By Bank Street College Center for Children's Literature
“Because it’s a children’s book, they wanted to make it ‘nicer.’ ”
Working together, teachers and kids identified three primary areas of concern with As An Oak Tree Grows:
The pictures show a lot of empty land, as if it was uninhabited; one wigwam appears in the first two pages, alongside a vast wilderness.
“If you don’t give kids the right images, they get the wrong ideas.”
“If kids don’t see other stories, they might think this is the truth.”
“These books shape a child’s mind.”
“The illustrations should show more of the truth.”
Then, there’s this text:
“The boy grew up and moved away.”
Kids were puzzled because they knew that the larger story of Native/European interaction is one in which Europeans forcibly removed and/or killed huge portions of Native populations.
“‘The boy grew up and moved away’? That didn’t happen.”
“They were there first. It is very unlikely that the boy just moved away.”
This posting led to a lively exchange of views in the comments section. First, a defense of the book:
You say, “A child, reading about this tree does not need to know the details of what went on while the tree was alive.” But, a Native child might pick up this book and immediately recognize it as an erasure of his/her history.
For that matter, a Native child browsing the internet might also stumble across your comment above, in which you so blithely characterize “whether… his throat was slit and he was buried in a mud bog” as a “detail” that doesn’t matter, and is, in fact, “inappropriate and distracting.” How do you imagine a Native child would feel, upon reading that? Debbie rightly points out that this language and the sentiment behind it are extremely offensive. It sends a message that white people have the right to cling to a false, Romanticized version of history. Ultimately, it sends a message that non-Native people matter more than Native people.
Finally, your accusation of censorship is both false and hypocritical. My post makes no suggestion that any libraries or bookstores should remove AS AN OAK TREE GROWS from their shelves, nor do I suggest that anybody should not have the right to write or publish anything they desire. In fact, my first post of this series (https://bankstreetcollegeccl.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/kids-thoughts-on-censorship-loudness-in-the-library-year-three-part-1/) is all about censorship. You are confusing free speech with consequence-free speech. Just as the creators of AS AN OAK TREE GROWS had every right to publish this book, I also have every right to criticize it, and so do the children I teach.
I dunno. How would white children feel if the Europeans sprouted horns? Laid eggs? Turned into cockroaches that swarmed across the land? If Native children have to accept lies and omissions in "nonfiction" books, why shouldn't everyone have to do it? What makes the Native-oriented falsehoods more acceptable than the European-oriented ones?
For more on vanishing Indians, see Native Artifacts Aren't Antiquities and America Constructed to Erase Indians.