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

AICL in VOYA: Voices of Youth Advocates

Screenshot of VOYA website, 1/13/2012

In September 2011, Rebecca A. Hill interviewed me for an article she was writing for VOYA: Voices of Youth Advocates. The article, "The Color of Authenticity in Multicultural Children's Literature", is in the December 2011 issue of VOYA. Shown here is a screenshot of the VOYA website. I read Hills' article by clicking on the "Digital VOYA" frame shown on the right of the image.

Hill does an excellent job laying out issues that I write about here on AICL.

After posing some provocative questions, she moves into a discussion of the work of Rudine Sims Bishop in Shadow and Substance, and, key moments in the development of multicultural literature. These include Nancy Larrick's The All White World of Children's Books, published in the Saturday Review in 1965, and the vitally important work done by the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC).

Then, Hill features K.T. Horning and the work done at the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin. CCBC has been charting the number of books by and about writers of color and, K.T. notes, they've seen little change from one year to the next. A quote from K.T.:
"Back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, we used to hear that publishers wanted to publish more multicultural books, but that they didn't have authors and artists of color submitting things," Horning said. "The last ten years we have been hearing that [it is] marketing that drives the decisions. The book buyers claim that books with kids of color on the cover don't sell or, in order for the buyers to purchase these books, a kid of nondescript color needs to be on the cover."
From there, Hill's article is about the "who can write" debate. That's where she turns to her interview with me where we talked about Little House on the Prairie and the need to do more than archival research when writing a book that has Native characters.

I downloaded a pdf copy of the article from VOYA's nifty "Digital VOYA". If you go to the VOYA site while the December issue is available, you can download it, too. And other articles, as well! The option to read VOYA in digital copy is terrific. (Note: When I talked with Rebecca, I told her about Onate, the Spanish explorer who invaded Pueblo lands and issued orders to have a foot cut off of men and boys who survived a fight between the Spanish and the people of Acoma Pueblo. Columbus may have done that, too. I don't know. )

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer/Owls See Clearly at Night

As I watch the snow fall outside, I remember a book that I presented in Chicago last January at the Chicago Metro AEYC (Association for the Education of Young Children) meeting. That book is Julie Flett's Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer/Owls See Clearly at Night, published by Simply Read Books. Its subtitle is L'alphabet di Michif/A Michif Alphabet.

Flett is Metis. Her language, Michif, has prominence in the book. For example, on the 'A' page, she's got the letter 'A' and "Atayookee!" Beneath "Atayookee" is the phrase "Tell a story", which is what Atayookee means. That pattern continues throughout the book. The text is on the left of each double page spread. To the right is Flett's art.

Isn't the cover gorgeous?!

The rest of the book, is, too. Flett's art is stunning. Each page invites you to be with that page, studying the composition of what she gives you on that page.  Here's another page (the illustration is from the publisher's website; in the actual book, the text is on the left page):

And below is a scan of the page I showed at the conference (my scan is dark; the page itself is white as snow). It is the art for the 'I' page. "Itohteew" is the Michif text, and "He/she goes" is the English translation.

I also love the page that shows two Michif children wearing blue dresses and moccasins, dancing a jig. And I love the 'S' page: "Li Siiroo" which is Syrup. In the illustration, there's a cabin in the background. In the foreground is a tree with its tap and bucket. Peering at it is a dog, and a gorgeous black and red bird is flying towards the cabin. And I also like, well... Truth be told, I love this book, cover to cover! 

In the front of the book is an Introduction with information about the Metis people and the Michif language. There's a glossary in the back.

In preparing this post, I learned that in April of 2011, it won the 2011 Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize in British Colombia.  And in August, it won the 2010 IBBY Canada Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award. Congratulations to Flett and her publisher, Simply Read Books!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves

Coming up this Saturday (January 14, 20120 at the National Museum of the American Indian is "Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves." If you can't be there, you can watch the webcast of Chris Morganroth, Quileute elder. At the NMAI website about his talk, you'll find a link to the webcast.

