Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tommy Hilfiger Playing Indian

Children's books and media are replete with characters (human and not) who put on a feathered headband or headdress and put their hand/paw over their mouths to make what they think is an "war whoop".

Given the pervasiveness of playing Indian, it is not surprising to see a kid doing just that in the new Tommy Hilfiger ad:

If you visit the Hilfiger page, you'll learn that the kid is named Eric, and that he "takes charge of art-directing the Thanksgiving table."

Here's one example:

The "Meet the Hilfer's" campaign (advertisement) is supposed to be oh-so-cool and quirky at the same time. I find it just plain offensive. It reeks of privilege and affluence. If I shopped there, I'd quit giving them any of my money.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Censorship of WANJA, a Picture Book by an Indigenous Australian Author/Illustrator

On Tuesday (August 17, 2010), listservs and Facebook were buzzing about author Pete Hautman's blog post, "The Nasty Thing in the Corner" wherein he talks about Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank and Impulse, being dis-invited to a Texas book festival because of the content of her young adult novels. Hautman's piece is definitely worth reading. Some of my colleagues in children's literature plan to add it to their required readings this coming semester.

The next day, I got an email from Katherine in the UK who reads American Indians in Children's Literature.  She thought I might be interested in Nigel Pearn's "Teaching children to read the Aboriginal world." She was right.

Pearn's article was published on August 18, 2010, in an Australian publication called Eureka Street. I'm unfamiliar with the publication, but really like Pearn's article. Like Hautman's blog post, it is about censorship. In Hautman's case, it was the author being dis-invited to a festival. In Pearn's article, it is about a book being removed from an Australian library.

The book at the center of Pearn's article is called Wanja, One Smart Dog. For some reason, I'm unable to upload the cover, but you can read the entire book online at Indij Readers.  As I clicked around the site, I see a lot of books I'd love to read. I'm glad to know about this publisher...  From their website:

Indij Readers is an innovative and unique, not-for-profit company that develops and publishes contemporary, Indigenous literacy materials for Indigenous and non Indigenous students learning to read and write. Indij Readers Ltd is listed on the Australian Register of Cultural Organisations and donations to Indij Readers are tax deductible.

Indij Readers For Big Fullas and Little Fullas is a collection of literacy acquisition classroom stories, accompanying teachers’ guides and other support materials (CD/audio, VHS/DVD film). The collection comprises stories from urban and rural communities around NSW and Victoria.

The aim of Indij Readers’ stories is twofold: to help students learn to read; and to encourage and support teachers to explore with their students, contemporary Indigenous perspectives and issues, and thus progress Reconciliation in Australia. The stories deal in a relaxed and often amusing way with issues that affect the lives of all children: culture, family, self esteem, pride, setting goals and working toward them, good health, humour, tolerance and school attendance.
Their authors and illustrators are from Indigenous communities in Australia. Wanja, One Smart Dog is written by Aunty Barbara Stacey and illustrated by Adam Hill. You can read their bios here. Reading bios of other authors and illustrators there increases my interest in Indij Readers.  

As I started looking into the controversy over the book, I learned that Wanja was a real dog. He lived in "The Block" --- a neighborhood in downtown Sydney --- with the author, Aunty Barbara Stacey. In 2008, a documentary was made about the Block. You can view the trailer here. (Like the cover of the book, I'm having trouble with this upload!!!)

According to Pearne, parents thought the book is inappropriate because it teaches kids that police are bad. We would agree, I think, that we want children to view police as good, but, who is the 'we' that we are talking about? I hesitate to create binaries, but, there's ample data about police, racism, racial profiling... 

In the video and the picture book, Wanja chases police vans because they brought police into the neighborhood---police who harassed the indigenous people, including children, in the Block. That is what anyone wants a dog to do, right? Protect us and our children from those who threaten us?

