Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Buffalo Dusk" by Carl Sandburg

Some years back, I came across "Buffalo Dusk" by Carl Sandburg. The poem is in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children: A Treasury of 572 Poems for Today's Child (1983) selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. Here it is:
The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they
     pawed the prairie sod into dust with their great hoofs,
     their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.
Sandburg was wrong, but is that what he thought when he wrote the poem in 1920? How many people, in 1920, thought "those who saw the buffaloes" were gone? It wasn't true then, and it wasn't true in 1983 when Jack Prelutsky chose the poem for the collection... Did Prelutsky think so in 1983? And when Lobel was drawing the buffalo herd that accompanies the poem, did he think so?    

Monday, July 18, 2011

AICL reader on McClure's THE WILDER LIFE

Editor's Note: Today's post is by a Teacher Librarian, NW of Chicago. She writes:

I have spent a long time pondering your comments about the Laura Ingalls Wilder books because, as you can guess, I loved the books when I read them as a child. However, something happened that put everything in perspective for me. I recently listened to the audio book, The Wilder Life: my adventures in the lost world of Little House on the Prairie, written by Wendy McClure. It is a memoir recording her year of visiting all the places Laura had lived and how she felt about the experience. As a Little House fan, I was riveted. I thought that throughout the book, McClure did an adequate job of pointing out Wilder's prejudices when writing about the Indians. However, toward the end of her book, McClure wrote of this incident:
p. 318

I bought a sunbonnet at the museum store, my sixth one.

"I had a feeling you would buy one on this trip," Kara said, as we walked back out to the car. "I bought something, too." She went through her bag in the backseat and pulled out a feathered headband, the kind they used to sell in dime stores for playing cowboys and Indians. "Picture time!" she said.

I started laughing. "Oh my God," I said. "Yes!" We put on our mythical headgear and took pictures of ourselves standing together in the parking lot. It seemed a fitting way to end the trip.
In my mind, the incident was a totally "unfitting" way to end the book. This scene ruined my empathetic feelings toward the author and illustrated how Wilder's stereotypes are still alive and well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

CHICKADEE, Erdrich's next book in BIRCHBARK HOUSE series

Back in May, Louise Erdrich blogged about Chickadee, the next book in the Birchbark House series. In it, Erdrich writes, Omakayas and her family have moved onto the Great Plains:
I realized that for the sake of this book series we had to move there around 1866.  This is a fascinating year for all sorts of reasons, but for the main character, Chickadee, it is a year of unusual adventure.   Some odd things happen to Chickadee.  He challenges a man named Skunk.  He is kidnapped by two brutish louts who want a servant.  He learns to cook a wretched concoction called bouyah.  Chickadee runs away from well meaning but heartless missionaries.  He learns to survive completely alone in the woods helped by his namesake, the chickadee, who teaches him a song that can heal.  There is lots more, including a visit to Saint Paul, the first city he has ever seen, and composed at the time of shacks, pubs, treeless mansions, and lots of trading companies.  
I'm definitely intrigued. In comments, Erdrich says the book will be out in November of 2012. In the meantime, you might want to get the first three and read (or reread) them. Consider getting signed paperback copies from Erdrich's store, Birchbark Books.

The Birckbark House 











The Game of Silence
 










The Porcupine Year

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Indians in the House" episode of LHOP TV show---deleted or not?!

Many of you may know that I've written about the "Indians in the House" scene of Little House on the Prairie. I don't think I've yet shared what is called a "deleted scene" from the pilot for the television series. Here's the specific segment. It is rather ominous in music and action of the Indians... 

In the book, Laura and Mary are definitely afraid for Ma and Carrie, but the TV segment is especially scary. I don't know if it was cut or not. Comments on the Youtube site say it wasn't. 


Monday, July 11, 2011

Anita Silvey recommends LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS

Yesterday (July 10, 2011) at "Children's Book-A-Day Almanac," Anita Silvey featured Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. She writes that the Little House books "remain one of the best-loved stories of childhood."


Best loved story for whom?

Are they "the best-loved stories of childhood" for everyone? Little Town on the Prairie has Pa in blackface. Dawn Friedman addresses it in her post "Pa in Blackface: Confronting racism in our children's books." I don't think everyone would look on this as a "best loved" story. Would you, for example, knowing it has blackface in it, call it one of your best loved stories? (Update, Feb 5, 2013: Added Garth Williams' illustration of blackface, from page 258.) Here's Pa in blackface:



Same thing with Little House in the Big Woods. On page 53, Pa regales Laura and Mary with his days of youth when he'd pretend he was "a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians." Here's the passage where he said that: 
When I was a little boy, not much bigger than Mary, I had to go every afternoon to find the cows in the woods and drive them home. My father told me never to play by the way, but to hurry and bring the cows home before dark, because there were bears and wolves and panthers in the woods.    

One day I started earlier than usual, so I thought I did not need to hurry. There were so many things to see in the woods that I forgot that dark was coming. There were red squirrels in the trees, chipmunks scurrying through the leaves, and little rabbits playing games together  in the open places. Little rabbits, you know, always have games together before they go to bed.    

I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians. I played I was fighting the Indians, until all woods seemed full of wild men, and then all at once I heard the birds twittering 'good night.'
 
Would you call a book in which the characters romanticize hunting people one of your "best loved" stories?

And of course, there are multiple problems with Little House on the Prairie. (Scroll down to the "labels" section of AICL and you'll see that I've written about the book several times.)

There is no disputing the love and adoration readers shower on the series, but it is a blind love and a blind adoration that has ramifications for all of us. Thinking of a people as "wild" makes it easier to hunt and kill them. I'm thinking the uncritical embrace of these books is akin to planting seeds that will get watered later when someone deems it in America's best interests to go to war...  

I wish that Silvey would take a moment to give her readers a critical view of the Little House series. In her post about Julius Lester, she writes that Lester and Pinkney's Sam and the Tigers removed "the racial sting" associated with Little Black Sambo. "Racial sting" is a mild way to reference racist stereotypes, but she did acknowledge the problems with LBS. I wish she could do the same with LHOP.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Recommended! RETHINKING POPULAR CULTURE AND MEDIA


Rethinking Schools is an excellent source of materials for anyone who looks critically at schooling. Their newest item is Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. It has outstanding essays including Herbert Kohl's "The Politics of Children's Literature: What's Wrong with the Rosa Park's Myth."

Essays specific to AICL's content are:

"Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving" by Michael Dorris
"A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas" by Cornel Pewewardy
"Human Beings are Not Mascots" by Barbara Munson

It also includes "Fiction Posing as Truth," the first short-essay I wrote with a group of Native and non-Native women who worked collaboratively on in-depth study of Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground

There are forty-eight different essays. Forty eight! The book is priced at $18.95 and well worth it.