Friday, January 13, 2012

Stereotypes of American Indians in Little Golden Books

Editors Note: Updated April 10, 2013 with annotations for My Little Golden Dictionary, Howdy Doody and the Princess, Bugs Bunny and the Indians; the addition of the Giant Golden Book, Cowboys and Indians, and The Little Trapper.


In 1942, Little Golden Books was launched. Among them are several with stereotypes of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

I don't know if this compilation is comprehensive...  If something is missing, let me know!  Below are the covers of books published from 1948 through 1974. Some observations about the 20 books:
  • Two are alphabet books.
  • Seven are television shows or movies.
  • Four show a non-Native kid (or a rabbit) playing Indian.
  • Seven show warbonnets.
  • Six show headbands. 
  • There are 18 Indians shown on these covers (two on the Bugs Bunny one; none on the Roy Rogers and Little Trapper books). Only 2 are female. One of the two females is... umm... Howdy Doody's "Princess." I wonder what words Margaret Wise Brown used in her book? It is possible the Eskimo is female, too. I've assumed it is a male. If I'm wrong, let me know! 

Do you have any of these books? Others? What are your observations?

I have Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way by Leonard Marcus. I don't think he mentions any of these in his book. 

Here we go...

Up in the Attic: A Story A B C
by Hilda K. Williams, illustrated by Corinne Malvern

Cowboys and Indians
by Kathryn Jackson and Byron Jackson
illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

From reviews at Amazon, I see the book has 52 stories and rhymes. The Indian's is "Little Bear." There's also a Chinese cook named "No Pow Wow."

In "Lazy River Ranch" we read that "Injuns" that were "painted all up with fierce war paint" fought "your grandpa" but "a heap of red men bit the dust."

In "The Poor Wandering Cowboy" there's an Indian who comes riding along: "The Indian said 'How!'" Head over to Golden Gems and read both in their entirety, and others, too.

My Little Golden Dictionary
illustrated by Richard Scarry

I for Indian was once commonly done. So was E for Eskimo. Notice all the other items shown on the cover are objects or animals. No G for German, J for Japanese, etc.

This seemingly innocuous use of "Indian" or "Eskimo" dehumanizes and obscures who Native people are. There are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations in the US and Alaska. "I for Indian" suggests that we all wear large feathered headdresses. We don't.

The Little Trapper
by Kathryn and Byron Jackson
illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

No Indian on the cover, but inside, Dan (shown on cover), meets an "Indian girl." To see her, go to Golden Gems. She looks just like Teggren's Little Bear on the cover of Cowboys and Indians (shown above) except that she is wearing a dress, a necklace, and a bracelet. Like Little Bear, she has blue moccasins and trousers trimmed with red triangles on a white background. Her hair and Little Bear's hair is identical, and so is the feather (white on bottom, red on tip). Her headband is red; his is multi-colored.

Bugs Bunny and the Indians
by Annie North Bedford

Bugs Bunny spends the summer on a ranch where he wears two guns. None of the other cowboys have guns, by Bugs tells Porky Pig, "You have to be prepared, my Boy... There might be wild Indians around." The cowboys laugh at Bugs and conspire to play a trick on him, in which Cowboy Slim, who is "a real Indian" and other Indians capture a very scared Bugs. One "brave" (Cowboy Slim) says "Now let us see you shoot those guns you carry for the wild Indians." Turns out Bugs is armed with water pistols. The Indians love 'em and trade with Bugs. In the end, he's wearing a feathered headdress.  

Howdy Doody and the Princess
by Edward Kean

The princess is named "Princess Summerfall Winterspring." From his airplane (the "Air-o-doodle") they see a "contraption" (wagon). Princess says "Looks like a medicine man to me." They land to check it out. The "medicine man" is a showman (not an Indian) named Doc Lemon who does magic tricks. The princess has a magic necklace and outshines Doc. He's a sly one and swaps her necklace with one of his that isn't magic. Later when she talks to hers: "Kawa goopa tinka tonka--which way?" it does nothing. They set out to get it back.

Problems? Name of princess; calling showman a medicine man trivializes medicine people who are revered within Native Nations; words princess uses are bogus; stereotype portrayal of princess--no tribe, tipi, fringed clothing.

Indian Indian
by Charlotte Zolotow

The Little Eskimo
 by Kathryn Jackson

Peter Pan and the Indians
by Annie Bedford

Walt Disney Studios

Little Indian
by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Richard Scarry

Buffalo Bill, Jr.
by Gladys Wyatt
illustrated by Hamilton Green

Roy Rogers and the Indian Sign
by Gladys Wyatt
illustrated by Mel Crawford

Lone Ranger and Tonto
by Charles Verral

Brave Eagle
by Charles Verral

Broken Arrow
by Charles Verral
illustrated by Mel Crawford

Cowboys and Indians
by Willis Lindquist
illustrated by Richard Scarry

by Elizabeth Beecher

I'm An Indian Today
by Katheryn Hitte
illustrated by William Dugan

Little Crow
by Caroline McDermott


Anonymous said...

Interesting collection of cultural relics. I think every single ethnic group was subjected to this nonsense during this period.

Ruth Major Lapierre said...

I agree with Anonymous. With our eyes and minds of today those books vlrstly show stereotypes. But in those times, it was not viewed / considered this way. Nobody asked themselves if they were stereotyping American Indians or not. Nobody asked if bokks by Countess of Segur were showing stereotypes against little girls. At the time, it was not the case. Your pictures are beautiful and remind me of my childhood. Thank you very much.

Debbie Reese said...


Please read through AICL. Books like that continue to be published. See, for example, the Alvin Ho book I analyzed here:

jpm said...

Ruth, Another concern with the argument that those depictions were not considered stereotypes "back in the day" but not now is that some people DID recognize the inaccuracies and stereotyping back then, but their perspective was not considered important by the authors and publishers. Their actual voices were silenced even though they were frequently depicted -- but they (the Native Americans, Africans and African-Americans, Asians, girls and women, etc.) often did consider those depictions to be problematic.

Anonymous said...

To possibly add to your collection: I had one when I was a kid that had an Eskimo on the cover. I really don't remember the story - I think it was mostly about the owl, "Ookpik, the Arctic Owl." It looks like there are some other Golden books about Ookpik that I didn't have.