Do read Pearne's article. He provides a lot of history and context that push us to think carefully about things that on the surface seem clear cut. I want a copy of Wanja (order it from the Indig Readers website) and I plan to teach the book, coupling it with Peane's article. The book is an important one for all of us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Images of Indigenous People in Shakespeare and Children's Literature

Last week I was in Stratford, Ontario at the Shakespeare Festival. We saw The Tempest. I can't recall seeing it before, but I had a vague idea of Caliban and who he is in the play...

When he came onstage, however, I couldn't help but notice his resemblance (in this production) to the ways that American Indians are depicted in the Newbery award winner, The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, published in 1941.

Here's the page from the book. The illustrations are by Paul Lantz.

And here's Caliban, Stratford, 2010. (Photo from Robyn's Review)


This moment is important to my study of the ways that indigenous peoples have been portrayed in children's books, both in the present day (as in The Matchlock Gun) and in the past.... (Elsewhere, I've written about the ways that John Amos Comenius depicted American Indians as devil-worshippers in his Orbis Pictus, published in 1657.) 

Shakespeare wrote The Tempest in the early 1600s. Caliban is written as a monster. Shakespeare describes his mother as a witch and as a "blue-ey'd hag" who gave birth to Caliban, "a freckled whelp" who was "not honour'd with a human shape." My cursory research indicates there's been a wide range of interpretation of the character. What was Shakespeare thinking of when he created that character?

Was his Caliban informative to Paul Lantz when he created the Indians in The Matchlock Gun? On the other hand, did the costume person for The Tempest we saw see Luntz's Indians?! Course, neither is likely, but the similarities between the two is striking. Indigenous peoples, less than human... Sadly, infuriatingly, outrageously persistent. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wall Street Journal on Quileute Response to Twilight

The Wall Street Journal notes the Quileute educational response to Twilight...

I wonder if Meyer has a comment?

Update, September 7, 2010:  Just in case the article in the WSJ goes away, here's what it says:
To fans of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" novels, members of the Quileute Nation are shape-shifting Native Americans-turned-werewolves who protect the forests of the Pacific Northwest from bloodsucking vampires. But the actual Quileute Nation, a group of 700-plus Native Americans, more than half living on a reservation in La Push, Wash., have little in common with their literary and Hollywood counterparts. While the real-life Quileute have long been interested in the wolf as an animal and mythical creature, their traditions are a far cry from those "Twi-hards" have in mind. To combat these misconceptions and capitalize on the success of Ms. Meyer's novels, the Quileute, in collaboration with the Seattle Art Museum, will present "Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of Quileute Wolves."

If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the right side of this page. Scroll up or down till you see the section labeled TWILIGHT SAGA. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reflect and Refine's "10 for 10 Picture Book Event"

Over on Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community, Cathy (the blog's owner) has a "10 for 10 Picture Book Event" going on. She invited people to---on August 10---list 10 picture books they must have in their collection and link to the list from her site.

I am participating in the "10 for 10" event and posting my list of ten picture books for elementary school classrooms. Each book on my list is about American Indians, and, each one is by a Native writer. Each one is also tribally specific. By that, I mean that the story is in some way (by identity of character, setting, or the plot) rooted in a specific tribal nation. (Note: A few weeks ago I posted a list of ten elementary level books that I recommend. This list is slightly different because I did not want to duplicate authors.)

Reflect and Refine's subtitle is "It's not what we know, it's what we're willing to learn." Research studies demonstrate that most Americans know very little about American Indians, and, a lot of what Americans think they know is rather biased, outdated, stereotypical, and just plain wrong. A lot of people love "Indian lore" and "Indian stories" and "Indian mascots" and the like, but a lot of that is not actually rooted in American Indians. A lot of it is an interpretation by someone who is not American Indian. Simon Ortiz (one of his books is listed below) wrote about what people take from us when they take only some semblance of our traditional stories and turn away from embracing us as people who struggle with racism, injustice, poverty, appropriation... 

Children---be they Native or not---deserve accurate and reliable information about American Indians. I believe the books I recommend her can help you give that information to children. And in so doing, you'll be picking away and picking apart some of the biased, outdated, stereotypical, and just plain wrong information that children pick up in books and popular culture.

