Along with Literary Transgressions, Books4Learning is re-launching the Fairy Tale Friday weekly meme. We hope that you will join us each week as we talk about fairy tales, myths, and legends. Some weeks we will have a special theme or challenge. While others it will just be a free share. Everyone is always free to join in by adding to the conversation or sharing a favorite myth, fairy tale, or legend—even if it is not related to the theme or challenge. At the end of this post, there is a place for a self-link up.
To begin with, I am going to share a picture book based on an Indian legend: The Legend of the Bluebonnet (by Tomie DePaola). I was first drawn to the story during my college years studying elementary education. It was one of the first picture books I purchased for my future classroom. I still have it to this day as it remains a personal favorite.
Summary of The Legend of the Bluebonnet (by Tomie DePaola):
A Comanche tribe is suffering drought and famine. They dance and pray to the Great Spirits, but no healing rains come. There is one small girl named She-Who-Is-Alone. She sits alone, because her family has all died from the drought, watching the dancers and playing with her cherished doll with brilliant blue feathers on its head. When the shaman returns from his quest to hear from the Great Spirits, he tells them what he has heard:
“The People have become selfish.
For years they have taken from the Earth
without giving anything back.
The Great Spirits say the People must sacrifice.
We must make a burnt offer
of the most valued possession among us.”
The People sang and gave thanks to the Great Spirits, but each one is sure his/her most valued possession is not what is required. Everyone, that is, except She-Who-Is-Alone. While holding the doll tightly to her heart, she is convinced that the doll must be sacrificed. Once everyone is asleep, she journeys to the hillside where she offers her doll up and thrusts it into the fire. Eventually, the fire dies down, and the ashes grow cold. She-Who-Is-Alone scoops them up and scatters them to the Home of the Winds.
When she wakes the next morning, the hillside is covered with beautiful blue flowers the color of her beloved dolls’ hair feathers. The People see the flowers as a sign of forgiveness. As they sing and dance, a warm rain falls to the Earth and makes everything alive again. From that day on, the young girl is known by another name—One-Who-Dearly-Loved-Her People.
I love that the one who steps up is a child. In her innocence and simplicity, she is able to have true wisdom. The others are too caught up in their own concerns and complications. I, also, love the motif of total sacrifice. Even though she has lost everything, she is willing to give up the one cherished item she possesses. She considers the good of her people as greater than her own comfort. Truly, how often does that happen today? Not enough.
Before my recent graduate studies on myth in children's literature, I never questioned the accuracy of current picture books as a genuine reflection on the culture it represented. I mistakenly assumed in this multi-culturally sensitive era that if it was in libraries and well-received by the literary community, it must be authentic. Unfortunately, many popular picture books do not reflect Native American Indians accurately. The authors use stereotypes, borrow from different groups and depict as one tribe, or reflect more western values than the Native culture’s.
I am not entirely sure on the accuracy of The Legend of the Bluebonnet. DePaolo gives some assurance though. In the Author’s Note, he discusses his research and affirms his effort to depict the people genuinely.
- What is your favorite native American myth or legend?
- Have you noticed any stereotypes, inaccuracies, or western values in cultural myths and legends you have read?
- How can we find out for certain the cultural accuracy of a work?
- What responsibility do publishers, libraries, and educators have in making sure they are teaching the proper facts related to Native Americans and other cultures through literature?
- What are some recent fairy tales, legends, or myths you have read?