Monday, August 03, 2015

Babar Playing Indian in BABAR COMES TO AMERICA

I am always grateful to readers who write to me. Sometimes they write with a question. Sometimes they write to thank me for a review. Sometimes, they send me something to take a look at. This morning's mail had one of the later.

Tricia wrote to tell me about a page in Babar Comes to America. As I read her email, I remember seeing that book in a bookstore and snapping a photo of the page she sent to me. I'd lost track of it and am grateful to Tricia for sending it along so I can include it in AICL's Foul Among the Good page.

Published in 1965 by Random House and again in 2008 by Abrams, Babar Comes to America is by Laurent de Brunhoff.  One of the places Babar visits is the Grand Canyon, where "Babar and Arthur pay a visit to the Indians":

Helen Therese Frank writes:
To source this new title about America, de Brunhoff and his wife were invited to the United States in 1963, with expenses paid by the American publisher and several American companies who are acknowledged in the text and illustrations (Hildebrand, 1991).
Presumably, de Brunhoff and his wife were actually at the Grand Canyon, but what Indians did they see there? Was there really one called "Chief Sitting Bull" who was telling "hunting tales" and "the legend of the White Buffalo"?! Was he sitting on a drum? Was he barefoot?!

It is possible--but not likely--that de Brunhoff saw a "Sitting Bull" but this all strikes me as the imaginings of an outsider who was there but didn't understand what he saw. Rather than depict what he saw with accuracy, de Brunhoff turned to stereotyping when he created this in 1963.

Why, I wonder, did that page go unchanged when the book was published again in 2008? Who, I wonder, edited the book at Abrams? If changes can be made to Curious George playing Indian, I think they can be made to Babar Comes to America, too. What do you think?

This is the second post I've done on Babar. The first one was about Babar's World Tour.

1 comment:

Tricia said...

Hi Debbie,

Thanks for sharing this bit of history. If I remember correctly, this re-issue came out as a companion to the book Babar's USA which was issued for the first time in 2008. That book was an "all-new Babar book featuring photos of the USA collaged with original Babar illustrations for an exciting tour of modern America." There is no mention of Native peoples in this book, though there is a reference to the south and playing cowboy.

Thanks too for raising so many good questions about the image.