Multicultural Children's Picture Books Essay

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Multicultural Children's Books -- an Analysis

Multicultural Children's Books -- an Analysis

Children's literature more accurately reflects the many histories that construct nations such as the United States. The perspectives of children's books should be included read for this week's session for continued analysis and interpretation. Multicultural perspectives were excluded in the past for several reasons. One reason is that the cultural perspective that had the most value and was valued at all, was the white American male perspective. This is the perspective of the colonizer. It is typically those who colonize that write the history books and decide which stories are told (and how), and which stories are excluded from memory. The book of focus for the purposes of this paper is Cheyenne Again, about a young Native American boy who is taken from his tribal lands and culture, and very much forced into the lifestyle of the white American.

This book deals with stereotypes of Native Americans and of white Americans. The book is clearly told from the predominant perspective of a child and from a non-white perspective. While the child is resistant to the cultural changes he experiences, he is open and receptive to one teacher who shows humanity to him. The teacher speaks to the boy, telling him to remember that he is still "Indian on the inside" and warns not to let the white people take his memories away from him. The boy's parents have a stereotypical reaction: they believe it is better for the boy and for future generations of the tribe to learn the white man's ways. The boy reacts stereotypically: defiant. He runs away and is chained as punishment for not showing "discipline." There is also a stereotype regarding runaways: that there is a high price for their return. This is reminiscent of enslaved Africans who ran away from plantations during the times of American slavery. As they were considered property, there were often great rewards for the return of human property to their "rightful" owners. There are stereotypical aspects of the native culture that the boy longs for. In some ways, the stereotypes are true -- true to the point of being a cliche, yet the presence of these kinds of diverse perspectives are necessary and appreciated in the book, and in the canon of multicultural children's literature overall.

This book, though taken from a specific cultural perspective, does reflect conditions and afflictions that affect all people, despite cultural and ethnic differences. People are resistant to change. There have been great cultural shifts in the history of every culture and great society. Change is a part of life. Separation from family and the familiar is also something that many people go through, and in many cultures, this experiences is part and parcel in the act of coming of age. Furthermore, most adults and children can directly relate to feeling bored, distracted, and unhappy at school. Many children and adults have dreamt of or have actually run away from home or boarding school, which is the type of school this seems to be in the book -- a crude version of a boarding school to assimilate young Native American boys into white American culture. Hopefully, all of us, at one point, have had a teacher that has related to us, shared his/her humanity in such a way that our troubles seem lighter or have some greater perspective applied to them. These are some of the elements mentioned in Cheyenne Again that are more universal than culturally specific.

The perspective of this book helps readers reach mutual understanding in simple ways. The perspective of the child and his culture is maintained over the whole course of the book. Though the child's opinion is quite clear, again, the child is somewhat open to the new culture, though he may not be particularly fond of the methods by which he is acculturated to white America. The presence of the sensitive teacher is important to mutual understanding. The teacher is a member of the colonizing culture, essentially, the enemy. A member of the enemy shows compassion to the boy and urges him to retain his Native American culture, perspective, and traditions. This is quite valuable. It shows that even within a rigid system that seems unfeeling and insensitive to the established norm, there is still compassion, there is still openness, and there is some respect for traditions that differ from the white American culture and perspective.

Maintaining a consistent perspective suggests remedies for the difficulties and misunderstandings that come from being perceived as different. Including universal life experiences serves as a remedy as well. Again the presence of the teacher as a member of the opposing culture with compassion for the different culture is a strong remedy. Her compassion enables him to have some compassion toward the white Americans. Her lack of hate gives hope that he will not hate or think negatively about every single white person, because she is an example of one that sees him as a human being, perfectly fine in his own right and in his indigenous culture, rather than some sort of savage that needs to be changed or converted into something that will never fit him entirely. The presence of his vivid memories serves as a remedy. When we cannot be where we want to be or be with those we want to be with, we rely on our memories of a time and place where we are accepted and loved. His memories help keep him grounded in his Indian culture and help him stay calm when the white teachers tell him what is Indian must be destroyed.

The perspective in Cheyenne Again helps change negative attitudes toward people who are different or marginalized by society. The perspective is complex and not simple. On the one hand, the parents, especially the father, encourage the boy to learn the ways of the white man and understand the changing world from a perspective and through an experience that he will never have. Thus, there is not unequivocal hate or resistance to the change. There is some kind of acceptance, at least on the part of the father. The presence of the teacher helps change negative attitudes, as aforementioned in the paper in more than one occasion. The book overall helps change negative attitudes with its existence. While there is a warring tradition in the boy's culture, overall, the book is not violent. It is very somber, sweet, and human. This shows the people who might have negative attitudes that people who are different are not all savages or primitives full of hate and other primal instincts. The book humanizes the culture that is different; this is one way that prejudices persist -- the dehumanization of those who are outside of the norm.

Children's books are quite obviously good for children. Nearly every aspect of life is taught. Just as tolerance and acceptance are taught, so is hate. Thus, books such as these lay the foundation for peaceful coexistence, not necessarily love between all people, but at least an awareness and a respect for those who are different -- that they have the right to exist just as much as anyone else, and that various histories are valid or relevant. The books are good for parents because sometimes a book can articulate a lesson better than the parent, or that the book is a jumping off point for a more lengthy discussion to take place. Sometimes books serve the same purpose for adults as they do for kids: to educate.

Children's books, the best ones anyway, often teach acceptance of self, of cultural difference, love, and respect for others with subtlety. The illustrations certain assist with the teaching of these lessons. Children's books are not…

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