Saturday, February 18, 2023

Not Recommended: The Little Indian Runner

Yikes! You know how you get a request and think you'll take care of it 'tomorrow' and then suddenly, time has passed and it sits, undone? Well, that is me today. Three years ago...   No, let me say it this way: THREE YEARS AGO (caps capture my emotion) a librarian wrote to ask me about The Little Indian Runner. Written by a Native writer, I was (of course), excited. 

The book is by Mark E. L. Woommavovah, a citizen of the Comanche Nation. When he was a kid walking with his aunties, he'd run ahead of them, wait for them to catch up, and run ahead, again. In my mind, that's such a terrific image! A Comanche person of the present day giving us a book about his childhood, running, sounds great. 

But then...

I saw the book. I am so disappointed. The illustrations are garish.  Garishly stereotypical. The person who did them is James Koenig. He is not Native. Instead of a Comanche kid of the 1950s or 60s or 70s (I don't know how old the author is, so those years are an estimate of the time period during which he may have been a kid), we see a caricature that (to me) looks like it came right from old, stereotypical cartoons. I'm not sharing the images here. You can look them up if you wish. 

I'd have much preferred art that showed Woommavovah as he probably was back then: clad in jeans, some kind of athletic footwear, and a t-shirt. Instead, we get over this figure with its bare torso, painted face, feathered headband, leggings and breechcloth, and moccasins. 

The art is a mess. 

The content? That depends on the reader's point of view. It ends with the end of the runner's day when he goes to bed and says a prayer. It isn't a Comanche one. Instead, it is that "now I lay me down to sleep" one, which I think, appeared in The New England Primer in 1781. Anyone who recited that prayer or has children that recite it may like seeing it here, but I don't. My guess is that the author is Christian. He could have submitted the manuscript to a Christian publishing house, where an editor might have helped edit the writing (some of it is clunky). Based on what I've seen from some Christian publishing houses, they'd have probably been fine with Koenig's illustrations.    

Anyway for many reasons, I do not recommend The Little Indian Runner. 

And a note: If you have a story from your childhood and you'd like to get it published, I strongly recommend you read books being published today, by Native writers. There are so many to study. The goal is not to force a conformity in what you do; instead, it is to help you see where we are, now. A book like The Little Indian Runner might have gotten published by a major publisher years back but I don't think that would happen today. 

A final note to the librarian who wrote to me three years ago: I'm sorry it took so long for me to do this review! You had concerns. You were right.