Native American Children's Literature
Native American Children's LiteratureINTRODUCTION
OVERVIEWS AND GENERAL STUDIES
CRITICALLY EVALUATING NATIVE AMERICAN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
NATIVE VERSUS NON-NATIVE AUTHORSHIP OF NATIVE AMERICAN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
Juvenile and young adult literature either written by Native and Indigenous North American authors or centered around Native American settings, themes, and characters.
Stories involving North America's Native American population have long been a favorite topic for nineteenth- and twentieth-century children's authors—both native and non-native. Clifford E. Trafzer has suggested that many children have a natural affinity for Native subjects, commenting that young readers find “something sacred in the old texts, the ancient literature of America. Children know that the old stories link the children of the past to those of the present. The accounts provide children with a better understanding of this land and its first people.” However, there has been wide debate surrounding the depictions of Native culture and peoples in children's literature, with many critics lamenting the myriad stereotypes and simplifications about Native Americans that have perpetuated in many works of juvenile fiction and nonfiction. Despite these works' ostensible goals of promoting and honoring Native American traditions, the publishing history of Native-centered children's literature has generally been targeted toward a non-Native audience and authored by non-Native writers, which, some have argued, drastically increases incorrect depictions and misperceptions of these cultures. Several major works of children's literature have attracted controversy surrounding the authenticity of their presentation of Native culture, including Walk Two Moons (1995), which was awarded the 1995 Newbery Medal, although its author, Sharon Creech, is not of Native ancestry. While the international recognition of such works as Walk Two Moons is often seen as a positive development for Native American children's literature as a whole, debates about the ability of non-Native writers to accurately depict a foreign culture as well the continuing struggle to rectify enduring biases and stereotypes remain important issues in its scholarship and development.
As early as the late nineteenth century, the first children's novels to feature Native American themes and characters were published, although many of these texts were pulp Westerns, which portrayed Indians as bloodthirsty savages who attacked American pioneers with no provocation. Exacerbated by accounts of such early media celebrities as General George Custer, these inaccurate, racist stereotypes became entrenched early in the history of Native American children's literature and continued through the turn of the century in such titles as G. W. James' What the White Race May Learn from the Indian (1908). Another such work, Buffalo Bill (1952), part of a series of biographies by well-known children's authors Ingri and Edgar Pelin d'Aulaire, depicted several Plains tribes as murderous primitives who use poison arrows to attack a wagon train and also recounted a dubious account of a heroic Buffalo Bill killing an Indian. However, as potentially damning as such stories may appear to be, these unquestionably biased works were balanced, in part, by the more culturally accurate works of authors like Ann Nolan Clark, who wrote Little Herder in Autumn (1940) and Sun Journey: A Story of the Zuni Pueblo (1945). Clark was one of the principal authors of a series of books commissioned by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1930s and 1940s for use in the government-run boarding and day schools for Native Americans. Primarily focused upon the Navajo, Sioux, and Pueblo tribes, many of these books offered surprisingly accurate depictions of tribal life, details of which were often abetted through their regular reliance on illustrations from such well-regarded Native American artists as Allan Houser and Hoke Denetsosie. The Bureau's use of Native artists in children's literature presented a welcome, if limited, presence of ethnic artists in a field otherwise dominated by Caucasian illustrators. By the 1950s, even this small representation seemed a distant memory as the pool of Native writers and artists nearly disappeared, with only a few—such as D'Arcy McNickle of the Cree Salish, Zitkala Sa (Yankton Sioux), and Charles Alexander Eastman (Santee Sioux)—still actively publishing.
As the twentieth century progressed, the stereotypes and misperceptions regarding Native Americans in children's books continued to thrive. For example, despite the extensive variety in Native North American cultures—from the Iroquois and other Eastern tribes to the Snohomish and tribes of the Pacific Northwest to the storied Plains tribes like the Sioux—the North American tribal peoples were often lumped together as one analogous unit in works of adult and children's literature. Critic Jim Charles has listed several other pervasive myths about Native North Americans that have been featured in many children's texts, including the notion that North America lacked a sizable population at the time of Christopher Columbus' arrival in 1492 (the Native population may actually have reached as high as 90 to 112 million at the time); that Native cultures were primitive and unsophisticated in comparison to Europe; that Natives lacked any religious conviction; or that typical “North American Indians” were relatively indistinguishable from one either in appearance or cultural origins. Potentially more damaging has been the perpetuation of the belief that Native peoples—most often associated with books set either during early settlement efforts in the Northeast or in the clash between Western tribes and the westward-pushing pioneers in the nineteenth century—were violently inclined. Magda Lewis has argued that this stereotype was directly related to the attempts of Anglo-America to subvert Native cultures, asserting that, “[d]epicting the Native peoples as aggressors, particularly if it can be demonstrated that they are so by nature and the ‘warring’ is a fact of their cultural reality, conquering them, ‘domesticating’ them, and subordinating them becomes a legitimate activity for those who need to justify their dominance and economic and political power over this minority group.” Citing the example of the story “An Iroquois Hunting Party” from Ernest Berke's The North American Indians (1963), which purports to recount an unprovoked attack by an Iroquois tribe upon a hapless and innocent group of Caucasian settlers, Lewis has noted that the story's explanation of events “makes no suggestion as to the historical circumstances surrounding these Native ‘attacks.’ The omission of such a historical perspective speaks seriously to the Native Peoples' place in the social structure.” Even books offering more contemporized and fictional settings often unintentionally reaffirm such prejudices. Latrobe and Ruth Carroll's Tough Enough's Indians (1960), set in a typical 1960s American neighborhood, features a neighbor who describes “Injuns” as “too busy huntin' and beatin' drums and scalpin' other Injuns and white folks, cuttin' their skins and hair right off, somethin' terrible, and burnin' 'em up at the stakes” to be concerned with other mundane activities. While this image is rectified somewhat when the neighborhood children actually meet Native Americans, the book still presents various stereotypes from which it is unable to overcome. Ironically, the book's intentions are meant to be positive, with the young protagonists learning that Natives are not as frightening as they had been led to believe.
Perhaps among the most internationally recognized—and, in many circles, vilified—children's novels featuring Native American characters is The Indian in the Cupboard (1980) by English author Lynne Reid Banks. A sentimentalized story of a lonely boy who discovers that his cupboard contains the ability to channel historical figures through his toys, his primary interest is focused upon a figurine that conjures Little Bear, an Indian warrior from the past. While the book was immensely popular and remains a bestseller to this day, it has been a regular target of criticism for its inaccurate depiction of Native culture. Naomi Caldwell-Wood and Lisa A. Mitten have called The Indian in the Cupboard and its sequels “some of the worst perpetrators of the most base stereotypes.” The book ostensibly seeks to create a positive portrait of Little Bear and his Native wisdom; instead, however, many critics have charged that the book offers no more than a potentially offensive portrayal of a poorly researched Indian. Though Little Bear is described by Banks as an Iroquois, she nevertheless dresses him as a Plains Indian chief and, in the course of the novel, has him essentially “buy” a wife through the machinations of Omri, the story's child protagonist. Caldwell-Wood and Mitten have maintained that Little Bear “is described in stereotypical terms and speaks in subhuman grunts and partial sentences. He is manipulated by a more powerful human child, thereby fostering the image of the simple and naïve Indian whose contact with the white man can only benefit him and his people.” Jim Charles has concurred with these readings, arguing that Banks's “depictions of Little Bear as a savage, godless, and a ‘generic Indian’ begin in Chapter 1 … Other than discovering his preference to live in a Longhouse instead of tipi, the reader learns nothing from the book of Iroquois culture or worldview.” Even though Banks presents Little Bear as a heroic and loving character, her critics have maintained that a stereotype, even one couched in positive terms, still works contrary to reversing falsehoods, particularly with regards to impressionable children. As Charles has noted: “The ultimate effect of dispelling these myths through the teaching of American Indian literature is to humanize Indian people. Eradicating these myths allows us, students and teachers alike, to update our view of Indian cultures, to bring those cultures into the present tense, to celebrate their unique and universal aspects, and in the process to increase our understanding of and appreciation for the contributions American Indians have made and continue to make to our nation's history and culture.”
Recent history has begun to favor an increase in accurate, positive, and contemporaneous accounts of Native American life in children's literature. Particularly popular in this trend has been the retelling of myths from the various Native tribes. Further, many Native writers of adult works have been branching out into works of juvenile and young adult fiction, offering such titles such as N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn (1968), Michael Dorris's Morning Girl (1992), and Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House (1999). This increased importance placed upon Native American children's literature by important figures in the literary world demonstrates how perceptions have altered to combat stereotypes and present stories that reflect the contemporary experience of Native American youth. Jim Charles has singled out Dorris's Morning Girl for particular praise, noting how his “resolution of Morning Girl's and Star Boy's internal and relational conflicts lies not only in their growth and maturation, but also in aspects of Indian culture—in the comfort provided by their grandparents, the example set by their parents, and in the solace they find through living harmoniously with the world around them.” While such recent depictions, including such well-received series as the First Americans series by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, signify a welcomed inclusion into the ranks of Native American children's literature, they are only part of a larger historical body of Native children's literature. Donald R. Barclay has noted such texts as Mary Marsh Buff's Dancing Cloud, the Navajo Boy (1937) and Marjorie Webber Brown's Pueblo Playmates (1938) as examples of early works whose unique portraits sought to highlight the cultures of each tribe as accurately as possible. Barclay has labeled these texts as “good—surprisingly good to those who have been trained to expect only the worst from the past—and still worth reading. After all, the present does not have all the answers to the problems faced by Native Americans. Perhaps we could learn something if we listened to those voices of the past that struggled, imperfectly, with these same problems.”
However, while authors like Dorris and Sneve are of Native ancestry, Buff, Brown, and Newbery winner Creech are not, raising the question about whether Native American authors should have the domain of Native American children's literature exclusively to themselves. Questions about the influence of insider/outsider status and the importance of authenticity remain a continuing debate within the genre. As Jon C. Stott has contended, citing an informal study that alleged that only 20% of Native American children's books had Native American authors, considerations about the role of race are fair, though, final word about whether a racial group should or even can own a genre of writing make firm determinations difficult. And, in attempting to create ownership through such divisions, further separations between tribal cultures makes the question even more difficult. As Michelle Pagni Stewart has observed, “Since Indian nations are distinct cultures, with diverse belief and practices, can someone from a Pueblo tribe write about a Chippewa character with accuracy and authenticity?” While questions of cultural ownership and Anglo-readings of foreign cultures remain, many scholars have begun to suggest that the barometer for creating quality works of Native American children's literature may be the strength of the author's research rather than the author's racial background. Dane Morrison has alleged that “too many texts, continue to be filled with errors about American Indians because they neglect recent research. Hence, they perpetuate myths and … channel our thinking away from the real people into stereotypes—sometimes silly, often harmful.” Beyond these issues of authorship, the breadth and quality of Native American children's literature has continued to expand and deepen in recent years. Debbie A. Reese has stated that “[t]he closing decade of the twentieth century reflects a greater involvement of Native people in the writing, publishing, and criticism of literature about Native people than was the case for the first ninety years. There is, and will continue to be, resistance to their voices, but Native people have endured and persisted through hundreds of yeas of oppression and injustice, and they are bringing that same endurance and persistence to improving their literature that tells their stories.”
Carolyn Ten Eyck Appleton
Cocky Cactus (picture book) 1946
Jeannette C. Armstrong
Enwhisteetkwa: Walk on Water (juvenile fiction) 1982
Lynne Reid Banks
The Indian in the Cupboard [illustrations by Robin Jacques] (juvenile novel) 1980
Return of the Indian [illustrations by William Geldart] (juvenile novel) 1986
The Secret of the Indian [illustrations by Ted Lewin] (juvenile novel) 1988
The North American Indian (juvenile nonfiction) 1963
Marjorie Webber Brown
Pueblo Playmates (juvenile nonfiction) 1938
The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale [with Gayle Ross; illustrations by V. A. Stroud] (picture book) 1995
Bowman's Store: A Journey to Myself (autobiography) 1997
The Arrow Over the Door [illustrations by J. Watling] (juvenile fiction) 1998
The Heart of a Chief: A Novel (juvenile novel) 1998
Crazy Horse's Vision [illustrations by S. D. Nelson] (picture book) 2000
Mary Marsh Buff
Dancing Cloud, the Navajo Boy (juvenile fiction) 1937
Ann Nolan Clark
Little Herder in Autumn [illustrations by Hoke Denetsosie] (juvenile fiction) 1940
Sun Journey: A Story of the Zuni Pueblo [illustrations by Percy T. Sandy] (juvenile fiction) 1945
Walk Two Moons (young adult novel) 1995
Jane Louise Curry
Back in the Before Time: Tales of the California Indians (folklore) 1987
Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
Buffalo Bill (juvenile biography) 1952
Morning Girl (young adult novel) 1992
Tracks (young adult novel) 1988
The Birchbark House (juvenile fiction) 1999
Muriel H. Fellows
The Land of Little Rain: A Story of Hopi Indian Children (juvenile nonfiction) 1936
Henry C. James
Ovada: An Indian Boy of Grand Canyon (young adult novel) 1969
Tawa Mana and Youyou Seyah
When Hopi Children Were Bad (folklore) 1989
The Rough-Face Girl [illustrations by David Shannon] (juvenile fiction) 1992
Drift (young adult novel) 1985
N. Scott Momaday
House Made of Dawn (novel) 1968
Navajo Coyote Tales (folklore) 1988
Island of Blue Dolphins (young adult novel) 1960
The Tlingit (juvenile nonfiction) 1990
Good Hunting, Little Indian [illustrations by Leonard Weisgard] 1962
Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony (novel) 1977
Storyteller (short stories) 1981
Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
When Thunders Spoke (juvenile novel) 1974
Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth (juvenile poetry) 1989
The Navajos [illustrations by R. Himler] (juvenile nonfiction) 1993
The Sioux [illustrations by R. Himler] (juvenile nonfiction) 1993
The Iroquois [illustrations by R. Himler] (juvenile nonfiction) 1995
The Apaches [illustrations by R. Himler] (juvenile nonfiction) 1997
Penina Keen Spinka
White Hare's Horse (juvenile novel) 1991
Navajo ABC: A Diné Alphabet Book [illustrations by E. Schick] (picture book) 1995
J. B. Waboose
Mornings on the Lake [illustrations by K. Reczuch] (juvenile novel) 1997
Sky Sisters [illustrations by B. Deines] (juvenile novel) 2000
Antelope: A Navajo Indian Boy (juvenile novel) 1935
Magda Lewis (essay date 1988)
SOURCE: Lewis, Magda. “‘Are Indians Nicer Now?’: What Children Learn from Books about Native North Americans.” In How Much Do We Tell the Children?: The Politics of Children's Literature, edited by Betty Bacon, pp. 135-56. Minneapolis, Minn.: MEP Publications, 1988.
[In the following essay, Lewis examines how cultural biases about Native North Americans are often expressed through picture books for young readers.]
My focus in this essay is on the issue of cultural bias against the Native peoples of North America as these biases are presented to very young children by way of the children's picture book.1 Further, it will be shown that the appropriation of knowledge that serves the dominating group's political, economic, and cultural interests becomes general and taken-for-granted knowledge and is reflected in the status quo.
The books I have chosen to look at were selected more or less at random from an elementary school library and a moderately sized public library which houses among its collection a special Native-Canadian Section.2 My deliberate intention was not to do a historical survey, or a survey of a genre, or indeed to follow any rationalized approach to choosing the representative books. Rather, my intention was to imagine how a student in a primary grade (Kindergarten to Grade 3) in a large urban, predominantly white middle/upper middle class public school might go about choosing books in order to do a class assignment on “Indians.” What I will try to show is how, given a random selection of a limited number of books, the construction of a version of Native reality is accomplished for non-Native children. The possibility for a comparative analysis is provided by the fact that there is a small, but apparently growing, selection of books authored by individuals of Native descent. All of these were found in the public library. However, due to limited space I shall not be taking up any of these books in this paper.3
My son Geoffrey has just turned five years old. On the evening that I brought home my bundle of books, his eyes grew large and interested. He immediately appropriated the books, retired to a quiet corner and began looking through them. After some time, having leafed through all of the books, he emerged from his quiet place and asked soberly, “Are Indians nicer now?” The message so clearly given through the visual representations in these books was obvious to him and did not fail to make its impact. What this message is, is the focus of analysis for the remainder of this essay.
What is typical of the style of most of the books I found is that the pictures tended to be presented as snapshots. The text tended mostly to refer to the picture descriptively but made no attempt at connecting one picture to the next or indeed to locate the picture in a larger context. Hence the overall effect was one of disjointedness as the images were decontextualized and made to appear unconnected to a wider, reasonable, and sufficient cultural base. Generally, the books did not sufficiently explain the Native peoples' culturally based behavior, behavior which, therefore, tended to seen arbitrary, irrational, and “quaint.” This approach mitigates against the reader's ability to penetrate the culture with a reasonable amount of understanding.
The images presented in these books work successfully on two levels. For very young readers, the disjointed and decontextualized visual impact is immediate and implies a way of seeing the world. In the absence of counter images, the young child begins to assimilate this point of view and assumes it to be a direct representation of reality, much the same as she assumes family photographs to be a direct representation of reality. For older readers who have already had experience with this kind of imagery and who, therefore, bring a stock of preconceived notions to the text, these images work to reinforce those very notions. The individual, in projecting her “knowledge” onto the image, has its “truth” reaffirmed through the dialectic process: the image feeds the common understanding which in turn, in part, defines the image. Hence, it is clear that, in order for the images to make any sense at all, they depend to a large extent on what the reader already brings to the content. A good example of this process is provided by the title page of a book called The North American Indians by Ernest Berke. We are provided here with a picture of a lone Native man. He is typically naked on his upper torso. He is wearing elaborate ornamentation. There are three feathers in his hair at variously skewed angles. On his lower torso he is wearing buckskin, fringed leggings and there is a small blanket loosely strapped around his waist. On his belt there is a large knife in an ornamented case. He is wearing moccasins and in his hand he is holding a pipe. He is sitting “Indian style” (note how the stereotypical images have invaded the very language used to describe them) on a buffalo skin blanket on which there is laid out an ornamental item—rather prominently placed. His head is at a 45 degree angle turned toward the sky. There is a small fire set in front of him from which the smoke is rising straight up in the air in a thin, wispy shaft. His horse, also adorned with feathers and what appears to be a shield, grazes nearby. The man and his horse are alone on top of what appears to be a small hill, the terrain of which is very rough and rocky and looks hard and inhospitable. There are a few scrub bushes about. The man has a sullen look on his face, his mouth is downturned and his eyes are half closed. The fact that this picture appears on the title page is particularly interesting because there is no explanatory text that accompanies it. However, the picture is so heavily laden with stereotypical images that although we have no idea of what this man is doing or why, we almost seem to “know.”
What has been presented here is a myth, in Barthes' sense of that word,4 specifically in that the images of the Native peoples are overlaid by a socially determined understanding of the meaning of these images. Hence, for example, when we see the Native man, with his horse and pipe on the barren hill, his head turned toward the sky, we also see the “loner,” the “mysterious,” the “sinister,” the “religious": someone who is doing strange, yet strangely familiar, things. These are often repeated images of the Native peoples—images that reinforce our particular understanding of them. The images we see in these books are images that are laden with predetermined meaning and hence present themselves as statements of fact. Indeed, the hegemonic process has worked to its full potential here as the particular point of view of the dominant group; their ideological penetration into the warp and weft of the social fabric has so infused our common understanding and everyday knowledge that its validity and source are never questioned. In the process, Native reality is reified as their activities are abstracted from any sensible context.
What is totally lost in these books as a result of this approach is that first, they make it practically impossible for the child to become aware of the fact that a culture, foreign though it may be to the reader, has a reasonable and sufficient base which dictates certain acceptable behavior (acceptable within the parameters of that culture). And second, they conceal from the child the fact that it is necessary to have an understanding of different cultures from this perspective so that her knowledge of these differences does not feed bias but rather enables her to understand the possibility of approaching life situations from different perspectives. Inasmuch as there is on the one hand a proliferation of this type of children's material and on the other hand a suppression of the culture of the oppressed, it therefore appears that the agenda of the dominant culture is precisely the denial of such an understanding in order that their superiority, through cultural and therefore economic and political means, may be maintained. In other words, in order that the invader's treatment of the Native people, both through physical and cultural abuse and extermination, may be justified, in their own minds and historically in the minds of their children, these books serve as a vehicle for Dehumanization of the Native in the eyes of non-Native children and for Mystification of the Native in the eyes of Native children. The fact that, until only very recently, there have not been any significant publications offering perspectives that could effectively counter the standard images of Native peoples attests to the success of these processes: Both the dominator and the dominated have internalized the desired effects of dehumanization and mystification respectively.5 In what follows I shall examine in specific detail how this is done.
The most blatantly biased and misrepresentative book, and the one which set the tone for the entire collection, was a most strikingly “effective,” large, “childsized,” book by Ernest called The North American Indians. This book serves as a useful representative volume around which to focus the analysis of the other books for two reasons. First, it is the sort of book, a version of which every library has a copy, that I shall call the travelogue or photo album approach. It is effective precisely because of the repetitive images that are reinforced page after page, largely out of context and devoid of historical perspective. Its sheer brilliant colorfulness, the heavy, solid texture of the pages, the glossy and visually forceful images of the pictures have the effect of compelling the reader to look at it, and leaf through it, pressing its message upon her.
The cover of Berke's Indians, which serves as an introduction to the book, is a striking and colorful collage of perhaps a dozen Native people, of indeterminate origin, engaged in the stereotypical “War Dance.” It must be noted that nowhere in the text is the idea ever articulated of what a “War Dance” is, how and when it was used or how it connected to the wider social and cultural practices of Native people. Yet there is not one to whom I have shown this picture who could not identify it immediately as a “War Dance.” It is, therefore, most telling that these images which have been perpetuated about Native cultural practices have so invaded our understanding and awareness of these cultures that the visual clichés are accepted as knowledge. That the author chose this image for his cover, moreover, immediately locates the Native people as a warring people. In fact, as will become obvious, the perpetuation of the idea of the warlike nature of Native people is a central theme throughout many of the books I looked at.
On the front cover of this book, then, the overall image is that of feathers, “war paint” and frenzy. We see hair flying, weapons flashing, and drums being beaten. We can almost hear the “whooping” as we look at the wide open “chanting” mouths and the intense “crazed” faces. A frightening picture indeed for a five-year-old—if this is what Native people look like, he surely doesn't want to meet one.
This image is repeated again in a picture titled “An Iroquois War Party.” Here the men, eight to a canoe, are described as stripped, painted, and crafty. They glide out of the fog, “toward an enemy Indian village or a white man's settlement.” The white man's settlement, interestingly, is not described as an enemy settlement. However, the text goes on to say that “crafty Iroquois such as these terrorized the entire Northeast during the years of the French and Indian wars.” Here again the text and the visual images work successfully to reinforce each other. Visually the child sees, emerging from the fog, canoes manned by fierce-looking individuals, most of whom are hunched over—much as an animal would be when he readies to spring in attack. The fog imagery gives these figures a mysterious ghost-like quality. The text makes no suggestion as to the historical circumstances surrounding these Native “attacks.” The omission of such a historical perspective speaks seriously to the Native Peoples' place in the social structure.
Depicting the Native peoples as aggressors, particularly if it can be demonstrated that they are so by nature and that “warring” is a fact of their cultural reality, conquering them, “domesticating” them, and subordinating them becomes a legitimate activity for those who need to justify their dominance and economic and political power over this minority group. The question, therefore, of whether this is an accurate depiction of history is not only counter-productive to this process but in a real sense is irrelevant. “Hegemony,” says Gitlin, “is the suffusing of the society by ideology [those assumptions, procedures, rules of discourse which are taken for granted], by rendering their preeminence natural, justifiable, and beneficial” (1982, p. 206). That this was important in 1963 when Berke's Indians was published and that this is still important over twenty years later when this and other books of its ilk stand mostly unchallenged (by counter presentations) on school and public library shelves, gives a strong indication that Native rights and the challenge to the lack of such rights is an issue which is not current but which sits close to the surface of the socially arbitrated racial relations—what Gitlin calls organized consent.
This one-sided version of history is repeated again in a picture entitled “Osceola's Defiance.” The text reads as follows: “In 1834 the United States tried to force the Seminoles to move to the Oklahoma Indian Reservations. Osceola, one of their greatest chiefs, sliced the treaty to ribbons, starting a bloody seven-year war that cost the United States Government millions of dollars and the lives of hundreds of soldiers” (Indians, p. 16). That many Native people also died is not mentioned. The issue surrounding the removal of native people onto reservations, the land deals made and broken (still contentious issues among Native and European inhabitants of North America), or even an explanation of what Native reservations are, how they function, what purpose they are meant to serve, and why it was important to the European settlers—and the European population even today—that the Native people accept their removal to these reservations passively, is nowhere mentioned. The picture shows a defiant Native man, knife drawn, piercing a document. The soldier is indignant and surprised. That this “act of defiance” was not what caused the “bloody wars” but rather that these wars were the result of the presumptions under which the Europeans attempted to settle the “New World” is not in the best interest of the ruling and dominant groups to articulate. In this regard an interesting discussion could be had as to the culturally determined definitions of war—how acts of war are constituted, how winning in war is constituted, how honor of the “soldier” in war is constituted, how inter-relationships among people may change or stay the same during times of war and times of peace. These are only a few of the questions, the answers to which would be helpful in understanding how the Native population and the European population may have differed or concurred on what was going on during the time of the “Indian Wars.” Answers to these questions may even point to why the Native inhabitants were so easily defeated in many instances and why the “Indian Wars” in fact cover only a very short time in the history of the settlement of the “New World” (Wright 1975).
The emphasis on warring, this time fused with religious ritual, is demonstrated in the picture entitled “The Evening War Prayer,” (Indians, p. 28), showing the chief asking the aid of the gods the evening before his war party departs. The chief is standing alone, in the typical hunched stance, on a windswept hill, wrapped in a blanket, beating a drum. In fact the tendency to describe not only religious but a great deal of Native behavior in the context of warring and fighting is a constant and recurring theme throughout many of the books. Consider this description of life on the plains for example: “The Indians of the Plains were buffalo hunters and horsemen. They lived active lives following the herds, stealing horses from each other, dancing, and making war” (Indians, p. 2). Similarly in a small book, Plains Indians, in describing some (unexplained) game the text reads: “The Indians enjoyed games that were good practice for hunting, or fighting, such as racing, archery, or wrestling on horseback” (p. 25).
