Monday, March 28, 2011

Peter Sieruta on Laura Adams Armer's WATERLESS MOUNTAIN

Peter Sieruta publishes the blog, Collecting Children's Books. On Friday, March 25, 2011, he wrote about Laura Adams Armer's Waterless Mountain. Published in 1931, it won the Newbery Medal. He wondered what I think of it.

Some time ago, a reader wrote to me, also asking about Waterless Mountain.

So.... I went out to the library today and got a copy. For now, you can see the conversation Peter and I are having in the comments section of his post.


Allandaros said...

The post referred to is here. (Didn't seem to be linked in main post, thought I'd mention here in comments. :) )

Debbie Reese said...

Oops! Thanks, Allandaros. I've made the correction in the link.

Anonymous said...


I read your comments on Peter's blog. Could you talk more about why books like these shouldn't have LOC subject headings related to Native Americans. Perhaps others disagree but I don't think LOC subject headings are a stamp of approval or signifier of authenticity. I think it's helpful for people to understand the inaccurate, racist works that have been written about Native Americans and LOC subject headings provide a context for them to find these materials as well. I do agree with you that books like this should be moved from children's literature because they are no longer literature but are historical evidence of how Native Americans were conceived of and portrayed.

I don't know enough if LOC subject headings already do this, but perhaps they could add a subfield to designate that material is racist.

I think this is a very important issue for the description of library materials and would love to hear your thoughts about it. Thanks.

Debbie Reese said...

I don't think LOC subject headings are a stamp of approval either, but by their very nature, they suggest the book in question is one that a reader can go to for information about that subject.

Both LaFarge and Armer were there, in the southwest, and I gather they knew a lot of Native people. Did they know Native culture? Spirituality? Obviously they felt they knew enough to write---in Armer's case---as if she was a young Navajo boy who is going to become a medicine person in both, the spiritual and the practice sense of that identity.

The question is, how much did either one really know? They saw a lot, that's likely, but did they know the significance of what they saw? Did anyone tell them? Or did they.... make it up? Imagine it? Fill in gaps from bits of info they did get? How much of that gap-filling is colored by their own identities as white/Caucasian/East Coast childhood/etc?

The students Silko taught saw problems with LaFarge. He didn't get it right. (In all likelihood, they don't really want the right info our there anyway.)

The book, then, isn't what its presented as. It is something else. It is LaFarge (white man) imagining what Navajo people were/are...

Do you work in a library? Maybe there is already a model for this thing we're observing.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Are you familiar with the work of the anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons in the early 1900s? I do not think there is any direct connection between her and children's literature, but I thought I would ask you anyway. Thank you.

Debbie Reese said...

I'm guessing you're asking me, Anonymous, about Elsie Clews Parsons? I do know her work. I don't think it is reliable. In the early chapters of one of her books she writes that one of her informants was a liar. She called him that. How she knows he was untruthful and others were is a question that looms large. By the time she was working amongst the Pueblo people, we were already well experienced with research that was of no use to us. Evidence of that is also in her book. She chose to live far away from the pueblos she was researching so nobody could see who came to talk to her.

Jenne said...

Dear Debbie, I've come to you as the expert on debunking these books... Do you have another post or can you point me to another source about the errors in Waterless Mountain? So far from the search on your site I've only found your comments on the illustrations* and the delirious child asking for the Big Man (trader). I'm sure there are more, especially about the illustrations and how they are distictive of Pueblo rather than Navajo.