Thursday, July 01, 2021

Indians, Eskimos, and guns in DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR

The original edition of Danny and the Dinosaur, written and illustrated by Syd Hoff came out in 1958 as an "I Can Read" book. It was published by Harper & Brothers:


Some years later, it was reprinted with brighter colors:



In the story, Danny visits a museum. When he goes into the museum, he sees "Indians" and "Eskimos." Hoff's book was edited by Ursula Nordstrom. When he submitted the manuscript to her, she thought his line about Danny wanting to "see how the world looked a long, long time ago" was unchildlike. She suggested he be specific and use "He saw Indians." (For more on this, see Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom edited by Leonard Marcus). He took her advice. People have objected to those stereotypes for years. We've written about them here on AICL. 

In 2017, the publisher celebrated the 50th anniversary of the book. On their website they had this worksheet. I put the arrow on it, shared my image on Twitter, and asked the publisher (HarperChildrens) to think critically about what Item E. invited non-Native kids to think about, with regard to Native peoples:



By the end of the work day, HarperChildrens responded, saying "We appreciate your valuable feedback and sincerely apologize that this activity was offensive. It has been removed from the site." (Screen shot below):


I asked if the image would also be removed from the book, but they did not reply. 

A few months ago, a Native parent told me that she and her daughter were reading Danny and the Dinosaur. She said that the page with stereotypical images of "Indians" and "Eskimos" had been edited. The stereotypes were gone.

Then, last month at the 2021 Children's Literature Association Annual Conference (online), I saw the edited image. Dr. Ramona Caponegro's presentation was about the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection archives at the University of Southern Mississippi. I've been there and have seen the Syd Hoff collection. Her presentation included information about Danny and the Dinosaur. I learned that the edited copy is part of a 5-book collection of stories about Danny, published in 2017. That was the 50th anniversary of the book. Edits were done to two pages that face each other in the book. 

First is the original (image is from a YouTube read-aloud of the book):



And here's the edited 2017 version from the 5-book collection (image sent to me by Dr. Caponegro):



The stereotypical Indian and Eskimo and the sentences "He saw Indians." and "He saw Eskimos." are gone. In the edited version we see a new bear. On the facing page, the guns and the sentence "He saw guns." are gone. These changes were not made to the hard cover that you can buy, today. 

Why were the changes made to one edition and not the other? 

A primary factor in edits is cost to the publishing house. When edits can be confined to a single page, they are more likely to be done because when edits cause a shift such that words move to a subsequent page, that may mean changes to every subsequent page--and that means more cost to the publishing house. I'm going to speculate that there's a different printer for the 5-book paperback collection than there is for the single hardcover, and that hopefully we'll see a change to the hardcover, too, but will we? Five years have passed since the edits were done. Why have the edits not been made to the hardcover?

And I wonder what prompted the edits in the first place? I'm speculating again that the publisher may have been hearing from parents who had concerns about the guns on page 7. So, perhaps a decision was made to remove them and, at the same time, remove the stereotypical Indian/Eskimo. No statements were made explaining any of this. 

Dr. Caponegro's research into the changes is on-going. Like Caponegro, I have many questions! When either of us has more to report, I'll be back!  

3 comments:

RDierking said...

Are you concerned that the strategy for dealing with the stereotype was wholesale removal? Rather than do the work to present people non-stereotypically, they simply get rid of them. I'm finding this disturbing on another level and wonder at your thoughts on it.

Debbie Reese said...

RDierking,

Some corrections to these problematic depictions have been done in some museums. See, for example: https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/theodore-roosevelt-memorial/hall/old-new-york-diorama

In Danny and the Dinosaur, a stereotypical Indian and a stereotypical Eskimo are on the same place/page as a bear. If a correction to the book was to be made, a better choice might be to place a Native image of a Native person of a specific tribal nation, in a specific time and place, next to an image of a white person of the same specific time and place.

In some instances, complete removal of stereotypes is the best option.

What are your thoughts?

Debbie

Maestra Rosales said...

I agree with RDierking. That's great the publishing company edited an edition of the story, but this whole cancel/deletion of cultures is a whole other problem.
Debbie - I see the point you are trying to make and understand it completely, but it's erasure of a culture in history. Rather than rid the indigenous representation, they should have included a more accurate depiction of the tribe(s) they were trying to represent. They literally drew a whole new bear...why not draw a more accurate depiction of someone from the Eskimo tribe?

~Maestra R