Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Joan Walsh Anglund's THE BRAVE COWBOY

Several weeks ago, Jo, (she's married to my cousin, Steve) wrote on my Facebook wall (in a comment to my post there about Peggy Parrish's Let's Be Indians) to tell me about Joan Walsh Anglund's The Brave Cowboy.

Jo wrote:
I found a few of these older books at the thrift store one day; they were about a little boy who likes to dress up like a cowboy. I thumbed through Cowboy and his Friend, all about the little boy and his friend Bear and the adventures they have together. Very cute and harmless so I thought what the heck and got them. I read it to the boys and it was great so we started to read the next one, The Brave Cowboy. I don't know why I didn't flip through it first. The second page of the book shows him ready to shoot the scary half naked Indian. I quickly closed it and told the boys we couldn't read it and put it away. A little further in the book it shows him ready to shoot a large number "wild Indians in his territory." We still have it. Steve said we should keep it and send it to you.
A few days later, Jo wrote again to tell me:

My six year old picked up the book the other day and read it. When she was finished she was shaking her head and I asked her what she thought about it. She told me she didn't really like it. I asked her why and she said she was confused about the little cowboy shooting the Indians. It was an interesting moment for me to try to find the right words to talk to her about the pictures in the book. 

Reading what Jo said, I got a copy of the book from the University of Illinois library, but it didn't have the pages Jo described. The copy I got has a publication year of 2000. The one she had, which she sent to me, is 1959. The publisher is Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Here's the first page with Indians:


In the 2000 copy I had, the third line of text is different. Instead of "not afraid of Indians," the boy is "not afraid of mountain lions." The Indian is gone from the illustration (replaced by another ornery rustler) and a mountain lion has been added:

And here's the next page on which Indians appear. The text is "Or, maybe he would hunt wild Indians that might be in the territory...":

In the 2000 version, the brave cowboy hunts bank robbers instead of "wild Indians." 

The day draws to a close and the brave cowboy "settled down to dream the dreams of all good cowboys" which includes dreaming about Indians:

As I wrote this post, my thoughts turned again and again to the current national discussion on gun control. I doubt that The Brave Cowboy would get republished again, and in my opinion, I think that's a good thing. Kids playing with guns? Even in a story, it's frightening.

The Brave Cowboy is far from the first or only book to undergo revisions like these ones. Two that have been updated (or bowdlerized) are Robert Lawson's They Were Strong and Good and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. At his site, Philip Nel took a look at several others

Returning to the stereotyping in the 1959 copy of The Brave Cowboy, Jo, Steve, and their kids. First, the children in their home are lucky to have Jo and Steve. They're readers who read critically. They're teaching their children to do that, too. Second, Anglund's book is clearly one that has been updated to remove stereotyping. Third, I wish a note about that sort of updating was noted somewhere in the book. Fourth, I hope the book goes out of print and stays out of print. 

Thanks, Jo, for letting me know about this book.    


Jeanette Larson said...

Interesting that they made the changes. Does show that the story can be told without most stereotypes. I also wonder, as you do, if it could be published today. I have been listening to the young Sherlock Holmes series by Andrew Lane and was a little surprised that Holmes actually kills someone (in self-defense). There are also guns being fired but the book is for tweens. They also don't "play" with the guns as the child would playing cowboy. As always, your insights are interesting.

Anonymous said...

I have read this book before, and I guess I just chalked it up to being an older book that is a product of its time. "Cowboys and Indians" were very popular in the 30s, 40s, and 50s thanks to movies starring Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the like. That is why you could find toy guns, lassos, and horses on a stick in stores so kids could play it. I do not believe that playing that game like the boy in the story does here colored children's views of Native Americans for life or made them want to use guns when they got older.

When I see a book like this, I see it as a teachable moment. I think people today are smart enough to know that this is not something that we believe in now. Your friends' daughter was able to read the book and as you said, be critical about it. If others come across this book, I do not think that it should be shied away from. It is good that the book was updated in 2000 to eliminate some of the stereotypes, but there would also be some value to reading the 1959 book to foster a conversation.

It is kind of like how I felt about the Looney Tunes DVD sets that came out awhile back that had Whoopi Goldberg explaining that we would be seeing stereotypes when watching the classic cartoons. I guess I can understand the Warner Brothers Company trying to cover their bases legally, but again, I think that we know better now without the reminder.

It was a specific place and time, and we have gotten more politically correct over the years (not perfect, I know, but there's been improvement). I am of Irish and Italian heritage, and there are plenty of stereotypes from that time about us. If I see examples of it on television and books now, I do not take it personally. I know it is just the another person's way of telling a story. I can also choose not to watch it (Hello, Sopranos!).

Hopefully, people will continue to eliminate unnecessary stereotypes and focus on telling stories that are more historically accurate.