Sunday, November 11, 2018

At last! A writer incorporates a critical take on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE! The writer? Emma Donoghue.

That's a long title for a blog post, but that's what I want people to see right now.

In 2017, Arthur A. Levine (an imprint of Scholastic) published Emma Donoghue's The Lotterys Plus One. Though I've not had time to turn my notes on that book into a blog post, it is one of the rare instances in which a non-Native writer does ok in their depictions of Native content. Here's the description of The Lotterys Plus One (I highlighted the word 'multicultural'):
Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed "good girl" of her (VERY) large, (EXTREMELY) unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are: four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery. Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And not just any grandfather; the long dormant "Grumps," who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn't been part of any of their lives. Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the newcomer feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly Grumps's clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live: whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets, a multicultural household... He's worse than just tough to get along with -- Grumps has got to go! But can Sumac help him find a home where he belongs?

See that "multicultural household" in the description? On the first page of the book, we get the details (I highlighted the word 'Mohawk'):
Once upon a time, a man from Delhi and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow... and grow some more.
The household, described by some as being hippy-like, is one where there's an awareness of societal ills, like racism. We see that Donoghue take a poke at Little House on the Prairie in the sequel The Lotterys More or Less (published in 2018).  On September 24, 2018,  Dr. Rob Bittner tweeted a photo from an advanced reader copy. The book has since been published. The passage he tweeted is on page 194:
She's trying to find that wonderful Christmas scene in Little House on the Prairie, but she keeps coming across racist remarks about savages, so she gives up.
Here's a screen cap of that passage:

"She" is nine-year-old Sumac. The word "savages" is used three times in Little House on the Prairie (note: the Christmas scene occurs earlier in the book than the passages below. Before then, the ways that Native peoples are characterized as less-than-human is racist):

  • " many of those savages were coming together..." is on page 284
  • " night they heard the savage voices shouting." is on page 286
  • "...more and more savage warriors were riding..." on page 305

It is terrific to see that characterization described as racist. I wonder how readers will respond to it? Will they notice? Some will, for sure. Dr. Bittner did; I care enough to write a post about it, and I bet Native kids will notice it, too. If you have any thoughts on it or see people commenting on it, let me know!


Ava Jarvis said...

I am all for this. Seeing that racism as not being acceptable to a character in a story? And not as in, "oh, that author just didn't understand because it was Olden Times so it's OK really" which is just hella invalidating to kids. Calling that out is invaluable.

And not just to non-white/Native kids. White kids learn that it's good to call out racism, and not just go along with it for the sake of social harmony.

Also substitute kids with "adults" and it works pretty good as well. Of the many ills that mainstream media has caused, it's the idea that not taking sides, even against abject racism, is the "right" side---as well as the common idea that "all racism has a core of truth." Seeing that play out in my workplace and in my social relationships is infuriating. Beyond infuriating, actually: it has negatively affected my career because an Asian woman is viewed as being trouble by arguing in the same ways that white folks argue, and I've been called "mentally challenged except for programming" because of insistence that Asian folks can't be counted on to manage people due to our supposed calculating inscrutable oriental coldness. You can find all of this, and more, parading through mainstream media.

Call that shit out. Everybody has to. Even white people, who are often encouraged to abdicate that responsibility.

Additionally, too many editors would have asked the author to remove that line, because it causes "unnecessary tension" (i.e. white/settler readers might feel uncomfortable, and non-white/Native readers don't actually exist or their opinions don't matter).

TLDR: YAY for this book and author.

Erika said...

I just wish "Donahue" were alphabetically closer to "Wilder," so I could shelve them right next to each other.

Val O. said...

Ooooh, E. Ternes....think of the reader's advisory display you could do. Put them together as the good and the bad.