To read more about why Oyate, a Berkeley, Calif.-based Native group, believes these books should not be given to children, go to www.oyate.org. Oyate also has a catalog of books it does recommend.
The alternative recommended readings and comments were offered by the Lincoln Public Schools Multicultural Committee. Some of the books are also part of the 2006 MOSAIC book display.
“The Indian in the Cupboard” (1980) and the sequel “The Return of the Indian” (1986) by Lynne Reid Banks
The story: Set in England, a boy’s toy “Indian” comes to life after being placed in a white cupboard.
Oyate objections: Native character Little Bear speaks in stereotypical broken English. Little Bear is referred to as Iroquois, but the text and illustrations do not support that description. In the illustrations, he’s dressed like a Native from the Great Plains. Battle scenes in the sequel are too graphic for children’s literature.
Writes Doris Seale, co-editor of “Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children”: “My heart aches for the Native child unfortunate enough to stumble across, and read, these books. How could she, reading this, fail to be damaged? How could a white child fail to believe that he is far superior to the bloodthirsty, subhuman monsters portrayed here?”
LPS alternative: “Wabi; a Hero’s Tale” by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
Bruchac does a crafty job of portraying Wabi, an owl, and later his transformation into a boy, when he falls in love with a human Abenaki girl just as headstrong and confident as he is. For ages 12-16. (2006 MOSAIC display)
“Indian School: Teaching the White Man’s Way” (1999) by Michael L. Cooper
Oyate objections: This book, which tries to explain the taking of Native children from their families and placing them in boarding schools, is called “a poorly-written, shallow and superficial treatment of the boarding school era.” The author attempts to justify the forced assimilation of Natives with stereotypical and patronizing statements, simplistic historical analysis, poor research and using euphemistic language to soft-pedal daily atrocities at the schools.
Writes Beverly Slapin, the other co-editor of “Through Indian Eyes”: “(It) could have been written 50 years ago, just this way. Containing no analysis, no insight, no critical thinking. It is an offensive mishmash of bad writing and sloppy research. It is unfortunate that teachers will probably use this book as the ‘factual’ companion to Ann Rinaldi’s atrocious ‘My Heart Is On the Ground.’”
LPS alternative: “No Parole Today” by Laura Tohe (Navajo)
This book is a memoir of the author’s joys and sorrows of boarding school life and describes her life on the reservation in Arizona and New Mexico through prose and poetry. (2006 MOSAIC display)
“The Courage of Sarah Noble” (1954) by Alice Dalgliesh
The story: Supposedly based on a true story, set in 1707 New England, of a girl and her father who go off in wilderness to build a house. They are fearful of running into Natives, but when finally they do meet, they become friends.
Oyate objections: Native stereotypes; historical inaccuracies.
Seale writes: “The subtext … is the same story that we have heard for 500 years. Indians were/are primitive — wild. When not outright savage, Native peoples still have more in common with the creatures of the Earth and the birds of the air than with the culturally and technologically superior Europeans. They aren’t ‘civilized.’ And therefore no obstacle. This message is the one underlying everything children have been taught about indigenous peoples, not just in the Americas but around the world, and it comes through in this book — loud and clear.”
LPS alternative: “Crossing Bok Chitto” by Tim Tingle (Choctaw), illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cherokee)
This story talks about the intersection of cultures — Native Americans in the South and African-Americans in bondage. (2006 MOSAIC display)
“The Matchlock Gun” (1941) by Walter D. Edmonds, illustrated by Paul Lantz
The story: A young Dutch family, living in the Hudson River Valley in 1756, is attacked by Indians.
Oyate objections: More stereotypical descriptions of Natives as savages to be feared.
Seale writes: “Paul Lantz’s lithographs are well matched, making the words of the text visually manifest. We see the sweetness, the rightness of the little (Dutch) family and their triumph over savagery.”
LPS alternative: “An Arrow Over the Door” by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
This book is based on an actual incident that took place between the Abenaki and the Quakers during the summer of 1777. Bruchac is a gifted writer and can truly breathe life into historical events.
“Brother Eagle, Sister Sky” (1991) by Susan Jeffers
The story: This picture book is adapted from a speech purportedly delivered by Chief Seattle at treaty negotiations in 1854.
Oyate objections: While there’s no doubt Chief Seattle gave a speech, accounts and subsequent translations vary greatly. Jeffers’ story takes liberties with Seattle’s message, and her illustrations ignorantly blur the diversity of North American’s Native cultures into a cigar store wooden Indian.
Seale writes: “If Jeffers had given one thought to how ‘Brother Eagle, Sister Sky’ would affect Native people, she must surely have dismissed it as unimportant.”
LPS alternative: “A River Lost” by Lynn Bragg, illustrated by Virgil “Smoker” Marchand
The artist of this beautifully illustrated book was born and raised in this dam-drowned area. An elder tells the story of how many tribes of the Northwest were wiped out because of the construction on the Columbia River of several dams and the still-present sadness. (2006 MOSAIC display)
“Sitting Bull and His World” (2000) by Albert Marrin
The story: Discusses the life of the Hunkpapa chief who is remembered for his defeat of Gen. George Custer at The Little Big Horn.
Oyate objections: Misrepresents Lakota spiritual beliefs and cultural practices. Relies too heavily on research by non-Natives.
Seale writes: “It is absolutely astonishing that anyone could, at the beginning of the 21st century, write a book that incorporates nearly every stereotype and misrepresentation about Indian peoples ever uttered. … One could almost say that this book was written with criminal intent. To cite every instance would be a review as long as the book itself.”
