Monday, January 21, 2013

First Image of "Indian" in Children's Book

In 1657, John Amos Comenius wrote and illustrated Orbis Pictus, an encyclopedic picture book for children that is now commonly recognized as the first picture book for children. In honor of Comenius, the National Council of Teachers of English established a nonfiction book award and named it the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

Comenius included what the world now knows as American Indians, or, Native Americans, in his book in the section about religion, where he wrote:

The Indians, 10. even at this day, worship the Devil, 11.

Here's the illustration. The Indian and Devil are on the right. According to Comenius, the Indian is kneeling to "worship the Devil."

I don't mean to suggest that NCTE ought not to have named the award after the book. The book itself does mark an important moment.

I do wish that writers, illustrators, reviews, publishers, teachers, and librarians would be more thoughtful about misrepresentations in things they write, illustrate, publish, teach, and share today. You can't, of course, misrepresent what people like Comenius thought, but you can present their thoughts in a way that points out the errors of that thinking. And, of course, it is important for authors and illustrators to be tribally specific in any work they do about American Indians. 

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