Here's the blurb:
Listen to traditional Native stories and watch stories told through dance. Chris Morganroth, a Quileute elder, tells traditional stories geared towards kids and families. Morganroth also gives an introduction to Quileute culture and discuss how the tribe is presented in the popular Twilight books and movies.
I wrote about Morganroth on December 6, 2009. He's been pushing back on the Twilight books for a while. I look forward to listening in next week!

The Washington Post carried a story today. It has more info, so do take a minute to read it, too: Quileute tribal museum show debunking Twilight movies opening in Washington, DC


Prompted by a friend, I finally read Caleb's Crossing. Written by acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks (she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for March), I found it more than disappointing.

The Caleb in the title is Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk. He was the first American Indian to graduate from Harvard, way back in 1646. But, as Brooks tells us, Cheeshahteaumauk was the inspiration for the Caleb in her story.  She's careful to tell us this is fiction. She's making up all kinds of things about him.

Her Caleb gets that name from Bethia, the protagonist. She names him.  He calls her Storm Eyes. It is her teachings that bring him to the notice of her father (a minister) who brings him into their home for education and enlightenment. They rescue and convert this heathen salvage (oh, I forgot... her father insists they call them by their tribal name rather than salvage).

The real Cheeshahteaumauk died soon after he graduated from Harvard.

In Caleb's Crossing, Bethia saves Caleb on his death bed. She does that by visiting his pagan uncle and going through a ceremony that she cannot disclose (cleverly can't disclose). After that, she goes to Caleb and whispers to him, in Wampanoag, verses she's learned from that pagan uncle. This comforts him tremendously ("the lines of pain of a sudden all erased" p. 297) and then she lights a bundle of herbs and waves them around the room. Last, she puts a wampum belt on his chest. With his last breaths he sings his death song.

That isn't the first time Bethia goes Native. She did it early in the novel, too, when she comes upon a village where the people are dancing. She removes her sleeves, hose, and shoes and "found the rhythm. Thought ceased, and an animal sense drove me until, in the end, I danced with abandon." (pp 30-31).

Early in the book when I read the passages where Bethia first looks at the Indian she would name Caleb, it was like reading one of those bodice rippers you get at the grocery store, where a white woman gazes at the body of the Indian man shown on the cover. It was hard, in other words, for me to take this novel seriously.

I asked colleagues who study Native literature about Caleb's Crossing, and of the several who responded, nobody defended it. Indeed, one pointed to the USA Today review that said the novel is a mashup of Avatar and Dances with Wolves. (For those who don't know, both of those films are much derided within Native circles.) Click here to read the review in USA Today.

I don't know why the novel is called Caleb's Crossing. It is far more about Bethia than Caleb. The answer may be on page 230, where Bethia and Master Corlett (he runs the prep school that Caleb goes to prior to going to Harvard) are talking about President Chauncy (he runs the Indian College at Harvard) who, Corlett says "has come to think of the entire venture as a kind of milch cow" (p 230).

Looking at the reviews of the novel, I think that Caleb is a milch cow for Brooks and her publisher! I wish she hadn't used Caleb Cheeshahteaumuak as she did.  She could have chosen a different name for that character and still told the story she tells. In the Author's Note (page ix), she writes:
I have presumed to give Caleb's name to my imagined character in the hope of honoring the struggle, sacrifice and achievement of this remarkable young scholar.
Unfortunately for all of us, I think her book dishonors him and his achievements in the same ways that stereotypical mascots are said to "honor" American Indians. The thing is that people do really want to know about American Indians. There are better places to go for that knowledge and there are ways to become more informed and critical readers of these 'honorable' portrayals. One place to start is by reading articles in journals like Studies in American Indian Literatures. If more writers and editors spent time with critical works like those found there, the result would be better literature for all of us.