Bruchac, Joseph and Gayle Ross. The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale
Bruchac and Ross open and close this story in a terrific way. By that, I mean that the first page of the story grounds it in the home of a Native family. Looking at their furniture and clothing, it is clear that this is a family living in the present day. That seemingly simple opening and closing tells children that American Indian people are part of today's America. We didn't vanish.

Campbell, Nicola. Shi-shi-etko
A lot of students in my courses (and people in general) think that children should be sheltered from difficult aspects of the past or present. When they say that, I wonder what children they are talking about. Every child's life is not as innocent as we might imagine or wish it to be. Better to be honest, I think, than ignore things like the fact that American Indian and First Nations children---some as young as four years old---were forcibly removed from their families and taken to boarding schools far from their homes. These schools were designed to "kill the Indian and save the man." Nicola Campbell's book is about one young girl's departure from her home. It is a powerful story.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story
A tribal publisher! Hurray! I often tell teachers that their best source of information about a tribe is that tribe's internet site. Some tribes are now publishing children's books. Beaver Steals Fire is terrific for two reasons. The story is good, but, it begins with a page of information from the tribe itself, and, a request, too, about what part of the year the story should be told and why. 

Harjo, Joy. The Good Luck Cat
One of my favorite books, this story about a cat and its nine lives, but, each turn of the page (in text and illustration) grounds the story in a Native home. In my list, it comes closest (I think) to being a universal story.

Lacapa, Michael. Less than Half, More than Whole.
When I first read this book, I was in graduate school. It holds a special place in my heart because it is the first book I read (I was more than thirty-years-old by then) that included Tewa words (Tewa is the language we speak at my home village, Nambe Pueblo). It was the first book that reflected my world. Sadly, Michael Lacapa passed away and this book is no longer in print. Because of his contributions to children's literature, there is a picture book award named after him. I have served on that award committee.

Messinger, Carla. When the Shadbush Blooms
A lovely book!  Back in graduate school, I thought we needed books that would show past and present in a side-by-side format. That is precisely what When the Shadbush Blooms does. A Native family, moving through the seasons.....  Doing the same things, but in different time periods. This is a gem.

Ortiz, Simon J. The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa 'kashtyaa'tsi hiyaani: A Native American Tale
Simon Ortiz is one of our most esteemed Native writers. He's read his work at the White House, and he's doing a lot right now, working in schools in PhoenixThe Good Rainbow Road is about community, tradition, and sustenance of both. It is about looking back, and looking forward, too. And, its in three different languages: English, Spanish, and Keres.

Sockabasin, Allen J. Thanks to the Animals
A delightful story for a snowy winter day! It includes Passamaquoddy words, and there's a companion audio for it available, too. 

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Jingle Dancer
I've written about this book a lot. It is the one I recommend most often, because in a beautiful, yet matter-of-fact way, Smith tells us the story of a little girl who is going to do the Jingle Dance for the first time at an upcoming pow wow. Her family helps her, just the way that we got my daughter ready for her first dance when she was three in 1994. I would have loved to give her a copy of Jingle Dancer back then... 

Tingle, Tim. Crossing Bok Chitto
Tim Tingle's book is about two different peoples helping each other in time of difficulty. It is a remarkable and beautiful story from one of America's dark periods.

Waboose, Jan Bourdeau. SkySisters
Two sisters, outside, playing in the snow, looking at the sky...   Waboose gives us all a beautiful story that reminds us of what it is to play in the snow, but with the added dimension of Native identity.

Several of the authors listed above have more than one picture book, so it was tough to select only one of their books. Please consider adding more of their books to your collections.

(Note: I'll add book covers as soon as I can.....  Right now I'm having some problems uploading images.)

Updated Oct 27 2014 by adding images of all book covers. 

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A "Search Story" for American Indians in Children's Literature

NOTE, September 3, 2010: I reposted the video and added rationale for why I chose the books featured in the video. Please read the rationale, here.
Some say Google's "Search Story" program is little more than a video ad for Google itself, but, I made a "search story" about American Indians in Children's Literature. It was fun and easy to make.