Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Native girl in Piper's LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD

Earlier today a colleague (thanks for the tip, Robert) asked me what I think of the new illustrations for Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could. Specifically, he wondered about Long's addition of a Native doll (a girl wearing buckskin). That doll isn't in the 1954 edition with the Hauman illustrations. I went by our local library to get a copy, but that edition is checked out. The older one is on the shelf. The librarian looked to see if there was a copy in Champaign (Urbana and Champaign are twin cities, each with its own library). That one, too, was checked out. Apparently this new edition is popular!

I visited Long's website, where you can see one of the pages with the Native girl. As most people know, the illustrations in the story (and this one, too) are of toys that are on the train. I have many questions about why Long included this Native doll. Did he replace one of the other dolls? The one with blonde ringlets? Or, the one with brown hair and a yellow ribbon?

Does Long have a daughter? Does she have "Native American Barbie" or "Kaya" dolls? Or, was Long trying to bring a multicultural touch to his version of this story? Did he include other dolls, meant to represent other ethnicities? Maybe Long is aware of the popularity of Indian in the Cupboard and the idea of Indians as toys, and wanted to add that dimension?

Including Native characters in children's books is important. However! Children, Native or not, need books that portray Native peoples as people, not toys!

Update, December 22, 2015

Here's a screen capture of one page with that doll:


And here's a page of interesting background information on that story:
In Search of Watty Piper

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sylvia Olsen's YETSA'S SWEATER


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Olsen, Sylvia, Yetsa’s Sweater, illustrated by Joan Larson. Sono Nis Press, 2006, color, preschool-up; Coast Salish

Yetsa’s sweater has become too small for her, but she doesn’t care. It still keeps her warm, and the patterns that her Grandma knitted into it—flowers because her mom loves gardening, salmon because her dad loves fishing, and waves because Yetsa loves the beach—warm her heart. But soon Yetsa is going to have a new sweater, and now she’s helping Grandma prepare the wool.

Traditionally, Indian children learn experientially, most often from a grandparent or auntie or uncle, usually a little at a time. They’re asked to help, task by task, until they know something well enough to do it independently. Sometimes grandparents look away while children attempt things beyond their skill levels so they can find out that they’re not ready. This is learning, too.

Between the many piles of “raw” wool and the finished sweater, there is lots of hard work—hand cleaning, washing, wringing, drying, teasing, carding, spinning, and knitting—and there’s lots of kidding around and good-natured teasing between Grandma and Mom and Yetsa. One incident in particular is guaranteed to have young readers howling. As Yetsa learns, a wealth of cultural information is shared with readers, too. But there’s no internal conflict about “walking in two worlds” and none of the self-conscious ethnographic expositions common in picture books written by outsiders. Just a happy little girl, secure in the love of her family, growing into the capable, confidant woman she will be. Growing into her new sweater, with “flowers, whales and waves, woolly clouds and blackberries.”

Larson’s pastel artwork, on a palette of rich blues and greens, complement the blacks, browns, whites and grays that constitute the beautiful Cowichan sweaters. You can taste the thick, delicious blackberry jam. You can feel the oily lanolin in the wool. And you can smell the—well, what Yetsa pulls out of a pile of wool. In the story, Yetsa is a very real little girl—and in fact, she’s the author’s granddaughter, in the sixth generation of a family of Coast Salish knitters. Yetsa’s Sweater is a quiet story, full of love and joy, a treasure to read to youngsters, over and over.—Beverly Slapin

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Note from Debbie: Yetsa's Sweater is available from Oyate. If you can, purchase the book from Oyate. It may be cheaper from Amazon, but the work Oyate does for Native and non-Native children is work that helps society be a more just and caring world for everyone.