Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eric Carle's illustrations for TALES OF THE NIMIPOO

I like a lot of Eric Carle's books. I used The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I taught kindergarten and first grade. I read books he wrote and illustrated to my daughter, and I give them as gifts.

I was surprised, this morning, to learn that he had done illustrations for Tales of the Nimipoo from the Land of the Nez Perce by Eleanor B. Heady.

For one of my courses at SJSU I've been thinking about collection development. In that thought-space I visited the Awful Library Books blog, and went through one of their slide shows about weeding.

That led me to wonder what the oldest book about American Indians in a local library might be. I searched that local library's holdings and that is how I came across Tales of the Nimipoo from the Land of the Nez Perce. They do have it on the shelf, even though it is pretty old. It came out in 1970. When the library opens later today, I'll drive over there and check it out. 

Let's consider the title for a moment.

"Nimipoo" is Hardy's spelling of Nimi'ipuu, which is what the Nez Perce people call themselves. There's a good bit of info about the word on the website for the Nez Perce Tribe. We could say it is cool that Heady included Nimipoo in her title. It shows that she knows the people had their own name for themselves.  It is a bit awkward, though, to have both Nimipoo and Nez Perce in the title. Hopefully there will be a note in the book that explains her use of Nimipoo.

Next, let's consider the word "Tales" in the title. That one is a major problem for me...  Are these "tales" or are they traditional stories? Are they creation stories? If so, the book belongs on the shelf with creation stories of other world religions. What I am pointing to is problems in classification, wherein some people are "folk" and have "quaint" stories while others receive a different treatment in the classification system.

I'll let you know what I find when I get the book.

Update: November 1, 2011

Ok---got the book, read through the intro, read some of the stories. My conclusion? It is old, dated, and though the author is well-intentioned, her bias comes through. In the intro, for example, she says that the Nimipoo people have a dictionary where they use "tepees" instead of the term she uses, "tipis." Seems to me that using their spelling would confer a strong support and respect for them and their work in creating that dictionary. She thanks a couple of Nimipoo people for sharing their stories with her, and, she mentions stories in the archives at Washington State University.  The intro is date July 1969, which is, of course, way before critical essays like those by Betsy Hearne that ask authors to cite their sources, and respect those sources, too.  My suggestion? If you still have this in your library, weed it.

As far as Eric Carle's illustrations go, they're black and white and completely in keeping with his well-recognized style. Here's one page:

And here's another! I wonder if any reviewers noted that the woman is not dressed?!


Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Debbie, is there a solid article on the web that specifically deals with children's literature and the labeling and classification of Native stories that have been passed down (of various types)?

It's something I find myself talking about a lot, and if there's anything great out there, I'd love to point to it.

Debbie Reese said...

The best I've found so far is Holly Tomren's manuscript (not published) Classification, Bias, and American Indian Materials. If you search on the title you can download the pdf from PBWorks.

I'm making my way through this bib, too.

meggan said...

Classifying stories from any religion is difficult. I have found Christian and Jewish "tales" in folklore (398s) and in religion (200s). I have found stories of saints in folklore and biography. There are stories of religious holidays in religion, holiday (394s), and sometimes folklore.

Debbie Reese said...

Thanks, Meggan. When you have time, can you provide some titles?

Anonymous said...

why was the female undressed? Look to be like she was drying her clothes