Tough Enough's Indians capitalizes ruthlessly on this distorted version of Native history and culture. In this book, as in most, our focus is first drawn to the front cover where the five Tatum children are shown dressed in fringed buckskin, headbands, and feathers, peering out into the distance from under their hands which shade their eyes. They all have sullen though not grotesque faces. It is interesting that the substance of the images in this book is not unlike those found in Berke's Indians with the exception that these are non-Native children “playing” Indian. While the caricatures are more whimsical and “child-like,” the message remains the same. The “whooping wardance” image is repeated as the story begins with: “Beanie Tatum and his brothers and sisters were playing Indians” (p. 5). The picture that accompanies this text shows the five children “dancing” around in a circle. Again they are all hunched over, they each have a leg up in the air, they wear headbands and animal masks, they have rattles and tomahawks in their hands. “All of them were hopping and bouncing and skipping and stamping” (p. 5). As the story progresses, the sisters Annie Mae and Serena attach chicken feathers to their horse Sass and their dog Tough Enough. The ensuing commotion brings Beanie who upon seeing the two struggling animals says: “Injuns didn't go fussin' up their critters that-a-way…. They didn't have time. They were too busy huntin' and beatin' drums and scalpin' other Injuns and white folks, cuttin' their skin and hair right off, somethin' terrible, and burnin' 'em up at the stakes” (p. 12). Somehow the message on the fly-leaf of this book, that this was a day when the Tatum children “learned a lot about people,” is lost in the discourse. While the book attempts to recover some measure of humanity for Native people as the story progresses, it is neither adequate nor effective enough to overcome these initial images so firmly established in the early pages. Quite aside from the false and distorted information provided in this lengthy exchange, one wonders what purpose the authors thought they were serving by providing such a colorful, detailed and gruesome description in a book intended for the enjoyment of young children. The white author of Indians indulges equally his lust for fantasizing and thereby participating vicariously in the aggressive, romantic, nomadic images of the Native that he himself, in fact, created. As seductive daydreams, these images, then, turn on themselves and feed their creator. They feed his need for escapism, not only at a benign level but also at a very destructive level. And all this is done at the expense of the Native people.
In Tough Enough's Indians, the children, having been lost in the woods with a forest fire raging nearby, find themselves face to face with a Cherokee family upon whose cabin they have stumbled. The children are terrified and Beanie says to himself as he gazes up at the Grandfather whose face is described as “seamed and leathery": “He's mean-lookin.' He's mean inside and outside. If I touched him with my tongue he'd taste bitter” (p. 41). As they go inside the cabin and begin to make friends with the Native children, Mr. Climbing Bear, the Grandfather, begins to sharpen his knife on a whetstone. The text continues: “Beanie looked at Annie Mae's long golden hair, at Serena's long brown braids. He shivered. But then he told himself, ‘Injuns don't go around scalpin' folks, not nowadays they don't. It was just old-timey Injuns did all that scalpin.’” This method of visual and textual representations, which fail to sufficiently articulate historical time or geographical location, which decontextualize and, therefore, focus on some specific behavior, magnifying it out of proportion to the total and complex cultural, social, and historical activities, results in the intermingling, exchanging, and fusing of fact with fiction until it becomes im- possible to tell one apart from the other. Whether these books represent fiction or nonfiction, therefore, is not a question that can be answered as easily and as thoughtlessly as it would at first appear.
Even defeat is turned back on the Native people in “The Smoke Screen” illustration in Berke's Indians. The attending text reads: “From time to time treacherous raids by U.S. soldiers resulted in the massacre of many Indian women, children and old people.” While the viciousness of the invader's attack is acknowledged, it is the Native people who are pictured escaping under the cover of smoke, having set the plains on fire. By not providing adequate explanation the author turns their defeat and retreat into a final act of aggression and destruction, rather than a reasonable strategy for escape. Hence the emphasis on warring and at the same time the omission of any honest historical context or any suggestion that the conflict, besides having to do with property invasion, obviously had a great deal to do with a clash of cultures—as it still does today—is repeated over and over again.
As a final example, the repeated reference to the Battle of the Little Bighorn serves as a useful summing up point. Projecting an image of the Native peoples as aggressive, warring, and ruthless is used to justify the aggression and ruthlessness directed toward them. At the same time this same image is used as an effective tool to quiet their potential thinking about Native rights and their relationship to a political, economic, and social system that has grossly ignored their existential reality. Through such quieting they become participants in what Freire calls the “Culture of Silence,” unable to emerge as critical knowing subjects for whom the world also emerges as an objective reality susceptible of change. The effectiveness of this silencing is demonstrated in no insignificant way by the fact that Berke's Indians, among others, is a book that appeared on the Ontario government's Ministry of Education circular of recommended books for school libraries—the recommendation having come from a panel that included a number of Native consultants. For obvious reasons, then, this process serves the needs of the dominant group well.
Back in Berke's Indians, the text reads: “The most famous battle between the Plains Indians and the U.S. Army took place in 1876 at the Little Bighorn River in Montana. Lieutenant Colonel George Custer led his troops into a Sioux Indian camp on the riverbank. Custer planned to move the Indians off their land, but the Sioux resisted. Many soldiers, including Custer, were killed in the fight. All over the plains similar battles were fought and men and women died needlessly” (p. 40). The fact that these deaths are described as “needless” seems to imply that the Native resistance to the invasion ought not to have happened.
Nowhere, throughout the majority of the books I looked at, does one get a sense of the validity of the Native culture, the invasion of this culture by the white settlers or that physical retaliation is not an unusual or unprecedented response to such invasion. Although care must be taken with children to explain possible alternative models of problem solving—even when these problems involve such serious things as the large scale appropriation of a people through cultural invasion, to present such a one-sided historical perspective does harm both to the Native child's and the white child's valid understanding of the historical significance and importance of her particular and distinct culture.
The flip-side of “The Native as Warrior” is “The White Man as Superhero.” In Berke's Indians the picture entitled “When War Cries Rang” (p. 8) is particularly interesting when it is juxtaposed to the picture called “A Desperate Situation” (p. 62). On page sixty-two we see a Native man taking on a huge bear in combat. The “lone hunter” battles the “six-hundred-pound grizzly” says the text. The Native man has only a small knife and his bow and arrow. Yet in the picture on page eight, three such men seem to be quite easily managed by the lone pioneer whom the “hawk-eyed” and “wolf-hearted,” “hostile Indians” have come to invade. One Native is lying on the ground holding his bloodied face, the second is just falling over from the blow of the butt of the white man's gun, and the third is about to be attacked. All three of the Native men have tomahawks. These, however, appear useless to them. White man as superhero is reinforced again in the genre of Superman and a whole host of T. V. and comic book invincibles. This image is again repeated in “One Down,” (Indians, p. 36) where we are presented with a picture under which the caption reads, “Cheyenne warriors retreat in confusion at seeing one of their number knocked down. The white men [notice the constant reference to Indian warriors but white men] armed with powerful rifles, make their stand a couple of hundred yards away.”
Significantly the vast majority of the images in these books are premised on a notion of Native people as individuals from a distant past rather than as a cur- rent reality. The fact that they are written in the past tense and the fact that the images are almost always contextualized in a typical noncurrent setting implies a distant past which has no relationship to the present. Typical of this is the book Plains Indians. The last page of this book shows a group of Native people being removed on horseback and in wagons to the Indian reservations. The text reads, “The Indians were finally defeated in 1890 at Wounded Knee. They were herded onto reservations on land that white people did not want. With no buffalo to hunt, their lives became dependent on the government. They lost their freedom, and their whole way of life on the plains they loved” (p. 28). And so it ended. What is striking about the picture that accompanies this text is that the season that is depicted is winter. Throughout the rest of the book—and indeed throughout all of the books in this selection—summer is the season that is most typically shown. Indeed, most often the pictures convey the image of parched heat and an inhospitable terrain. Here, however, at the end of the book, at the end of the “freedom and a way of life,” at the end of the “Indian Wars,” at the final defeat, the finality is reinforced by the visual imagery—that of winter and the last of the four seasons when everything “dies.” Symbolically then we are readied for the new spring, a new era when battle will no longer have to be waged with the Native people, when the pioneer of Berke's Indians can go on with his planting and tilling without fear of being attacked by “lurking, hostile Indians” (p. 8).
That these images of the vanished “Indian” permeate the cultural fabric of the child's social context is emphasized by the fact that Native images are at once everywhere and nowhere. Everywhere: children's nursery rhymes; advertising; and common language (e.g., acting like a bunch of wild Indians). The logo for Mutual of Omaha personifies this use of the Native image. It consists of a head wearing a feathered headdress covering the eyes. Below it is a bulbous nose and below that a down-turned mouth. What makes this logo particularly interesting is that the image is not only rigidly stereotypical and immediately recognizable as that of an “Indian” but it is difficult to imagine what religious/cultural artifact of any other group in North America could be used so blatantly, be so immediately recognized by the wide majority of the population and go so routinely unchallenged. In the context of the present paper, children's nursery rhymes are particularly relevant in that they are littered with Native images. The one that addresses itself specifically to the vanishing Indian, however, is the familiar “one little, two little, three little Indians.” As the rhyme proceeds up to ten little Indians, the countdown starts in the other direction until it stops at “one little Indian boy.” They are all gone but one. One can almost see the “little Indian boys” jumping out from behind trees, where they had been “lurking” and being “popped off” by the ever ready, vigilant white man. This is no mere fanciful extrapolation, overdone analytic zeal, or stretching an analogy. As Hartmut Lutz points out, there were economic, political, and ideological reasons for mythologizing the white man as superhero and the Native people as the evil that lurks behind every tree and which, therefore, had to be eliminated. Indeed, parallel images in Germany support the notion of the need for the dominating group to legitimize their power by making the ever present enemy invisible but still ever present. To justify the Superhero, as in Spiderman, how ever often the “enemy"—the forces of evil—is defeated, it keeps coming back. And so the vigil is kept up, the rhyme goes on and the books keep being reprinted. Lutz confirms: “Since in [Germany] no immediate economic interests called for the extermination of the Native Americans, no ideological justification was needed for the murder of Indians such as was developed and propagated by the English colonialists or the Americans in their literature. Although the colonial imperialism of the German empire was given ideological support in correspondingly racist children's literature on Africa and Asia, no political situation ever called for anti-Native American literature. There was no place for the song ‘Ten Little Indians,’ which thus became ‘Zehn Kleine Negerlein,’ [Ten Little Negroes]” (Lutz 1979, pp. 17-18). Nowhere: these images have become so much a part of everyday discourse and everyday references that they most often no longer (if they ever did) appear to be curious or strange or ridiculous. Racism is the dialectical relation between these two poles: Everywhere and Nowhere. Racism grows out of those hegemonic forces that on the one hand strive to make the dominated group invisible while at the same time make them a central thread in the fabric of social, political, and particularly economic structures.
In “Bad Medicine” (Indians, p. 37) the picture shows a group of defeated “warriors” as they head back to camp after an unsuccessful “raid.” They look demoralized, “scrawny,” and weak. One wonders why men such as these were ever sent to battle in the first place. The whole picture—ground, cliffs, sky, and men—is tinted with a deep red hue; the men practically blend into the landscape. It is interesting, therefore, that even though the book is constant with its references to Native attacks, raids, and slaughter of the white man, nowhere do we have a picture showing European settlers in a defeated posture. There is obviously no such bias toward not showing Native people in this way. Hence the superiority of the white man's image is maintained. Even in defeat, such as the description of the battle of the Little Bighorn in Wellman's Indian Wars and Warriors: West, the image of the white man's superiority is reiterated. In this book, the vehement denial that Custer perhaps committed suicide on the one hand, and on the other, the assertion that he in fact “fell on the field of battle, brave to the last” portrays an image of the white man that is echoed in a small book entitled The Indian Princess. In this story, the white captain is described as “… a true soldier of fortune, brave as a lion, with fair skin, blue eyes and a bushy yellow beard” (p. 5).
The genre, “White Man as Superhero,” reaches its ultimate manifestation when it is connected in the child's mind with the “knight in shining armor.” This is exactly the message in The Indian Princess where the explorers have just come ashore from their ships bearing “the red cross of St. George on their white sails,” and “the armor of their officers shone in the sun” (p. 4). Contrast this with the description of the Native people (in the same book) when John Smith was captured and taken to the Native village to see Powhatan. When he entered the house, “Smith blinked in the reek of the smoke and of the bear's grease with which the Indians dressed their hair and skins.” But unlike the perpetually “hunched” Indians, “in spite of his fear he stood up straight and held his head up high” (p. 15).
This same contrasting image is echoed in a contemporary story about a Native boy who lives on an Indian reservation: Alphonse Has an Accident. When he gets burnt in a game he and his friend play, which consists of throwing a lighted match into empty oil drums, Alphonse is taken to the hospital in the city. When he awakens in the hospital room, the text continues: “Alphonse had never seen such a nice room all white, and everything so shiny and sparkly” (p. 13). When he sees the nurse, “Alphonse just stared at her. He had never seen anyone so beautiful. The nurse had hair just like the angels in Father Bernard's church window” (p. 11). (She was blonde.) These vividly contrasting images of the white people's world and the Native people's world go a long way toward structuring the social relations between these groups in such a way that the legitimacy of the former precludes the legitimacy of the latter.
The connection between Native people and animals is yet another constant image that contributes to the child's understanding of the Native as inferior, incapable, and unseen. The hegemonic process connects in this image at many levels not the least of which is the white, urban child's relationship to animals both in the urban and rural context. Hence the full force of the constant comparisons between Native people and animals and the analogies, both textual and visual, drawn between their behavior can be understood from this perspective. This is particularly so when, at the same time, those Native cultural practices that depend on the material conditions embedded in a reciprocal relationship between nature and everyday life in the Native village are never addressed.
The repeated reference to the Native people as “hawks” and “wolves” provides an image of stealth, unpredictability, and cunning. First, that these animals often do their hunting under the cover of darkness suggests a cunning that even very young children cannot help but connect to the image of the Native people presented here. And, second, because children's literature is stocked with references to the “Big Bad Wolf,” the association is doubly sinister. The description of the white man, on the other hand, as a lion (as is the case in The Indian Princess) immediately connects in the child's mind with the “King of Beasts.” Statements such as, “like the animals they hunted, the Ojibwa could see far into a thicket and hear even a twig snap,” (Indians, p. 13) are neither value-free nor inconsequential. The portrayal of Native people as animals (and equally portraying animals as Native people, which many children's books do) denies them their full humanity. It is the worst kind of mystification, which not only contradicts their culture, style of life, social, economic, and political reality, but also denies their very existence as fully human beings. The effect of such portrayals is fully comprehended when it is used not only to justify any kind of offensive and aggressive behavior directed against them, but in fact to contribute to the notion of their nonexistence, hence requiring no political, economic, or social accounting to be taken of their domination.
It is one of the myths and certainly one of the easy rationalizations for harnessing the labor power of one segment of the population by another segment of the population, to claim that those who are thus subjugated do not mind or even prefer their positions of service. The history of the Black races, the history of the working classes, the history of women and cer- tainly the history of Native people are circumscribed by such justifications. Again Berke's Indians serves as a good starting point for exploring these images. In a picture called “The End of the Portage” (p. 13), showing a French fur trader and his Native guides and porters, the fur trader is carrying a gun and a knife. The Natives are carrying the canoes and large packs on their backs. However, there is no suggestion as to the negotiations or the conditions under which these relationships were formed between the white men and the Native people.
On the contrary, in a bizarre little book called Granny and the Indians, the negotiations and circumstances under which the Native people become “willing servants” is all too clear. This book deserves a much closer examination than is possible to accomplish here at this time as it provides a litany of stereotypes and distorted and dehumanizing images that require comment. However, in this writing I shall limit myself to the construction of “native as willing servant.” As the story opens, Granny, with large determined steps, is heading off toward the woods. Her encounter with a bear is no problem—Superhero Granny “whacked the bear across the nose” with the butt of her gun. There is a befeathered head peering out from behind the bushes as “eyes, Indian eyes, watched Granny.” When she sees a rabbit in a trap, Granny removes it to her basket and goes home to make stew. Again, “eyes, Indian eyes, watched her,” this time from behind a tree. The next day, when Granny goes berry picking, a big fish leaps out of the river and lands in her basket. The ever present Indian peering out from behind the tree has become “… eyes, those angry Indian eyes watching her” (italics added). When Granny sees a big fat turkey up in the tree, she aims her gun, although it is not loaded, and pulls the trigger. The turkey falls out of the tree with an arrow in it to which her only response is, “Well do tell!” As Granny sits at her dinner table eating the turkey, there are several Native people looking in her window, eyes squinched, mouths downturned and feathers in place. Their faces without exception are grotesque. But “Granny didn't see those eyes, those angry Indian eyes looking at her.”
The next page shows the Native people conferring as to what to do about Granny who is “taking our food.” One suggestion is “we could shoot her.” But the “chief” does not think that this is a good idea because the people from the town would shoot them in turn. Granny's problems begin when her cabin catches fire. Granny's solution to her problem, however, is not to move to town, or build another cabin. Instead she heads for the Native settlement and announces, “My house has burned down…. I'm moving in with you.” She moves into their long house, and with the declaration, “This place is a mess! … I'll have to fix that,” she goes about “cleaning” and rearranging. When the chief implores her to “go home” she answers, “I am home.” Lutz's analysis of the imperialist agenda is confirmed at this point as it comes through with full force. This brings us finally to the Native as Willing Servant in the solution that the Native people have devised as a way of dealing with Granny Guntry. They build her a new cabin and when Granny offers to come and cook for them every day so she “won't have to worry about meat for my stew pot,” the Native people decide to supply her with meat instead, which they leave daily by the door in a basket.
On the last page we see Granny, with a sly smile on her face saying, “I could have done a lot for those Indians. I'll tell them so when I see them.” But of course she never does see the Native people again. Whether this final statement from Granny locates the Native people, as they so often are located, as helpless, irrational, incapable, incompetent, and child-like and hence needing Granny Guntry (or the Department of Native Affairs) to look after them; or whether the imagery and message connect more closely to the Vanished Native, who while he no longer needs to be taken account of still somehow participates, and contributes to procuring “meat for our stew pot,” is difficult to decide. Nonetheless, “to the extent that a minority of individuals [Granny], in whose hands rests the control of power and therefore capital, is able … to define [and prescribe] the very quality of life of the majority [the Native people in this story] whose only bartering power lies in the sale of their labor [whatever the negotiated currency], the controlling interests hold unprecedented possibilities for manipulating the economic, political, and social context for the realization of their own goals” (Lewis 1977, p. 15). What role text and trade books play in this process is clarified by Anyon: “If school knowledge is examined as a social product, it suggests a great deal about the society that produces and uses it. It reveals which groups have power and demonstrates that the view of these groups is expressed and legitimized in the school curriculum. It can also identify social groups that are not empowered by the economic and social patterns in a society and do not have their views, activities, and priorities represented in the school curriculum” (1979, p. 328). In Granny and the Indians, it is clear who belongs to which group.
The Indian Princess falls prey to this same image. In this well known story of Pocahontas, the young Indian girl saved John Smith's life only to be kidnapped on board the British ship and held in ransom for food. She is eventually taken to England where “she was to show that the ‘savages’ could be civilized” (p. 28). Her “dignified behavior” made her famous throughout London. However, on the last page we are told that since the “Indians had no real resistance to the diseases of Europe” Pocahontas and all her Indian servants (who wore full paint and feathers) soon died. Again there is no sense of conflict or of resistance but only a willingness to be subjugated. Further, that there is something inappropriate about being showcased as the “savages from America” and being required to dress in religious and ceremonial attire is never questioned. The selective silences echo throughout these books for children. The commodification of a people, not only the sweat of their brow but also their culture, their religion and their emotional, social and psychological life are unproblematically paraded across the pages of these books. Although it is not impossible to use such books and stories for stimulating discussion and for bringing even quite young children to an awareness of the problems inherent in presenting Native history and culture in this way, the sheer authority of colorful, well presented books, and the general unavailability of counter images presented in books of equal quality makes this task rather difficult for the teacher or librarian.
The clichés, in fact, are legion. I have touched here only on the four major themes that permeate the images and that serve as the child's predominant source of knowledge about Native history and culture. Other themes could just as easily have been chosen and they would have yielded equally rich material for discussion. What I have tried to show in this short paper is that these images of Native people are not confined to one book but rather that this version of Native history and culture has a consistency in children's picture books which the child cannot escape. Given the social, political, and economic context within which the publishing industry functions, it is perhaps not surprising that the books, both from the school library and from the public library, were so blatant in their biases and represented often and with noticeable impact the view of the dominant culture. In general, as can be seen, the culturally biased view of the Native peoples is the familiar one often represented through other popular media such as television, consumer items and service industries catering to the tourist trade. These various and wide-ranging vehicles for the dissemination of the popular culture work in remarkable concert to bring forth the accepted version of Native reality.
Although the literature from the public library contained some of the books found at the school library as well as many not found there, there was a small selection of materials that were more subtle in their biases, as well as a small collection of materials that presented a rather different understanding of Native history and culture.6 Analysis of this material is included in a longer version of this paper. Whether these in fact succeed in showing Native people in a more positive light is not altogether clear since the social, political, and economic forces that created the necessity for presenting a particular view of Native people has not changed substantially over the past one hundred years. Nonetheless these books are a welcome development as they present quite significant counter images to those described above. It seems to me that picture books for children, with regard to bias, ought to serve at least two distinct, but not unrelated, purposes. For the non-Native child, the images presented ought to locate the minority groups in such a sensible and acceptable cultural milieu that the understanding of the characteristics of these cultures locate them as complete and reasonable responses to the life situations of each specific group. For the Native child, these images must provide this same understanding, but beyond it they must also provide a basis from which to counter the realities of bias and prejudice. Because of these apparently divergent interests it is sometimes assumed by both Native and non-Native teachers that it is not possible to present the same images and content to Native and non-Native children. Those who would argue against presenting the same images to Native and non-Native children do so on the premise that Native children must be reimmersed in a Native framework in order to be able to understand the Native culture which they have to a large degree lost. Conversely, then, it is contended that it makes no sense to require of non-Native children the same level of immersion into a commitment to the culture, as would be required to Native children, just as it would make no sense to require them to immerse themselves in Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism if these do not represent their ancestry. Nonetheless, the results of such an examination, as in this paper, clearly points to the conclusion that “To the extent that the needs of the social, economic, and political institutions take precedence over the needs of the individuals who are involved in them, society demands that the function of education should be to integrate individuals into accepting, either consciously or unconsciously, the human relationships inherent in the system. Education, therefore, is used as a manipulative device whereby individuals are prepared to adjust to the world in its context of social, political, and economic relations, while systematically denying them the possibility to critically perceive these relations and to critically respond to them” (Lewis 1977, p. 110). But it must not be forgotten that at the same time, as Anyon says: “The school curriculum as a major contributor to social attitudes can be used to change those attitudes. To argue that ideologies influence behavior is to accord real power to symbols and symbolic forms in education. Just as the public school curriculum has hereto supported patterns of power and domination, so can it be used to foster autonomy and social change” (1979, p. 385). It is on this terrain that the struggle for social justice must be contested.
1. I wish to acknowledge Roger Simon for his support and useful criticisms of an earlier draft of this paper; and also Joel Taxel for his welcome comments.
2. In my efforts to trace how books eventually make their way to a library shelf I spoke to several people in bookstores; the reference library for all Canadian books published in the last decade; the Writers' Union of Canada; Book and Periodical Development Council; the Freelance Editors' Association of Canada; and some school and public librarians. While these contacts were all undocumented telephone or personal conversations, the general consensus of my discussions with them seemed to be that anything a publisher thinks will sell will get published. The decisions are made based on general and subjective judgments as to what the buying public will or will not accept. With regard to discussions about censorship it was generally felt that if counter positions needed to be presented, it would be incumbent upon someone to write a book from this different perspective and have it published. Whether this is in fact possible, given the vagaries of the economics governing the publishing industry, was not addressed by the respondents to my questions. [See my comments in footnote twenty-five in the Introduction.—Ed.]
3. Some of this work has been undertaken in a longer version of this paper.
4. “Myth does not deny things, on the contrary, its function is to talk about them; simply it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them a natural and eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact. If I state the fact of French imperiality without explaining it, I am very near to finding that it is natural and goes without saying: I am assured” (Barthes 1982, p. 143).
5. What is surprising about many of these books is the copyright dates—these are not books of the era of Little Black Sambo. The least recent book I looked at was published in 1960—except for a single reference to a book published in 1959—and the others published far more recently than that.
6. I have marked these books with an * in the Book List. For a perspective on the debate as to whether Native authorship is important—indeed essential for presenting culturally and historically unbiased materials in children's literature, the following two articles should be looked at: Byler (1974, pp. 36-39) and Rockwood (1982, pp. 1-5).
* Armstrong, Jeannette C. Enwhisteetkwa: Walk in Water. Okanagan Indian Curriculum Project, Penticton, 1982.
Berke, Ernest. The North American Indian. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1963.
Border, Rosemary. The Indian Princess. London: MacDonal Educational Limited, 1978.
Carroll, Ruth and Latrobe. Tough Enough's Indians. New York: Henry Z. Walck Inc., 1960.
* Dewdney, Selwyn. The Hungry Time. Toronto: James Lorimer and Co., Publishers, 1980.
* Dolby, Lois, and Jeannette McCrie. The New Baby. Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, n.d.
Football, Virginia. Tsequa and the Chief's Son. Dogrib Legends, Programme Development Division, Department of Education, Northwest Territories, 1974.
* Fox, Mary Lou. Why the Beaver Has a Broad Trail. Manitoulin Island, Ont.: Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, 1974.
* ———. How the Bees Got Their Stingers. Manitoulin Island, Ont.: Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, 1977.
Friskey, Margaret. Indian Two Feet and His Horse. Chicago: Children's Press, 1959.
———. Indian Two Feet and His Eagle Feather. Chicago: Children's Press, 1961.
Hamilton, Mary. The Sky Caribou. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1980.
Hiebert, Susan. Alphonse Has an Accident. Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1974.
Parish, Peggy. Granny and the Indians. New York: Macmillan, 1969.
Pluckrose, Henry. Plains Indians. Toronto: Gloucester Press, 1980.
Russell, Don. Sioux Buffalo Hunters. New York: Meredith Press, 1962.
Stuart, Gene S. Three Little Indians. National Geographic Society, 1974.
Anyon, Jean. “Ideology and United States History Textbooks.” Harvard Educational Review 49, no. 3 (August 1979).
———. “Social Class and School Knowledge.” Curriculum Inquiry 11, no. 1 (1981). Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
———. “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” Journal of Education (Boston) 162, no. 1 (Winter 1980).
Apple, M. W. Ideology and Curriculum. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Toronto: Granada Publishing, 1982.
Byler, Mary Gloyne. “The Image of American Indians Projected by Non-Indian Writers.” School Library Journal (Feb. 1974).
