Friday, August 14, 2015


I'm at the Oak Park Public Library, in Oak Park, Illinois for the afternoon. While here, I thought I'd take a look to see their holdings about Pocahontas. I found Pocahontas: Princess of the New World by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz. Published in 2007 by Walker Publishing Company, its title is the first indication that it is not a book that can provide young children with solid information about Pocahontas.

Pocahontas was not a princess! 
On that fact alone, librarians can 
deselect (weed) books about her that 
say she was a princess. 

Here's the opening paragraph from Krull's biography of her:

Sounds like a European princess, doesn't it? And therein is a clue: if it sounds European, it probably is, and here's why. When Europeans first came to the homelands of Native peoples, the incorrectly applied their knowledge of how European societies are structured to Native societies. We know better now, and have for a long time, and yet, we still see the word "princess" used in children's books about Pocahontas.

The "Storyteller's Note, or What Happened Next?" (presumably written by Krull), begins with this:
"All the information we have on Pocahontas is from English sources--we have nothing from her perspective. Dramatic accounts of her role are often inaccurate."
Interesting, eh? That word--inaccurate? It applies to Krull's book, too. She also says that she's tried to make sense of "the known facts" and that she has, especially, used Helen Rountree's Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries and David Price's Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation, both of which are listed in her sources. However, Rountree doesn't use the word "princess" anywhere. Price uses it twice, without explanation. The first source Krull lists is Paula Gunn Allen's Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat. Princess is not one of the words she used in her book title, and, in the book itself, in several places, she puts "Indian Princess" in scare quotes.

So what are we to make of Krull's use of that word?

My recommendation is to remove this book from your shelves. If children in your library are using it to do research on Pocahontas, they are being ill-served by Pocahontas: Princess of the New World. 


Barbara said...

Oh, boy, where to start.
I would say start by reading The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star" which is a recounting of the oral history of Pocahontas' tribe. The story they tell is heartbreaking.
Add to that the fact that John Smith wrote more than one story about being saved by a woman in at least two other places on the other side of the world and we can stop this nonsense in its tracks.
And since Pocahontas was a child of either 10 or 11 years old, that whole story of John Smith takes on a disturbing turn.

Barbara Johnson, Educator

Gail Zachariah said...

So what would you recommend for kids? Is there anyone besides Joseph Bruchac that gets it right?

Debbie Reese said...

Looking, Gail. Hoping to find something to recommend.

Beverly Slapin said...

I agree with Barbara's recommendation of THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTAS. It's excellent, and belies just about every romantic children's book about her, her history and her nation.

Sam Jonson said...

Sometimes, I wonder...If the British peoples "settling" Usonia had been Catholic and established a scary Catholic theocracy, would white Americans today refer to "Saint Pocahontas" and "the Miracle of 1607, when Pocahontas saved the life of John Smith"? (Come to think, they'd probably canonize Columbus, Kit Carson, and the Founding Fathers too. Yikes...)