April 09, 2011

Berenstain Bears and Squanto the turkey

Educator Debbie Reese writes about yet another Native-themed book with problems. Here's the book's description:

The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks [Paperback]The Living Lights Berenstain Bear series helps children learn how God wants them to live every day. The Berenstain cubs act out the first Thanksgiving--complete with costumes, props and a full Thanksgiving feast. But will Sister Bear's pet turkey play the part of dinner? The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks teaches how God provided for the pilgrims and reminds children of God's many blessings.A comment from Reese's reader:

Letter from reader about THE BERENSTAIN BEARS GIVE THANKS in which the Bears fatten up Squanto (their turkey)I just assumed that a book this bad (it manages to include every single bit of American Thanksgiving misinformation and stereotyping out there; to add insult to injury, the turkey in the book is named Squanto) would have been written in the 1970s or 1980s with all of the other Berenstain Bears books I grew up with, so I didn't give it much thought. As I was cataloging it today, though, I was shocked (well, more dismayed than shocked, I guess, as I'm a regular reader of your blog) to see that it had been published in 2009.And Reese's response:I'm disgusted.

They named the turkey Squanto! And they're fattening him up so they can KILL him and EAT him. In the end, he is saved and turned into their PET.
(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 4/4/11.)

Comment:  It seems this book pushes the usual pro-America propaganda. It cheers the Pilgrims and God (and colonization and genocide, implicitly).

I'm guessing the book included Squanto the turkey as a lame-assed reference to the Indian role in Thanksgiving. But look at the (perhaps unconscious) message. The God-loving Euro-American bears rescue the "Indian" turkey. They make him a pet who lives in a reservation pen.

Bryan Fischer would love this book. It's an excellent analogy for the conservative Christian attitude toward Indians. Save the savage heathens from their ignorance and keep them safely corralled where they won't bother real Americans.

For more on the subject, see Wild "Indians" in Trucksgiving and Teabaggers Lie About Thanksgiving.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if Fischer would love the book. The bears are supposedly Jewish, and in fundamentalist Christian thought, Jews have one use. Seriously. In fundamentalist Christianity, once all the Jews, and only the Jews, are in Israel, Jesus comes and throws all unbelievers in the lake of fire.

Of course, since even fundamentalists aren't provincial enough to see America as ground zero for the Apocalypse, we can guess where He would be first.

Matt said...

This is fascinating to me. Anthropologist Jan Siskind argues that in the American tradition of Thanksgiving the turkey represents the Native.

"The Invention of Thanksgiving: A ritual of American nationality" Critique of Anthropology 1992, Vol 12, No 2.

In holiday imagery the turkey always appears as alive and beautiful but its material function is to be consumed which means it must wind up dead.

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


Update on Berenstain Bears Give Thanks

Debbie's thoughts:  As I noted last week, the Squanto storyline is very troubling. This Squanto lives in a pen, is traded as a foodstuff, fattened up, saved from death, and then turned into a pet. And who does all of that to him? The Bear family who is meant to be the Pilgrims. They've got full control over his life and his death--a life meant to represent Indians.

In the story, the Pilgrims are never called Bears, but Squanto the Native is always a "Native Bear." Isn't that a double standard? They're ALL bears, right?!

And why is this Squanto played by a baby who has no name of her own? Why does she speak that way ("ME, SQUANTO")??? In caps??? Overall, the book is worse than any other book about Thanksgiving that I can think of. I hope it isn't in your home or your library.