Council on Interracial Books for Children. Unlearning “Indian Stereotypes.” New York: 1977.
Derman-Sparks, Louise, et al. “Children, Race, and Racism: How Race Awareness Develops.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 11, nos. 3 and 4 (1980).
Falcon, Nieves. “The Oppressive Function of Values, Concepts, and Images in Children's Books.” In The Slant of the Pen: Racism in Children's Books, edited by Roy Preiswick. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1980.
Giroux, Henry. Ideology, Culture, and the Process of Schooling. London: Falmer Press, 1981
———. Theory and Resistance in Education. Massachusetts: Bergin and Garvey Publishers, Inc., 1983.
Gitlin, Todd. “Television's Screens: Hegemony in Transition.” In Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education, edited by Michael Apple. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.
Lewis, Magda. Some Implications of Paulo Freire's Philosophical and Pedagogical Approach for Canadian Education. Master's Thesis. Univ. of Toronto, 1977.
Lutz, Hartmut. “The Image of the American Indian in German Literature.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 10, nos. 1 and 2 (1979): 17-18.
———. “Indians Through German vs. U.S. Eyes.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 12, no. 1 (1981): 3-8.
Rockwood, Joyce. “Can Novelists Portray Other Cultures Fairly.” The Advocate (Univ. of Georgia) 2, no. 1 (Fall 1982): 1-5.
Seale, Doris. “Bibliographies about Native Americans—A Mixed Blessing.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 12, no. 3 (1981): 11-15.
Taxel, Joel. “Justice and Cultural Conflict: Racism, Sexism, and Instructional Materials.” Interchange 9, no. 1 (1978-79).
———. “The Outsiders of the American Revolution: The Selective Tradition in Children's Fiction.” Interchange 12, nos. 2-3 (1981).
Wexler, Philip. “Structure, Text, and Subject: A Critical Sociology of School Knowledge.” In Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education, edited by Michael Apple. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977.
Willis, Paul. Learning to Labor. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1977.
Wright, Will. Sixguns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1975.
Jim Charles (essay date September 1996)
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Donald A. Barclay (essay date September-October 1996)
SOURCE: Barclay, Donald A. “Native Americans in Books from the Past.” Horn Book Magazine 72, no. 5 (September-October 1996): 559-65.
[In the following essay, Barclay traces the depictions of Native Americans in children's literature from the 1930s to the present, highlighting the frequent stereotypes that have hampered the genre.]
Since approximately the late 1960s, there has been a steady flow of critical writing on the subject of anti-Native-American bias in children's literature. Most of the criticism has challenged readers and writers to reconsider the way Native Americans have been, and are, portrayed in children's books. There is no arguing that such a challenge is needed; anyone familiar with children's literature is aware of the many inaccurate and racist portrayals of Native Americans in children's books. Take, for example, the d'Aulaires' Buffalo Bill (Doubleday), published in 1953. The text of Buffalo Bill inaccurately informs readers that Plains tribes commonly used poisoned arrows against settlers, and one of the illustrations depicts a stereotyped attack on a wagon train. Of course, before the book has gone many pages, the heroic young Buffalo Bill gets to kill an Indian who has crept up on the whites under cover of darkness.
Many of the children's books published before 1970, such as Buffalo Bill, are blatantly racist and deserve the criticism they have received. A look at the dime-novel Westerns that flourished from the 1860s to the early 1900s shows that racism toward Native Americans was once a central feature of books marketed to children. This century, too, has produced significant numbers of children's books so blatantly racist that they would never be published today. Sprinkled among all these old shoot-'em-ups and Indian-bogeyman books, however, are older children's books that do not fit the racist mold.
The Special Collections of New Mexico State University Library, which is centered on the Diana and Joe Stein Collection of 1,100 mostly Western-themed children's books, provides some thirty examples of illustrated children's books about Native Americans published before 1970 that might be recommended today. Of course, no one can begin to consider a group of books like these without addressing the issue of stereotypes. Over the last twenty-some years, critics have developed some guidelines about stereotypes to be avoided in portraying Native Americans. While it is shortsighted to ignore context and condemn a book solely because a stereotype or two is present, the presence of multiple or egregious examples of the following stereotypes is seen by many critics as indicating racial insensitivity:
• Native American peoples and Native American cultures should not be shown as inferior to white peoples and white cultures;
• Native Americans should not be shown as existing only in the past;
• Members of different tribal groups should not be lumped together under the generic rubrics of Indians or Native Americans;
• Native Americans should not be shown as violent, humorless, or lacking in emotion;
• Native Americans should not be shown as buffoons or as ignorant Tonto-talkers;
• Elements of Native American culture, including ethnic garb, religion, and daily life, should be portrayed realistically;
• Animals and non-Native American children should not be shown dressed as Native Americans;
• Native Americans should not be depicted as objects in counting or alphabet books;
• Native Americans should not be shown practicing only stereotypical professions;
• Native Americans should not be depicted as having stereotypical features such as hooked noses or unnaturally red skin.
However, there is something to be said against condemning a book as racist simply because a stereotype is present. The best argument against this kind of condemnation is that some stereotypes can't be avoided. If an author is writing a realistic book about life in the Navajo Nation, for example, it is difficult to ignore the fact that too many Navajos live in poverty—stereotype though this may be. A second argument against condemnation solely on account of stereotype is that one person's stereotype can be another person's cultural virtue. For example, while one reader may see the portrayal of contemporary Native Americans living without the material comforts of the modern world as a negative stereotype, another might see this as a depiction of Native American rejection of white materialism. Finally, the act of scouring books in search of stereotype violations can lead to a checklist mentality that allows a critic to automatically recommend or condemn a book without troubling to consider the really difficult question of whether or not the book perpetuates untrue or harmful ideas about Native Americans.
That said, one stereotype of which the pre-1970 books are generally not guilty is the lumping together of tribes as if there were no essential difference between Mohawks and Miwoks. As a rule, each of the books focuses on a distinct tribe and realistically portrays that tribe's clothing, housing, and cultural artifacts. For example, Marjorie Webber Brown's Pueblo Playmates (Whitman, 1938) contains accurate descriptions of such specific Pueblo activities as house building, a wedding ceremony, and a Corn Dance. The author even provides a map showing where the very real Pueblo settlements described in the book are located. Dancing Cloud, the Navajo Boy (Viking, 1937) by Mary Marsh Buff includes Navajo words as part of the text, and Moonlight and Rainbow (McKnight, 1939), written by Geneva Linebaugh Rhodes, works into its plot Navajo customs such as the prohibition against a married man looking at his mother-in-law's face. Even the cartoonishly illustrated Cocky Cactus (Van Kampen, 1946) by Carolyn Ten Eyck Appleton sticks to the facts when it accurately shows a mother rocking her baby in a distinctive Navajo cradle. Myth books such as Navaho Stories (Garrard, 1957), Pueblo Stories (Garrard, 1956), and In the Garden of the Home God (Hazel Dreis, 1943) retell the creation stories of specific tribes instead of lumping together unattributed stories from many different tribes, a common practice which can reduce such stories to the level of “fairy tales.”
Besides striving for accuracy, another way these older books dispel stereotypes is through their focus on Native-American family life. In almost every book the plot revolves around mothers, fathers, and children living and working together, and in many books the plots also involve the grandparents, aunts, and uncles who make up the traditional extended family. These family-centered stories and their illustrations depict Native Americans as loving and protective parents. In Roger Vernam's Antelope: A Navajo Indian Boy (Platt and Munk, 1935), Antelope's father is shown tenderly holding his sleeping son, while in Little-Boy-Dance (Wilcox and Follett, 1946), by Elizabeth Willis DeHuff, the parents frantically search for their child, lost in the dark after growing tired of dancing for stupid white tourists. The Hopi heroine of The Sun Girl (Gillick, 1941), written by Elizabeth White, or Polingaysi, is helped by a tender-hearted Navajo couple of whom she is at first fearful because she was brought up believing that all Navajos are kidnappers.
Parents and grandparents are also often depicted as teachers who pass tribal arts and beliefs on to the young. In book after book, mothers and grandmothers are shown teaching girls to cook, make pottery, and weave, and in most cases these arts are given due respect. For example, in Dancing Cloud, the Navajo Boy, the mother is described weaving “with the bright wool yarns the patterns that come to her as she works about her busy hogan. She is an artist.” Fathers and grandfathers are shown teaching boys to farm, hunt, herd, and make jewelry. Such scenes serve to counter the stereotypes of Native Americans as violent, ignorant beings capable only of savage emotions and primitive crafts.
If anything, older books about Native Americans go too far in presenting favorable portraits of Native American families. In The Land of Little Rain: A Story of Hopi Indian Children (Winston, 1936), by Muriel H. Fellows, the members of the family are better than good, and the author treats readers to maxims such as “A good Indian never lies” and “A good Indian never hurts small animals.” Similarly, in painting a positive picture of Native Americans, these older books avoid the many social problems which have long threatened Native-American families. The problem of alcoholism is simply ignored; the problem of poverty is generally sidestepped, often by portraying the children as willing participants in a subsistence economy. In too many books to mention, boys are employed in watching the family sheep while girls carry water to hogans and pueblos. In only one book, Wilfred S. Bronson's Pinto's Journey (Messner, 1948), is the problem of an absent parent presented, and since the story is set during World War II it may be that the missing father is simply in the service. While the sugar-coating of family life gets in the way of a complete picture of Native American life, such avoidance of social problems is characteristic of most pre-1970 children's books and is certainly not unique to older books about Native Americans.
The only social problem that is faced up to is the problem of balancing a life torn between Native-American culture and white culture. In most of the stories, white culture is represented by the school, and, as might be expected, the school usually wins out in the end. Wewa: The Child of the Pueblos (Educational Publishing, 1903) and Navaho Land, Yesterday and Today (Melmont, 1961), though far apart in time, carry similarly propagandistic messages about the virtues of school:
Let us hope they [Native Americans] grow wiser and better at the school, learning good ways, not evil ones, from the white people.
The young Navahos will go to schools and colleges. They will bring about changes that will make life easier for the Navahos.
Other books are more understanding about the wedge that school can drive into the lives of young Native Americans. Both Ann Nolan Clark's Little Boy with Three Names (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1940) and Ovada: An Indian Boy of Grand Canyon (Ward Ritchie, 1969) by Henry C. James center on Native-American boys trying to reacquaint themselves with their families and their native cultures after having been away at boarding school. Some books are more openly critical of school. Stan Steiner's The Last Horse (Macmillan, 1961) includes a scene in which a foolish white teacher asks the Navajo protagonist if he would like to be an American, causing the boy to wonder, “What was an American?” But in even the most sympathetic books, school must come before culture. The otherwise well-informed, culturally sensitive Ashkee of Sunshine Water (Grosset, 1941), written by Faith Hill and Mable F. Rice, ends with Ashkee lured into attending school because he is fascinated with the school's phonograph.
Although today's readers may not approve of the attitude toward school that these books take, these same readers would likely approve of their general avoidance of violence. Perhaps repelled by the focus on violence in so many books and films about Native Americans, the authors chose to portray gentler sides of Native American life. Many of the stories are given contemporary settings, thus allowing the subject of warfare and the warrior stereotype to be avoided altogether. In only two books, Antelope: A Navajo Indian Boy and Hopi: The Cliff Dweller (David McKay, 1909) by Martha Jewett, are Native Americans shown fighting. The acts of day-to-day living, not warfare, are the focus of almost all of the stories.
For many Native Americans spiritual life is inseparable from day-to-day life, and for this reason the subject of spirituality is not neglected in this canon. Native-American spirituality plays a part in many of the stories and is largely treated with the respect it deserves. In Ashkee of Sunshine Water the family's decision to relocate their hogan because there are chin dee (bad spirits) in the area is treated as a perfectly reasonable reason to move. Oliver La Farge's The Mother Ditch (Houghton, 1954) includes a rain-dance scene but avoids stereotype by describing the dance as “a solemn religious service” and noting that “there are many prayers in the songs.” The accompanying illustration by Karl Larsson also reinforces the spirituality of the ceremony by showing the dancers as figures distant yet connected to the natural world, not as stereo-typed grotesques. In a number of books Native American characters communicate with animals in a spiritual way. In Mary Buff's Hah-Nee of the Cliff Dwellers (Houghton, 1956) the grandfather speaks with a black bird, and in This for That (Golden Gate, 1965), written by Ann Nolan Clark, a Papago boy goes underground to learn from the trade rats. Young Hunter of the Picuris (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1943), also written by Ann Nolan Clark, includes a full description of the rituals that surround the hunting of deer. These and the many other examples of deep respect and careful attention to Native-American spiritual life may come as a surprise to those who think that such respect and attention is a new idea in children's books.
Besides stereotypes and inaccuracies, another concern often expressed is the lack of books written and illustrated by Native Americans. While most of these older books were neither written nor illustrated by Native Americans, there was more participation by Native American writers and artists than one would expect. As far as I was able to determine, two of the books were written by Native Americans, one was translated by a Native American, and seventeen were illustrated by Native Americans. Some of these artists executed representational drawings that do not show a strong Native American influence. For example, Andrew Standing Soldier, a Sioux, used lithographic pencil on pebbled board to create rather conventional illustrations for Ann Nolan Clark's There Still Are Buffalo (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1942) and Singing Sioux Cowboy (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1947). Native American artist Allan Houser created highly representational illustrations for The Desert People (Viking, 1962), yet his artwork often reflects a true insider's awareness of the absurdity of being torn between cultures. His marvelous illustration of Papago Indians dancing and beating drums while dressed in cowboy clothes is both humorous and heartbreaking in its insight. Other Native American illustrators, such as Acoma Indian Wolf Robe Hunt, work in a less representational style that is closer to traditional Native American art. Hunt says of his illustrations for The Dancing Horses of Acoma (World, 1963), “In illustrating the book I kept close to the authentic Indian flat style, for in it there is a great deal of beauty.” Similarly, Roland Whitehorse, a Kiowa artist, uses earthy reds and yellows in his illustrations for Alice Marriott's Winter Telling Stories (Crowell, 1947).
Taking everything into account, are all these books perfectly free from stereotypes and absolutely free from racism? No. But many of the books are good—surprisingly good to those who have been trained to expect only the worst from the past—and still worth reading. After all, the present does not have all the answers to the problems faced by Native Americans. Perhaps we could learn something if we listened to those voices of the past that struggled, imperfectly, with these same problems.
Juana Caldwell and Lisa A. Mitten (essay date April 1992)
SOURCE: Caldwell, Juana, and Lisa A. Mitten. “‘I’ Is Not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People.” Multicultural Review 1, no. 2 (April 1992): 26-33.
[In the following essay, Caldwell and Mitten present a critical bibliography of children's literature titles about Native Americans, offering recommendations, critical readings, summaries, and a list of titles to avoid due to bias or inaccurate information in the text.]
Over the years, the questions most frequently asked by librarians concerning books on Native Americans have been “How can I distinguish good books on Indians from bad ones?” and “Where can I find reliable reviews?” Neither of these questions is as simplistic as it sounds. There are plenty of “good” books—well-written, exciting works by respected, well-loved authors with well-developed characters—that fall short when examined with the criteria of accurate, humane depictions of Native Americans. For the most part, this criticism is directed at fiction where the greatest stereotypes and wildest imaginings about Indians still hold sway. Nonfiction has improved greatly in recent years, but there is still a tendency to oversimplify to the point of distortion, especially in titles for the youngest readers. Reviews abound in the usual sources for books dealing with Native peoples, but most are written from a literary angle or from a children's/young adult's literature perspective.
Recognizing accuracy in books about Indian peoples and judging whether a book is “harmful” are even more difficult issues for librarians. As most Native Americans can remind you, Indians are rarely mentioned in American history classes after the middle grades. The few passing references always relate to Pilgrims and Thanksgiving or to Indians as adversaries to be overcome in the “settling” of the West. Education in most American public school systems does little to dispel the belief that Indians pretty much ceased to exist after 1890. Knowledge of Native history and sensitivity to cultural issues, therefore, is limited.
Added to this lack of education is the pervasive and subtly dehumanizing Native stereotypes that are ingrained in American popular culture. It should also be pointed out that these stereotypes and misperceptions are commonly held by all Americans of all races, often, tragically, by Indian children themselves.
Think of the following images prevalent in American culture today and then transfer the images to another ethnic group—or your own. How do they feel? Why are Native Americans singled out for these stereotypical portrayals? There are certain kinds of deeply rooted images that do not have equivalents among other minority groups. For example, there are derogatory terms for all ethnic and minority groups, but Indians are the only group identified as mascots of sports teams. Why do we have the Washington Redskins but not the Pittsburgh Darkies or the Dallas Rednecks or the San Francisco Coolies? Why do these hypothetical teams sound so offensive and shocking while the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, complete with Chiefs Nok-A-Homa and Wahoo, do not?
Why are hideous caricatures of Native American men available as Halloween masks along with those of vampires, witches, and other “monsters"? Even more to the point, why do average Americans see nothing wrong with purchasing those masks and dressing up a child as “an Indian” for Halloween, though they would never think to masquerade as another ethnic group (although I have seen “Arab” costumes at times)? What does this say about our perceptions of Native Americans as human beings?
These examples of American cultural baggage make it difficult for librarians to know where to start to identify bias-free books for our libraries. Recognizing that these images exist is a big step in the right direction; but subconscious images of Indians comprise a deep part of the American psyche, and you may be surprised at how uncomfortable you feel when asked to give up these images, no matter how you feel about them intellectually.
For example, The Indian in the Cupboard and its sequels are much loved by librarians and their patrons. For Indian people, however, these are some of the worst perpetrators of the most base stereotypes. The miniature toy Indian (Indians are portrayed as objects or things) is described as an Iroquois warrior, but he is dressed as a movie version of a generic Plains Indian “chief,” complete with eagle feather headdress. The warrior is described in the most stereotypical terms and speaks in subhuman grunts and partial sentences. He is manipulated by a more powerful white child, thereby fostering the image of the simple and naive Indian whose contact with the white man can only benefit him and his people.
Despite the fine writing and exciting plots, these books foster continuations of classic, blatant stereotypes. It has been our experience, however, that a disturbing number of librarians greatly resist criticism of these titles. It is our hope that the following bibliography and suggestions for evaluating books on Native Americans for young people will assist you in evaluating your collections and serving your patrons. There will be a great opportunity to educate young people, particularly as interest in things “Indian” increases with the Quincentenary of Columbus' invasion of the Americas.
The following bibliography is divided into four sections: Recommended Titles, Titles to Avoid, Guides to Selecting Books and Sources of Current Reviews, and Sources for Books on Indians. The first two sections of book titles are necessarily selective and somewhat random. The aim was not comprehensiveness, but rather presentation of a sample evaluation of available material. Furthermore, our concern was not to develop a list of “good” books but rather to comment on titles being published. Titles in this bibliography were examined from two different perspectives: Naomi Caldwell-Wood surveyed older titles found in her local school and public libraries and which, perhaps, are available in your own libraries; Lisa Mitten examined mostly new titles that she reviews and recommends for Carnegie Public Library of Pittsburgh and for which you have probably read recent critiques in review journals. Annotations are provided for most of the titles.
• Caduto, Michael J., and Bruchac, Joseph. Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1988. (All ages) Superbly written and illustrated presentation of Native American philosophies about the environment. Joseph Bruchac has compiled a number of collections of myths and legends of the Abenaki and Iroquois peoples, all of them excellent. He is also a well-known storyteller. A librarian can feel secure about purchasing anything he has written or is associated with.
• Cannon, A. E. The Shadow Brothers. New York, NY: Delacorte Press, 1990. (Gr. 6-10) A well-done novel of a Navajo teen as told by his adoptive (non-Indian) brother. Henry Yazzie, an excellent student and athlete, has been sent to live with his father's white friend's family so that he can attend good schools. The arrival of a second Native boy at the school causes Henry to question his identity as a Navajo. Deals with issues many Indian kids face as “novelties” in their schools.
• East Dubowski, Cathy. The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims. New York, NY: Dell Yearling, 1990. (Gr. 4-8) Of the many books for children on Squanto and the Pilgrims, this is the first historically accurate biography of the Wampanoag survivor of the village of Patuxet who was so critical to the survival of this early group of colonials. New research being done in the Massachusetts coastal area lends detail and authenticity to the Indians/Pilgrims/Thanksgiving story that is typically couched in mythology and legend, especially in accounts for children. Nanepashemet, a Wampanoag Research Associate at Plymouth Plantation, also lent his expertise. A very well-balanced, realistic, and entertaining biography.
• Erdoes, Richard. The Rain Dance People: The Pueblo Indians, Their Past and Present. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. (Gr. 6-up) This book is an excellent example of detailed research of both documented print sources and personal interviews, photographs, and sketches. Erdoes traces the history of the Pueblo Indians from prehistoric times to the mid-1970s and provides information about their struggle to maintain their unique lifestyle. His straightforward retelling of how the West was “won” serves to dispel the myth of the winning of the wild West as a glamorous event. Careful and detailed coverage is given to the invasion of missionaries who traveled to Pueblo land to stamp out the ancient Native religion. Readers are informed of the boarding schools that young Pueblo children were required to attend where they were forbidden to speak “Indian.” The strengths of the Pueblo communal and govern- mental structures are examined in great detail. Throughout the book, Erdoes weaves an explanation of the significance of art in Pueblo culture. An extraordinary work. Highly recommended.
• Freedman, Russell. Indian Chiefs. New York, NY: Holiday House, 1987. (Gr. 5-up) Freedman has compiled a well-balanced, collective biography of six western Indian chiefs: Red Cloud (Oglala Sioux), Satanta (Kiowa), Quannah Parker (Comanche), Washakie (Shoshone), Joseph (Nez Perce), and Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Sioux). The short biographies of twenty pages each contain actual quotes by the various chiefs within an accurate historical setting. Freedman was careful in his use of terminology. He prefaces the book by providing information on how the term “chief” was determined and used by the white settlers and government and how various tribes distinguished the many levels of leadership. This indexed book is illustrated with numerous sketches and photographs and completed with a Bibliography of Sources for further study.
• Girion, Barbara. Indian Summer. New York, NY: Scholastic, 1990. (Gr. 5-8) An excellent novel of the cultural adjustments Joni must make when she finds herself living on a modern “Woodlands” (Iroquois) reservation with her family in upstate New York one summer. The book also manages to touch on a number of issues important to contemporary Iroquois without being preachy. Girion does a fine job.
• Goble, Paul. Iktomi and the Ducks. New York, NY: Orchard Books, 1990. (Picture book; all ages) All of Paul Goble's books are highly recommended, especially the Iktomi stories, which perfectly convey the lessons and spirit of trickster tales. Goble flawlessly captures the flavor of Indian humor and the easy blend of cultures so common in contemporary Indian America and so lacking in the works of other authors.
• Gridley, Marion E. American Indian Tribes. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1974. (Gr. 5-9) Given the enormity of covering all of the American Indian tribes, Gridley has written one of the better books on this subject. She divided the tribes into twelve categories, and only listed those considered to be distinct. Each tribe is discussed in terms of its past and current condition. Numerous photographs and biographical information about notable individuals in each tribe has been included. Religion was not addressed in any detail.
• Hirschfelder, Arlene B. Happily May I Walk: American Indians and Alaska Natives Today. New York, NY: Scribner's, 1986. (Gr. 5-up) This excellent, up-to-date summary of contemporary Native American life and activities goes a long way toward lifting Indian people out of the nineteenth century where they've been stranded in many books. Very useful for adults, too, and as a reference tool.
• Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane. Pueblo Storyteller. New York, NY: Holiday House, 1991. (Gr. 3-6) Ten-year-old April of Cochiti Pueblo takes the readers on a photographic visit through the pueblo, introducing them to her family, traditional methods of bread-baking, pottery-making, and drum-making. She participates in a Buffalo Dance and tells the readers her favorite creation story. An excellent title to introduce children to the world of the contemporary reservation child. A superb complementary title, from a boy's perspective, is Pueblo Boy: Growing Up in Two Worlds, by Marcia Keegan (New York, NY: Dutton, 1991).
• Hudson, Jan. Sweetgrass. New York, NY: Philomel, 1989. (Gr. 5-8). A superb first book about a Blackfoot girl in the days just before heavy interaction with settlers written by a Canadian author who recently died. Dawn Rider (1990) was a disappointing second work.
• Liptak, Karen. North American Indian Medicine People. New York, NY: Franklin Watts, 1990. (Gr. 4-7)
———. North American Indian Sign Language. New York, NY: Franklin Watts, 1990. (Gr. 4-7).
———. North American Indian Survival Skills. New York, NY: Franklin Watts, 1990. (Gr. 4-7)
Watts has produced several fine nonfiction titles on American Indians, including a series on different tribes for younger readers. These surveys of cultural traits are representative, providing a balanced look at these areas of Native American knowledge.
• Mendez, Consuelo. Atariba & Niguayona. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press, 1988. (Gr. 1-3) One of this publisher's bilingual Fifth World Tales, this is a retelling of a Taíno Indian tale from Puerto Rico. All titles in this series are highly recommended.
• Ortiz, Simon. The People Shall Continue. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press, 1988. (Gr. 3-6) Ortiz, a Pueblo poet, has written the best treatment available for young children in this succinct recounting of the interactions between the Native and non- native peoples of North America from Columbus to the present day. Illustrations are vibrant and bold, and the text is honest and clear. An important acquisition for the upcoming Columbus Quincentenary!
• Osinski, Alice. The Tlingit. Chicago, IL: Childrens Press, 1990. (Gr. 1-3) An entry in the New True series on American Indian tribes. Like the other titles in this series, these are superb introductions to the histories and cultures of the peoples they treat. Of particular value is the commitment to positive portrayal of the tribes, and their people and culture, as survivors in the late twentieth century. These books are well-illustrated with photographs whenever possible, thereby avoiding the culturally loaded images often present in reproductions of paintings and drawings.
• Robinson, Margaret A. A Woman of Her Tribe. New York, NY: Scribner's, 1990. (Gr. 5-8) Low-key story of Annette, whose white mother moves the two of them from Annette's deceased father's Nootka village so that Annette can attend a private school in Vancouver where she has received a scholarship. Annette's transition to the city and the school is handled with sensitivity and understanding. The last third of the novel deals with Annette's return to her village over the Christmas break, where she realistically confronts her confusion with her biracial identity and makes decisions about where she belongs.
• Rosenfelt, W. E. The Last Buffalo: Cultural Views of the Plains Indians: The Sioux or Dakota Nation. Minneapolis, MN: T. S. Denison & Co., 1973. (Gr. 4-6) Rosenfelt collaborated with Ed McGaa, Oglala Sioux, and produced a straightforward and sensitive text which strives for honesty. Unfortunately, illustrations are mediocre pen-and-ink drawings; the text would have been much better served by photographs. Although the title implies an end to the Lakota Nation, Rosenfelt points out that the culture is very much alive. The section on religion is especially well done. Highly recommended.
