Sunday, February 22, 2015

A BOOK OF AMERICANS by Rosemary Benet and Stephen Vincent Benet

Woah!

That is my thought as I sat down to share some photos of pages from Rosemary Benet and Stephen Vincent Benet's A Book of Americans. I have no memory of how it came to be in my house. I probably got it at a yard sale or used book store.

Anyway--it came out in 1933 from Farrar and Rinehart. As I flipped through it, I thought it'd be an interesting blog post, so I took some photos. You'll understand why I wanted to share them. They are not the reason for the "Woah!" at the top of this post.

Here's the end papers as you open the book:



Here's the first page of the table of contents:



Here's the page on Crazy Horse:



Here's some of that text from the Crazy Horse page:

The Indians of the Wild West
We found were hard to tame,
For they seemed really quite possessed
To keep their ways the same.
They liked to hunt, they liked to fight,
And (this I grieve to say)
They could not see the white man's right
To take their land away.

Now. Why did I start this post with "Woah!"?

Henry Holt reissued the book in 1987.

I'm gonna say that again. Louder.

Henry Holt reissued the book in 1987.

I can (mostly) ignore the customer reviews at Amazon ("Delightful." and "Excellent.") and of course, there's a lot to say about the illustrations and the poems, too...

But the idea that Henry Holt reissued it in 1987 floors me. Why did Henry Holt do that?! Why?

____________
Update: adding this for Dhonielle Clayton who asked about depictions of African Americans:



16 comments:

Perry Nodelman said...

I'm guessing that in 1987, there were still a few pesky obstinate Indians who still could not see the white man's right to take their land away. Very inconsiderate and unmannerly of them, but what can you expect, right?

Beverly Slapin said...

The same happened with that hideous book, THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD by Robert Lawson (Viking, 1940), which received a Caldecott in 1941. Viking republished it in 1994, when they republished the Caldecott winners.

In the newer version, Viking made a few minor textual changes that did not lessen the racist impact. Here are a couple.

In the 1940 version, the text reads:

"When my mother was a little girl there were Indians in Minnesota--tame ones. My mother did not like them. They would stalk into the kitchen without knocking and sit on the floor. Then they would rub their stomachs and point to their mouths to show that they were hungry. They would not leave until my mother's mother gave them something to eat."

In the 1994 version, the text was changed to:

"When my mother was a little girl there were Indians in Minnesota. My mother did not like them. They would stalk into the kitchen without knocking and sit on the floor. Then they would rub their stomachs and point to their mouths to show that they were hungry. They would not leave until my mother's mother gave them something to eat."

The illustration is of a Black woman--a bandanna-wearing "mammy"--brandishing a broom at two Indians who are running away with food.

In another section, the 1940 text reads:

"When my father was very young he had two dogs and a colored boy. The dogs were named Sextus Hostilius and Numa Pompilius. The colored boy was just my father's age. He was a slave, but they didn't call him that. They just called him Dick. He and my father and the two hound dogs used to hunt all day long."

And the 1994 text reads:

"When my father was very young he had a Negro slave and two dogs. and a colored boy. The dogs were named Sextus Hostilius and Numa Pompilius. The Negro boy was just my father's age and his name was Dick. He and my father and the two hound dogs used to hunt all day long."

This illustration is of a Black youngster dressed in rags, carrying two dead animals, walking behind his young white master. Several other illustrations also show Black people dressed in rags, in various positions of servitude.

These are just two of many racist passages of a CHILDREN'S book that was republished in 1994.

Beverly Slapin said...

Sorry, I erred in quoting a passage from the above book. The 1994 text actually reads: "When my father was very young he had a Negro slave and two dogs. The dogs were named...."

Beverly Slapin said...

It might be interesting to know how many copies of THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD were sold from 1994 to the present, and if these were marketed to and placed in library collections for children. Sometimes collections of older books will be reprinted and marketed for "historical" reasons, specifically as, for instance, "Caldecott winners." In the case of this title, some of the text was minimally altered (not enough to make a difference), but the illustrations remained exactly the same. And the 1994 version did not contain a note about the racist text or illustrations (or any note). Just curious about marketing and sales of these books.

Gabriele Bianchetti said...

It seems like a parody of racist imaginery. Unfortunately, it's not.
Also... 1987!? God, why!?

Debbie Reese said...

Beverly and others,

THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD is the subject of three posts here on AICL. Two are linked in this one:

http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2011/02/robert-lawsons-indians-tame-ones-and.html

Anonymous said...

Did you see if there were changes made to the edition released in 1987?

Debbie Reese said...

I don't know, Anonymous at 12:50, if changes were made in the later edition. If you're in a library, can you see if there's a copy and look at the endcovers, table of contents, and the Crazy Horse poem?

Anonymous said...

I was recently pushed into adding those godawful Rush Revere books. The donator insisted that we needed books that taught history "the way she'd learned it as a child." So these adults must be the sorts who want old-style, whitewashed "histories."

BTW, have you seen the crap coming out of Oklahoma? Sounds like they would love these old books.

Debbie Reese said...

Anonymous at 2:30: Does your library have a policy about donated books? I understand that policies help a lot in situations like that.

Dhonielle Clayton said...

I believe book burning is terrible...but I wouldn't mind adding the pages of this book, along with those awful Rush books into a nice bonfire. Did the "Southern Ships and Settlers" have wonderful pictures of my happily smiling and enslaved ancestors along with delightful pictures?

Anne Ursu said...

The donator learned history from a blowhard hate radio host trying to make a quick buck?

ChristineTB said...

Nothing to add. I'm just . . . speechless.

pitbullgirl65 said...

Reissued?! My eyebrows shot up past bangs on reading that.

Emily Petermann said...

The passage quoted from "Crazy Horse" is terrible, no question about it. I have a copy of the 1986 (not 1987) Holt edition, but unfortunately not at hand to check now whether any changes were made.

But it is also worth mentioning that the collection also includes a poem called "Indian", the second in the book and following immediately after "Christopher Columbus", which contradicts that first poem's portrayal of discovery of the new world by emphasizing the presence of native peoples before the white man's arrival. It concludes with this stanza:

We won't go into all of that
For it's too long a story,
And some is brave and some is sad
And nearly all is gory.
But, just remember this about
Our ancestors so dear:
They didn't find an empty land.
The Indians were here.

Emily Petermann said...

Also, my copy is a used one that had belonged to a public library (in Albuquerque, not that it matters), which suggests many public libraries are removing older representations like this from their shelves.