“The Place at the Edge of the Earth” (2002) by Bebe Faas Rice
The story: A young girl moves to a military base with her mother and new stepfather. The base was once home to a Native boarding school. The girl befriends the ghost of a Lakota boy who died there in 1880. In order to send the boy on his journey, the girl must dig into the unsavory past of the boarding school and its surrounding town.
Oyate objections: Inaccurate depictions of Native spirituality, customs and traditions.
Seale and Slapin write: “Whether her intention was to show middle-school readers the horrors of the Indian boarding schools or to publish yet another pulp fiction ghost story, she has created an obscene appropriation of one of the most tragic episodes in the history of the U.S. government’s attempts to ‘assimilate’ Native children into the white mainstream.”
LPS alternative: “Skeleton Man” by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
Bruchac tells an incredibly scary story of a girl named Molly whose warm, contented family is suddenly torn apart, and she discovers that her heritage is important to her.
“My Heart Is On the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, A Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880” (1999) by Ann Rinaldi (from Scholatics “Dear America” series)
The story: In the diary account of her life at a government-run Pennsylvania boarding school in 1880, a 12-year-old Lakota girl discovers she needs to find a way to help her people.
Oyate objections: Glaring factual errors. Lacks authenticity.
Oyate.org reviewers write: “Despite all the documented horrors of the ‘noble experiment’ that was Carlisle, ‘My Heart Is On the Ground’ casts the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in a positive light as though it were a good thing. Rinaldi even says in her author’s notes, ‘Those first Sioux children who came to Carlisle could not have been happy there. But it was their only chance for a future.’”
LPS alternative: “My Name Is Seepeetza” by Shirley Sterling (Salish)
Seepeetza, Tootie, McSpoot are the names her family calls her. Martha Stone is the name she is called at the Indian residential school, where her world is governed by a forced denial of all that being Indian means to her. (2006 MOSAIC display)
“Millie Cooper’s Ride: A True Story from History” (2002) by Marc Simmons, illustrated by Ronald Kil
The story: Set on the Missouri frontier during the War of 1812, it is the story of how a young settler girl saves the lives of her family and community from a Native attack.
Oyate objections: More text and illustrations depicting Natives as savages. Like other stories of early settlers and Natives, it tells the story only from the perspective of the white people.
Slapin writes: “More than anything else, ‘Millie Cooper’s Ride’ resembles a 19th-century piece of propaganda for Manifest Destiny. Simple-minded, grossly one-sided and artistically unappealing, this picture book is not suitable for children of any age.”
“The Sign of the Beaver” (1983) by Elizabeth George Speare
The story: Left alone to guard the family’s wilderness home in 18th-century Maine, a boy is hard-pressed to survive until local Natives teach him their skills.
Oyate objections: Typical Native stereotypes.
Seale writes: “I feel that Speare has succumbed to the temptation to deal in sure-fire American Indian stereotypes, rather than to risk the controversy of portraying the Native peoples of Maine as they really were, and their lives as they actually lived them.”
LPS alternative: “Cabin on Trouble Creek” by Jean Van Leeuwen
Two young brothers are left to finish the cabin they started with their father while he returns to Pennsylvania to get the rest of the family. Van Leeuwen, though not Native, has based the story on an actual incident that occurred in 1803.
“The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864” (1999) by Ann Turner
The story: This addition to the “Dear America” series differs slightly in format from others in the series since most Navajos in 1864 used an oral rather than written tradition for story telling. Thus it is Sarah Nita’s young granddaughter who transcribes the words of her grandmother’s story of how she and her family endured the cruel Long Walk from their home in northern Arizona to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico.
Oyate objections: Misunderstanding of Navajos’ strong oral storytelling traditions (no child would take notes while an elder told a story). Pathetic attempts at Native humor. “Whitewashing” of Native experiences.
Slapin writes: “This book doesn’t work, on any level. Turner clearly knows nothing about Navajo ways of being.”
LPS alternative: “Dzani Yazhi Naazbaa’: Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home” by Ebangeline Parsons Yazzie (Navajo), illustrated by Irving Toddy (Bit’aanii)
This book is a valuable addition to libraries because it recounts the author’s tragic story of how her happy childhood came to a terrifying end when U.S. soldiers attacked and forced the Navajo to walk to Fort Sumner, 450 miles from their home. (2006 MOSAIC display)
“Wounded Knee” (2001) by Neil Waldman, illustrated by the author
The story: Recounts the events leading to the massacre at Wounded Knee, concluding with a description of the battle itself.
Oyate objections: Simplistic explanation of reasons behind the massacre.
Slapin and Seale write: “This kind of writing encourages the non-Indian child reader to think in limited ways about Indian people: They were a threat to white society, so something had to be done. They became anachronistic in their own land and couldn’t keep up with civilization.”
LPS alternative: “Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West” by Amy Ehrlich
Although this book was published in 1970 and reissued in 1974, the information is still some of the best available on this topic.
Other highly recommended titles on the 2006 MOSAIC exhibit:
“Who Will Tell My Brother” by Marlene Carvell (husband Mohawk). This book tells the story of Evan, a mixed-race teen who tries to persuade high school officials to remove offensive Native mascots. This book was based on her husband’s Mohawk family stories.
“1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving” by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki) This book contrasts the popular myth of Thanksgiving with a more balanced view of this celebration through photo essays.
“The People Shall Continue” by Simon Ortiz (Acoma). This is one of the best overviews of Native history for younger children.