Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Use/Misuse of the Word "Treaty" or "treaty" in Children's Books

Last week, I had a conversation with an educator who told me about conversations they'd had with teachers about Sign of the Beaver. Here on AICL we've had several posts about the book. I can't recall why I decided to take a look at it again, but I did. 

In particular, I noticed the way that the author used the word "treaty":

On page nine, we see:
Since the last treaty with the tribes, there had not been an attack reported anywhere in this part of Maine. Still, one could not entirely forget all those horrid tales.

The book is set in the 1768; I will try to figure out what treaty the author is having the white character refer to. Obviously the second sentence about "horrid" tales is meant to tell us that white people were being viciously attacked by Native people. There's bias in that passage but use of "treaty" is ok. 

The next use is not. 

On page 30, Matt (the white protagonist) is grateful to Saknis (a Native man) who helped Matt recover from bee stings and a fall. He gives Saknis a book (his copy of Robinson Crusoe). Matt realizes Saknis can't read. Saknis asks Matt if he can read. When Matt says yes, Saknis says:
"Good," he grunted. "Saknis make treaty." 
"A treaty?" Matt was even more puzzled.
"Nkweniss hunt. Bring white boy bird and rabbit. White boy teach Attean white man's signs.
"You mean--I should teach him to read?"
"Good. White boy teach Attean what book say." 
There, the use of treaty is wrong. Treaties are the outcome of negotiations between heads of state. They are not something that a person and another person do. Using the word in that way, Elizabeth George Speare misrepresents their significance of the word. Why did she do that?

Her book won a Newbery Honor in 1984. Did anyone on the Newbery Committee that year notice the word being misused? Did Speare's editor notice? I have not seen any articles that address that point. I do see lesson plans that note the passage, but not in the way I am noting it. The reason Saknis wants Matt to learn to read is so that Native people won't be tricked by words in treaties. I find that a bit ironic because I think readers of Sign of the Beaver are being subtly led to a misunderstanding of the word. That may be due to a lack of understanding (in the author, editor, reviewers, etc) that Native peoples are citizens of nations. Somehow, they seem to be framing a treaty as a cultural artifact specific to Native peoples rather than a political one specific to diplomatic negotiations between heads of state. 

It reminded me of the way that Stephanie Meyer used it in her Twilight series. She has a treaty between vampires and a pack of wolves. She misused it, too. 

With that in mind, I posed a question: how are writers using the word in their books for children/young adults? I asked it, on Twitter, and will use this post to keep track of replies. At some point I hope to write a blog post about what I find. 

If you see the word in a book for children/young adults, let me know and I'll add it below. I am not limiting my question to anything other than books for children and young adults. Fiction, nonfiction, by Native writers, not by Native writers, set in the past or not.... I want it all. An analysis of its use will be interesting! I anticipate lot of misuse but hopefully, some good uses, too! Metaphorically would be fine -- if done carefully. We'll see what turns up, and thank you for suggestions! 

Children's and Young Adult Books that use the word "treaty"

Note: Initial list created on Jan 28, 2023; books added after that date will be noted with "[added on...]"). This is not a list of recommended books; it is a list of books that have the word treaty in them.
  • Belin, Esther, Jeff Berglund, and Connie A. Jacobs. The Dine Reader. Published in 2021 by the Arizona Board of Regents.
  • Boulley, Angeline. Firekeeper's Daughter. Published in 2021 by Henry Holt.
  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Published in 2008 by Scholastic Press.
  • Craft, Aimée. Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow. Published in 2021 by Annick Press.
  • Crawford, Kelly. Dakota Talks About Treaties. Published in 2017 by Union of Ontario Indians.
  • Cutright, Patricia J. Native Women Changing Their World. Published in 2021 by 7th Generation.
  • Davids, Sharice. Sharice's Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman. Published in 2021 by HarperCollins.
  • Davis, L. M. Interlopers: A Shifters Novel. Published in 2010 by Lynberry Press. 
  • Day, Christine. I Can Make This Promise. Published in 2019 by HarperCollins.
  • Dimaline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves. Published in 2017 by Dancing Cat Books.
  • Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Published in the US in 1952 by Doubleday.
  • Gansworth, Eric. If I Ever Get Out of Here. Published in 2013 by Scholastic.
  • Gansworth, Eric. Give Me Some Truth. Published in 2018 by Scholastic. 
  • Gansworth, Eric. Apple Skin to the Core. Published in 2020 by Levine Querido
  • Gansworth, Eric. My Good Man. Published in 2022 by Levine Querido.
  • General, Sara and Alyssa General. Treaty Baby. Published in 2016 by Spirit and Intent.
  • George, Jean Craighead. The Buffalo Are Back. Published in 2010 by Dutton.
  • Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. Published in 1957 by Harper.
  • Marshall, Joseph III. In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. Published in 2015 by Amulet.
  • McManis, Charlene Willing. Indian No More. Published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books.
  • Merrill, Jean. The Pushcart War.
  • Pierce, Tamora. Alanna, the First Adventure; Wild Magic, First Test, Trickster's Choice. 
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. Cold Falling White.
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. The Crosswood. 
  • Sorrell, Traci. We Are Still Here. Published in 2022 by Charlesbridge.
  • Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver. Published in 1983 by Houghton Mifflin.
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Published in 1883 by Cassell and Company.
  • Tingle, Tim. How I Became A Ghost. Published in 2013 by Roadrunner Press.
  • Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition. Published in 2021 by Levine Querido.
  • Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Published in 1876 by American Publishing Co.
  • Verne, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Originally published as a serial in 1870 in France.
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie. Published in 1935 by Harper (Harper Collins).

