Saturday, January 09, 2016

Revised! Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's ABRAHAM LINCOLN

On December 1, 2015, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's Abraham Lincoln, which won the Caldecott Award in 1940. The article states that the book will be reprinted to mark the 75th anniversary. Gross interviews Rea Berg of Beautiful Feet Books. It is her press that is reprinting the book.

I have not seen one of the original printings of the book. Apparently, the art in the book published in 1940 suffered in prints in the 1950s, when printing techniques changed. Berg's reprinting will restore the color and quality of the original.

I often discuss the book when I do workshops and lectures, but haven't written about it here on AICL. In my workshops, these pages are the ones I draw attention to.

First is this enlargement of the upper left part of the endpapers:

Look at the upper left corner, where you see what the d'Aulaire's intended to be a tipi and an Indian man, with one foot raised. Why, I wonder, is he shown that way? And his tipi is more like a toy than a real tipi.

The next image I show is this page:

The book is a life history. It includes that page of Lincoln as a child. The text, "solemn like a little papoose," plays on stereotypes of Native people as being stoic. And I wonder if the d'Aulaire's knew that papoose is not the Native word for baby. It is one peoples' word, but there's hundreds of Native languages and each one has its own word for baby.

Later, the d'Aulaire's tell us about Lincoln fighting Black Hawk. Here's an enlarged image from that page. Relative to the people drawn on other pages, this "Indian" is tiny --- but look at how cartoonish it is drawn!

And here's the text for that part:
[T]he men of New Salem were called to war, for an Indian chief, Black Hawk, had come back to Illinois with his warriors.
[T]he people of Illinois [...] went to war to chase the Indians out.
Here's more from that part of the book. At the end of that war is this image:

The text for that page is this:
One day a peaceful old Indian came walking into camp. The soldiers were angry and wanted to kill him, but Abe said, "Anyone who touches him must fight me first." Because Abe was the strongest, they had to obey."
I wonder if that "peaceful old Indian" was modeled on this portrait of Black Hawk?

Some of the content in the 75th anniversary edition is going to be changed. In the Publisher's Weekly story is this:
Berg said they made minor modifications to the original art and text to reflect contemporary views about race politics and to reflect historical accuracy, citing two instances in the book, including one of a Native American cowering behind Lincoln, which they fixed to have him “standing erect.” 
Here's that particular image, again, of the cowering man who will be standing erect in the new edition. What, I wonder, was the thinking behind the decision to change that man from cowering to standing erect? In the original, it fits with the white savior theme. Changing him from cowering to erect doesn't change that theme.

On the other hand, there are many accounts of an old Indian man walking into camp and Lincoln saying to his men that they should not hurt him. The sources don't have the "fight me first" line. The accounts are more specific to how Lincoln was viewed by those men. They didn't really respect him and somehow, his defending the old Indian is part of that account.

When the new book comes out, I'll definitely do some comparisons. Now--if I'd been asked to suggest changes, I'd add a bit about the word, papoose, and I'd revise the text about Black Hawk, too. And, I'd include a page about Lincoln signing the order for the largest mass execution in the US: the hangings of the Dakota 38.

The other changes made are with regard to the depiction of slavery. Here's what the article says about that:
Another is when Lincoln is walking down the streets, with freed slaves bowing down to him. “The original text didn’t mention that he didn’t want them bowing down to him,” said Berg. “The original didn’t say that he actually shook hands with them. So we altered his face and made him shake hands with the former slaves and added in what he actually said in the historical record, which was, ‘Do not kneel to me.’ ”
It is a bit hard to make sense of what Berg is saying, but I think they're replacing the text in the book with text that matches the historical record. Here's the page in question (when I get a better image I'll use it instead):

I'll add a link to this post to the set of links I'm compiling that document changes to children's books and I'll be back with a better image of that page when I get to the library (current image is courtesy of Sarah Hamburg).


Sam Juliano said...

Yes indeed, all these observations are hard to set aside. We could to a point excuse this because of the age of the book - over 75 years old - pre civil rights, etc., but that still doesn't sit well when you consider it is still in our classrooms and libraries. I happen to be an Abe Lincoln fanatic and adore the art of the d'Aulaires in this and other books, but these characterizations are troubling for sure. Excellent presentation here.

Debbie Reese said...

In yesterday's mail was a copy of the 75th anniversary edition. Today I'll head to the library and get one of the pre-75th anniversary editions and do some careful study of the changes.

Sam--your comment about excusing the book because of its age is a common one that has no merit. That excuse does not take into account the fact that Native people, and African American people, and likely a lot of White people, too, who were living in the time the book was being created would not agree with the depictions in it.

I'm very glad to see you say "to a point" and hope that you're not teaching the book in your classroom. If you are--or have--did you notice these problems?

Sam Juliano said...

Debbie, I use LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY by Russell Freedman, the Newbery winner for my Lincoln unit. I have an old copy of the d'Aulaires book for collecting purposes only as part of my personal Caldecott collection. I agree with you that the book's age is not an excuse at all, and the book was a sorry encapsulation of racial stereotypes from that era. It remains seductive artistically, -they are ravishing illustrators- but at an unacceptable price.