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Reviewed by:
  • Native American Picture Books of Change: The Art of Historic Children's Edition
  • Connie A. Jacobs (bio)
Rebecca C. Benes . Native American Picture Books of Change: The Art of Historic Children's Edition. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2004. xvi + 163 pp.

Two events in the early 1920s, one very public and one seemingly insignificant ushered in a century of radical changes for Native people. The public event was the 1924 long-overdue awarding of U.S. citizenship to Native people, followed in 1934 by the Howard-Wheeler Indian Reorganization Act. The founding of AIM and the passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968 and the subsequent [End Page 123] awarding of land claims to tribes are outcomes directly attributed to the beginning of civil rights for Native people begun in 1924. Similarly, the publication of Taytay's Tales in 1922, written by Elizabeth De Huff and illustrated by Fred Kabotie, marked another major shift, this one in governmental educational policies, which initiated a quiet revolution in Indian education. Why would an illustrated children's book by an Anglo author and teenage Hopi artist be a watershed event? The answer to that question is the subject of Rebecca C. Benes's beautifully illustrated book.

Benes, a children's librarian and gallery owner, profiles the picture books used in federally run Indian Boarding Schools after the highly critical 1928 Meriam Report exposed the paucity of relevant cultural materials being used in BIA boarding schools. Benes's study is an overview of the changes in BIA curriculum under the leadership of Willard W. Beatty, appointed in 1936 as BIA Education Director. The administrators, linguists, writers, and artists involved in implementing Beatty's new directives for Indian education make up a virtual "who's who" of important figures in twentieth-century Native education and art. The list includes:

  • • Policy makers: John Collier, commissioner of the BIA, and William Beatty, BIA Education Director

  • • Writer: Ann Nolan Clark, author of over 20 children's books about Native people

  • • Translators: Robert W. Young and William Morgan, editors of the first Navajo dictionary; Edward Kennard, a BIA linguist; and Emil Afraid-of-a-Hawk, a Lakota translator

  • • Art teachers of Native students who became the illustrators for the books: Dorothy Dunn, Santa Fe Indian School; Lloyd Kiva New, Cherokee, Phoenix Indian School

  • • Indian Illustrators: Andrew Standing Bear, Lakota; Oscar Howe, Lakota; Fred Kabotie, Hopi; Alan Houser, Apache; Charles Loloma, Hopi; Harrison Begay, Navajo; Velino Herrera, Zia Pueblo

Under Collier's direction, Beatty initiated positive changes in BIA curriculum materials with his introduction of heretofore missing [End Page 124] culturally appropriate materials for Native students. Benes documents the picture and bilingual books that resulted from this momentous educational policy shift. However, she cautions, "This is not a study of Native American education" (4), which is only peripheral to her focus. Instead, she concentrates on the development of children's picture books for Native children and how they evolved from De Huff's collection of grandfather stories illustrated by Kabotie in 1922 to Pablita Velarde, Santa Clare, who in Old Father, The Storyteller, 1960, was both the author and the illustrator of her book and to the Rough Rock Demonstration School near Chinle, Arizona where beginning in 1966 the Navajo Nation created a community-based curriculum for the tribal schools.

Benes organizes the book chronologically and focuses her discussion on Picture Books of Pueblo Life and the Indian Life Readers with the Navajo, Sioux, and Hopi Series that were appropriate for third graders. Central to Benes's study is the work of Clark who taught for the Indian Service and worked at Zuni and Tesuque Pueblos and who retold oral tales and wrote stories about life on the Navajo, Lakota, Taos, Picuris, and Blackfeet reservations. Benes claims Clark's authority to tell these stories as she quotes from the dustcover of Clark's award-winning book In My Mother's House, 1941: "'Clark found there was a need in Indian schools for books written from the Indian point of view.' It explains that the stories she tells took form in children's notebooks, capturing the original rhythm and pattern of their thinking" (43...


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