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Nostalgia for Margaret Wise Brown's DOCTOR SQUASH THE DOLL DOCTOR

Yesterday (Monday, Jan 17, 2023) this image appeared on the timeline of my Facebook account. Specifically, it was shared to a Facebook group about children's literature. I paused when I saw it:

Those of you who read AICL would probably have paused when you saw it, too. There's derogatory stereotypes on that page. I wish it was being shared to call attention to the problems but that is not the case. 

The illustration is from Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor. Written by Margaret Wise Brown, the first edition was illustrated by J.P. Miller. It came out in 1952. 

An author shared it on her page, and an administrator for the Facebook group shared it to a Facebook group for children's literature. Right now (Tuesday Jan 17, 6:26 AM Pacific Time), there are 40 likes and hearts on the author's original post. There are five comments saying things like "Love this!" and "Oooh, a vintage one to check out" (followed by a smiley face with 3 hearts on it). The original post was shared, uncritically, by five people. 

When I saw it on the FB group page, it had 36 likes and hearts and one comment from a person who has the book and quoted a line from it ("Whenever you are sick, sick, sick, call for the doctor quick, quick, quick!"). 

There's clearly a lot of nostalgia for what is--speaking honestly--racist imagery!

I submitted a comment to call attention to the stereotyping. I also anticipated the responses I'd likely get defending it, and included arguments to counter them ahead of time. This morning, the share to the children's literature group is gone. My guess is that the administrator who initially shared it decided to delete it. I wish they had left the post there, for discussion. 

You may recall that I wrote an open letter to Kate Di Camillo last year, about her Facebook post where she had warmly shared a memory of reading Island of the Blue Dolphins. She read my letter and asked her followers to read it, too. I think I'll share that post to this facebook group. There was a time when I had warm feelings about a book I read as a child. That book is The Five Chinese Brothers. I didn't see the stereotyping it in until I was an adult looking critically at images. I definitely see it now and when I work with teachers and librarians, I'll usually talk about that memory and letting go of the book. 

Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor is one I want to dig into a bit. The illustration above is from the first edition. Here's that cover (screen capped from an Etsy page):

In 2010, it was reissued (I think as an e-book) by Random House with new illustrations by David Hitch. Here's the 2010 cover:

Here's the review of the 2010 e-book from School Library Journal:
K-Gr 3–This newly illustrated reissue of a 1952 Golden Book recounts the illnesses of various dolls–squeaky soldier, teddy bear with a bloody nose, fireman with a broken leg, Indian with poison ivy, etc–and Doctor Squash, who comes running to dispense medicine and advice as needed. When the good doctor falls ill, the toys get the chance to return the favor and take care of him. Hitch's cartoon illustrations complement the text well with bright colors and great facial expressions. They are updated from the original (no Mammy doll) but still have an old-fashioned look. References to the snowman doll's illness and “wild Indian” have been removed. Perplexingly, the story does continue to refer to cough drops as “good as candy and just as pretty” and to mention writing prescriptions for measles, mumps, chicken pox, and whooping cough. Updated, but still a bit out-of-date.–Catherine Callegari, Gay-Kimball Library, Troy, NH. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the library edition.

Here's the review from Kirkus: 
A Little Golden Book first published in 1952 with illustrations by J.P. Miller sees new life with new art, proving yet again that Brown is synonymous with timelessness. When dolls are sick or in pain, there’s really only one doctor to call: the good Doctor Squash, who attends to their every need. From broken legs and poison ivy to coughs and the mumps, the doctor always has the right cure on hand. And when the doc falls ill, the dolls take care of him in return. Some of the original text has been updated to suit the times (for example, the Wild Indian Doll becomes simply the Indian Doll). Gone too are such anachronistic images as the mammy doll. Appropriate though these changes may be, it is a pity that there is no mention of them in this new edition. Nevertheless, playing doctor with dolls never falls out of style, and Hitch’s retro style and modern toy updates work overtime to ensure that this book becomes a classic all over again. Entertaining and charming. (Picture book. 4-8)

As both SLJ and Kirkus noted, the 2010 one does not have the Mammy doll. Neither review pointed out that the doll with a sombrero, huge mustache, serape, and guitar is also gone. (SLJ noted that the snowman is gone; in the original the snowman got frostbite on his left foot.) 

Here's the page with "the Indian Doll" (screen cap is from the Internet Archive):

If the text in the 2010 version is the same as the text in the original 1952 edition, the words on that page were "The wild Indian Doll fell off his horse when he was out for a ride one day." Do you think "The Indian Doll" is an improvement? I don't. 

At the website for the Smithsonian's American History Museum, I was able to find illustrations (but not text) for the original book. Here's the way Miller drew that page:

The "Indian" doesn't have a big nose, feather and tomahawk in the updated version. I suppose Hitch and the art director at Random House thought that was a good change, but it isn't. Not really. We still have use of a single image to represent "Indian" as though we're all the same. And I suppose they decided it is not ok to have a Black or Latinx doll -- that perhaps they can't be playthings, but did they decide a toy Indian is ok? I think they did. They are wrong, of course. They seem more knowledgeable than the people on FB who feel warmly towards the original, but the "Entertaining and charming" line from the reviewer at Kirkus is disappointing. Overall, from the readers on a FB group page to the professional reviewers, we see lot of room for growth. 

Obviously, I do not recommend Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor. 

That's all I have for now. On to other things. As always, I welcome your comments.