Sunday, February 10, 2013


Upon learning that Champaign Public Library's 110 Books for Every Child included books with blackface and that stereotype American Indians, Creek author Durango Mendoza wrote that children and their families "could feel ambushed by the foul among the good."

I'm going to ask him if I can use that phrase as a label for any time that I write about a book in which a child--Native or not--might be ambushed by the foul in a book that has received much acclaim by others.

Today's post is about three of those books.

First is Harry Allard's The Stupids Step Out. Though the text never mentions American Indians, James Marshall decided to put Kitty, their dog (so named because they're stupid), in a headdress:

In The Stupids Have A Ball, Marshall presents Kitty in a headband with one feather (leaf?!) in it:

The Stupids series is very popular. Scholars who write about how best to engage reluctant readers point to these books as ones teachers should use. Teachers that use those two books with Native children are likely giving then more reasons to be reluctant to read! And anyone with insight into stereotyping and why it is wrong will have found the foul among the good that Durango Mendoza expressed.

We can do better! If The Stupids books were the last books on earth, we might have to use them, but they aren't. We can set them aside, can't we?

And while you're in the 'setting aside' mode, take a look at Marshall's George and Martha, Encore. In it, he's got George playing Indian...

Why would we, in 2013, use books that stereotype American Indians? Doing so affirms (or introduces) playing Indian, and we don't affirm or introduce playing ______ (fill in the blank), do we?

Stupids Step Out, first published in 1974, by Houghton Mifflin
Stupids Have A Ball, first published in 1978, by Houghton Mifflin
George and Martha, Encore, first published in 1973, by Houghton Mifflin


nan-c said...

Excellent observation Debbie. It's amazing how so many ignore these images.

Jean Mendoza said...

I hit the wrong button -- Debbie, Durango says sure you can use his phrase.

Debbie Reese said...


It is disheartening and is a lot like the mascot issue. Except that, due to research studies from the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association, schools dropped their stereotypical mascots. I wish we---teachers and librarians responsible for educating children---would do the same with these books. Set them aside.


Please let Durango know I said thanks!

Nicole said...


Responding to your comments about the Stupids --

As far as I know, The Stupids Step Out is the only book in the series still in print. We own two of the books and my kids would like to read the others -- but they're hard to come by in our local library system.

So -- while you say the series is very "popular" -- it would cost someone quite a bit of money to actually OWN the books in the series, as the cheaper copies are selling for more than $20 on Amazon.

I suspect part of the reason the books are out-of-print is that the word "stupid" is used frequently, and that the word is not something considered acceptable to be used around children, or by children.

I'm not trying to be provocative, but the Stupids frequently do things that are considered stupid, or that one shouldn't do. So -- following that logic -- perhaps one could infer that one SHOULDN'T wear that sort of headdress, just as one shouldn't wear scuba gear to bed, or sleep with your head under the covers and your feet above them (which are other examples from the books).

Cocowason said...

Oh boy, we inherited that very same George and Martha book, and after reading through it once with my 6 year old, I decided to cut that one story out. But, my daughter picked up on my hesitation, and while I tried to tell her that I got rid of the story because it shows George pretending to be an Indigenous person, which is hurtful and promotes stereotypes, she interpreted this as "all Native Americans are bad," which is, of course, NOT AT ALL MY INTENT. This isn't anyone else's problem but mine, of course, but I'm finding myself struggling with the right way to talk about these issues with my youngster. I don't want her thinking that we can't think about, talk about, or learn about Indigenous people! I just don't want her thinking it's okay to dress up and play pretend about other people and cultures. This is probably not the forum, but I am just so lost. I feel like I've already failed/made things worse!