Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Third Alvin Ho ( What Happened?)

Last week Debbie Reese did a critical analyses about Alvin Ho: Allergic to birthday parties, science projects, and other man-made catastrophes by Lenore Look. One of the major themes of the most recent Alvin Ho is a cowboys vs. Indians birthday party. I haven't read the book yet but Reese has included textual and visual excerpts, as she denounces it for being filled with stereotypes
"When I got to the glossary, I thought, "This book needs another glossary entry... STEREOTYPE. And, it needs that word stamped in big letters on the front of the book." From the feathered headdress to the war paint to the war whoops and bow and arrow, all the elements of the stereotyped Indian are in this book."

I really liked the first two Alvin Ho stories and was very surprised by this. The stories are set in the present day. I didn't even realize kids still played cowboys and Indians. I respect Look for not shying away from Reese's criticism. The author responded the next day. Since I don't agree with the direction Look has taken this story, that's the only good thing I have to say.

Look's argument such as it is loses all creditability when she sites the Disney's Pocahontas. No one should be looking to Disney for the rights and wrong on racial representation. To be fair to the author, it doesn't appear as if she did that. (I just thought it sounded good.) However it does appear as if Look used the Disney movie for justification of a playing Indians theme which is just as bad.

From the author's response
"But do kids play politically correctly? No. Should I perpetuate play that is not politically correct? No. But I would not be TRUTHFUL if I were to fabricate a scenario for them that conforms to our current, enlightened-adult sense of how kids should play if that’s not the behavior that we’ve already passed to them. And good writing is about being honest, regardless of how discomforting it might be, especially when echoed in our children's play."

That would hold more weight is Alvin Ho were set in historical time. However the stories are set in modern times. It simply doesn't make sense that Alvin and his friends want to play cowboy and Indians. It's already nearly impossible to find positive portrayals of Indians in children's literature, authors should not be turning back the clock.

From the glossary (which I saw thanks to the amazon google preview)

"King's Philip's War - started in 1675 in Plymouth Colony before it became a part of Massachusetts Bay Colony. The war spread and nearly wiped out all of New England in a little more than a year. King Philip was the English name for the native Metcacom. The settlers were fighting to take land away from the Natives and Natives were fighting to preserve their traditional way of life. "

It's the last sentence and what wasn't said that really gets under my skin. Indians were fighting for their lives. I am surprised no one noticed all the red flags in this book. From Reese's and Sarah Park's criticism its obvious that playing Indian was a major theme. I can understand a paragraph or a chapter slipping by since many times people aren't aware to the slights to another group. But someone should've caught this.


Anonymous said...

Nicely said, Doret. I wonder if perhaps in calling it 'settlers and Indians' the situation was deemed politically correct and acceptable? I mean, if Disney is your guiding force, this justification would work!

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