• Shemie, Bonnie. Houses of Bark. Montreal, Québec, Canada: Tundra Books, 1990. (Gr. 3-5) Well-illustrated survey of traditional house types of the Northeast. The final illustration, however, unaccountably shows a Plains girl working on a piece of bark.
• Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk, comp. Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth. New York, NY: Holiday House, 1989. (All ages) A thoughtful and sensitive collection from the oral traditions of Native Americans and contemporary tribal poets compiled by a Lakota woman who grew up on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. The illustrations accurately reflect traditional Native American art forms and serve the text well. A welcome addition to any poetry collection.
• Viola, Herman, gen. ed. American Indian Stories. Milwaukee, WI: Raintree Publishers, 1990. (Gr. 3-5) I saw seven titles in this series of biographies—not stories—of well-known and less well-known leaders in the Indian world. The people included so far are Sarah Winnemucca, Jim Thorpe, Carlos Montezuma, John Ross, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Hole-in-the-day. The books are well done, with excellent illustrations.
• Waldman, Carl. Who Was Who in Native American History. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1990. (Gr. 6-adult). This is a reference work that is more properly a who's who of Indian/white history. It doesn't include pre-Columbian people, thereby perpetrating the impression that Indian history doesn't begin until 1492 and only includes people who were significant because of their interactions with white people, ignoring those who are important to their own people. Also, the listings stop with 1900, once again relegating Indians to the remote past. Useful, nevertheless, for what it does include, and the cross references are very good.
• Watson, Jane Werner. The First Americans: Tribes of North America. New York, NY: Pantheon, 1980. (Gr. K-3) A very easy-to-read and understandable book that introduces the major Native American regional groups: Plains, Woodlands, Inuit, Northwest, and Southwest. The short glimpses into each of the groups provide factual information about dwellings, duties of adults and children, and respect for religious rites and ceremonies. Illustrated with pen-and-ink sketches.
Titles to Avoid
• Budd, Lillian. Full Moon: Indian Legends of the Seasons. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1971. (Gr. 4-6) Budd apparently has written these legends without consulting any Native Americans. The stories are contrived and do not distinguish themselves as being from any particular culture let alone of general Native American origin.
• Greene, Carol. Black Elk: A Man with a Vision. Chicago, IL: Childrens Press, 1990. (Gr. 3-5) Although consistent with the material in Black Elk Speaks, this retelling of Black Elk's vision is so over- simplified that it sounds ridiculous and muddled. The illustrations, mostly period artwork, are poorly chosen and often have nothing to do with the text.
• Gregory, Kristiana. The Legend of Jimmy Spoon. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. (Gr. 4-8) Based on a true incident, this novel of a twelve-year-old Mormon boy taken to be the adopted brother of historical Chief Washakie is a mixture of historical accuracy and silly stereotype and ignorance. Use of the word “papoose” is constant, and Jimmy is continually harassed by the Shoshone about being white, even after two years of living with these people. This belies accounts of actual treatment of white adoptees. Several incidents of violence towards women and children have no basis in tribal cultures and ring very false, as does much of the dialogue, which careens between “noble savage” stereotypes and modern English. Guess who speaks which?
• Grossman, Virginia. Ten Little Rabbits. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1991. (Picture book) A twist on the counting book theme featuring rabbits dressed as “Indians” and involved in “Indian” activities. Although the illustrations are beautiful, the messages conveyed are confusing. Each page shows the rabbits/Indians dressed in the manner of a different tribe, but this isn't explained until the end of the book, in an Afterword. The impression given is one of generic “Indianness,” and once again animals “become” Indians simply by putting on certain articles of clothing, relegating an entire race to the status of a role or profession.
• Jurgens, Isabel. Wigwam And Warpath: Minute Stories of the American Indian. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1936. (Gr. 5-8) Although this book provides biographical sketches of lesser-known Native Americans, it is laden with condescending overtones and inaccurate information. Clearly not written by someone close to the subject.
• Mayne, William. Drift. New York, NY: Dell Yearling, 1985. (Gr. 4-7) A stranded-in-the-wilderness tale about white teen Rafe and Indian teen Tawena. Indian characters are grunting savages, even though Mayne has attempted to present a “sympathetic” treatment of the Indians and their concept of nature. Time period, place, and Indians involved are unknown, and the story line is rather murky. Mr. Mayne and the author of Indian in the Cupboard are from England. In general, books featuring Native peoples written by British authors tend to be full of quaint stereotypes and misperceptions.
• Paulsen, Gary. The Night the White Deer Died. New York, NY: Delacorte Press, 1990. (Gr. 6-10) A rather murky, New Age type of story about Janet, a loner who dreams of a highly romanticized encounter with a handsome young Indian hunter (the “Noble Savage” stereotype) shooting a white deer. She comes to realize that the old drunken Indian she has seen in the marketplace is the man in the dream. Although beautifully written, especially the imagery and descriptions of the town and the surrounding geography, the Indian man and a Chicano schoolmate are very shallowly drawn.
• Phillips, W. S. Indian Campfire Tales: Legends about the Ways of Animals and Men. New York, NY: Platt & Munk, 1963. (Gr. 3-5) This is an example of the legion of collections of generic “Indian legends” that have been published over the years. What Phillips has compiled is a mishmash of tales of unknown origin. No effort was made to identify the source of the stories or the people who created them. The reader is led to believe that one “Indian” legend is about the same as any other. This is why children come to libraries looking for information on “Indians” instead of on the Lakota or the Oneida or the Choctaw. The illustrations are based largely on pictographs and rock paintings that have no relation to the stories being told. The introduction claims that “the stories are histories of the tribes,” which makes no sense in the context of this book.
• Red Hawk, Richard. A, B, C's: The American Indian Way. Sacramento, CA: Sierra Oaks, 1988. (Gr. K-3) An unfortunate attempt to “Indianize” the usual ABC book. This version is over-simplified, often to the point of confusion.
• Reid Banks, Lynn. Indian in the Cupboard. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.
———. Return of the Indian. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. (Sequel to the above)
———. The Secret of the Indian. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. (Sequel to the above)
To repeat the criticisms of the introduction, these are classic examples of highly acclaimed books riddled with horrendous stereotypes of Native Americans. Banks has created her “Indian” character from the mixed bag of harmful clichés so common among British authors.
• Wilton Katz, Welwyn. False Face. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1988. (Gr. 6-9) An exciting and well-told story of a white female teen (Lonny) and a mixed-blood male teen (Tom) who accidentally unearth an old Iroquois false face mask. The portrayal of the Iroquois and nonsense presented about the mask, however, are way off base and very insulting. The author is obviously familiar with the locale of the story, and places on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario are accurately described. Katz conjures up a ridiculously evil power that is supposed to inhabit the false face mask and alter the personalities of characters who attempt to possess the mask. This goes beyond the wild fantasies of a creative author. False face masks are an integral part of traditional Iroquois religion practised today on the very reserve that Katz describes so well. Her description of the mask as an absolute evil amounts to religious intolerance and fosters the conception of Native, non-Christian religions as savage pagan rituals.
Guides to Selecting Books and Sources of Current Reviews
The following list of titles contains excellent sources for understanding Indian stereotypes and the forms they take in children's literature as well as in American culture.* * *
• Council on Interracial Books for Children, staff. Unlearning “Indian” Stereotypes: A Teaching Unit for Elementary Teachers and Children's Librarians. New York, NY: Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1977. An excellent book of sample lesson plans and background materials developed specifically for teachers and librarians. The librarian described on page 483 of the June 1991 issue of American Libraries would have done well to read this first before leading her young patrons in holding their insulting “rain dance.” An accompanying filmstrip featuring comments on books by Indian school children is also available.
• Hirschfelder, Arlene B. American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1982. Another good source for understanding the problems in portrayals of Indians directed at children. The counsel provided goes beyond books, discussing such traditions as the YMCA/YWCA Indian Guides programs, toys with Indian imagery, and sports mascots.
• Slapin, Beverly, and Seale, Doris, eds. Books without Bias: Through Indian Eyes. Rev. ed. 1988; a third edition has just been published. Order from: Oyate, 2702 Mathews St., Berkeley, CA 94702, about $30. This hefty guide should be your bible; we cannot recommend it highly enough. This volume is five-hundred-pages long in a large, spiral-bound format, and there are sixteen chapters devoted to articles by Indian authors and teachers, as well as an extensive book review section and list of Native American publishers. Also included are a list of American Indian authors and their works for young people, a selected Bibliography of recommended titles, and, perhaps most important, a Checklist complete with examples from children's books on “how to tell the difference” between distorted depictions of Native peoples and those treating people as human beings.
• Stedman, Raymond William. Shadows of the Indian: Stereotypes in American Culture. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. A somewhat more scholarly rather than how-to treatment of the image of Native Americans in American culture, focusing on the movie industry, pulp westerns, and television, as well as literature. The author pulls no punches.* * *
All of the previous books contain bibliographies of recommended titles. Several other bibliographies and sources of current reviews are given below. Keep in mind, however, that the best source of information is from Indian people themselves. Most large cities around the country have an Indian center or at least an Indian community that would be happy to be asked to give their opinions on books. Librarians working near reservations have an obvious source of expertise in the people there.
• Akwesasne Notes. Newspaper; often carries book reviews. (See full citation in next section.)
• American Indian and Eskimo Authors: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Arlene B. Hirschfelder, comp. New York, NY: Association of American Indian Affairs, 1973. An earlier incarnation of the Hirschfelder book previously mentioned, this title lists works by Indian and Inuit (preferred over the term “Eskimo") authors, without annotations, from colonial times to the present. Much is, therefore, out of print or for an adult audience.
• American Indian Libraries Newsletter. Charles Townley, ed. (American Indian Library Association Treasurer) Charles Townley, Dean of the Library, New Mexico State University, Box 30006, Las Cruces, NM 88003-0006. (Quarterly) Contains news on Indian libraries and library services to Indian peoples, with occasional reviews.
• American Indian Reference Books for Children and Young Adults. Barbara J. Kuipers. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1991. Hot off the presses, a quick look at this title reveals excellent introductory chapters by a school library media specialist working in a school in Utah with a large Native student population. The scope of the books reviewed, however, goes way beyond the title of this book. Only a small percentage of the books discussed are actually reference works, and the focus is on adult and young adult titles. Annotations are largely content descriptive, rather than evaluative. Also contains indexes and a list of publisher's addresses.
• The Eagle. Eagle Wing Press, Inc., P.O. Box 579 MO, Naugatuck, CT 06770. This newspaper of current events in Indian America occasionally carries book reviews.
• Indian Children's Books. Hap Gilliland. Billings, MT: Montana Council for Indian Education (517 Rimrock Rd., Billings, MT 59102), 1980. Good bibliography of books on Indians, evaluated by Indian people from a wide variety of tribes. Of particular value is a comprehensive list of publishers and their addresses (as of 1980), preceded by a lengthy subject Index.
• Interracial Books for Children Bulletin. New York, NY: Council on Interracial Books for Children (1841 Broadway, New York, NY 10023; 8 issues/yr.). An excellent source for reviews of new materials for teachers and librarians on all ethnic groups. They also have published some booklets, handbooks, and audiovisual materials.
• Literature by and about the American Indian: An Annotated Bibliography. 2nd ed. Anna Lee Stensland, ed. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1979. An “okay” annotated bibliography that incorporates recommendations from other works which include Native reviewers. The focus is on fiction for children and young adults.
• Wicazo Sa Review. Indian Studies MS 188, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA 99004. (Biannual) A journal from the academic field of Native American Studies, this often contains book reviews by and about Native people.
Sources for Books on Indians
This is really a two-part issue, dealing with Indian publishers and authors and with distributors who carry a large inventory of “Indian” titles. The latter can often carry the bad as well as the good, but their catalogs are useful for selection and acquisition. Also, unless specifically indicated, books are generally for an adult audience, but often have a section of children's books. Again, this is only a sampling. See the appropriate section in Books without Bias for a more complete listing.* * *
• Akwesasne Notes, Mohawk Nation, via Rooseveltown, NY 13683. This is the longest running Indian newspaper around today, covering indigenous issues of the Americas and the world. They have published several books and carry a small number of titles from other publishers. There are occasional book reviews. The newspaper itself is worth a subscription.
• Canyon Records, 4143 N. 16th St., Phoenix, AZ 85016. Although there are a number of sources for Indian music, Canyon Records is by far the largest with a huge inventory. They also have a pretty large list of books for distribution.
• Children's Book Press, 1461 Ninth Ave., San Francisco, CA 94122. Harriet Rohmer publishes a book series called Fifth World Tales, featuring strikingly illustrated bilingual stories for children from the different ethnic groups in this country. Several Latin American Native peoples are represented, such as the Miskito of Nicaragua. The book to get is Simon Ortiz' The People Shall Continue, already discussed above.
• Indian Historian Press, 1493 Masonic Ave., San Francisco, CA 94117. Formerly publishers of the only magazine for children by Native Americans, “The Weewish Tree,” the newspaper “Wassaja,” and the scholarly journal “The Indian Historian” (all defunct), this Indian-run educational publishing house features materials for children.
• Iroqrafts, RR#2, Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada N0A 1M0. This is an Iroquois-run craft mail-order house that carries a very large inventory of titles on Native peoples, with an emphasis on the Iroquois and other eastern Canadian groups. They even do their own reprinting of important works.
• Native American Authors Distribution Project, The Greenfield Review Press, 2 Middle Grove Rd., P. O. Box 308, Greenfield Center, NY 12833. This project, run by Joseph Bruchac, combines both parts of this issue: All of the books are by Native authors, and the Project is a distributor for many small presses.
• Oyate, 2702 Mathews St., Berkeley, CA 94702. These folks are the publishers of Books without Bias, and they sell many of the books recommended in that bibliography. Write for their price list of available titles.
• Theytus Books, Ltd., Box 218, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada V2A 6K3. A Canadian Nativerun publishing house, featuring novels for children and young adults.
• Western Trading Post, P. O. Box 9070, 32 Broadway, Denver, CO 80209. A very large craft house of materials used by Indian people, run by non-Indians. They have quite a large section of books and music in their catalog.
Clifford E. Trafzer (essay date summer 1992)
SOURCE: Trafzer, Clifford E. “‘The Word Is Sacred to a Child’: American Indians and Children's Literature.” American Indian Quarterly 16, no. 3 (summer 1992): 381-95.
[In the following essay, Trafzer explores how superior works of Native American children's literature relate the history of myths and tribal traditions without resorting to cliches or stereotypes.]
In the heart of the House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momaday wrote, “A child can listen and learn. The word is sacred to a child.” Everyone was once a child, and Momaday continually looks to his childhood as the foundation of his life. Within his work, he accords children the respect they deserve and explains the significance of the word which he came to understand as a child: “My grandmother was a storyteller; she knew her way around words.” From the elders children learned the power and magic of words, and the children were to listen and learn, not with careless attention but with all their senses.
The words of the old stories are not myths and fairy tales. They are a communion with the ancient dead—the Animal, Plant, and Earth Surface Peoples who once inhabited the world and whose spirits continue to influence the course of Native American history. When Momaday's grandmother told her stories, “something strange and good and powerful” took place, as he was drawn “directly into the presence of her mind and spirit … her wonder and delight.” Through the stories Momaday's grandmother invited him to accompany her “to the confrontation of something that was sacred and eternal.”1
Children understand the beauty of words, and they have forever enjoyed good stories. Their imaginations are set on fire with the telling of good stories, and it is the skilled author who can take the oral tradition and recreate the word on paper. The struggle to transfer the stories found in the oral tradition to the written word is successfully found in a book entitled Grandmother Stories of the Northwest.2 Since five is the sacred number of the Native Americans of the Northwest Plateau, the book consists of five chapters offering five original stories.
The story entitled “The Battle of the Attiyiyi and Toqueenut” is based on an oral tradition shared by the Wasco, Wishram, Cascade, and Klickitat tribes of the Northwest.3 The story begins with the arrival of five Lalawish or Wolf Brothers who joined forces with five Attiyiti or North Wind Brothers. These brothers bring Arctic wind and cold to the lands along the Columbia River, and they challenge the warm wind brought upriver each spring by the Toqueenut or Salmon. The Salmon Chief and his family swim up the Columbia to spawn, and the leader is met by five hostile North Wind Brothers who challenge him to a wrestling match on the ice. In the ensuing contest, Salmon Chief loses the struggle and his life. In a killing frenzy, the North Wind Brothers, Wolf Brothers, and their allies kill all the Salmon and rip the eggs from the body of Salmon's wife. They destroy all of the eggs except one, which is lodged between two rocks. In frustration, the North Wind Brothers and their friends abandon the egg, believing that it will dry up and die.
The Creator, the all-seeing one, knows what has happened. The Creator sends a gentle rain to wash the egg into the river and sand where it matures into a small fish. Floating with the current with its head upstream, the baby salmon arrives in the Pacific Ocean where it is cared for and nurtured by its grandmother. She names the fish Young Chinook Salmon, and she trains him to be strong, intelligent, and wise. When Young Chinook is old enough, she tells him of the slaughter of his mother and father. Young Chinook vows to avenge the death of his parents, and when he is prepared, he begins his journey up the Columbia to challenge the North Wind and Wolf Brothers. He faces his enemy on the ice and wrestles the five North Wind Brothers, killing each of them. However, their younger sister escapes, the sister who returns each winter to remind the people of her brothers' former presence in the Northwest.
Like the egg that survived by divine intervention, creating the vital and powerful life of Young Chi- nook, the old stories of Native Americans have been given new life in the spoken and written word. Several books written for children have been published in recent years. Some of them offer insights and understanding into the diverse cultures of American Indians. Others do not. The story of Young Chinook Salmon is from Grandmother Stories of the Northwest, a unique volume that is beautifully written and illustrated. This handsome book, a standard for others, offers a story within a story and a glimpse of Native American life on one reservation today. A young boy named Thomas learns the ancient stories of the Great Columbia Plain from his grandmother. In this manner, the book links the past with the culture of today. This approach is commonly found in the books produced by Sierra Oaks Publishing Company of California, and it is an approach that separates its books from the others under review. Grandmother Stories of the Northwest belongs on the shelves of every classroom, where students and teachers alike can enter the world of Native Americans and learn about the rich culture and literature of various tribes and bands.
Paul Goble has exhibited a similar respect in his numerous books. Although he does not compose a story within a story, linking contemporary characters with the ancient tales, he offers a preface about the oral tradition, describing the tribal origins of the stories he retells in his books. He also provides a bibliography of his impeccable sources. His works are authentic and colorful in words and pictures. His most recent book is The Great Race of the Birds and Animals, a story shared by the Lakota, Cheyenne, and other Plains Indians.4 The book tells of a time when buffalo ate humans. The Creator answered the prayers of the people who were being eaten by the great shaggy beasts. According to the story, the Creator called for a great race to decide if the buffalo would continue eating humans or if humans would eat the buffalo and the other four-legged animals. The four-legged animals chose their fastest runners, as did the Indians who were joined by their allies, the wingeds, who were classified as two-legged. Off they set on a great race.
At the beginning of the race, Magpie had a hard time keeping up. For this reason, early in the contest, Magpie decided on a clever plan. It lit on Buffalo's back and rode out the race in this way. The people traveled across the plains, rivers, and hills. Soon Buffalo outran all of the others, including the native runner. As they neared the finish line, Magpie shot high into the air and flew across the line before Buffalo. For this reason, ever after humans would eat the buffalo and be indebted to Magpie for winning the Great Race.
Magpie and the other wingeds play important roles in many Native American stories, including those of the Northwest Coast, where Raven is often presented as a trickster, changer, and creator. In Susan Hand Shetterly's Raven's Light: A Myth from the People of the Northwest Coast, published in New York by Atheneum, the author retells a creation story shared by many Native Americans of the Northwest Coast.5 The story is handled as myth, not history, and offers the author's interpretation of the ancient account of how Raven stole the light and returned it. The book provides a story within a story through a shaman who tells the tale. However, the account is lengthy, sometimes confusing, and presents only one version of Raven and the sun. The story is undeniably northwestern, but it leaves the reader wondering as to the origin of this version of the tale. Is this version more Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, or Nootka? The illustrations by Robert Shetterly are dark and stark, just as he intended them to be, and they provide children with an introduction to the carving and masking traditions of the Northwest Coast.
Another version of this northwestern story is found in Berry Keeper, The Old Ones Told Me: American Indian Stories for Children, published by Binford & Mort of Portland, Oregon.6 Keeper's version is much shorter and somewhat different from that found in Raven's Light. Significantly, this is the nature of many Native American stories that have a central theme but are variations of the same or similar stories. The Old Ones Told Me offers two other northwestern stories about Raven and eight other tales from a variety of tribes. These stories, from the oral tradition, written by an American Indian, present interesting oral traditions that would be of use to classroom teachers and students of higher reading levels. The same is true of the books written by Gretchen Will Mayo, who has written four useful volumes for Walker and Company of New York. The books include Earthmaker's Tales and Star Tales as well as two sequels with more of each variety of story.7 Some of the stories are not attributed to particular tribes, but they are all authentic. In addition, the author provides a short bibliography of her sources which will prove useful to students and teachers alike. Each of Mayo's four books provides a retelling of authentic Native American literature, but they do not offer a story within a story that links the oral traditions of the past to the present. Still, these are useful stories from a variety of North American tribes. The works of Berry Keeper and Gretchen Mayo are worthwhile sources, but both could improve on their limited art work.
There is no question about the sources of Maurine Grammer's The Bear That Turned White.8 In her preface, the author offers a short explanation of the native people who shared their stories with her and the place where she heard the tales. This is a handsome book written by a woman who spent over thirty years living and working with the Pueblo people of New Mexico. Each page is beautifully designed, in keeping with the publishing tradition of Northland Press, but the pages are sometimes so busy that the eye has trouble focusing on the words. Still, this is a useful book, and like the four volumes offered by Mayo, it provides an accurate retelling of several Native American stories, all of which could be used in a classroom setting. Grammer offers a total of seventeen stories from the American Southwest, including “The Strange Deer Dancer of San Juan.” This is a mysterious tale that came to Grammer's attention while attending a dance with native friends who explained why one of the deer dancers did not walk and act like the other three. She learned that the reason was that he did not represent the Deer People, because he was the child of Father Sun. Her hosts shared a story with her, and she in turn has offered this bit of history to us.
The books by Grammer and Mayo contain a wealth of stories from many different tribes. Grammer's volume focuses on the Southwest, while Mayo offers tales from many regions of North America. This is also the case with Nihancan's Feast of Beaver: Animal Tales of the North American Indian, published in Santa Fe by the Museum of New Mexico.9 The stories are retold and edited by Edward Lavitt and Robert E. McDowell, who introduce each culture area from which the stories are taken. The book is intended for readers from high school and above and will be of use to teachers, since it has a number of stories from Native Americans in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, the title of the work implies that the stories are from areas throughout North America, but the authors fail to include samples of the rich literature of Native Americans living in Mexico. Still, it is an excellent book that makes use of authentic materials preserved in reputable sources, such as the Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society and the Museum of Natural History. Unlike, Maurine Grammer, Lavitt and McDowell have not used selections given to them by Indians through the oral tradition but have used published accounts exclusively.
One of the most useful books for students and teachers is Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children, by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.10 Included in this fine book are numerous traditional stories from many tribes. In addition, the authors provide a discussion of the stories in relationship to people, plants, and animals. For example, the authors offer a version of the Navajo creation story (another version of which can be found in Grandfather's Origin Story: The Navajo Indian Beginning by Sierra Oaks Publishing Company, 1988). The creation story involves the movement of the Holy People from the third to the fourth world by way of a female reed. As a follow-up to take students beyond the story, Caduto and Bruchac offer an essay on trees and an “activity” that invites children to create bark rubbings using crayons or simply to visit a park that has a variety of trees.11 The authors also provide a short lesson that will help teachers and parents stimulate creativity and critical thinking among young people. This unique format is intended for educators and it works.
Using a different format, but attempting to reach the same audience, Gary McLain has written The Indian Way: Learning to Communicate with Mother Earth. While Caduto and Bruchac use the oral traditions of several tribes, McLain creates one character, Grandpa Iron, “a Northern Arapahoe Medicine Man and the oldest elder in our Sundance Society.”12 The author presents his work through the elder, using fictional stories that attempt to teach the “Native American Way.” The stories are sometimes instructive and interesting, but they are not traditional Arapaho stories. McLain takes the reader through thirteen Moons, including food, home, elders, wind, water, and sun. Then he offers the reader “Experiences” and explains how to offer sage, use the sweat lodge, make a medicine wheel, and attend a Sundance.13 The book offers a Supra-Tribal approach to New Age Indianness, and it will not be well received by many Native Americans. It is not recommended for use by teachers or students.
Another book that does not present Native Americans accurately is Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault.14 Teachers generally like this book because of the flowing narrative, interesting story, and beautiful illustrations by Ted Rand. They also like the positive interaction between Grandfather and Boy-Strength-of-Blue Horse. The problems with the book include the fact that while other Indians used counting ropes, Navajos were not among them. Also, the authors never state that they are depicting Diné in this work, but the scenes with red sandstone buttes, log hogans, conchos with turquoise, broad-brimmed black hats, and horses indicate that the story is Navajo. Unfortunately, the artist portrays most Navajo men as having braids, which is not the traditional way Navajo men wore their hair and is uncommon in this century. In addition, on a “tribal day,” the colorful dancers depicted are more Pueblo than Navajo, including a buffalo dancer complete with turquoise necklaces, calf-high moccasins, gourd rattle, and buffalo horns.15 Finally, the story and illustrations are not Navajo or Pueblo, and the names given to horses and characters sound more like those used on the Great Plains. The book offers a composite Indian story that misses the mark of authenticity. Unfortunately, readers unfamiliar with Native American cultures of the Southwest are often fooled by the handsome production which, tragically, is a selection of the “Reading Rainbow” series.
While Martin and Archambault fail to depict Navajos accurately, Charles L. Blood and Martin Link succeed in their book, The Goat in the Rug.16 This is an excellent and inexpensive book that should be used extensively by teachers who want to present an accurate, interesting, and instructive lesson to students of the Navajo people. Geraldine is a goat and Glenmae is a Navajo weaver who shears Geraldine's wool and takes the reader through the process of making a Navajo rug. Readers learn the process of washing, carding, spinning, and dying the wool. They learn about making a loom and weaving the rug. They also learn a good deal about Navajo culture through the story and the simple and moving sketches by Nancy Winslow Parker. The narrative and illustrations are true to Navajo culture, and the story is authentic, based on the work of Glee 'Nasbah.
