Read Aloud Thursday–The Book of Indians by Holling C. Holling

I’m going to do something today that I almost never do: I’m going to review a book that I don’t have in front of me right now, and in fact, haven’t even had in my possession for about a month.  This review won’t be as thorough, then, as mine usually are (or at least as as thorough as I think mine are, which might be something altogether different), but I really want to share this book with you because we enjoyed it so much, so here goes.

The Book of Indians by Holling C. Holling probably isn’t politically correct, so I’m risking something by even posting about it.  😉  I realize that books like this one, published in 1935, are often viewed as full of stereotypes and offensive to modern audiences.  I am by no means an expert on this subject, but I found nothing that seemed offensive and no broad generalizations about Native Americans whatsoever in this part nonfiction, part fiction book.  The book cover over on the left (linked to Amazon) is sort of hard to see, so I’ll include another book cover that I also found on Amazon here:

 This picture is sort of a case in point, I guess.  Yes, this Native American is dressed in what I guess might be considered stereotypical N.A. garb–war bonnet, buckskin, etc.  However, the fact that the stereotype (if that is, indeed, what this is) exists must mean that some Native Americans at some point dressed this way, right? In other words, people are people and we must have a way to describe them if that’s what we’re going to do.  It’s okay, as long as we realize that not every Native American is just like the one pictured above. 

I think my point here is that I’m not too worried about nit-picking old books to find a bias.  We liked the book a lot, and we found nothing whatsoever that seemed amiss or rang untrue to our ears and sensibilities.  It is an informational book, with four chapters devoted to various regional Native groups:  Indians of the forests, Indians of the plains, Indians of the mountains, and Indians of the coast (These aren’t the official titles, just what I remember; Directionally, the groups start on the east coast and travel west.)  After the informational chapter, which is written in a very pleasing and enjoyable style, there is a chapter or two in which a child or children (sometimes it’s a boy, sometimes a girl, and sometimes one of each, as I remember) from that particular tribe or group is highlighted in a sort of “day in the life of ______ ” story.  The stories are always exciting; one little girl, quite by accident, spies out some scouts from an enemy tribe and returns to her village to sound the alarm.  Another little boy helps his uncle trap a whole herd of buffalo through an elaborately devised scheme in which they drive the herd between rocks and over the edge of a cliff.  My girls always, always wanted to read more, and I love that they learned some pretty detailed information in a pleasant (entertaining, even) way.  Each story really showcases how one group is different from another that lives in another region.  The informational chapters provide the framework; the stories that follow put flesh and blood to it. 

I can’t not mention the detailed drawings and diagrams that are included throughout the book.  Holling C. Holling’s respect and admiration for Native people groups comes through both in the tone of the stories and the attention he gave to his illustrations.  From weapons to clothing to dwellings and structures, every illustration is worthy of close and careful study.  The Book of Indians was our first Holling C. Holling book, but it won’t be our last.  I’m particularly interested in reading Paddle to Sea,which won a 1942 Caldecott honor.

This book, coupled with The Birchbark House (linked to my review), rounded out our Native American studies nicely.  I used Farrar’s booklist and fit in as many picture books as I could, with Paul Goble’s being my hands-down favorites.  I purchased one of the If You Lived with. . . books for each of the regions we read about in The Book of Indians,
and I had Lulu read them independently and make a mini book highlighting whatever she found most interesting about each group.  We even did a few activities from the book More Than Moccasins, although I will confess that I am much better at buying or checking out hands-on activity books than I am actually doing the activities.  All in all it was a very interesting study, and we all learned a lot and had fun.  Education at its best! 

This rounds out our 2011 read-aloud booklist.  If you missed it a few Thursdays ago, you can see by mousing over “Booklists” at the top of my blog, and then clicking on “2011 Booklists.” The chapter book read-alouds are at the bottom of the page.

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16 thoughts on “Read Aloud Thursday–The Book of Indians by Holling C. Holling”

  1. This one by Holling sounds interesting. I’m familiar with his ‘geography’ books like Paddle to the Sea, but have never read anything else by him. Will be on the look out for a copy for next year (it will fit in nicely with our history).

  2. We read a couple of his books last year when N1 was part of her tutorial – Seabird and Tree in the Trail. (I seem to remember more about Seabird and enjoyed it. The art is wonderful!)

  3. We read The Book of Indians a couple of years back and loved it. I thought the chapter on the west coast was particularly interesting, and the chapter on the Southwest as well. Paddle to the Sea is also a favorite in our house. My oldest is reading Minn of the Mississippi this year and seems to be enjoying, wanting to read ahead. 🙂 Holling C. Holling combines fact and fiction in the most captivating way. My boys love it!

  4. I purchased several of Holling’s books (seems I always have a full Amazon wish list!) I briefly looked for this one but unfortunately, many of the copies sounded damaged. I’ll keep searching – it’ll round out our collection nicely. Thank you for the thorough review.

  5. I like how you point out that if there is a “stereotypical” way of viewing someone, it’s because they were like this at one point in time to give us such an idea. Again and alongside you not saying that every Indian you meet should be thought to dress this way.

    Fascinating review of what sounds like a really fun book!

  6. I love Holling — we have read Paddle to the Sea, which was great!

    I missed linking up today (just ran out of time), but we read The Chocolate Touch, The Phantom Tollboth, and Half Magic (I think that was based off a recommendation from your blog, maybe??).

    Thanks again for great suggestions, Amy!

  7. p.s. after you read “Paddle to the Sea” there is a very old movie of it that is on Youtube (I think I even blogged about it last year shortly before we went to the Great Lakes) which is priceless!!

  8. I picked up a couple of Holling books at a used book sale this fall. I plan to use them with our home school next year. As for bias in old books, I wonder what the next generation will think of the bias in all the books being published now. 🙂

  9. I love Holling C. Holling’s books. I have this book, though we haven’t read it. We will probably implement it next year in our American History study. So far, my favorite Holling book has been Pagoo.

  10. I looked for this one for our Native American study but our library didn’t have it. We have enjoyed other Holling books, in particular Paddle to the Sea and Pagoo. I missed participating this week but I’ll be back next week. 🙂

  11. I love Hollings and used most of his books when we homeschooled full time; I just have one left at home. I haven’t read this or it’s companion on cowboys but it sounds great.

    I am not a PC person and have no time for those who are. I always look at old books as being a product of their own time. What was the author’s purpose in 1935? Was it to make children (people) aware of the human dignity of these people according to 1930s sensibilities? Or was he using 1930s racial slurs and belittling the people? It’s easy enough to tell an author’s objective without superimposing our 21st sensibilities upon them.

  12. I loved this book as a child (I am Anglo). If I remember correctly, Holling took great pains in the text to inform his readers that NOT all pre-Columbian Native Americans wore eagle-feather war bonnets and lived in tipis. He stressed that each geographical group had its own way of interacting with the environment, and that their folkways were as diverse as the lands they lived in.

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