Saturday, February 12, 2011

Leo Politi's LITTLE LEO

As I worked on my review essay about Leo Politi's Song of the Swallows, I kept recalling that somewhere, I'd seen something about another book of his where someone is playing Indian.

A few minutes ago, I did a quick search and found it right away. The book is based on his childhood. Titled Little Leo, here's the cover:

It was published in 1951, three years after Song of the Swallows. I think I have it somewhere... A good friend sent it to me a few years ago. The image above is from Appleby Books, a source for collectible and rare books. Their description:
A story based on Leo Politi's own childhood. Little Leo loved watching the Indians in the movies and one day his father bought him his own wonderful Indian Chief suit. When little Leo and his family traveled to his father's village in Italy, all the children were enchanted with Leo's suit and wanted to be Indians too! 
It is fascinating to think of the Leo-Politi-the-man writing about primitive Indians in Song of the Swallows, knowing that Leo-Politi-the-boy played Indian!


Zoe said...

Hi Debbie, just wanted to let you know about this post in case you haven't already seen it:

Oh and I went to the Imperial War Museuem Exhibition - interesting indeed, and shall have a post about it live in about 10 days.

Debbie Reese said...


Thanks for the link. The first book there had me shaking my head, but seeing the second one! Baum?!!! The Baum who advocated the genocide of Native people???!

Unknown said...

Hi, Debbie. I'm the author of Teach with Picture Books and a reader of your blog over the past few months. I had no knowledge of Baum's history as an editorialist who advocated for Native American genocide, nor did I perceive any of the titles I mentioned as being derogatory toward the Native American people. I have, however, removed the post. I would be happy to share those titles with you via mail and discuss them with you if you'd like. I know that the publisher had mentioned the titles in a comment to a post in late 2010 ( but otherwise I hadn't seen mention of these titles here. Please feel free to contact me via email from my site and I'd be happy to send the books to you. I hope I've made the initial right move to show you that any insult or indiscretion was unintended.

Debbie Reese said...

Hi, Keith,

I am quite certain you had the very best of intentions in sharing those books. And, I think the author of PRAIRIE DOG PRINCE had very good intentions, too, when she wrote the book in 1901. And the publisher of this new edition, too.

The problem that we all face is the way we've been taught and socialized to think about American Indians.

PRAIRIE DOG PRINCE was the first book on your list. It is an example of not viewing Native religions as sacred in the same way that Christianity is viewed. Instead of being seen as sacred, they're seen as cute or entertaining "folktales" and instead of being shelved with World Religions, Native stories (even ones that aren't sacrilegious) are on the shelf with the fairy tales, folktales, legends...

That's why I said I shook my head when I saw your description of the book. Gnomes and Lakota creation stories...

The publisher sent me two of their books. I dug them out just now. One is DANCE IN A BUFFALO SKULL by Zitkala Sa. It is illustrated by S. D. Nelson. I haven't read it yet, nor have I read the second book they sent me, RACCOON AND THE BEE TREE, by Charles Eastman and Elaine Goodale Eastman (his wife).

Regarding the Baum story... on the publisher's website I see another one by him. I'll have to order them.

In the meantime, here's the link to the blog post wherein I wrote about Baum:

In a way, I guess Baum is no different than a lot of people in American (or world) history who wanted to see a certain people gone, and then once that people was gone or in decline, wrote fondly about them, romanticizing their bravery and courage.

I'm really glad that Zoe pointed me to your post because I am really curious about the two Baum books.

I don't think the titles you posted are derogatory. There are many issues with regard to Native people and books for children. Racist depictions are easy to spot. Its the more complex and subtle issues that are harder to understand. Yet, it is important to understand them. Until there is greater understanding of who we are, the books made available for children will continue to be problematic.

What I firmly believe that Native and non-Native kids need is books that are set in the present day. In addition to my concerns about respect for religion, relying on "folktales" to give children info about American Indians only confines us to a long-ago and far-away status that romanticizes who we are and contributes to the idea that we're no longer around.

I'd love to talk more about this with you, and I think we could do that on your blog. That way, we reach your readers. What do you think of that idea? An online blog dialogue...

Unknown said...

Thanks for responding to my comments, Debbie. Until you have the time to review the books, I will keep the post down. I'm sure the SDHSP will share any titles with you that you request, and once you have read the same titles I mentioned, I absolutely agree that we should open a dialogue either here, or on my blog, or both. I think readers of these books deserve to see all sides of the issues involved. Unfortunately, regarding the matter of contemporary Native Americans in literature, especially children's literature, I think we would both agree that the titles are few and far between, if not nonexistent. Please do reach out to me once you have had the chance to read the titles I mentioned in the post, and we'll go from there.

Debbie Reese said...

Hi Keith,

There are several books set in present day that feature Native protagonists.

JINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I've written about those books on my site, and many others, too. It would be great if you'd read them and let your readers know about them.

So... we have some work to do! I'm ordering and reading books you recommended, and you're ordering and reading ones I recommend.

Sound like a plan?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the reading recommendations. Sounds like a plan! I'll try to get a hold of those books and give them a read.

I've been in touch with The SDHSP and will forward to you some background information which was shared with me concerning the authenticity and authorship of the titles in question.