The Goat in the Rug might be supplemented by Lucy Learns to Weave: Gathering Plants, a wonderful children's book produced by Rough Rock Demonstration School on the Navajo Nation.17 Written by Virginia Hoffman and illustrated by Hoke Denetsosie in 1969, it is a timeless book which gives a Navajo presentation of one segment of Navajo culture. The book offers a simple story of Lucy and her sister, collecting plants and interacting with their natural environment. The same theme is found in Stephannie and the Coyote—Stefanii do'ó Ma'ii, a book written in English and Diné Bizzad (Navajo) by Jack L. Crowder with the help of William Morgan, Sr., who composed the Navajo version of the story.18 Each page of the book offers the narrative in English and Navajo, preceded by a brief discussion of the Navajo language and its use in the story. Stephannie introduces young readers—first and second grade reading level—to life in a hogan with a mother and father who sleep, eat, work, and spin wool. Stephannie herds her family's sheep and goats while riding her donkey through the pinons and junipers of the Coconino Plateau. Coyote threatens to attack two goats, so Stephannie saves their lives. Based on the life of Stephannie Peaches and her maternal grandparents of the Curly Salt family, Crowder has written a useful little book for teachers and children alike. Although the Navajo language is difficult and the explanation of the language cursory, teachers might come to understand the complexity of Navajo and convey the concepts of language and bilingualism to their students.
William Morgan, who provided the Navajo translation of Stephannie and the Coyote, offers his own contribution in Navajo Coyote Tales.19 It is a book written solely in English for young readers, offering six authentic Navajo stories dealing with the trickster-changer. These coyote stories deal with such Animal People as Crow, Horned Toad, and Rabbit. They are truly Navajo in form, and they provide children with interesting traditional literature or “a form of history.” Morgan provides his version of the stories, including that of how Fawn got the stars on its back. In a trip through the forest one day, Coyote met Deer and her new baby, Fawn. Impressed by the stars on Fawn's back, Deer told Coyote that she had placed her baby in a sparking fire in order to create the stars. Coyote built a huge fire20 and placed his children in it, much to Deer's delight. Coyote's babies were burned because he foolishly followed the advice of Deer.21 The other stories are equally enlightening, but they ask educators to plan their lessons carefully when reading, telling, discussing, and writing about such original Navajo stories.
In the middle of Navajo country is the land of the Hopi people, ancient dwellers of the American Southwest who are rich in culture, literature, and ceremony. Two Hopi children, Tawa Mana (Sun Girl) and Youyou Seya, (Getting Ready), have combined their talents to write When Hopi Children Were Bad.22 As the title indicates, the Hopi believe that there was once a time when Hopi elders could not control the mischievous antics of their children. Sensing the desperation of the situation, the Two Hearts (Hopi witches) met and, through their evil power, created the Black Ogres—noted monster Kachinas that appear in the plazas to frighten the children. The long-ago monsters terrorized the Hopi children until slain by the twin sons of Spider Woman. The story is exciting, and children will relate to the heroic deeds of the twins who were children themselves at the time of this event. The monster story gives teachers an opportunity to discuss the role of heroes and villains in diverse cultures and the meaning of monsters that live within human societies.
Another book produced by Sierra Oaks deals with monsters, although this is not the main thrust of the work. Creation of a California Tribe: Grandfather's Maidu Indian Tales23 offers four authentic stories woven into a narrative dealing with children from reservation and urban environments who share a common grandfather. The stories revolve around a school project where Travis must write a history paper for his fourth grade class. He decides to write “real history” told to him by his grandfather in the oral tradition of the Maidu people. Based on oral interviews with Dalbert Castro and the scholarly work of Roland B. Dixon, the volume offers teachers authentic curriculum material and is a readable resource for children. The book shows readers a small portion of the rich literature of the Maidu collected by Dixon. Thanks to the diligent work of William Shipley, teachers may examine Dixon's work through a new book, The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories of Hanc'ibyjim, published by Heyday Books of Berkeley, California. Shipley has produced an outstanding scholarly work which will be a helpful resource for teachers of all age groups. It is based on the oral traditions of the Maidu, and it will enrich the curriculum of anyone interested in Native Americans, particularly the people of California.24
Another resource intended to instruct young people is Chugach Legends, compiled by John F. C. Johnson for the Chugach Alaska Corporation.25 This book is a product of a tribal project which brought together over sixty stories common to the Alaskan Coast, including those dealing with Raven, Bear, Dog, Snipe, Sea Lions, Porpoise, and a host of others. Like Shipley's Maidu Indian Myths, this work enjoys a beautiful and usable design. Unfortunately, Chugach Legends was not bound carefully. During the first reading, the glue on the binding failed and pages fell out. But the stories are as rich as any found on the Northwest Coast, and the editor acknowledges the native storyteller of each tale. This is not the case in Dancing Drum: A Cherokee Legend, by Terri Cohlene.26 The story seems authentic, offering a unique tale relating the relationship of humans to their environment. Of particular interest is the journey of Dancing Drum and his cohorts to the Land of the Spirits, where they captured Daughter of the Sun. Disobeying his instructions, Dancing Drum opened the lid to a large basket and was surprised by the contents. The first section of the book offers the story, and the second part provides a sketch of Cherokees yesterday and today. The focus is on the Cherokees of North Carolina, with scant note of the Cherokee people living in present-day Oklahoma. Readers might be led to believe that all Cherokees live in North Carolina, and one wonders if the story of Dancing Drum is the story of North Carolina Cherokees and not those of Oklahoma.
Dancing Drum is intended for children between eight and ten, while Baby Rattlesnake is targeted toward children between four and six.27 Still, these books can be enjoyed by children of all ages. Te Ata, a Chickasaw elder and storyteller, provides the story of Baby Rattlesnake, which tells of a youngster among the Snake People who cannot wait to get its rattles. Trouble results when the baby gets its rattles before it is old enough to accept the responsibility of having such fine things. Baby Rattlesnake learns an important lesson while using its rattles carelessly. The book is set in the Southwest, and the illustrations by Veg Reisberg are first-rate. It is produced by Children's Book Press of San Francisco. Chronicle Books of the same city published Ten Little Rabbits by Virginia Grossman and Sylvia Long.28 Both books are artfully illustrated and designed to appeal to children and adults alike. Ten Little Rabbits is a counting book from one to ten, featuring rabbits in different Native American dress. Some Indians may object to being depicted in their native dress as rabbits, but others will not because of the sensitivity the authors bring to this beautiful volume. “Two graceful dancers asking for some rain”29 shows the rabbits dancing in the plaza in dress similar to that worn by Pueblo people. The second part of the book offers readers a paragraph on the ten tribes depicted by the rabbits in the body of the book.30 Most of the information is accurate, but the brief statements are uneven and will not be very useful to students or teachers.
Crow and Weasel, a book by Barry Lopez and published by North Point Press of San Francisco, is visually appealing.31 The art produced by Tom Pohrt is very exciting and colorful. Paintings of Crow, Cougar, and Weasel make the characters come alive, and the artwork suggests that the book will be every bit as interesting as the illustrations. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Crow and Weasel cut out on their horses and pay a visit to Mountain Lion before departing on their journey. “You two young men must not forget,” Mountain Lion states, “that you are runners. You are carrying our way of life with you, for everyone to see. Listen. Be strong.”32 Like two beacons, Crow and Weasel set out unafraid on some journey to some land, somewhere. The book is their journey, but it is not the journey of the ancient heroes found in Native American literatures and it is not exciting. After reading several pages, the reader wonders if Crow and Weasel will ever get to wherever they are going, and soon the answer becomes clear. No! “You must stop,” said Crow. “Do not go any further.”33 A few more pages and the two travelers meet the Inuit whose lives are both different and similar to that of Crow and Weasel. Several pages later, the two would-be heroes complete their adventures and their circle and return to their people. Mountain Lion has prepared the villagers for the return of Crow and Weasel by telling them that they would soon have a “transferring ceremony” and that “our traveling bundle will hang before Weasel's lodge.”34Crow and Weasel was conceived by Barry Lopez in an attempt to use the Animal People of traditional native literature in his own story about a quest. The narrative fails to ignite the imagination, and the lengthy story, as a whole, will be of little interest to children.
Penina Keen Spinka offers an unusual book entitled White Hare's Horses.35 The volume deals with the Chumash Indians of California and the unlikely visit of Aztecs in 1522, who introduced Spanish horses. At first White Hare, a Chumash female, is attracted to Toacoatl, an Aztec male, but loses interest after learning of his evil intentions to make war on the Chumash and use them for human sacrifices. The author seems unaware of a few facts about Aztecs and Chumash, as she fails to consider that in 1522 the Aztecs had their hands full dealing with the conquest of their own people by war and disease. The author perhaps conceived the idea for this story after becoming “a member of the Los Angeles Fantasy and Science Fiction Society.”36 Although some of the book is well written, the problem with it lies in its inaccurate portrayal of Native American cultures—the Aztec and Chumash horse culture. The conveying of such false information to young people is a major flaw of the book.
Sing for a Gentle Rain by J. Alison James is another book for children of middle-school age.37 It is a story about a young boy today who first dreams of his ancient Anasazi ancestors and then is transported back in time to live with them. Spring Rain is an Anasazi girl who befriends James. They learn from each other and fall in love. The author provides bits of information about the ancient Pueblos, but the central focus of the book is a love affair that develops between a boy from the twentieth century and a girl from the twelfth. Children will enjoy the book and its many twists; certainly some will enjoy the interaction of humans, particularly the love scenes. But they will learn only selected information about Anasazi culture of the past and Native Americans today.
Drawing on Pueblo Indian culture today, especially Hopi culture, as well as ancient Pueblo archaeology, Charles Fellers has produced Blue Stone: An Anasazi Boy.38 In sixty pages the author outlines four years in the life of an ancient Pueblo man, discussing his relationship with his elders, girlfriend, Morning Dew, and tribal traditions. Through the story, children learn about various elements of Pueblo culture, including farming, rain, ceremony, and spirits. Fellers describes some of the kachinas, including Eoto, offering a sketch on one of the chief kachinas. Unfortunately, he does not allow the reader to enter into a real understanding of this element of culture, which is crucial when discussing Pueblo culture, particularly that of the Hopis and Zunis. The book will be of help to some teachers interested in the Southwest, but it will leave the reader wanting to know more about the rich Pueblo cultures of the past and present. The illustrations by Shirley Kyar depict Hopis today but most are accurate and helpful.39
The charcoal sketches found in Nashone's book, Where Indians Live, are authentic renditions of different housing types used by Native Americans of the past and present. The drawings by Louise Smith begin with the unit houses of the Anasazi and end with a modern, single-level family home. Such California tribes as Miwoks and Maidus are represented in this handsome volume. Indian houses from such culture areas as the Great Plains, Columbia Plateau, Southwest, Great Lakes, and Northeast are also presented. In addition to the housing sketches, the author includes either a sketch or photograph of a Native American whose people inhabited a particular housing type. For example, Anna Puzz, an Assiniboine woman, is shown on the page opposite the tipi, and a photo of Skye Williams is pictured on the page facing the contemporary home. The work is authentic, but the sketches would have offered more details if they had been produced in ink rather than charcoal. Still, the book is produced on quality paper and pre- sented in a fine format. The short narrative for each house is accurate and written in a simple fashion. Where Indians Live will be of use to teachers of first, second, and third graders. Children will enjoy the narrative, sketches, and photographs and they will learn some useful information from this book.
Toughboy and Sister and A Woman of Her Tribe are books intended for middle-school children which focus on American Indians of the Northwest Coast. Toughboy and Sister deals with two Athabascan children in Alaska whose mother dies and whose father becomes alcoholic, leaving the children alone at a fishing camp.40 The boy and the girl tough it out in the “wilderness,” where they face such adversities as cold weather, food shortages, and bears. They overcome all of their problems and grow from their experiences. Apparently this is a true story, but it perpetuates stereotypes about irresponsible, weak, and drunken Indians who cannot cope with life. The children emerge as heroes, as they “conquer” the wilds of Alaska and the monsters that lurk within their own minds. The book is interesting, but its presentation of native people could be improved. Kirkpatrick Hill authored this volume with the intent of presenting the children in a positive light, not of depicting a Native American parent as being irresponsible toward the well-being of children. But readers might well finish this book without knowing that most American Indian parents revere their children and do their very best to give them the best life possible.
Margaret A. Robinson has published another book on northwestern Indians entitled A Woman of Her Tribe.41 The volume, intended for middle-school children, explores the difficulties of a mixed-blood Nootka Indian girl named Annette who is thrust by her mother, a white woman, into a Catholic school. After father's death, Annette's “mum” sends her off to school in Victoria, British Columbia, where the student becomes enthralled with the white world that changes her life. After some formal education, Annette returns home to discover how much she has changed, how she has become separated from the Nootka village. Thus, after a great internal struggle, one which she shares most acutely with her grandmother, Annette decides to go the way of white people, leaving behind her native ways, and returns to St. John's school. Whether or not the author intended the message, the reader is led to believe that in spite of the internal struggle of Annette, the wise road is that of white acculturation. The point seems to be that the best path for Native Americans, regardless of one's feelings toward the tribe and native traditions, should be to step into the twenty-first century by becoming more white. The theme is one of progressivism, not traditionalism, and the thesis is presented by a non-Indian who “knows” what is best for Native Americans. Like Toughboy and Sister, some Native Americans and readers in general will find A Woman of Her Tribe offensive, and they would not recommend this reading for either teachers or students interested in Native American culture today.
People of the Breaking Day42 by Marcia Sewall is a sensitive and generally accurate portrayal of native peoples of Massachusetts. The focus of the work is the Wampanoag Indians, the people who dealt with the Pilgrims in 1620 and the Puritans a decade later. This is one of the few books written about the Wampanoags, and it is presented in a moving fashion with a basic understanding of the native view of plants, animals, and the sacredness of the earth. It is a children's book that captures the essence of the people with information on the social, economic, religious, military, and cultural elements of the tribe. The book emphasizes the family, and in this the author does well. Like many tribes, the family among the Wampanoags was (and is today) a key to the understanding of the tribe's past. The narrative is significantly enhanced by the colorful paintings found in this work. They are as poetic as the prose, and they greatly enhance the value of this wonderful book. There is no doubt that Marcia Sewall respects the people about whom she has written as well as her readers. Clearly she believes that children deserve authentic information about Native Americans—in words and graphics—and she has produced a book that children will value.
“Children have a greater sense of the power and beauty of words than have the rest of us in general,” wrote Scott Momaday. “And if that is so, it is because there occurs—or reoccurs—in the mind of every child something like a recollection of all human experience.”43 Children know quality literature when they hear or read it, and they are particularly drawn to literatures about Native Americans that display an understanding of America's first people. There is something sacred in the old texts, the ancient literature of America. Children know that the old stories link the people of the past to those of the present. The accounts provide children with a better understanding of this land and its first people. Children know the power of the Animal People and Plant People. They have a kinship with this land and with one another. Children learn from the old stories and the new books that authentically portray Native Americans of the past and present. Literature has the power to ignite a child's imagination and send their minds thinking in new and diverse ways. Some of the volumes under review will do just that, while others will not. In all of this, children know.
After reading Paul Goble's The Great Race of the Birds and Animals to Tess Nashone, my five-year old daughter, I took the book with me to the university. The night after reading it to her, Tess asked me to read it again to her. She was upset and disappointed when I told her I had left it in my office. She insisted that I tell her the story, and so I did. When I forgot to mention how Magpie got on Buffalo's back at the beginning of the race, she stopped and explained the importance of the point to me. The night before, Tess had not listened with careless ears or mind. She had listened well, and she had learned. She knew a good story when she heard it, and she knew that Goble had presented the old story well. And so it is with the children. They share a great deal in common with Momaday's Kiowa grandmother. Children understand the power of words and the magic of stories. Yet most of the children's stories about American Indians are written by adults who are not Native Americans. The authors and publishers of these books have the responsibility of creating accurate portrayals of Native Americans since they are significantly influencing the information children will receive about Indians. Some of the books under review succeeded in their task in providing vibrant, exciting, and useful presentations about Native Americans, while others did not. As they plan their future books about American Indians, authors and publishers should bear in mind Momaday's comment that “the word is sacred to a child.” Authors and publishers should observe this same way of thinking, particularly in relation to their next publications about Native Americans.
1. Momaday, N. Scott. House Made of Dawn, New York: Harper and Row, 1966, p. 88.
2. Nashone. Grandmother Stories of the Northwest, Newcastle, California: Sierra Oaks Publishing Company, 1988. $6.95 paper.
3. Ibid., pp. 11-30.
4. Goble, Paul. The Great Race of the Birds and Animals, New York: Aladdin Books, Macmillan, 1991. $4.95 paper.
5. Shetterly, Susan Hand. Raven's Light: A Myth from the People of the Northwest Coast, New York, Atheneum, Macmillan, 1991. $13.95 hard cover.
6. Keeper, Berry. The Old Ones Told Me: American Indian Stories for Children, Portland, Oregon: Binford & Mort, 1989. $4.95 paper.
7. Mayo, Gretchen Will. Earthmaker Tales, New York: Walker and Company, 1989. $5.95 paper; More Earthmaker Tales, New York: Walker and Company, 1989. $5.95 paper; Star Tales, New York: Walker and Company, 1987. $5.95 paper; More Star Tales, New York: Walker and Company, 1989. $5.95 paper.
8. Grammer, Maurine. The Bear That Turned White, Flagstaff, Arizona: Northland Press, 1991. $11.95 paper.
9. Lavitt, Edward and Robert E. McDowell. Nihancan's Feast of Beaver: Animal Tales of the North American Indian, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990. $12.95 paper.
10. Caduto, Michael J. and Joseph Bruchac. Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities of Children, Golden, Colorado: Fulerum, Inc., 1988. $18.95 hard cover.
11. Ibid., pp. 31-40.
12. McLain, Gary. The Indian Way: Learning to Communicate with Mother Earth, Santa Fe: John Muir Publications, 1990. $9.95 paper.
13. Ibid., p. 1.
14. Martin, Jr., Bill and John Archambault. Knots on a Counting Rope, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987. $14.95.
15. For the counting rope, see page 3, and notice the two eagle feathers sticking straight up out of Grandfather's black felt hat. On pages 7 and 8, the illustrator depicts the interior of a Navajo hogan where the wood stove should be in the middle of the dwelling below the smoke hole. For an exterior illustration of the hogan, see page 23. On page 24, notice the Pueblo Indian dancers, not Navajo Yei dancers, and on page 27, see the Pueblo Buffalo dancer.
16. Blood, Charles L. and Martin Link. The Goat in the Rug, New York: Aladdin Books, Macmillan, 1990. $3.95 paper.
17. Hoffman, Virginia. Lucy Learns to Weave: Gathering Plants, Rough Rock, Arizona: Rough Rock Demonstration School, Navajo Nation, 1969. No price, paper.
18. Crowder, Jack L. with the help of William Morgan, Sr., Stephannie and the Coyote—Stefanii do'ó Ma'ii, Bernalillo, New Mexico: Jack L. Crowder, P.O. Box 278, 1970. No price, paper.
19. Morgan, William. Navajo Coyote Tales, Santa Fe: Ancient City Press, 1988. no price, hard-bound and paper.
20. Ibid., p. 1.
21. Ibid., pp. 9-12.
22. Mana, Tawa and Youyou Seyah. When Hopi Children Were Bad, Newcastle, California: Sierra Oaks Publishing Company, 1989. $6.95 paper.
23. Smith-Trafzer, Lee Ann and Clifford E. Trafzer. Creation of a California Tribe: Grandfather's Maidu Indian Tales, Newcastle, California: Sierra Oaks Publishing Company, 1988. $6.95 paper.
24. Shipley, William. The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories of Hanc'ibyjim, Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1991. $11.95 paper.
25. Johnson, John F. C. Chugach Legends, Anchorage: Chugach Alaska Corporation, 1984. No price, paper.
26. Cohlene, Terri. Dancing Drum: A Cherokee Legend, Mahwah, New Jersey: Watermill Press, 1990. $3.95 paper.
27. Te Ata, Baby Rattlesnake. San Francisco: Children's Book Press, 1989. $12.95 hard cover.
28. Grossman, Virginia and Sylvia Long, Ten Little Rabbits, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1991. $12.95 hard cover.
29. Ibid., pp. 3-4.
30. Ibid., pp. 23-24.
31. Lopez, Barry. Crow and Weasel, San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990. $16.95 hard cover.
32. Ibid., p. 7.
33. Ibid., p. 33.
34. Ibid., p. 34.
35. Spinka, Penina Keen. White Hare's Horse, New York: Atheneum, Macmillan, 1991. $12.95 hard cover.
36. Ibid., see book jacket.
37. James, J. Alison. Sing for a Gentle Rain, New York: Atheneum, Macmillan, 1990. $14.95 hard cover.
38. Fellers, Charles. Blue Stone: An Anasazi Boy, Phoenix, Arizona: Laughing Fox Legends, 1989. No price, paper.
39. Nashone. Where Indians Live, Newcastle, California: Sierra Oaks Publishing Company, 1989. $6.95 paper.
40. Hill, Kirkpatrick. Toughboy and Sister, New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, Macmillan, 1990. $12.95 hard cover.
41. Robinson, Margaret A. A Woman of Her Tribe, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, Macmillan, 1990. $12.95.
42. Sewell, Marcia. People of the Breaking Day, New York: Atheneum, Macmillan, 1990. $14.95 hard cover.
43. Momaday, House Made of Dawn, pp. 88-89.
Debbie E. Reese (essay date 2004)
SOURCE: Reese, Debbie E. “Native Americans in Children's Books of the Twentieth Century.” In Children's Literature Remembered: Issues, Trends, and Favorite Books, edited by Linda M. Pavonetti, pp. 139-56. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.
[In the following essay, Reese examines the critical development and evolution of children's literature by and about Native Americans throughout the twentieth century.]
If someone is asked to name a Native American (or American Indian) author of children's books, Joseph Bruchac, of the Abenaki tribe, is likely to be at the top of the list. Readers should note Bruchac's tribe (Abenaki); Native Americans prefer to be identified by a specific tribe rather than Native American or American Indian when possible. Bruchac has written numerous children's books about Native Americans. His work spans several genres: The Story of the Milky Way (Bruchac and Ross 1995) is traditional literature, The Heart of a Chief (1998b) is contemporary realistic fiction, Arrow over the Door (1998a) is historical fiction, Crazy Horse's Vision (2000) is biography, and Bowman's Store (1997) is his autobiography. What is not well known in the field of children's literature is Bruchac's role in mentoring aspiring Native authors. Indeed, he is recognized as the single most important force in the nation in publishing and promoting the work of emerging Native American writers (Lerner 1994). Bruchac was instrumental in establishing the Returning the Gift festival in 1992. Held in Norman, Oklahoma, it was conceived as a gathering at which Native authors could share their work and talk with or mentor aspiring Native American authors. It evolved into an annual Returning the Gift festival and the formation of several organiza- tions whose goals are to publish the work of Native authors and provide beginning authors with mentors. Native American authors who serve as mentors include Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), whose Ceremony (1977) is widely used in high school classrooms, and Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene). Also serving as mentors are Gayle Ross (Cherokee), known for her picture-book retellings of traditional literature and oral storytelling and, of course, Bruchac. In addition to the festival, Bruchac established the Greenfield Review Press, a small publishing house devoted to publication of Native authors. Without question, Bruchac has been significant, not only for his own writing, but also for his efforts to mentor and promote the work of other Native authors.
Historical Development of the Literature: The First Ninety Years
Most readers of this chapter are familiar with Silko, Ross, and Alexie's names as authors whose works are used today, at the start of the twenty-first century, in classrooms from kindergarten through college. Poised as we are at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, many of us recognize the work of these Native authors, but what about the early 1900s? Were there Native authors writing for children then?1 How were Native Americans presented in books published in the first half of the twentieth century?
The later half of the century saw a growing awareness of debates such as bias, insider-outsider perspective, voice, appropriation, and stereotyping. However, Native American children voiced that awareness nearly a hundred years ago, in 1908. What follows is a quote from a Native American child, printed in What the White Race May Learn from the Indian (James 1908). The child, a student at an Indian school, was speaking to the author:
When we read in the United States history of white men fighting to defend their families, their homes, their corn-fields, their towns, and their hunting-grounds, they are always called “patriots,” and the children are urged to follow the example of these brave, noble, and gallant men. But when Indians—our ancestors, even our own parents—have fought to defend us and our homes, corn-fields, and hunting-grounds they are called vindictive and merciless savages, bloody murderers, and everything else that is vile. You are the Indians' friend: will you not some time please write for us a United States history that will not teach us such wicked and cruel falsehoods about our forefathers because they loved their homes enough to fight for them—even against such powerful foes as you have been.
Early Native American authors shared these concerns. Scholars of Native American literature identify Charles Alexander Eastman (Santee Sioux) and Zitkala Sa (Yankton Sioux) as the best known of the early Native American authors (Ruoff 1991; Wiget 1994). These early authors attempted to correct the common notion that Indians were primitive, blood-thirsty savages who attacked innocent settlers—notions Native children were keenly aware of, as evidenced by the preceding quote—by working to replace negative stereotypes left over from colonial conquest with positive ones that critiqued modern society by promoting a positive, antimodernist understanding of Native American culture in their writing for youth (Deloria 1998). Thus, the image of the bloodthirsty savage was joined by one of a romantic, heroic Indian.
Most of the early literature is autobiographical in nature, and those who were most successful wrote using the European American autobiographical model that documents the author's life story, rather than one based on the tribal oral narrative tradition that consists of “brief stories, descriptive passages, and images [that] tumble out one after another with very few explicit connections or transitions” (Brumble 1994, 182). Eastman's Indian Boyhood, published in 1902 by Little, Brown and Company, was a favorite among “citybound Anglo youth” in Boy Scout programs and the “Indian hobbyist” movement (Wiget 1994, 54). It contains autobiographical sketches first printed in St. Nicholas, a popular magazine for children (Peyer 1994). Zitkala Sa (also known as Gertrude Bonnin), a Yankton Sioux woman, was an author, musician, and political activist. In 1901, she published Old Indian Legends, a collection of Iktomi trickster stories. Sneve (1995a) describes the stories as “good” Indian stories because themes are about a free child of nature or the Indian as brave and courageous. These stories were well received and often used in schools (Sneve 1995a, xv). In stark contrast are Zitkala Sa's “bad” Indian stories, which were critical essays of assimilationist educational programs, forced Christianity, and the treatment of Indian children at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. These essays, initially published in Atlantic Monthly and Harper's, were negatively received. Eventually, several were published together in American IndianStories (Hafen 1996; Zitkala  1985). Both of Zitkala Sa's books are marketed today to child and adult readers (Hafen 1996; Picotte 1985).
