NATIVE AMERICAN PICTURE BOOKS OF CHANGE: The Art of Historic Children's Editions

Rebecca C. Benes, Author . Museum of New Mexico Press $45 (176p) ISBN 978-0-89013-471-9

A children's literature professor who admits that she is "neither an art historian nor a linguist," Benes offers clear, accessible and author-focused descriptions of books produced by the federal government for use in Indian schools, following a sweeping indictment of the schools in the late 1920s. The 106 beautiful color plates and 44 b&w illustrations drawn from the mostly hard-to-find books themselves all center on "change," or the enormous upheavals and adaptations in Native communities following the devastating wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. One author, Elizabeth DeHuff, teacher and author of one of the earliest picture books, Taytay's Tales (1922), early on rejected the "archaic, nineteenth-century educational system that pursued a goal of forced assimilation"; instead, she transcribed her students' oral traditions. Velino Shije Herrera, the artist of the still-in-print In My Mother's House (1941), was a major progenitor of "the new pan-Indian tradition that was born at the Santa Fe Indian School." In order to teach literacy to the Navajo through bilingual readers, Willard Walcott Beatty, 1930s director of education at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, had to convert the oral Navajo to a written language, creating an alphabet and a definitive Navajo dictionary before the Bureau could publish the readers. The bilingual Little Herder series for the Navajo addressed the sensitive issue of overgrazing (in addition to the also sensitive issue of not having enough food to eat): "When I come here again/ then I will know/ if it is best/ to have many sheep/ or few sheep/ to use the land/ or let it sleep," says Little Herder's father. Such complex negotiations mark this poignant book as a whole. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/03/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
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