Sunday, September 17, 2023

Debbie--have you seen TREE IN THE TRAIL or PADDLE-TO-THE-SEA by Holling Clancy Holling?

Every once in awhile I get an email or comment asking if I've seen a book by Holling Clancy Holling. It might be Tree in the Trail (published in 1942) but more often, people ask about Paddle-to-the-Sea. It came out in 1941 and won a Caldecott Honor. 

Can a book with Native content, published 80+ years ago, be used in classrooms today?

This post is intended to help teachers (or anyone who is considering a book's Native content) make a decision about the book they're considering. 

First, what is your goal? I'm going to assume that you're trying to provide children with stories that accurately depict Native peoples. That means providing the name of a specific nation. That means a story that is tribally specific. If it is about an "Indian" or "American Indian" or "Native American" or "Indigenous" character, that story is not tribally specific and there's likely to be a hodgepodge of content that is not educational. An example of a hodgepodge is a story about an Indian who lives in a tipi and next to it, a totem pole. 

Second, who is the author? If you're trying to give students an authentic story, it is important to know if the author is of the particular Native Nation or community the story is about. If they are not and if they did not live there, what are their sources for creating the story? Sometimes you'll find that information in an author's note, but older books generally do not include that information. 

Let's use Paddle-to-the-Sea to answer these questions. 

Holling Clancy Holling wrote and illustrated Paddle-to-the-Sea. He is not Native. Now let's look at his book. 

Chapter 1 is "How Paddle-to-the-Sea Came To Be." The first sentence is "The Canadian wilderness was white with snow." The second paragraph begins with sounds. Here's the rest of that paragraph: 
'Geese! cried the Indian boy standing in the door of the cabin. 'They come back too soon. I must hurry to finish my Paddle Person!'
"the Indian" is all we're told about him. We are not told the name of his Tribal Nation or community. We do learn that the "Paddle Person" he is making is an Indian he's named Paddle-to-the-Sea. The carved Indian is placed in a foot-long birchbark canoe the Indian boy has made. It is then placed on a snow bank. When "Sun Spirit" shines on it, it will melt and be carried to a river, and then to the Great Lakes, on adventures the boy wold like to have. The rest of the book is about its travels. 

We're given a name for the sun: "Sun Spirit." With the word "Spirit" in there, it takes on something that sounds like it is part of a Native peoples' spiritual teachings, but is it? 

I see that there are curricular materials available. The book has appeal because of the Great Lakes. It provides teachers with a way to teach science. 

But should it be used that way when we know the Native content is not tribally specific? My answer to that question is no. What do you think? 

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