Two other Native Americans who wrote children's books prior to the 1950s include Luther Standing Bear (Lakota) and E-Yeh-Sure (Isleta Pueblo). Standing Bear's My Indian Boyhood (1931) is primarily autobiographical, but he also wrote two other books that described traditional Lakota culture: My People, the Sioux (1928) and Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933). In 1939, William Morrow published I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl, written by E-Yeh-Shure (Blue Corn), a thirteen-year-old girl from Isleta Pueblo whose book is usually listed under her English name, Louise Abeita. In simple prose, information about various aspects of Pueblo Indian life and culture are presented from the author's perspective as a young girl. Several artists who studied at the Dorothy Dunn studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the 1930s did the watercolor illustrations for I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl. One of the artists, Allan Houser, eventually became world renowned for his work. In 1992, President George Bush awarded Houser the National Medal of Arts.
In addition to the aforementioned books and stories, the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs was engaged in publishing books about Native Americans. During the 1940s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs published the Navajo, Sioux, and Pueblo book series, most of them written by noted author Ann Nolan Clark, who is not herself Native American. Major publishing houses later reprinted some of the books, which were originally written for use in the U.S. Government Boarding and Day Schools that served Navajo, Sioux, and Pueblo Indian children. Known as the “Indian Life Readers,” some of the books included English text but also the native language spoken by the children at the school. Most of the illustrations for the books were done by Native artists who, like Allan Houser, went on to become world-class artists. In My Mother's House (Clark 1941a) was selected to receive distinction as a Caldecott Honor book. The book started out as a booklet titled “Home Geography,” written by Clark and illustrated by her students at Tesuque Pueblo Day School in New Mexico. In it was “an account of life in Tesuque Pueblo, as it is influenced by environmental factors” (Bader 1976, 161). Pueblo artist Velino Herrera did the watercolor illustrations for In My Mother's House.
With Navajo artist Hoke Denetsosie, Clark wrote the Little Herder series, which included Little Herder in Autumn/Áakéedgo ná'nilkaadí yázhí (1940b), Little Herder in Spring/Dáago na'nilkaadí yázhí (1940c), Little Herder in Summer/Shiigo na'nilkaadí yázhí (1942a), and Little Herder in Winter/Haigo na'nilkaadi yázhí (1942b). Of particular interest is Denotsosie's attention to authenticity as reported in Bader (1976) quoting from Denetsosie's self-authored artist profile:
The nature of the series, being concerned with Navajo life, called for illustration genuine in every sense of the word. I had to observe and incorporate in pictures those characteristics which serve to distinguish the Navajo from other tribes. Further, the setting of the pictures had to change to express local changes as the family moved from place to place. The domestic animals raised by the Navajo had to be shown in a proper setting just as one sees them on the reservation. The sheep could not be shown grazing in a pasture, nor the horses in a stable, because such things are not Navajo.
Other titles in the series written by Clark include Little Boy with Three Names: Stories of Taos Pueblo (1940a), illustrated by Tonia Lujan; The Pine Ridge Porcupine/Wazi ahanhan p'ahin k'un he (1941b), There Still Are Buffalo ( 1992), Brave against the Enemy/Toka wan itkokip (1944), and The Singing Sioux Cowboy/Lak'ota Pteole Hoksila Lowansa. Woundspe T'okahe (1947), all illustrated by Andrew Standing Soldier; and Who Wants to Be a Prairie Dog/Háisha T'aá Kad Dloo Silii (1940d), illustrated by Andrew Van Tsihnahjinnie. Some titles were not written by Clark. They include Little Man's Family/ Díné Yázhi Báatchíní (1940), written and illustrated by James Byron Enochs, and Field Mouse Goes to War/Tusan Homichi Tuwvoöta (1944), by Edward A. Kennard, illustrated by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
From the 1950s until 1968, very few Native authors were published (Ruoff 1991). D'Arcy McNickle's (Cree Salish) historical fiction novel for middle school readers, Runner in the Sun, was published in 1954. The novel follows Salt, a teen who leads his people from their cliff-dwelling village to a valley where water is more abundant. In 1960, Pablita Velarde's (Santa Clara Pueblo) Old Father, the Storyteller was published. It is a collection of stories told to her by her grandfather. Velarde, also a world-renowned artist, did the illustrations for the book and provided information regarding the symbolism of elements she included in the illustrations. The collection includes “Turkey Girl,” a story that resembles the European version of Cinderella, but that ends differently. In “Turkey Girl,” there are consequences for failing to follow through on commitments. Others (Peggy Pollack and Joe Hayes) have retold the story of Turkey Girl and changed it in ways that make it less a Pueblo Indian story and more of a fairy tale. In contrast, Velarde's is worth reading for the insider perspective she provides. Old Father, the Storyteller was republished by Clear Light Press in the late 1980s.
During the 1970s, a magazine for children was published by the American Indian Historical Society. Titled The Wee Wish Tree, it contained short stories, poems, and essays written by Native American authors and Native American children. A landmark book published during this time is Simon Ortiz's (Acoma) The People Shall Continue (1977). The prose poem chronicles the history of Native Americans from creation to the present day and includes content often omitted or glossed over in other narratives about the settlement of the United States. Thus, the reader learns about forced removal of Native peoples from their homelands, the development of boarding schools, and the alliances formed in the 1960s among and between peoples of color.
During the 1970s, the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) was instrumental in promoting the work of Rosebud Sioux author Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Her works of fiction include three chapter books: The Chichi Hoohoo Bogeyman (1975), When Thunders Spoke (1974), and High Elk's Treasure (1972).
The Closing Decade
In the 1990s, publication of books written by Native authors increased significantly. In this decade, several Native authors wrote fiction and nonfiction for children. A few wrote several books and became widely known, while others were not as prolific. In combination, however, their work represents a growing body of literature for children that presents authentic stories about Native Americans.
Michael Dorris's (Modoc) works of historical fiction include Sees Behind Trees (1996), Guests (1994), and Morning Girl (1992). Each is noteworthy, but Sees Behind Trees is especially valuable for its treatment of women. In most works of historical fiction, females are marginalized as beasts of burden of no significance. Recent scholarship has revealed a different picture. The role of women in Native tribes was one of great import. Dorris presents this to us in the character of Otter, the tribe weroance, who controls the comings and goings of the people and presides over important events. Further discussion of Native women in historical fiction can be read in “Representations of Native American Women and Girls in Children's Historical Fiction” in Lehr's Beauty, Brains and Brawn (Reese 2001).
Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, whose works of fiction were published in the 1970s, wrote a series of nonfiction books for Holiday House. Titled the First Americans series, it has been well received, primarily for the style and scope of coverage in each book. Each one opens with a creation story from the tribe the book is about and ends with information about the tribe in the present day. There are currently nine books in the series, all written by Sneve: The Apaches (1997), The Cherokees (1996a), The Cheyennes (1996b), The Hopis (1995b), The Iroquois (1995c), The Navajos (1993a), The Nez Perce (1994a), The Seminoles (1994b), and The Sioux (1993b).
Gayle Ross's (Cherokee) traditional stories include How Rabbit Tricked Otter and Other Cherokee Trickster Stories (1994), How Turtle's Back Was Cracked (1995), and Legend of the Windigo: A Tale from Native North America (1996). Ross, a storyteller, is careful to describe the ways in which she adapts and modifies stories she tells. Hearne (1999) favorably compares Ross's source note for the Windigo story with that of Douglas Wood in his story of the Windigo (1996).
Artist and storyteller Virginia Stroud (Cherokee) has written three books for children and young adults: Doesn't Fall Off His Horse (1994), The Path of the Quiet Elk: A Native American Alphabet Book (1996), and A Walk to the Great Mystery (1995). Stroud collaborates with Bruchac and Ross, providing the artwork for some of their books.
Luci Tapahonso (Navajo) wrote two picture books for children, both of which provide rich information about the Navajo people. The first, Navajo ABC, a Diné Alphabet Book (1995), includes words in English and Diné, while Songs from Shiprock Fair (1999) provides substantive information about a tribal fair. Poems from her Blue Horses Rush In (1997) can be used with middle and high school students.
There are many other Native authors whose work has not received much attention. Joseph McLellan's (Ojibwe) series of picture books that feature Nanabosho, the Ojibwe trickster, are based on his oral tellings of Nanabosho stories; Bernelda Wheeler's (Cree) picture books are outstanding stories about modern- day Native American children; and Michael Lacapa's (Apache/Hopi/Tewa) books are also compelling. Joseph Bruchac has been prolific, as noted in the opening pages of this chapter. The work of several authors is discussed in the “Authors to Watch” section of this chapter, including Cynthia Leitich Smith (Creek), Jan Waboose (Anishinabe), and Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki/Metis).
Controversy and Debate
For the most part, the history of children's literature about Native Americans is problematic in multiple ways. Studies indicate that most books contain inaccuracies, stereotypes, and bias (Byler 1982; Moore and Hirschfelder 1977; Reese 2001). Problems range from erroneous depictions of the tribe being represented, to suggestions that Native American culture ceased to exist, to portrayals of Native Americans as savage, romantic, or heroic and possessing superhuman qualities. The majority of these books are not written by Native American authors, which leads to the debate over authenticity and insider/outsider perspective.
There are some writers who are not Native who have written noteworthy books about Native Americans. Paul Goble's retellings of traditional Native stories are quite good. (It should be noted, however, that some critics have challenged his Iktomi series for his appropriation and interpretation of the voice of Iktomi.) Goble's research, artistic skills, and the time spent with Native people contribute to the accuracy of his work and his ability to provide readers with stories that resound with Native readers. However, Goble's retellings are the exception. Most authors do library research but do not visit reservations and interact with Native people enough to understand what it means to create works that authentically embody a Native American perspective. Some recent examples illuminate the problems that can occur if authors do not take time to read or consult with Native Americans to learn about their concerns with the ways in which Native cultures are presented.
Native American cultures are often linked with environmentalist themes about caring for the environment. In 1991, Dial published Brother Eagle Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. This book features illustrations by Susan Jeffers and text that is attributed to Seattle, a nineteenth-century leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish people of the Pacific Coast. The book became a best-seller, but it is problematic in several ways. The book is set in a contemporary period, as shown by the presence of a modern-day family that appears to be European American. In contrast, the illustrations of Native Americans show them only in traditional clothing, while in other instances, they are presented in a transparent manner, presumably suggesting a spiritual presence. The material culture of Seattle and his people is based on their geographic location, but Jeffers's illustrations predominantly reflect a Plains culture rather than one of the northwest coast. The speech presented in the book is one oft attributed to Seattle, but represents only a small segment of a much larger one he gave when his people were forced from their traditional lands. A concern for the environment is not the theme of his speech. Moreover, the actual text Jeffers used is more akin to one used in a 1971 television program about the northwest rain forest than Seattle's actual speech. Mendoza and Reese (2001) provide an extended analysis of the book.
Several other popular books also have received close readings. Lynne Reid Banks's series The Indian in the Cupboard (1980) has been challenged for her presentation of Native American culture. Native scholar Rhonda Harris Taylor's (2000) case study of the reviews for the series and analysis of its content points out the problems with the books. Angela Cavendar Wilson's analysis of Native children's responses to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie has gained attention from many quarters, including a television segment that ran on Nickelodeon's kid news program, Nick News. Still others have written about inaccuracy and bias and the outrage Native Americans express at Ann Rinaldi's whitewash of the Native American boarding school experience in her book My Heart Is on the Ground: The Story of Nannie Little Rose, a title in Scholastic's Dear America series of historical fiction diaries (Atleo et al. 1999; Thompson 2001).
Much of this criticism is new, reflecting the greater involvement of Native Americans in the arena of literary criticism and children's literature. Books that once received awards from the literary establishment are receiving a “second look” and falling far short of their previous acclaim. McDermott's Arrow to the Sun (1974) has been criticized for its portrayal of Pueblo culture and spirituality (Reese and Caldwell-Wood 1997), and Speare's Sign of the Beaver (1983) and Dalgliesh's Courage of Sarah Noble (1954) have been analyzed for negative depiction of Native women (Reese 2001).
In addition to literary analysis, there is greater attention to the identity of authors who claim to be Native American. America's history is replete with stories of European Americans who adopted Native American ways of living. In the twentieth century, however, the motives for posing as Native have changed as individuals sought to exploit the romantic appeal of Native Americans for their own commercial gain. This has increased to the degree that a major reference, the Encyclopedia of North American Indians (Hoxie 1996), includes an entry titled “Fakes and Imposters” (Lynn-Sherow 1996). It includes a discussion of two authors whose claims to Native American identity have been challenged: Jamake Highwater (1977), author of Anpao, and Forest Carter (1976), author of Education of Little Tree (Justice 2000). In her 1997 article “The Indians America Loves to Love and Read: American Indian Identity and Cultural Appropriation,” Shanley goes into great detail documenting Highwater's claim, while Justice provides detailed discussion of Carter's claim in his 2000 article “A Lingering Miseducation: Confronting the Legacy of Little Tree.”
Several trends in the literature about Native Americans are noteworthy. First, many Native authors writing for children got their start by writing for an adult readership. Second, Native authors who write for children are writing about modern-day Native people as opposed to stories rooted in the oral tradition. As they do, a third trend emerges. The topics they write about in their fiction deal with issues modern-day Native Americans are confronted with. Finally, Native authors are exploring the photo essay as a format for sharing information about their cultures. Each of these trends is described in the following paragraphs.
Several Native authors whose children's books are well known started out writing for adult readers. Michael Dorris wrote Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987) prior to his works of historical fiction mentioned earlier. Louise Erdrich wrote Beet Queen (1986), Love Medicine (1984), and Tracks (1988) prior to her children's books Grandmother's Pigeon (1996) and later Birchbark House (1999), a critically acclaimed work of historical fiction that was nominated for the National Book Award. Erdrich plans to follow Birchbark House with two other works of historical fiction. Joy Harjo's poetry and her band, Poetic Justice, were well established before her picture book Good Luck Cat (2000) was published. N. Scott Momaday, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning House Made of Dawn (1968), wrote Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story in 1994. Luci Tapahonso wrote several volumes of poetry, including Breeze Swept Through (1987), before writing her children's books. Perhaps their success in the adult market provided them (and the publishing houses) with an entrée not extended to Native authors who start out writing for children. It may be that other Native authors who write for the adult market will follow their lead.
With greater frequency, Native authors are writing fiction about modern-day Native people, as opposed to traditional stories. There is also an effort to provide a balanced picture that includes women in central ways. Some of this fiction includes political content on issues such as gaming, stereotypes, and the use of Native American imagery as mascots for sports teams. As other Native authors become published, it may be that this trend will continue, or that other emerging issues such as land claims and treaty rights will be addressed.
Historical events that have received little attention in the past are now being explored. One example is the boarding school experience of Native people in the United States. Two recent children's books on the topic have been problematic: critical reviews of Rinaldi's My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose and Cooper's Indian School (1999) can be read online at www.oyate.org, in the “Books to Avoid” link. Publishers seeking manuscripts about boarding schools would be well advised to seek out Native people who can write such stories based on their own or a grandparent's experiences at the schools. One such book is Shirley Sterling's My Name Is Seepeetza (1992). Though not written for children, two books about the boarding school experience that can be used with middle school and young adult readers include K. Tsiannina Lomawaima's (Hopi) They Called It Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School (1994) and Brenda Child's (Chippewa) Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families 1900-1940 (2000).
Another example is Battlefields and Burial Grounds (1994), a children's work of nonfiction written by two Pawnee men, Roger C. and Walter R. Echo-Hawk. The book describes the efforts of Native Americans to recover remains of their ancestors from museum holdings for reburial on tribal lands.
Finally, more Native authors are writing nonfiction books in the form of photo essays. One example is the We Are Still Here series of photo essays published by Lerner Publications, each of which profiles contemporary Native American children (Horning, Kruse, and Schliesman 2001). The series has been well received by critics for its focus on contemporary Native American children and the ways their tribal heritage is portrayed as a vibrant part of their daily lives. At present, there are ten titles in the series. Each book focuses on a specific tribe. Other Native Americans are bringing forward photo essays similar to these. Among them is LaVera Rose (1999), a Lakota author who wrote Grandchildren of the Lakota, and Marcie Rendon (1996), who did Pow Wow Summer. Additional information can be found in the March 2000 issue of Multicultural Review in the informative essay titled “Photo Essays of American Indian Children” by Beverly Slapin (28).
Authors to Watch
Creek author Cynthia Leitich Smith has published two books in the last few years, both featuring contemporary Native protagonists and their families. In the picture book Jingle Dancer (2000), readers learn about Jenna and her efforts to secure the tin cones necessary to make a traditional dress to wear at a powwow. In the story, readers meet members of Jenna's family, including her aunt, who is a lawyer. The watercolor illustrations are beautifully rendered and do a fine job of illuminating the fact that modern-day Native American people drive cars, hold professional jobs, and live in houses much like the rest of non-Native America. Smith's second book, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001), is a work of fiction for middle school readers. It features Cassidy Rain, a young mixed-blood girl who is recovering from the loss of her mother and best friend. As readers come to know Cassidy Rain, Smith seamlessly provides a wealth of information about Native American culture in modern America. Tech-savvy Smith maintains a Web site about children's literature, but of most interest is the companion pages she has created to go along with Rain Is Not My Indian Name. Teachers and students will find them valuable not only for literature circle discussions, but also to enhance knowledge about various subjects from the novel. Some are lighthearted, such as links to Star Trek Web sites, but others are practical. These include the links to sites that help users create Web pages and the links to sites maintained by Native American tribes featured in the novel. The URL for the Web site is www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/rainisnotmyindianname.html. Smith's third book, Indian Shoes (2002), is a collection of short stories that features a contemporary Native boy and his grandfather.
Anishinabe author Jan Waboose also has made significant contributions. Her Morning on the Lake, published in 1997, is a heartwarming story about a child and his grandfather as they spend the day together, starting with a quiet morning on the lake. Her second book, Sky Sisters, published in 2000, is about two sisters and their nighttime walk through the frozen night to see the Sky Sisters, commonly known as the northern lights. Both are stories about modern-day Ojibway children.
Another name to watch for is Cheryl Savageau of the Abenaki/Metis tribes. Savageau writes poetry for older readers as well as picture books about contemporary Native children. Her first book, Muskrat Will Be Swimming (1996), was identified as a 1996 Notable Book for Children by the Smithsonian Institution, and she was recognized by Word Craft Circle as the 1997 Writer of the Year. She currently is working on another children's book and has used a short story, “Coyote and the Sleeping Monster,” with middle school students during author visits. The story is published in an anthology titled Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope (Brody), published in 1991 by New Society Publishers. Her book of poems, Dirt Road Home (Savageau 1995), though not marketed as a children's book, contains poems that she's read aloud to grade school children in school settings.
Finally, Louise Erdrich, author of Birchbark House and Grandmother's Pigeon, plans to write additional novels about Omakayas, the protagonist of Birchbark House. Muscogee poet Joy Harjo wrote a delightful story, The Good Luck Cat, published in 2000, and it is possible she will write others.
Guidelines for Evaluating Children's Books about Native Americans
Today, there are several sets of guidelines teachers and librarians can use to evaluate books about Native Americans. The guidelines usually take the form of a set of questions intended to help the evaluator determine the presence of problems with bias and stereotyping. The roots of such guidelines go back to the Intergroup Education Movement of the 1940s and its efforts to promote positive relationships among racial and ethnic groups (Banks 1995). One approach was to provide children with stories about racially and ethnically diverse children that presented the subjects in a positive light, while simultaneously helping children detect error and bias in literature (Havighurst 1945). Helen Trager, a prominent member of the Intergroup Education Movement, wrote an article that was a survey and critical evaluation of well-known children's books. Trager's (1945) evaluation included examining the books to determine “whether the reader would come away with a favorable attitude to- ward or at least a better understanding of persons of other culture groups; or whether the reader's presumed prejudices would be deepened or perpetuated in spite of the author's good intention” (138). The article appeared in the November 1945 issue of Childhood Education and included a set of twelve questions she used in her evaluation (for example: “Is a particular way of life, a custom or tradition explained, or is it described with bias?” and “Do the illustrations help one to like the people in the story, or are they stereotyped, queer, or ugly?” ). The questions were broad in scope and could be applied to various cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. In 1948, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) published Charlamae Rollins's book We Build Together, which was subtitled “A Reader's Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and High School Use.” It contained a list of questions that teachers could use to discern the presence of bias in children's books with African American characters. In the decades to come, others would develop similar questions specific to a racial or ethnic group.
Among the earliest studies that looked critically at representations of Native Americans in children's books is Byler's American Indian Authors for Young Readers: A Selected Bibliography, published in 1973 by the Association on American Indian Affairs in New York. In the introductory essay to the bibliography, Byler describes a broad range of problematic depictions in children's books with Native American content. A few years later, a set of questions that reflect her essay was published by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in two of its books: Unlearning Indian Stereotypes (1977) and Guidelines for Selecting Bias-Free Textbooks and Storybooks (1980).
These questions evolved and gained greater currency over time. In 1991, the American Indian Library Association (an affiliate of the American Library Association) published “I” Is Not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People, by Naomi Caldwell-Wood and Lisa Mitten. The most useful and widely cited publication on Native American literature is Slapin and Seale's Through Indian Eyes: The Native Perspective in Books for Children (1998). Originally published in 1988, it is currently published by the American Indian Studies program at the University of California, Berkeley. Through Indian Eyes includes essays by noted authors such as Joseph Bruchac and Michael Dorris, critical reviews of children's books with Native American characters or themes, and a set of guidelines titled “How to Tell the Difference: A Checklist for Evaluating Books for Anti-Indian Bias.” Items on the guidelines are enhanced by the use of illustrations and passages taken directly from children's books. Slapin and Seale are working on a second book, The Broken Flute.
The best resource for locating books by small presses and those published by mainstream publishers that have been carefully reviewed by individuals knowledgeable about Native culture is Oyate. Oyate's catalogue is available online (www.oyate.org); a hard copy can be obtained by writing to Oyate, 2702 Mathews St., Berkeley, CA 94702, by calling (510) 848-6700, or by e-mail: oyateoyate.org.
Journals that publish studies of Native Americans in children's and young adult literature include The New Advocate and Multicultural Review. (Note: The New Advocate has recently ceased publication.) Scholars who have published research articles and book chapters on this topic include Naomi Caldwell, Jim Charles, Donnarae MacCann, Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese, and Beverly Slapin.
Optimism for the Twenty-First Century
The outlook for the twenty-first century is one of optimism. Without a doubt, there is a great deal of work to be done. It is difficult to change expectations, especially when the mass media and society are so filled with savage, romantic, or outdated ideas of who Native Americans are. The closing decade of the twentieth century reflects a greater involvement of Native people in the writing, publishing, and criticism of literature about Native people than was the case in the first ninety years. There is, and will continue to be, resistance to their voices, but Native people have endured and persisted through hundreds of years of oppression and injustice, and they are bringing that same endurance and persistence to improving the literature that tells their stories.
1. In this chapter, I focus primarily on Native authors. Although there are many other authors who write books about Native Americans, it is my position that the work of Native authors needs to be brought forward and highlighted. Native heritage is no guarantee of a work's authenticity. However, there are a great many Native authors whose work is not receiving the attention it can and should.
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———. 1998a. The Arrow over the Door. Illus. J. Watling. New York: Dial.
———. 1998b. The Heart of a Chief: A Novel. New York: Dial.
———. 2000. Crazy Horse's Vision. Illus. S. D. Nelson. New York: Lee & Low.
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———. 1940c. Little Herder in Spring. Dáago na'nilkaadí yázhí. Illus. H. Denetsosie. Phoenix, AZ: Phoenix Indian School Printing Department.
———. 1940d. Who Wants to be a Prairie Dog? Háisha t'aá kad dloo silii? Illus. A. Van Tsihnahjinnie. Phoenix, AZ: Phoenix Indian School Printing Department.
———. 1941a. In My Mother's House. Illus. V. Herrera. New York: Viking.
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———. 1988. Tracks: A Novel. New York: Henry Holt.
———. 1996. Grandmother's Pigeon. Illus. J. LaMarche. New York: Hyperion Books.
———. 1999. The Birchbark House. New York: Hyperion Books.
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———. 1994. Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light.
Moore, R. B., and A. B. Hirschfelder. 1977. “Feathers, Tomahawks and Tipis: A Study of Stereotyped ‘Indian’ Imagery in Children's Picture Books.” In Unlearning “Indian” Stereotypes: A Teaching Unit for Elementary Teachers and Children's Librarians, ed. Council on Interracial Books for Children, 5-23. New York: Racism and Sexism Resource Center for Educators, a division of the Council on Interracial Books for Children.
Ortiz, S. J. 1977. The People Shall Continue. Illus. S. Graves. San Francisco: Children's Book Press.
Peyer, B. C. 1994. “Charles Alexander Eastman.” In Handbook of Native American Literature, ed. A. Wiget, 231-237. New York: Garland.
Picotte, A. M. 1985. “Foreword.” In Old Indian Legends, ed. Zitkala-Sa, xi-xviii. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Rees, D. 1984. Painted Desert, Green Shade: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young Adults. Boston: Horn Book.
Reese, D. A. 2001. “Representations of Native American Women and Girls in Children's Historical Fiction.” In Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: The Construction of Gender in Children's Literature, ed. S. S. Lehr, 127-141. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Reese, D. A., and N. Caldwell-Wood. 1997. “Native Americans in Children's Literature.” In Using Multi-ethnic Literature in the K-8 Classroom, ed. V. J. Harris, 155-192. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Rendon, M. R. 1996. Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life. Illus. C. W. Bellville. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.
Rollins, C. H., ed. 1948. We Build Together: A Reader's Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and High School Use. Rev. ed. Chicago: National Council of Teachers of English.
Rose, L. 1999. Grandchildren of the Lakota. Illus. C. W. Bellville. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.
Ross, G. 1994. How Rabbit Tricked Otter and Other Cherokee Trickster Stories. Illus. M. Jacob. New York: HarperCollins.
———. 1995. How Turtle's Back was Cracked: A Traditional Cherokee Tale. Illus. M. Jacob. New York: Dial.
———. 1996. The Legend of the Windigo: A Tale from Native North America. Illus. M. Jacob. New York: Dial.
Ruoff, A. L. B. 1991. Literatures of the American Indian. New York: Chelsea House.
Savageau, C. 1995. Dirt Road Home: Poems. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone.
———. 1996. Muskrat Will be Swimming. Illus. R. Hynes. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland.
Seattle. 1991. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. Illus. S. Jeffers. New York: Dial.
Shanley, K. W. 1997. “The Indians America Loves to Love and Read: American Indian Identity and Cultural Appropriation.” American Indian Quarterly 21, no. 4: 675-702.
Silko, L. M. 1977. Ceremony. New York: Viking.
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Smith, C. L. 2000. Jingle Dancer. Illus. Y.-H. Hu. New York: Morrow Junior Books.
