American Indians in Children's Literature is part of the #StepUpScholastic campaign that invites parents, students, teachers, librarians--anyone, really--to study the books Scholastic offers in their flyers (they say flyer, some say catalog, others say club forms). Once you study a flyer, you can write a letter to Scholastic telling them what you were looking for, and what you found--or didn't find.
I'm looking for books by Native people, but if I see a good one about Native people that is written by someone who is not Native, I'd buy it.
Let's take a look at what kids are getting this month (February of 2016). First, a screen capture of that page so you know what it looks like:
On the first page, I see Happy Valentines Day, Little Critter. I bet the Little Critter Thanksgiving book was in their November catalog. I wouldn't get that one. In fact, I have it on my "not recommended" list. On the second page, I see a Pete the Cat boxed set. I bet the November catalog had Pete the Cat's Thanksgiving book. It, too, is on my "not recommended" list. There's a Pinkalicious set, too. I bet the Thanksgiving catalog had the Pinkalicious Thanksgiving book... Also, not recommended.
So what did I find? No books by Native writers; no books about Native people or with Native characters. Native people--good or bad--are completely missing from this flyer.
On page three, I see Stuart Little. It kind of has an image of a Native person. In that book, Stuart imagines an Indian paddling in a canoe. On page four there's a set of all the Junie B. Jones books. My guess is that it includes Shipwrecked which has the kids doing a play about Christopher Columbus. Turkeys We Have Loved is about Thanksgiving, and it has the kids doing a play about Thanksgiving. One girl is dressed up as a Native American.
What did I find? No books by Native writers; one character playing Indian.
On page three is Polar Bear Patrol in the Magic School Bus series. In it is Dr. Luke, an Inuit scientist who teaches the kids about the Arctic and that he prefers Inuit to Eskimo. On page five is the Junie B. Jones Shipwrecked that was in the Kindergarten catalog.
I found no books by Native writers; one character who is Inuit. I don't have that book on my shelf so can't tell if the depiction of Dr. Luke is one that is free of bias or stereotyping.
On page two are boxed sets of the Magic Tree House books. One is Thanksgiving on Thursday. There's a Native character in it. You know which one, right? Squanto! The stories told about him are pretty much a whitewash of what his life really was, but Thanksgiving on Thursday took that whitewashing to a whole new level. Another book in the series is Buffalo Before Breakfast. In it the Jack and Annie travel to a Lakota camp. There are many errors in that story and the part where the wise Lakota grandmother gives Jack and Annie an eagle feather? That doesn't work at all, because when they travel back to the present day, having that eagle feather is a violation of federal law.
No books by Native writers; a handful of stereotypical Indians and some factual errors.
I'll have to find time to look through the catalogs for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. And the seven different catalogs in their "Wider" selection category. And the four in their "Special Collections" category.
In the meantime, I'm going to the campaign page and I'll be submitting a letter saying this:
I am looking for books by or about Native peoples. When I looked through your preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grade flyers for Feb of 2016 I found no books by Native writers or illustrators. NONE. ZERO.
Equally troubling is what I did find: several books in which the author stereotypes or misrepresents Native people/history/culture. For your records, those problematic books are:
- Buffalo Before Breakfast by Mary Pope Osborne
- Junie B. Jones: Shipwrecked by Barbara Park
- Stuart Little by E. B. White
- Thanksgiving on Thursday by Mary Pope Osborne
- Junie B. Jones: Turkeys We Have Loved by Barbara Park
Magic School Bus: Polar Bear Patrol by Joanna Cole might be ok. If I find a copy, I'll be back with an update. Will it be the one book out of 410 items on the order form that I would buy?
Actually--there's more than 410 books total across those four flyers. Some of the items are sets, like the 49 books in Item #46L6 (Magic Tree House Pack Books 1-28) and #47L6 (Magic Tree House Pack Books 29-49). If I add those 49 to the 410, I can say that...
Out of 459 books, none are by Native writers or illustrators.
Please, Scholastic, you can do better than that. All children ought to learn the names of Native writers and illustrators, and their respective nations, too! You, Scholastic, tell us that you have children's interests at the core of your company and what it publishes. I see lot of room for improvement. #StepUpScholastic. Do better.
American Indians in Children's Literature
People are already submitting letters. You can see them at the Tumblr page for the campaign. Please join this effort to get more diversity in Scholastic's catalogs.