Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Maurice Sendak's BUMBLE-ARDY

From the children's lit community to the Wall Street Journal, people are talking about Maurice Sendak's new book, Bumble-Ardy. Some readers like it, while others do not. Sendak first introduced the main character on a clip on Sesame Street years ago. In the clip, Bumble-Ardy is a nine year old boy has a birthday party at his house.

In the book, Sendak changes Bumble-Ardy into a pig, and when the pigs come to his house, it is by an invitation from Bumble-Ardy in which he says they must come in costume.

A few days ago, friend and colleague Thomas Crisp wrote to let me know that Sendak's illustrations in Bumble-Ardy include a character whose costume is of the playing-Indian type. Here's a close up:

That is from the first time we see that character.  Many things to comment on, but let's stick with the costumes. Below is the full two-page spread when we first see the pigs in costume.

Help me figure out who or what they are! (I apologize for the overlap of the photo into the right column... If you want to see an even larger image, click on the photo. It should open just the photo in a new page.) Some of the pigs are wearing masks that cover their pig face; others do not wear masks. To varying degrees, they are just plain ridiculous.

If you've got some ideas and time to share them, write to me by using the "Contact AICL" button in the tool bar above, the comment box below, or by email.

 From left to right:

 1.  Clown, no mask
 2.  Kind of reminds me of Groucho Marx, but no mustache. He is holding a balloon.
 3.  Wearing a skirt and an orange sweater, but that mask?!
 4.  Disheveled man with a cigar
 5.  Lost pig (holding sign), no mask
 6.  Rich lady (mask) and little pig (no mask)
 7.  Pirate
 8.  Pig-in-a-blanket
 9.  Like #3, I can't figure this one out. Wearing a dress but what is up with that mask?
10. Tiara and eye mask... (being ridden by #9)
11.  Indian
12.  Bearded policeman, no mask. What does that beard signify?
13.  Court jester, no mask

Once I get a better idea of who the characters are dressed as, we can go on to do some analysis of the costuming.

By the way, Sendek is an old-hand, so to speak, at stereotyping American Indians. Remember his alphabet book, Alligator's All Around? The "Imitating Indians" page? The book was first published in 1962 by Harper and Row as one of four books packaged as "The Nutshell Library."

On the I page, we see two alligators who, the text tells us, are "Imitating Indians." There are many problems with the page. First, imagine what the response would be if the alligators were imitating a different racial or ethnic group! Second, most readers of AICL know that the word "Indian" obscures the diversity that exists across the over 500 American Indian Nations in the U.S. today.  Third, the page suggests that Indians wear multi-colored feathered headdresses, and carry tomahawks and smoke peace pipes. And of course, they do that and everything else with stern or stoic expressions. And, let's not forget that they raise an arm to say "how" (cuz that's how Indians say hello... NOT).

Sadly for us all, Sendak is still giving us stereotyped Indians.


Perry Nodelman said...

Debbie, I don't have the book yet, and I can't read what seem to be words on the object (purse? dog? little pig?) the "Indian" is carrying. Are they words, and if so, what do they say?

Meanwhile, a lot of these costumes look familiar--like ones worn by characters in other Sendak-illustrated books. Is it a Sendak-character dress-up party? Or is it just the style that reminds me so much of the pictures in Brundibar, especially?

At any rate, it's interesting that both of the examples of Sendak depicting "Indians" don't represent actual aboriginal people, but others putting on costumes and playing at being them. Still awful stereotypes, of course, but ones apparently adopted exactly because they are so recognizably stereotypical, so clearly fake exaggerated roles to play. The sad part is that someone like Sendak can be so thoughtless about the connections between the silly dress-up stereotype he has fun with (and shows his characters having fun with) and the real people the stereotype so seriously misrepresents.

Debbie Reese said...


Thanks for sharing those excellent comments.

The words on the item the "Indian" is carrying are "MECHANICAL PIG FOR BUMBLE" which I take to mean it is a toy. The "Indian" is carrying it by holding a wire that seems to go beneath the belly of the mechanical pig. That wire makes it look like a purse.

Dan said...

I don't think there are 13 pigs. To me it looks like the clown pig is holding the second one which looks like a puppet. The "lost pig", I believe is holding the "disheveled man mask", #9 I don't think it is a pig-as all the other pigs have hooves and this one has hands-so I think it is part of the costume, and finally going back to the "pig in a blanket"/chicken legs / skeleton / pirate thing-I'm not sure if that is one pig or two. Just my thoughts.

Debbie Reese said...

You are right, Dan! The clown IS holding a mask. And so is the lost pig. Good observations.