Friday, March 17, 2017

Jokes and Riddles in Books for Kids

This morning on Twitter, I saw a tweet from a Native parent that included an image from a joke book her child was reading last night. The book is from their local library. I've asked her for more details, but in the meantime, it was easy to find at least one book with the "joke" in it:



That's from Biggest Riddle Book in the World, by Joseph Rosenbloom. Published in 1976 by Sterling Publishing Company, the copy at Google Books shows that it was reprinted at least 11 times:



A quick search of the book, using "Indian" as the search term, shows this "joke" is in it, too:



Rosenbloom's book doesn't have illustrations for those two "jokes," so that's not the one in question.

Based on the style of the illustration that was tweeted out, I think the book is Bennett Cerf's More Riddles, published in 1961. Here's the cover. I put the big red X there, with the hope that next time you see that book, you'll remember that red X, and remember that it has a racist "joke" in it.



And here's the image (adding it at 11:40 AM on March 17, with permission of the parent):



In American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography, there's a passage about that book:
Cerf’s More Riddles (1961) contains an image and verse that epitomize the detached nature of “Indian” imagery from the reality of Native people. “What has . . . Two legs like an Indian? Two eyes like an Indian? Two hands like an Indian? Looks just like an Indian? But is not an Indian?” The questions are accompanied by a headdressed, buckskinned, dancing caricatured “Indian.” The answer to the riddle, on the next page, is “A picture of an Indian,” and is illustrated with a child holding a picture of the same caricature. The “Indian” image in this and other books has no reality except as a white-created caricature of Native people, true only unto itself, and the answer to this riddle unwittingly reflects that fact.
Cerf's book is old, but is popular, which is why it is still in that library. There are other joke and riddle books with that sort of "joke" in them. I noted Rosenbloom's book, above, but I recommend you get a copy of American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography. I've got a hard copy of the first edition (published in 1982), but get the second one, which came out in 1991 (I have a hard copy and electronic copy of that one). The publisher is Scarecrow Press, and the book is edited by Arlene Hirschfelder, Paulette Molin, and Yvonne Wakim. Inside are chapters by them, and other writers, too. Here's screen captures of the Table of Contents for part one (part two is the bibliography):




I think American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children can be used as a collection development tool. As the Table of Contents shows, it has chapters about books, textbooks, toys, films, holidays... It is amongst the books I read early in graduate school, and that I use as a resource, now.

If the Native parent gives me permission to use the image she shared last night, I'll be back to insert it and the title of the book her child was reading. Obviously, these "jokes" aren't funny to those who are the subject of the joke.



4 comments:

Francisca said...

This is exactly why weeding in libraries has several ethical components! Thanks for sharing this so visually. It is going into a future course discussion when students get into their but-I-loved-this-book-and-jokes-don't-age fits.

Helen said...

It's disheartening to see how deep in the culture the stereotypes go. Bennett Cerf was a major TV personality in the 1950s and 60s, as well as the publisher at Random House. This is a link to an interview with Mike Wallace, about the quality of American television, dated November 30, 1957. Cerf speaks out pretty strongly against censorship. (The HRC is the University of Texas' Harry Ransom Center, one of their special collections). http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/video/2008/wallace/cerf_bennett_t.html

Ms. Cesaretti said...

Which is why I find the SkippyJonJones books offensive. And these are newly published.

Sam Jonson said...

You know, there was another joke book with TWO offensive "jokes" about indigenous peoples of North America. Sadly, I can't remember the book's title, but I do believe that the cover had a picture of a dog in a birdhouse with the caption "He thinks he's a bird dog". The first of these two "jokes" was once told by Bennett Cerf (although I doubt that he wrote the book I saw it in). It went something like:
A magazine published a photo of a deserted farmhouse in a desolate field, and asked readers to come up with a story behind it. The prize was "won by a little Indian boy":
"Picture show why white man crazy. Cut down trees. Make too big tepee. Wind blow soil. Grass gone. Door gone. Window gone. Whole place gone to hell. No pig. No corn. No pony.
"Indian no plow land. Keep grass. Buffalo eat grass. Indian eat buffalo. Hide make plenty big tepee. Make moccasin. All time eat. Indian no need hunt job. No hitchhike. No ask relief. No build dam. No give dam [sic]. White man heap crazy." See? Tonto-speech, "lazy Indian" trope, "Indians in the past", and unspecific/mixed tribe.
The other "joke" featured a lighthouse being built in the Arctic, with "[a] couple of Eskimos...skeptical about the whole operation". After the lighthouse is completed, a fog comes rolling in, and one of the "Eskimos" "turned triumphantly to the other", proclaiming in Tonto-speech how even though the lighthouse's light, bell, and horn work, the "fog come rolling in just the same". I tried to find that "joke" on the Internet so I could try to quote it better, but I couldn't find it anywhere.
Anyway, if you see either of the above two "jokes", and/or that "squ*w of the hippopotamus" (seriously, couldn't they have gone with "squall [a type of storm]" instead?!) "joke", in a joke book, don't buy the book.