June 23, 2012

Brave Mr. Buckingham

Debbie Reese reports on a strange old book in her American Indians in Children's Literature blog:

Dorothy Kunhardt's BRAVE MR. BUCKINGHAM

Reese quotes another website on the book:

10 of the Most Terrifying Children’s Books From Around the World

By Emily TempleIn Brave Mr. Buckingham by Dorothy Kunhardt (the author of tiny child classic Pat the Bunny!), the brave Native American man Mr. Buckingham is slowly dismembered—losing one foot to a buzzsaw and another to a fish before his arm is sliced off by a gardener and he gets hit by a truck—as he tries to prove to little Billy that it won’t hurt to pull on his loose front tooth. That’s him there, just a head left.

Reese proceeds to deconstruct the text. Here's how the book begins:Billy was playing Indian that day. He had some feathers on his head and they must have been feathers from a very big kind of bird--maybe an eagle or maybe a turkey. Billy had a string of beads around his neck and he had bare feet, like Indians' bare feet. He was seeing how fast he could climb a tree and look around to find out if there was anybody coming, because Indians are very fast at climbing trees and finding out if there is anybody coming.Right...because Indians are forest creatures much like scampering squirrels.

To mollify Billy, his uncle tells him the story of Mr. Buckingham:Once there was an Indian named brave Mr. Buckingham. His real name was Singing Moon Walking Fox Laughing Water Sitting Bull in the Forest, but everybody called him Mr. Buckingham because Singing Moon Walking Fox Laughing Water Sitting Bull in the Forest was such a nuisance to say. He was called brave Mr. Buckingham because he was very, very, very brave.Right...because Indians have ridiculous, cartoon-like names.

The uncle explains that Mr. Buckingham isn't made ofblood and bones and things like most people. He was made out of NUGG, and NUGG is a kind of stuff that is a little bit like clay and a little bit like iron and a little bit like wood and a little bit like rubber and a little bit like blotting paper. But Mr. Buckingham didn't mind at all being made out of NUGG, he was so used to it, and even when he was a little baby Indian he had been made out of NUGG.Right...so the Indian isn't even a real person. He's more like a toy you can play with. Or like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. He's a fictional construct representing people who are long dead and gone.

Think of all the meta-messages here. Indians don't feel any pain. Indians are stoic and unemotional. It doesn't matter what we do to Indians. Indians exist for us to use and abuse. Etc.

No doubt author Kunhardt didn't mean any harm, but her view of Indians is purely racist. Whether she realized it or not, she considered Indians an inferior, perhaps inhuman, race.

For more on Indians in children's literature, see Indian in Worse than Rotten, Ralph and Playing Indian in Not Me!

(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 6/14/12.)

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