there, George (of George and Martha) dressed as an Indian...  I eventually wrote about that experience in an article published by Horn Book: "Mom, Look! It's George, and He's a TV Indian!"  And What Comes After a Thousand may be a touching book about death, but from my perspective, it's just another book that uses stereotypical Indian imagery as a convenient vehicle to tell a story that really has little to do with actual American Indians.

If I was writing the Horn Book article today, I'd include Stephanie Fryberg's research study about the effects of stereotypical imagery on the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native children, and, I'd include Faircloth and Tippeconnic's study, too, where they talk about the high drop out rates of Native students, and how their degree of engagement with the school decreases with each year. Starting them off in kindergarten with books like these two would---I think---start them on that road of disengagement with school.  If you want either Fryberg's article write to me (dreese dot nambe at gmail dot com) and I'll send it. If you want to see Faircloth and Tippeconnic's study, it is part of the UCLA Civil Rights Project and is available online here.