A well-known picture book provides one example of a typical blunder. Amazing Grace, by British book creators Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch (U.S. edition: Dial, 1991), involves the indomitable Grace, a black child missing two front teeth but full of spunk and the capacity to dream. Grace loves stories, and she plays out the stories she's read or been told. Overall Amazing Grace is a welcome story about the power of story in an exuberant contemporary girl's daily imaginative play, about the appeal of the classics, and about self-esteem. Grace pretends to be people recognizable to some readers as from British, European, American, and African history and literature--people such as Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider, Mowgli, and...Hiawatha. Are the book's multiple themes so welcome that the act of "playing Indian" escaped comment by most U.S. reviewers...that critics relaxed their standards for evaluation? No, such images recur so frequently that when they do, nobody notices. Well, almost nobody but the children who in real life are Indian.Well said, Ginny! Here's another terrific excerpt about how librarians can broaden the knowledge base of their patrons:
Claiming that only American Indian children are apt to notice "playing Indian," "sitting Indian style," or picture book animals "dressed up" like American Indians does not excuse the basic mistake. Self-esteem is decreased for the affected peoples, and accurate portrayals are skewed for everyone else.
Perceiving the value of a book from several perspectives and for more than one audience, purpose, or use has long been a strength of good reviewers, perceptive children's librarians, and experienced school library media specialists. Kathleen Horning spoke of the day-to-day benefits of her firsthand knowledge of multicultural literature at the Association for Library Service to Children Preconference, "The Many Faces in Children's Books," held prior to the 1991 American Library Association Annual Conference. A children's librarian at the Madison (Wisconsin) Public Library, Horning told how Bernelda Wheeler's picture book Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? (Pemmican Press, 1986) has library and general user potential beyond its unique cultural content. She suggests the title when adults or children ask for a book with a school setting, or a story about a grandparent, or for information on "where something comes from," or books on clothing. If Horning had pigeonholed the book as one for use only when American Indian materials are needed, readers requesting her advisory services would lose a multifaceted book.November is approaching, and given its designation as "Native American Month" teachers and librarians will be sharing American Indian stories with children. I encourage teachers, librarians, and parents to heed what Horning said.