Children's Books

BOAT RIDE WITH LILLIAN TWO BLOSSOM, Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco; Philomel Books: New York, 1988; 32 pages, oversize hardcover, $14.95; ISBN 0-399-21470-4

Polacco says this tale -- of two kids and a goat taken for a rowboat ride in the sky by "an old Indian lady who lived up the road" named Lillian Two Blossom is a story her father told them as children, claiming it had really happened. Lillian is portrayed as a magic character, who not only becomes young on the flying ride, but also shows the children various sky animals -- "spirit caribou" that carry the sun, a polar bear that carries the moon, etc.

There's not much to the story; the illustrations are attractive. The main thing that should be noted about this book is it has nothing to do with any Native culture, history, set of beliefs, etc. The non-Indian father made up a fantasy story for his children and laid it on the head of "an old Indian lady who lives in the woods." It could as well have been "an old Armenian lady who lives up the road" or "An old guy who arrived long ago in a flying saucer." Too bad it wasn't. The father knew nothing about Indian people or culture, and the story has nothing to do with any native reality and is disrespectful to our elders.

In a prefatory note, the author seems to be saying Michigan is a state rich in Indian lore, because there are a lot of Native place names. Actually, Michigan holds only a few surviving bands on tiny reservations, which had lost their land and almost all their culture by the period the author's father -- like the author herself -- considers "an old Indian lady who lives up the road" merely a conveniently exotic hook to hang kid stories on, and give them a pretense of reality, because Indians once did exist in Michigan. Maybe an old Indian lady did live somewhere around, doubtless not doing any too well unless she had grandchildren to take care of her needs.

This book is Not Recommended. If in use in libraries or schools, teachers, parents, others should point out that nothing whatever in the fantasy has anything to do with Indian people, and the imaginary Indian was chosen to be the bearer of this culturally false tale because real Indians didn't exist for the farmer who benefitted from their stolen land. Maybe there really was "an old Indian lady" who lived near that fellow. He didn't know anything of her life, and probably never actually spoke to her, but maybe thought she had a strange, exotic, kindly appearance, so he made her into a character in some fantasy of his own. A nonhuman character, however glamorous or exotic. The few surviving grandmas -- let's say at Bay Mills -- have been dehumanized in the persona of this fantasy character.

This is a highly undesirable type of book, because its racism is disguised in slathers of sweetened whipped cream.

--Paula Giese

File: ch59

Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: 8/17/96