Saturday, February 26, 2011

Of Thee I Sing

My first thought when I saw it in the bookstore was, "I wonder if it's any good, or if it's published just because of the author?"  Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters is by President Barack Obama. I'm curious if the idea originated with him.

In this picture book, Obama tells his girls how wonderful they are, and he compares their qualities to people in history who have demonstrated that character.

On the left side of each two page spread, Malia and Sasha stand with their backs to the reader and are joined by other children as the book progresses. The right side of the two page spread features a large picture of a famous person with a short verse about them underneath. The book is interesting for the biographic sketches it provides of 13 "Americans." I like the additional information about these famous people on the book's last page.

Loren Long is the book's illustrator. His picture of Sitting Bull has caused a stir, discussed on the blog American Indians in Children's Literature. In her post, Debbie Reese quotes from an email she received from Horn Book Editor Roger Sutton.

"Loren Long chose to depict Sitting Bull as a sort of landscape, with buffalo for eyes, hills and cracked earth for nose and mouth, and some pine trees placed so they form eyebrows (and, dare I say, boogers). It's the old one-with-nature stereotype, which wouldn't be so bad had all of the other subjects of the book not been depicted realistically."

In a later post, Debbie Reese shares what Sitting Bull's great grandson Eric LaPointe thinks of the book. He said,"I told her [a reporter] my great grandfather was never American. He was Lakota." Of Thee I Sing labels Sitting Bull a Sioux and an American.

LaPointe also said that he does not appreciate his great grandfather being included in a book which honors George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, because of what they did to native peoples. He gives details.

Even the quote attributed to Sitting Bull is problematic. It reads, "For peace, it is not necessary for eagles to be crows."

As Reese points out, "that line did not start with 'For peace'." She gives the full quote from Vine Deloria Jr.'s God Is Red (p. 198). "Deloria writes that this was Sitting Bull's reply to a question about why he did not surrender and return to the U.S. to live on a reservation:

'Because I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans, in my heart he put other and different desires. Each man is god in his sight. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.'"

While Fox News blasted Obama for including Sitting Bull in the book, they failed to check their facts. The first headline Fox Nation posted about the book read, "'Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Killed Custer." It was soon thereafter changed to "defeated." Sitting Bull, however, was not at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

There's been a lot of discussion around this one picture book. And while including a Native American was positive, it should have been done with respectful accuracy. Because of its inaccuracies, it should be pulled from all library shelves.

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