———. 2001. Rain Is Not My Indian Name. New York: HarperCollins.
———. 2002. Indian Shoes. Illus. J. Madsen. New York: HarperCollins.
Sneve, V. D. H. 1972. High Elk's Treasure. Illus. O. Lyons. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1974. When Thunders Spoke. Illus. O. Lyons. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1975. The Chichi Hoohoo Bogeyman. Illus. N. Agard. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1993a. The Navajos. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1993b. The Sioux. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1994a. The Nez Perce. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1994b. The Seminoles. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1995a. Completing the circle. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
———. 1995b. The Hopis. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1995c. The Iroquois. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
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———. 1996b. The Cheyennes. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
———. 1997. The Apaches. Illus. R. Himler. New York: Holiday House.
Speare, E. G. 1983. The Sign of the Beaver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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———. 1933. Land of the Spotted Eagle. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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Stroud, V. A. 1994. Doesn't Fall Off His Horse. New York: Dial.
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Tapahonso, L. 1987. A Breeze Swept Through. Albuquerque, NM: West End.
———. 1997. Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
———. 1999. Songs of Shiprock Fair. Illus. A. C. Emerson. Walnut, CA: Kiva.
Tapahonso, L., and E. Schick. 1995. Navajo ABC: A Diné Alphabet Book. Illus. E. Schick. New York: Macmillan.
Taylor, R. H. 2000. “Indian in the cupboard: A Case Study in Perspective.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 13, no. 4: 371-384.
Thompson, M. K. 2001. “A Sea of Good Intentions: Native Americans in Books for Children.” Lion and the Unicorn 25, no. 3: 353-374.
Trager, H. 1945. “Intercultural Books for Children.” Childhood Education 22, no. 3: 138-145.
Velarde, P. 1960. Old Father, the Storyteller. Globe, AZ: D. S. King.
———. 1989. Old Father, the Storyteller. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light.
Waboose, J. B. 1997. Morning on the Lake. Illus. K. Reczuch. Toronto: Kids Can Press.
———. 2000. Sky Sisters. Illus. B. Deines. Toronto: Kids Can Press.
Wiget, A., ed. 1994. Handbook of Native American Literature. New York: Garland.
Wood, D. 1996. The Windigo's Return: A North Woods Story. Illus. G. Couch. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Zitkala, S.  1985. Old Indian Legends. Boston: Ginn & Company.
———.  1985. American Indian Stories. Washington, DC: Hayworth.
Jon C. Stott (essay date summer 1992)
SOURCE: Stott, Jon C. “Native Tales and Traditions in Books for Children.” American Indian Quarterly 16, no. 3 (summer 1992): 373-80.
[In the following essay, Stott reviews six children's books about Native American culture in an attempt to determine whether ethnic Native Americans can more successfully relate their own cultural heritage than non-Native writers.]
The title of a recent article about the portrayal of aboriginal people in the New Zealand novel The Bone People raises the important question, Who can write for others?, and charges those with the responsibility of selecting and evaluating children's books about Native Americans. Can non-native people write successfully about traditional or contemporary native life? Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., in The White Man's Indian, did not think so, stating that “to understand the White image of the Indian is to understand White societies' intellectual premises over time more than the diversity of Native Americans.” Even the most sympathetic and knowledgeable non-native writers may be restricted by the very genres—in children's literature, usually the fairy tale and novel—used to contain their material; genres which are outgrowths of several centuries of European attitudes about the nature of individuals and their relationships to the human, natural, and spiritual worlds which surround them. By contrast, anthropologist Clifford Geertz is more sanguine. In Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, he refers to a process he calls “translation,” which he defines as “not a simple recasting of others' ways of putting things in our own ways of putting them, … but displaying the logic of their ways of putting them in the locutions of ours.”
An equally important question is whether or not non-native writers should publish novels about native peoples or retellings of traditional myths and tales. Are such activities genuine attempts to bridge gaps of cultural understanding, helping members of majority cultures to form more favorable and accurate opinions of those long misunderstood and degraded through stereotypes? Or are these activities just examples of cultural exploitation, the taking of property and possessions for their own (usually financial) benefit? Many would argue that as the majority culture controls the main avenues to publication, their interests work against native voices finding a large audience, and thus, work against wide dissemination of texts which authentically portray native traditions, values, and experience. A contrary argument is that the best writers—and just in numbers most of these are now white—regardless of race, deserve to be published. But do educational and economic limitations mitigate against the development of more good native writers? And who establishes the criteria for determining what “good” is?
In the field of children's book publishing, those books about native peoples published by the major houses are nearly all written and illustrated by non-natives. Works by native authors generally appear on the lists of smaller, regional publishers, and, unfortunately, seldom reach a wide audience. (Joseph Bruchac and Michael J. Caduto's superb Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children [Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, Inc., 1988] is a notable exception.)
In analyzing and evaluating recent titles, in deciding which ones are “good,” the critic must employ a complex set of guidelines. What is the purpose of each title? Is it well-written, entertaining, and enjoyable to read? If it is based on oral materials, how well is its “orality” transferred to the page? For whom is the book intended, and are the needs of audience met? If the writer is non-native, how well is the process of translation, as defined by Geertz, carried out? If it is by a native writer, is the book subject to different evaluative guidelines? Does the reviewer take into account the distance between a native author and a young, non-native reader? Or does the reviewer assume an intended native audience and judge accordingly? These are difficult guidelines to follow. Perhaps they represent at best some extremely general approaches; perhaps each book must be approached individually and judged according to its unique purposes and merits.
The first book to be considered, Back in the Before Time: Tales of the California Indians, is by Jane Louise Curry, a well-known author of fantasy for young adults, and is published by a subdivision of the Macmillan Publishing Company. Intended for a general and, therefore, largely white audience from ages eight to twelve, it is a collection of twenty-two tales, beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the creation of human beings. The dominant character is Coyote, who appears in fifteen tales, providing useful services such as causing the sun to travel east to west each day, acquiring fire, and freeing salmon from imprisonment by evil witches. More often, he is set up to his tricks, attempting to feed his appetites and ego, and usually failing because of his selfishness. The theme of cooperation underlies these narratives: when creatures work together, the results are positive and everyone benefits. Gracefully told and quick moving, the stories are entertaining and their morals never too obvious. Yet they are also somewhat bland, with those about Coyote never really capturing the trickster's cheeky insouciance and resilience.
The major problem with this collection becomes obvious after one reads the brief “Author's Note” at the end of the book. Curry reports that the tales are taken from tribes all over California and that she has selected “just those legends which could be woven together to tell the larger tale of creation from the making of the world to man's rise to lordship over the animals.” Her object has been to construct a mythology like that of the Bible or the Elder Edda, and she has betrayed a native focus in the phrase “man's rise to lordship over the animals,” giving human beings a superior, European status in its emphasis. Moreover, in yoking together stories from diverse areas and from groups possessing different life-styles and languages, she has homogenized the rich variety of California's traditional native peoples. If their myths are spiritual responses to specific environments, this is certainly not evident in this collection, which, incidentally, gives no sources for the stories. Curry has also taken the liberty of joining together myths from different tribes to tell “a composite tale.” Her motivations, she says, come from the fact that she is “a storyteller rather than a folklorist.” In the interest of telling stories, she loses much in the translation. Theodora Kroeber's The Inland Whale, although not specifically intended for children, is a much better introduction to California Indian myths and legends.
The next three books to be considered are also by non-native writers. However, unlike Curry's book, they have been written specifically for native children. Navajo Coyote Tales, collected by William Morgan, is one of the most basic reading tools, the basal reader. Short sentences, a controlled vocabulary, and frequent repetition of key terms are designed to help beginning students master the printed word. However, in this book, Dick and Jane and trips with mother in the station wagon are replaced by accounts of the misadventures of Coyote. The editors honestly acknowledge that “the form and language of the tales vary radically from that which characterize the original versions [which are not specified]. But the subject matter … is wholly Navajo.” The results of Coyote's selfishly motivated actions provide useful cautions for young readers about negative behavior. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the sixth and final tale, the trickster is dead. This is his ultimate punishment. However, the mythical coyote is as indestructible as his natural counterpart, and his book's conclusion robs him of his power of self-resurrection, an essential quality of his character. If basals are a good method of teaching reading, this book, with its Navajo focus, will do the job. However, an increasing number of educators are questioning the efficacy of basals. And besides, such halting prose certainly robs the narratives of the richness found in their oral originals.
Two books by Ann Nolan Clark, an award-winning children's author and longtime BIA educational consultant in the Southwest, focus on the relationships between the native people and their natural environments. As an educator, Clark was distressed by the lack of books appropriate for native children and created texts for them. Published in 1941 and 1945, respectively, and recently reprinted by Ancient City Press, Little Herder in Autumn and Sun Journey are about the daily activities of a young Navajo and Zuni, respectively. Of the two, Little Herder in Autumn, one of four books portraying a year in the life of a little girl, is the more successful. Working with her mother and father, she is involved in farming, herding, trading, metal working, and wool gathering, as well as carding, dying, and weaving. Clark communicates the close relationships among the family members and the bounty of Mother Earth. The simple, but rhythmic, almost poetic prose evokes the sense of harmony the people feel for their homeland. Interestingly, in reverse of the usual procedures, Clark's English text has been translated into Navajo, with the two versions being printed side-by-side on each page.
Like the “Little Herder” books, Sun Journey: A Story of Zuni Pueblo is organized around a child's experience of the yearly cycle of events. Ze-do is “given a year's leave of absence” from the government school so that his grandfather may teach him the ways of his own people. This device is a familiar one in documentary writing for children. The focus on a child's experiences and responses gives the young reader someone with whom to relate, thus making the information more accessible. Usually this is done to help readers experience “foreign” cultures: in this case, it is the “foreigner” who is helping Zuni children master the white concept of textbooks through portraying someone quite similar to themselves.
The book is a thorough presentation of the ceremonies: the activities of hunting, planting, and harvesting, and the relationships between the spiritual and physical dimensions of Zuni life (although one wonders which elements of that life Clark would have been unaware of simply because she is an outsider). Unlike the characters in most children's stories who mature as they become aware of and confident in their uniqueness, Ze-do grows as he discovers that “his thoughts and acts were fitting the pattern of Zuni living.” At first desirous of returning to the government school and dubious of the importance of his grandfather's lessons, he comes to realize that “He was part of the earth” and to appreciate the gifts of “the Sun Father and the Earth Mother.”
Although Clark's presentation of this maturing process is appropriate to the culture of which she writes, it succumbs to the weakness inherent in the genre she uses. As the author of a fictional biography designed to present cultural information, she must keep characterization quite generalized so that readers can become, as it were, Ze-do. Were he a fully developed character in this novel, his portrayal would limit the reader's participation in the events of the story. Interest in the character would stand in the way of the perception of various aspects of Zuni life. Consequently, Ze-do remains a relatively two-dimensional figure, and the documentary material, arranged in small type, two columns to a page, is presented in a somewhat dry and dull fashion.
Rupert Weeks' Pachee Goyo: History and Legends from the Shoshone, one of the two books under consideration written by a native person, invites comparison with Sun Journey. Both are about young boys who, under the guidance of a wise old grandfather, mature by attuning themselves to the customs and beliefs of their people. A Shoshone teacher and painter, Weeks tells the story of a selfish, thoughtless, and disobedient boy of fifteen, living in Wyoming at a time when contact with white people was limited to occasional meetings with mountain men. Published by a small press in Laramie, the book is not intended for native people but, as the “Introduction” notes, for those of us whose “eyes have been blinded by con- stant exposure to city streets, television, words in books,” in order that we “may see into the SPIRIT of the true North American people.” As he is presented to us by the publishers and the non-native editor, Weeks emerges as an almost Rousseauvian natural man, the stereotyped Indian sage, warbling his native woodnotes wild, generally unnoticed by those (non-native) people who have the greatest need to hear his message.
The book is a mixture of genres: documentary, myth, folklore, and coming-of-age novel. Accounts of the massacre of the boy's parents by raiding Cheyenne and of the Sun Dance sponsored by the boy's grandfather alternate with traditional tales told by the old man and other adults and accounts of the misdeeds of the badly behaved Pachee Goyo. Joined together, they are designed to illustrate how an individual learns to live well—in harmony with his social and natural environments. For the first two-thirds of the story, the boy is a paradigm of misbehavior. He dismisses his grandfather's beliefs as superstitious, falls asleep during the telling of a story, ignores advice, is boastful, desecrates a grave, and flees when a cougar attacks his brother. It is little wonder that he does not acquire his medicine during his participation in the Sun Dance. Only in the final chapter, when he has been carried to the distant nest of a supernatural owl, does he reform, learning to follow advice, thereby successfully completing his long journey to home and integration.
As an orally told story, Pachee Goyo may have been very successful. Indeed, the biographical note speaks of Rupert Weeks as a skilled storyteller and an accompanying photograph depicts him talking to a very interested circle of people. However, in the translation into print, much is lost. The narration of the massacre and the Sun Dance is concrete and vivid, the folktales are entertaining and humorous, and the adventures of Pachee Goyo in the mythic world of the great owl are very convincing. However, the overall narrative of his life is awkward and, in places, unconvincing. The opening paragraphs describe a scene in which deer graze in a forest clearing. Then, in the fourth paragraph, without any transition, we are inside a teepee while a blizzard howls outside. During the Sun Dance, at which time the boy hopes to gain his medicine, Pachee Goyo is not mentioned for fifteen pages, and it is only after he and his brother and grandfather have left the festival that readers learn, almost incidentally, that he has not been successful. On page ninety-two, after a life of misbehavior that would have made the bad boys of most European cautionary stories blush, he is suddenly referred to as reformed. No account of the process is given.
Awareness of these problems gives rise to many questions. Would a firmer editorial hand have made the narrative more “readerly” (to use a current critical cliché)? Do non-native editors have the ability or, indeed, the right to edit the text of a native author? Would such editing be another manifestation of what is often called imperialist control? If, even with its stylistic limitations, the work helps its intended audience gain a more sympathetic understanding of a relatively ignored culture, is its purpose fulfilled? Is Ann Nolan Clark's outsider's view of a native culture more acceptable because it is better written? And, finally, can an oral tradition be successfully adapted into print? That there are no simple answers to each question or ways of harmonizing answers with each other indicate a reviewer's difficulties in evaluating a book such as this one.
The final book to be reviewed, The People Shall Continue, by Acoma poet Simon Ortiz, is at once the best of the six works under consideration and the most vexing. It is both an overview of the periods of native history and a political statement. Easy-flowing free verse presents the myth time of creation, the peace and harmony of pre-contact peoples, the destruction of their ways of life “by the powerful forces of the rich and the government,” the nadir of despair, and the contemporary renaissance in which the People have rediscovered their pride and shared their wisdom with other repressed and excluded minorities. The poem ends with a statement of affirmation: “The people shall continue.” Vivid, boldly colored illustrations by Sharol Graves complement the verbal depictions of the various eras.
The tone of the book is strongly pan-Indian and anti-imperialist. While the latter aspect may unsettle many non-native readers, this is not a major difficulty, for these people, or at least those who officially represent them, are the problem. What is less easy to accept is the somewhat simplified pan-Indian emphasis. While it is true that the controllers of power destroyed traditional ways of life by playing on and often creating disunity between and within the different Nations, it is questionable whether the harmony the book portrays as a major aspect of pre-contact times did in fact exist. Was there such a unifying concept as “the People,” as is repeatedly stated? Many groups called themselves the “People,” using the appropriate term in their language. But they often had completely dif- ferent, sometimes derogatory names for their neighbors. We are told that they “visited each other's lands” bringing gifts to each other, and that “their leaders would say, We must respect each other…. We have much to learn from all the Nations.” Certainly, however, the course of intertribal relations was not as amicable as is suggested. While the spiritual and cultural world views of the various Peoples had more in common with each other than with those of the European invaders, the differences and the pride in these was surely a vital aspect of native life. Certainly the book needs to give stronger emphasis to accepting difference as a means of promoting harmony. Perhaps The People Shall Continue needs to be presented more clearly as an overview of a general outline, the details of which should be fully explored. It is to be saluted as a forceful and eloquent statement of affirmation—the first step in the study of the rich, complex, and various heritages of Native Americans. Ortiz is not speaking to the people of the dominant culture in this book, although they would do well to listen to him; he is speaking to members of his own race. After they have responded to his message, they can explore with pride the areas he has only briefly covered.
None of the books reviewed is likely to become a classic of children's literature. Back in the Before Time, the most polished and the one that comes closest to accepted styles of children's literature, is probably the least authentic, while Pachee Goyo, the one closest to the traditional native culture it presents, is the most awkwardly written. Ann Nolan Clark's Sun Journey, filled though it is with important details of traditional Zuni life, lacks the vitality of an inside narrative, while Ortiz's The People Shall Continue, imbued with a sense of fierce pride, oversimplifies the history it celebrates. In spite of its Navajo content, Coyote Tales is still a basal reader, with all of the severe limitations of that format. Of the six books, Little Herder in Autumn, with its rhythmic, poetic prose and bilingual text, and The People Shall Continue, with its strong message, will probably be the best to present to children. However, for the adult, all of them, read critically, will be highly educational, providing insights into the difficulties and challenges facing those who write of, for, or as Others.
Michelle Pagni Stewart (essay date summer 2002)
SOURCE: Stewart, Michelle Pagni. “Judging Authors by the Color of Their Skin?: Quality Native American Children's Literature.” MELUS 27, no. 2 (summer 2002): 179-96.
[In the following essay, Stewart attempts to define what constitutes “authentic” Native American children's literature and questions whether the ethnicity of an author should affect critical evaluations of their work.]
In 1965, Nancy Larrick's “The All-White World of Children's Books” identified the extent to which children's literature and those responsible for publishing it were biased against black children. This essay made teachers and librarians more aware of the dearth of black characters and subsequently characters from other ethnic groups in children's literature, at least characters who were not stereotyped or unrealistic. Three decades later, children's literature has become more diversified, but the debate about incorporating ethnic characters continues to spark controversy. These days, the controversy seems to be centered on who has the right to create ethnic stories and characters, a debate complicated by the notions of what makes a piece of literature ethnic. Do we categorize ethnic literature solely by the color of the author's skin? Or should we instead consider the authenticity and viewpoint of the text, no matter what the author's origins? And what about subject matter? If a story written by an Ojibwa author does not deal with topics indigenous to his or her people but instead tells of a more universal conflict, would we still categorize that book as “Native American"?1
I approach this debate over authenticity and quality through the realm of Native American texts for children's literature. The focus on children's literature complicates the debate since the fact that the books are created for young readers affects how we judge the literature. Typically child readers judge less well for themselves than most adults these issues of authenticity and fairness since they have not been exposed to life, history, literature and people of other cultures. In order to ensure that young readers see past stereotypes and insensitive portrayals, ethnic texts may lean toward didactic content.2 Moreover many authors of books for children may underestimate young readers' ability to follow plot lines that are not chronological or that are told from multiple points of view. Even Native American authors who typically write multiple-viewpoint, non-chronological novels for adults tend to streamline the stories they write for children. As a result young readers are not exposed to Native American narrative strategies, even if they are exposed to Native American situations and characters.
As my test case I take Sharon Creech, whose 1995 Newbery medal winner Walk Two Moons brings aspects of Native American literary traditions to a text with a Native American protagonist. In so doing Creech has found herself embroiled in the ethnic literature debate because she herself is not Native American. I will argue that Creech's Walk Two Moons makes a significant contribution to children's ethnic literature in that it may paradoxically be read as a very Native American novel in theme, structure, and style. The novel merits inclusion in a classroom both because it challenges our definition of multicultural texts and because it introduces the unique narrative traditions of Native American literature.
Rudine Sims Bishop identifies three categories of “multicultural literature,” determined by the content of the text rather than the ethnic background of the author. This coincides with the ideas many have regarding the authority to create ethnic characters. In a 1997 discussion on the CHILDLIT listserv, a resounding comment made by many participants was that writers of fiction should be able to create characters with different skin colors, just as they create characters who are not the same gender as they are, who have different beliefs and ideas, or who live in different places or periods. Hazel Rochman considers prohibiting someone who is not of a certain race, ethnicity, or skin color from creating a character of that race or ethnicity to be a form of “apartheid” (Against Borders 17). That she has chosen such a politically charged word is no accident since this matter is itself so politically charged. The discussion surrounding the recent United States census reminds us that one's ethnic background cannot always be neatly pigeon-holed.
In fact, the two sides of the debate over who can create ethnic characters are not polarized by ethnicity, with ethnic voices arguing that only insiders may depict their own culture, while outsiders argue for authorial free reign. Participants on the CHILDLIT listserv took a variety of viewpoints on whether those not of a culture should write about it.3 African American critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. argues that being an “insider” does not guarantee that one can create authentic literature, nor is the opposite true: “No human culture is inaccessible to someone who makes the effort to understand, to learn, to inhabit another world” (qtd. in Bishop 42). The issue is not so simple as whether writers can create characters different from themselves, for we all know they can. Instead, we need to consider how well authors create characters of other ethnicities for this helps to determine how “good” the ethnic literature will be.
There is widespread agreement that Native American literature for children has lacked authenticity and accuracy. Dane Morrison explains that problems affect current texts on Native American history: “[T]oo many texts continue to be filled with errors about American Indians because they neglect recent research. Hence, they perpetuate myths and … channel our thinking away from the real people into stereotypes—sometimes silly, often harmful” (8). Morrison's statement applies as well to the perpetuation of pernicious stereotypes in children's literature. Some authors continue to depict American Indian culture as foreign, as something “other” that must be brought into the fold of American culture rather than celebrated for its distinction. Some depict Native American cultures in less than humane (and thus, unrealistic) ways. Michael Dorris explained that too often, Indians continued to be treated as if they were the property of children (undoubtedly a reference to Lynne Reid Banks' The Indian in the Cupboard), and Native American characters are often not allowed to change, contrary to the growth of characters in most children's literature (Hirschfelder vii). Mary Gloyne Byler agrees that American Indians are not treated fairly in children's books: “There are too many books featuring painted, whooping, befeathered Indians closing in on too many forts, maliciously attacking ‘peaceful’ settlers or simply leering menacingly from the background; too many books in which white benevolence is the only thing that saves the day for the incompetent, childlike Indian; too many stories setting forth what is ‘best’ for American Indians” (Hirschfelder 34-35). While things have improved somewhat since Hirschfelder's collection in 1982, which includes Dorris' and Byler's arguments, the state of Native American children's literature is still bereft indeed.
Critics have attributed the stereotypes in children's books about Native Americans to the fact that so few have been written by natives. Jon Stott highlights the dearth of Native American authors: fewer than twenty percent of the books he studied were written by Indian authors. What makes this particularly problematic is that many well-intentioned outsiders who attempt to deal with Native cultures do so ignorantly. Donnarae MacCann found in 1992 that children's books from an American Indian viewpoint were greatly outnumbered by those carrying a white bias (140). Morrison cites a study in which most American Indian scholars and leaders “argue that Euro-American documents are so inevitably tainted by biases and falsehoods and … Western concepts of history are so invariably foreign to Indian culture, that almost nothing written by white academics—no matter how attuned they may be to cultural differences—can be trusted” (19). The media perpetuate misrepresentation, according to Debbie Reese, in “‘Mom, Look! It's George, and He's a TV Indian!,’” who finds “stereotypes of Native Americans that lead [children] to believe either that Indians don't exist anymore, or that Indians are very exotic people who wear feathers and live in ways vastly different from their own” (636-37). She and her daughter coined the term “TV Indian” to represent the false images of Indians ubiquitous in books and on television shows her daughter encounters daily. That so many children's books about Native Americans belong to the genre of historical fiction may compound this: Bishop suggests an over reliance on historical fiction propagates the myth of the “vanishing Indian” (49), and Reese decries the lack of depictions of contemporary Native Americans (637-38).
Is the answer simply to require that one be Indian to write about Indianness, or live in the period to be described? Then a Cherokee could not with full accuracy and authenticity describe the trail of tears, without having actually participated in the forced move. Furthermore, within American Indian cultures, the Indian experience is not monolithic. Since Indian nations are distinct cultures, with diverse beliefs and practices, can someone from a Pueblo tribe write about a Chippewa character with accuracy and authenticity? R. David Edmunds questions whether one voice can speak for all American Indian experience: “Do historians who are members of the tribal communities possess particular insight into these historical issues? Are their insights into recent events more valid than those in the distant past? Can historians (non-Indian) who are not members of the tribal communities speak with an ‘Indian voice?’ [sic]” (cited in Morrison, 20); Morrison continues, “Who speaks for the Massachusett, for instance? Given the documentary evidence that suggests that the tribe died out during the nineteenth century, who speaks for them? In the same vein, we might ask, can Native men accurately present the experience of Native women?” (20). Is one Indian's writing about another tribe, therefore, any more authentic than the writing of an “outsider"?
Certainly a Native American may understand what it means to be Native American in ways that an outsider cannot. For example, of two picture book versions of Native American Cinderella stories, the one written by a non-native, Rafe Martin's The Rough-Face Girl, is more problematic than Penny Pollock's The Turkey Girl: A Zuni Tale, even though Pollock, from the Wyandotte tribe, is telling a tale of the Zunis. Martin's version of an Algonquin tale, as Stott notes, implicitly emphasizes European cultural values and exhibits inaccuracies (Stott 25). Martin's book also ends with “They lived together in great gladness and were never parted,” echoing the “And they lived happily ever after” ending of many European tales, which is not characteristic of Native American stories.
In contrast, Pollock's version relies on Native American rather than European American structures and beliefs. It is a “pourquoi” story, a type of folktale that explains how things came to be, a trait typical of Native American oral tradition. The young girl promises her turkey friends that she will return by sundown, but when the time comes to leave, she tells herself she does not need to heed them because they are only turkeys. When she does return home, the turkeys are gone, thus ending the tale and revealing a great deal about American Indian culture. Because the girl does not stay true to her word and because she places herself above the animals, she is punished by losing the turkeys forever, thereby emphasizing two significant values found throughout Native American cultures: first, that humans are a part of, not superior to, the animal kingdom and so must recognize the significance of animals in the world, and second, that what a person says must be adhered to, for one's word represents one's integrity. As a result, this pourquoi tale explains why “From that day unto this, turkeys have lived apart from their tall brothers, for the Turkey Girl kept not her word.” The final line of the book reads, “Thus shortens my story,” an ending more typical of American Indian oral traditions than a “happily ever after” ending.
This example seems to confirm Bishop's belief that those from within a culture are more apt to reflect the beliefs and values of the culture appropriately than someone outside it; their works are more likely to find acceptance by insiders. Yet as Bishop explains:
My claim here is not that an author from one group cannot write worthwhile books about another group, but that the resulting literature is not likely to be claimed by members of the featured group as THEIR literature. Reading the literature of insiders will help teachers learn to recognize recurring themes, topics, values, attitudes, language features, social mores—those elements that characterize the body of literature the group claims as its own.
Bishop advocates, not that outsiders avoid writing about the culture of other ethnicities, but that those who do so take care to reflect accurately the experiences and literature of that culture. Indeed, authenticity is perhaps the most important criterion in evaluating ethnic literature. Rochman agrees: “Yes, authenticity matters, but there is no formula for how you acquire it. Anybody can write about anything—if they're good enough. There will always be inauthentic or inaccurate books, and defining authenticity on some exclusionary basis or other won't change a thing. The only way to combat inaccuracy is with accuracy—not pedigrees” (Against Borders 23).
With Native American children's literature, then, what we must consider when evaluating the texts is not solely who the author is. Certainly we should avoid books that continue to promote stereotypes or exhibit inaccuracies in the illustrations or story lines, and we should consider the accuracy of the illustrations with respect to the specific tribe being depicted, including geographical accuracy. Not all Native American tribes are alike, and many problematic books lump together or confuse tribes.4 The resounding claims of authenticity and accuracy as key elements of good ethnic literature explain why so many are wary of further outsider attempts at creating it since so much ethnic literature for children has not met these criteria.
In short, many children's literature critics agree that books written by non-natives are not necessarily bad. In a scathing critique of Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is on the Ground (1999), a group of Indian critics, librarians, and authors notes that their criticism of Rinaldi's work is not related to her skin color: “Some non-Indians have written quality books about Native peoples, histories, and cultures, so it won't be argued here that only Native authors can write Native-themed stories” (Alteo 28). For instance, critics generally find white authors Scott O'Dell and Jean Craighead George, of Island of the Blue Dolphin and Julie of the Wolves, respectively, to be strong advocates for Native beliefs and culture.5 As I will argue shortly, Sharon Creech's novel Walk Two Moons also makes a significant contribution to children's literature, despite her non-native background.
Ironically, we seem to judge authors differently because of the color of their skin, resulting in a more critical reception of “outsiders” than of “insiders.” Rochman explains that for a book to be good, it must break down stereotypes and create complex and flawed, rather than noble, characters: “[Good books] unsettle us, make us ask questions about what we thought was certain. They don't just reaffirm everything we already know” (Against Borders 19). On the CHILDLIT listserv, Deborah Churchman concluded “Writers need to be able to write about the whole of reality, not just the nice parts.” Paradoxically, negative portrayals by outsiders may be accused of bias, while we may accept them from insiders. It seems, then, we may create a double standard harmful to ethnic writers that no more solves the “problem” of ethnic literature than does limiting who can write such literature.6
A cascade of similar debates has been released by Sharon Creech's children's novel Walk Two Moons. Despite winning a Newbery medal, Walk Two Moons has received mixed reviews. In the New York Times Book Review, Rochman explained that some critics lauded Creech's storytelling ability, but others criticized her many plot contrivances. Moreover, some critics denied Creech authority to write about Indianness since she herself is not a Native American (Rochman, “Salamanca's Journey” 24).7 Yet Creech did not claim an American Indian identity for herself, as Indian imposters Jamake Highwater and Forrest Carter have.8 In her Newbery acceptance speech, Creech admitted that, growing up, she was told by some cousins she was American Indian, an idea which intrigued her: “As a child, I loved that notion, and often exaggerated it by telling people that I was a full-blooded Indian. I inhaled Indian myths, and I crept through the woods near our house, reenacting these myths, and wishing, wishing, for a pair of soft leather moccasins. (I admit … that my view of American Indians was a romantic one.)” (421). Her fascination with Native American mythology explains her decision to create in Salamanca an Indian character who finds solace in American Indian stories.
Walk Two Moons should not be dismissed as a “politically correct” choice but instead be recognized for its contribution to multicultural children's literature. Scott, in offering criteria to evaluate Native American texts, suggests the following queries: “Is the book accurate?"; “Is it free of stereotypes?"; “How well do[es the book] embody the cultural realities [it] depict[s]?” and “To what extent do [the author's] methods of presentation relate to the novelistic techniques of Native writers?” (148). In particular, Creech's novel responds well to Stott's last question since Walk Two Moons deploys many of the literary techniques found in American Indian literature, contrary to most children's novels which. Stott argues, tend to be written in a linear fashion and to focus on the development of a single character (148). In fact, Native American literary narrative, with its roots in oral tradition, differs from Western literary traditions by utilizing multiple narrators or multiple perspectives to emphasize the communal aspect of storytelling. Since the Native American view of time is cyclical rather than linear, texts may not follow a chronological order. Thus readers must be aware of shifts in perspective and time, as well as recognize the significance of the storytelling itself to the story. Creech captures the sense of multiple perspectives in interweaving the stories of Salamanca (both past and present), of Phoebe, and of Sal's grandparents as the story progresses. Creech utilizes multiple storytellers, in part by having Sal, Gram, and Gramps tell stories, and she underscores the significance of storytelling through subtle details. For instance, Mr. Birkway, Sal's English teacher, reads excerpts from the students' journals, momentarily yielding the story to another point of view, to another storyteller, which reflects the Native American belief that stories do not belong to one voice or perspective.
In addition, Creech incorporates the essence of storytelling through various stylistic devices. For instance, in using parentheses, she reminds us of an audience's reaction. “‘Do you want to know an absolute secret?’ Phoebe said. (I did.) ‘Promise not to tell.’ (I promised.)” (Creech, Walk Two Moons 23). We also see audience interaction—an important aspect of oral tradition which is often lost in the translation to the written word—through Gram and Gramps Hiddle. They have asked Sal to tell a story yet often interrupt her as they recall their own stories or comment on Sal's. This interaction between Sal and her grandparents depicts storytelling practices. A storyteller must account for interruptions, for reactions from the audience. In fact, as Leslie Marmon Silko recognizes, storytellers thrive on this: “[S]torytelling always includes the audience, the listeners. In fact, a great deal of the story is believed to be inside the listener; the storyteller's role is to draw the story out of the listeners” ("Language” 50).
Paula Gunn Allen explains the differences between Native American and Christian beliefs and the literature that ensues from them. She says that rather than view events in a chronological, linear, and hierarchical way, Native Americans view events in relation to other events. For them, time is cyclical and space is linear, thus making events more dynamic (59). In contrast to Western literature, American Indian literature does not focus on the resolution of the conflict, nor does it revolve around a central character or hero, which would tend to hierarchize events in the literature. Instead, the focus is on the community and the way each character's life revolves around and influences the lives of others; ultimately the interaction among the people is what is important, for integration of the individual into the larger communal group is what American Indian ceremonies, which rely on oral tradition, strive for (55-60). Although a children's novel, Creech's Walk Two Moons clearly demonstrates aspects of Allen's definition. In addition to multiple perspectives and the reliance on storytelling, Walk Two Moons also does not follow a linear chronology. In Walk Two Moons the shifts in time occur because of the shifts in story, but when Sal is telling Phoebe's story, the narrative time becomes that of when it happened. We become immersed in that story and forget that this is a retelling of events. In this way, Creech captures the timelessness inherent in Native American literature.
Other characteristics of Native American literature can be found in Walk Two Moons. For one thing, Native American myths are incorporated when Sal remembers her mother telling her the Blackfoot creation story of Napi9 and when Sal tells her grandparents her mother's explanation for why the sky is so high.10 In these episodes, Creech has utilized a technique found in many Native American novels, that of incorporating narratives that have been passed down from generation to generation such as those of Leslie Marmon Silko's Yellow Woman in Storyteller, N. Scott Momaday's bear stories in House Made of Dawn, or Louise Erdrich's tales of Misshepeshu and Nanobozho in Tracks.
Creech has also depicted Native American cultural beliefs through dreams Salamanca has about her mother. Native Americans view dreams as messages from the spiritual world since they are the only medium through which people on earth can receive the truths of the other world (Lincoln 100-08). For some tribes, such as the Cherokees, dreams can contain an omen of something bad about to occur: as Thomas E. Mails explains, “Should someone see the apparition or appearance of a friend come and then quickly vanish, that friend would soon die” (128). In one of Sal's dreams, she sees herself floating with her mother on rafts as they look up at the sky which is moving closer and closer to them. They hear a popping sound and then find themselves in the sky. Sal's mother says, “We can't be dead. We were alive just a minute ago” (153-54). In another dream, Sal sees her mother climbing up a ladder, going up and not coming back down (169). These dreams carry special significance since they foreshadow the end of the book in which Sal is forced to come to terms with her mother's death.
Gramps Hiddle also embodies Native American perspectives, despite his not being American Indian himself. Gramps has subtle characteristics of the trickster, a complex but significant Native American figure. A trickster can take many forms: he is known for attempting to gain something, usually food or sex, but having his attempts backfire. He is often a humorous character, meant to instruct the audience as they vicariously test social mores, only to discover that they are better off following the rules of social order. When Gramps attempts to help the woman stranded at the rest stop, he actually makes matters worse: not only has he not fixed her “car-bust-erator,” but he has also removed her hoses, the “dang snakes” that he thinks might be her problem, and dismantled her engine (27-28). Although this situation does not find Gramps engaged in an activity for his own selfish motives, his actions, in which his attempts to gain something backfire, certainly are suggestive of the trickster. Another aspect of a trickster character involves transforming: changing shape so as to trick someone into giving him what he wants. Gramps displays this quality when he adopts the identity of a veteran to keep from having to pay the parking meter. Additionally, Gramps' joking with Gram about Gloria is suggestive of the trickster's lascivious ways, but in a very tame fashion befitting a children's novel.
Further characteristics of Native American literature can be seen in some of the ideology espoused by the characters, as when Sal and her grandparents are accused of trespassing on private property, and Gramps responds that rivers are not private property, reflecting the Native American view that nature and land cannot and should not be owned by man. Sal's connection to trees also reflects the view that man is connected to nature. She describes the singing tree (which her grandmother calls a good sign) and the way it did not sing the day “[her] father learned that [her] mother was not coming back” (100). Sal's journal entry tells of her mother and then of herself kissing the sugar maple, and of her own tendency to kiss trees (which the other children find unusual). When Sal draws a picture of her soul as a “circle with a large maple leaf in the center, the tips of the leaf touching the sides of the circle” (130), in contrast to the other students' depictions of their souls as a bus or a spaceship or a cow, we see the extent to which nature is a part of Sal's soul; the leaf surrounded by a circle evokes a Native American emphasis on circles in storytelling and in time (the cycles of the sun and moon, seasons, etc).
Ultimately, Creech's novel, like so many Native American novels, is about Sal's search for identity. That Salamanca compares the labels “Native American” to “American Indian” several times in the novel demonstrates the identity conflict in which she is embroiled. Louis Owens explains that finding one's identity is the key to Native American literature: “The recovering or rearticulation of an identity, a process dependent upon a rediscovered sense of place as well as community, becomes in the face of such obstacles a truly enormous undertaking. This attempt is at the center of American Indian fiction” (5). Even as she tells about Phoebe's reaction to her mother's leaving, Sal herself is coming to terms with her own mother's leaving. Having observed the Winterbottom family from an objective perspective, she understands why Mrs. Winterbottom might have left. In so doing, she begins to question her mother's reasons for leaving. Her grandparents try to make her aware of the similarities between her situation and Phoebe's: “They didn't say anything, but there was something in that look that suggested I had just said something important. For the first time, it occurred to me that maybe my mother's leaving had nothing whatsoever to do with me. It was separate and apart. We couldn't own our mothers” (176). Like typical Native American protagonists, then, Sal's quest involves finding her identity, which, in Native American literature, often necessitates reconciling oneself with others in one's family, community, or tribe. That her identity is wrapped up in her mother more than her tribal culture reflects how far removed she really is from her Seneca roots.
Sal's coming to terms with her mother's death through storytelling also reflects her Indianness. In telling Phoebe's story and remembering her life with her mother, she begins to retell her mother's stories, thus gaining the passion for stories her mother had that Sal obviously shared but did not recognize, again emphasizing the significance of storytelling in Native American culture. Sal hears once more the sugar maple tree singing, which symbolizes her mother's “voice” in that her mother, whose nickname is Sugar, has a maple tree engraved on her tombstone. After seeing the engraving and realizing her mother is not returning, Sal hears a birdsong: “The birdsong came from the top of the willow and I did not want to look too closely, because I wanted it to be the tree that was singing…. [She says] ‘[My mother] isn't actually gone at all. She's singing in the trees’” (268). Through Sal's physical and emotional journeys, she is able to accept that her mother is dead and that she is not to blame. In addition, she learns to open her mind and heart to Mrs. Cadaver since she was the last person to hear the stories of Sal's mom. In retelling the stories, then, Sal takes her place as the storyteller, an important site with respect to her culture and identity.
William Bevis describes “homing in” as the method by which Indian characters are reconciled to their identity as Native Americans. Contrary to the white American novel whereby a character gains self-identity by leaving home—and would be considered a failure if he were to return to the fold—Native American novels are characterized by protagonists who need to return home and connect with their community in order to begin to understand their identity as Native Americans. In coming to terms with Phoebe's relationship to her mother and with her mother's life and stories, Salamanca is able to make sense of her own life and her mother's death. Yet many argue that Walk Two Moons is not Native American because Sal and her mother are not very attuned to their Seneca heritage; after all, Salamanca's name comes from what her mother thought was the name for her tribe. However, this idea is precisely what makes Creech's story a realistic depiction of a contemporary American Indian. A number of Indians these days are not in touch with their Indianness: part of their “homing in,” in fact, results from their learning more about their culture, as both Sugar—who later asks she be called Chanhassen, her Indian name—and Sal do. That Sal relays Blackfoot and Navajo stories and Sioux history does not mean Creech is assimilating tribes; rather, it demonstrates that Sal is unsure of her Seneca traditions, just as her mother was, but that she values her American Indian heritage all the same. Furthermore, as Rochman recognizes in her review of Walk Two Moons, “For once in a children's book Indians are people, not reverential figures in a museum diorama. Sal's Indian heritage is a natural part of her finding herself in America” (24). If many books about Native Americans do not deal with issues and conflicts among contemporary Native Americans, Creech does so, frankly.
While I am not arguing that we should replace ethnic texts written by someone within the culture with those written by someone outside the culture, I do suggest that the debate is not so straightforward as mere “membership” might suggest. Certainly novels such as Michael Dorris' Sees Behind Trees and Beatrice Culleton's In Search of April Raintree deserve attention in the classroom, yet neither of these novels introduces students to the complexity of Native American literary traditions to the extent that Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons does.11 Historical fiction by Dorris (Morning Girl) or by Louise Erdrich (The Birchbark House) may give a better sense of characters who understand and appreciate the values and traditions of their specific tribes.
But young readers also need realistic fiction about what it means to be a Native American in contemporary society. Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name uses a contemporary setting and recognizes that the conflicts with which a young Native American struggles extend beyond her cultural identity; moreover, the novel tells the story of Cassidy Rain Berghoff through her written journal and through her “spoken” story. In utilizing this double structure in the novel, Smith echoes Native American literary traditions: the dual voices suggest a multiple viewpoint, the journal entries deconstruct the chronological structure suggested by the dates given at the beginning of each chapter, and the “spoken” sections—longer than the “written” journal entries—privilege oral over written stories. Yet children's books about contemporary American Indians are few, and books like Creech's Walk Two Moons, which can introduce young readers to the style of American Indian literature, are even more difficult to find. Because multicultural books should not be chosen merely to teach young readers the meaning of tolerance or to inform them about different ethnic cultures (Bishop 48), Creech's Walk Two Moons has a place in multicultural literature, alongside the growing number of books written by Native American authors.
Walk Two Moons is a valuable novel, then, not just because it is exemplary children's literature but also because it integrates American Indian literary tendencies. Even though it is not written by a Native American, Newbery-Award winning Walk Two Moons can introduce young students to characteristics of the literature and culture in ways that N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn cannot because of its complexity and subject matter; the book has, in fact, been banned in some places as unsuitable for high school students. Moreover, Creech's novel is a coming-of-age story, appropriate for any child, of any culture. As Creech herself explained in her Newbery acceptance speech: “I don't see Salamanca as a Native American; I see her as an American, who, like me, has inherited several cultures, and who tries to sort out who she is by embracing the mystery of one strand of that heritage. Salamanca needs those stories of reincarnation; they give her hope” (422). Creech's novel gives us hope that ethnic literature can be written effectively by those outside the culture being depicted.
1. The term “Native American” is politically charged: some say it is a term used only by outsiders, not by people of Indian blood, while others prefer “Native American” over “American Indian” since the latter privileges American rather than native, suggesting what one views as the “proper” terminology varies from person to person. Moreover, the terms “Native American” and “American Indian” incorrectly suggest uniformity among peoples of various tribes. When I am discussing selected aspects of the various cultures that are similar, I will use the more generalized terms, despite the problems inherent in their use.
2. Such didacticism affects Bruchac's novel, The Heart of a Chief, which does a wonderful job of making young readers aware of the many cultural degradations American Indians frequently encounter, such as school mascots or Pocahontas dolls, but is heavy-handed overall.
3. See www.dalton.org/libraries/fairrosa/disc/mc.2.html.
4. For further discussion of Native American books for children, see Byler; Caldwell-Wood and Mitten; Hirschfelder; MacCann; Kruse and Horning; Rochman; Slapin, Seale, and Gonzales; Stott; and Wiget. Oyate's website includes both books to avoid and books to read: see www.oyate.org.
5. Stott considers Island of the Blue Dolphin a good book, but finds O'Dell does not develop the mythological ties or spirituality of his protagonists. While not necessarily stereotyping or misrepresenting Karana, O'Dell does not fully depict what would have been the mind set of the young character (150-53). Ironically, he argues, O'Dell was writing during the Native American Renaissance when “contemporary Native authors were portraying their protagonists discovering the elements of their spiritual pasts and seeking to perceive the unities informing these and then living healthy lives within them” (160). In contrast, MacCann does not find George's The Talking Earth to be as culturally sensitive as Stott sees it (147).
6. Rochman, in her discussion of the “apartheid” resulting from prohibiting outsiders from writing ethnic literature, criticizes the way these practices also limit ethnic writers to ethnic subjects. She cites as an example children's author Virginia Hamilton, who complained that critics would not let her write anything that was outside black experience (Against Borders 21-22).
7. Rochman's comments are supported if one consults Children's Literature Review (volume 42): Kirkus Reviews said “Sal's poignant story would have been stronger without quite so many remarkable coincidences or such a tidy sum of epiphanies at the end": Cooper, in Booklist, said Creech's “surprises” are obvious and contrived, where Connie Tyrrell Burns' review in School Library Journal finds Walk Two Moons to be a “richly layered novel about real and metaphorical journeys” and Deborah Stevenson, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books also enjoyed the multiple layers and Creech's “smooth and imaginative” style (41-42). Similar arguments on both sides can be found on the CHILDLIT listserv discussion archive about Walk Two Moons found at www.dalton.org/libraries/fairrosa/disc/walktwomoons.html.
8. Much controversy surrounds both Highwater, author of Newbery Honor book Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey (1977) and Carter, author of The Education of Little Tree (1976). Jolivet discusses some of the controversy surrounding Highwater, explaining that while he claims a Blackfoot/Cherokee heritage, many believe this heritage was fabricated in order to sell the book, since he has not been able to substantiate his Indian background (163-69). Forrest Carter has been identified as Asa Carter, former Klansman and speech writer for George Wallace. Although Carter does seem to have some Indian blood, many critics at the least want The Education of Little Tree to be labeled as fiction rather than non-fiction, as it currently is. For further information, see articles by Leland and Peyser, McWhorter, Clayton, and Time magazine's “Little Tree, Big Lies?”
9. In the version given in Creech's novel. Napi determined whether people would live forever or die by dropping a stone into the water. Because the stone sank, he determined that people must die. Similar versions of this creation story can be found in Erdoes and Ortiz (see 469-70) and in Leeming and Page (see 102-103).
10. Sal's mother explains that when the sky was lower, people bumped their heads on it, so they pushed it up with long poles (144). A version of this tale. “Pushing up the Sky,” can be found in Erdoes and Ortiz (95-97). Erdoes and Ortiz identify this tale as a Snohomish story. (Creech's novel does not identify from which tribe the story came.)
11. Dorris' Morning Girl does have two alternating narrators, much as Erdrich's Tracks does, but his book is written in a much more linear fashion than Creech's and is historical fiction.
Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon, 1986.
Atleo, Marlene, et al. “Books to Avoid: Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is on the Ground.” http:www.oyate.org/myheart.html (30 May 2000).
Bevis, William. “Native American Novels: Homing In.” Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature. Ed. Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat. Berkeley: U of California P. 1987. 580-620.
Bishop, Rudine Sims. “Multicultural Literature for Children: Making Informed Choices.” Teaching Multicultural Literature in Grades K-8. Ed. Violet J. Harris. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon, 1992. 37-53.
Bruchac, Joseph. The Heart of a Chief. New York: Dial-Penguin, 1998.
Byler, Mary Gloyne. “Introduction to American Indian Authors for Young Readers.” American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography. Ed. Arlene B. Hirschfelder, Paulette Fairbanks Molin, and Yvonne Wakim. 2nd ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow P, 1973. 47-54.
Caldwell-Wood, Naomi, and Lisa A. Mitten. “Selective Bibliography and Guide for ‘I’ is Not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People.” http://info.pitt.edu/~lmitten.alabib.htm (22 Jan. 1999).
Carter, Forrest. The Education of Little Tree. Albuquerque: U of NM P, 1990.
CHILDLIT listserv discussion archive. Fairrosa Cyber Library. http://www.dalton.org/libraries/fairrosa/disc/mc.2.html (30 May 2000)
Children's Literature Review. Volume 42. Detroit: Gale, 1991.
Clayton, Lawrence. “The Theology of Survival: The Identity of Forrest/Asa Carter and Religion in His Fiction.” Southwest American Literature 19.2 (Spring 1994): 9-19.
Creech, Sharon. “Newbery Medal Acceptance.” The Horn Book Magazine July/Aug. 1995: 418-25.
———. Walk Two Moons. New York: Harper Trophy, 1994.
Culleton, Beatrice. In Search of April Raintree. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications, 1983.
Dorris, Michael. “Foreword.” American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography. Ed. Arlene B. Hirschfelder, Paulette Fairbanks Molin, and Yvonne Wakim. 2nd ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow P, 1999. vii-ix.
———. Morning Girl. New York: Hyperion, 1992.
———. Sees Behind Trees. New York: Hyperion, 1992.
Erdoes, Richard, and Alfonso Ortiz. American Indian Myths and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House. New York: Hyperion P, 1999.
———. Tracks. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
George, Jean Craighead. The Talking Earth. New York: Harper Collins, 1983.
Highwater, Jamake. Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
Hirschfelder, Arlene B., ed. American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1982.
Jolivet, Linda C. “Jamake Highwater.” Writers of Multicultural Fiction for Young Adults: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Ed. M. Daphne Kutzer. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996. 163-69.
Kruse, Ginny Moore, and Kathleen T. Horning. Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults: A Selected Listing of Books 1980-1990 by and about People of Color. Madison: Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin, 1991.
Larrick, Nancy. “The All-White World of Children's Books.” Rpt. in The Black American in Books for Children: Readings in Racism. Ed. Donnarae MacCann and Gloria Woodward. 1st ed. Methuchen: Scarecrow, 1972. 156-68.
Leeming, David, and Jake Page. The Mythology of Native North America. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1998.
Leland, John and Marc Peyser. “New Age Fable from an Old School Bigot?: The Murky History of the Best-Selling Little Tree.” Newsweek 14 Oct. 1991: 62.
Lincoln, Kenneth. “Native American Literatures: ‘Old Like Hills, Like Stars.’” Three American Literatures. Ed. Houston A. Baker, Jr. New York: MLA. 1982. 80-167.
“Little Tree, Big Lies?” Time 14 Oct. 1991: 3.
MacCann, Donnarae. “Native Americans in Books for the Young.” Teaching Multicultural Literature in Grades K-8. Ed. Violet J. Harris. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon. 1992. 137-69.
Mails, Thomas E. Secret Native American Pathways: A Guide to Inner Peace. Tulsa: Council Oak Book, 1988.
Martin, Rafe. The Rough-Face Girl. Illus. David Shannon. New York: Putnam's Sons, 1992.
McWhorter, Diane. “Little Trees, Big Lies.” People 28 Oct 1991: 119-21.
Momaday, N. Scott. House Made of Dawn. New York: Harper, 1989.
Morrison, Dane. “‘In Whose Hands Is the Telling of the Tale?’” American Indian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Contemporary Issues. Ed. Dane Morrison. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. 5-25.
O'Dell, Scott. Island of the Blue Dolphins. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
Owens, Louis. Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1992.
Pollock, Penny. The Turkey Girl: A Zuni Cinderella Story. Illus. Ed Young. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.
Reese, Debbie. “‘Mom, Look! It's George, and He's a TV Indian!’” The Horn Book Magazine Sept/Oct 1998: 636-38.
Rinaldi, Ann. My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
Rochman, Hazel. Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World. Chicago: ALA Books, 1993.
———. “Salamanca's Journey.” New York Times Book Review. 21 May 1995: 24.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. “Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective.” Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit. New York: Touchstone-Simon & Schuster, 1996. 48-59.
———. Storyteller. New York: Arcade, 1981.
Slapin, Beverly, Doris Seale, and Rosemary Gonzalez. How to Tell the Difference: A Checklist for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1988.
Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain Is Not My Indian Name. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
Stott, Jon C. Native Americans in Children's Literature. Phoenix: Oryx P, 1995.
Wiget, Andrew, ed. Handbook of Native American Literature. New York: Garland, 1996.
Bardford, Clare. “‘To Uphold Prisms’: Australian and Canadian Indigenous Publishing for Children.” Bookbird 42, no. 2 (April 2004): 30-7.
Reviews publishing efforts to promote awareness of indigenous cultures with younger readers in Canada and Australia.
Charles, Jim. “Finding a Way: Student Self-Discovery and N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain.” English Journal 86, no. 8 (December 1997): 64-8.
Examines N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain and highlights its appeal to teenaged readers.
Jones, Raymond E. “The Plains Truth: Indians and Metis in Recent Fiction.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 12, no. 1 (spring 1987): 36-9.
Study of recent Canadian young adult fiction about Native Canadian and Metis subjects.
McGrath, Robin. “Words Melt Away Like Hills in Fog: Putting Inuit Legends into Print.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 13, no. 1 (spring 1988): 9-12.
Analysis of children's books utilizing Inuit legends as subject matter.
Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. “Native American Fable.” In Encyclopedia of Fable, pp. 265-69. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1998.
Explores the presentation of Native American fables through children's literature.