Readers Against Prejudice and Racism discussion

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Monthly Book Discussions > March Children's Book 2011 Discussion: Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

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message 1: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
Hello everyone! This discussion board for the winner of March's Children's Book discussion, Amazing Grace. Feel free to talk about what you loved or hated about this book and the issues in this book.


message 2: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
I have read Amazing Grace last year and I really enjoyed this book! I loved the way that Grace still tried to audition for the play, even though her classmates told her that she couldn't be Peter Pan because she was black and she was a girl. It just goes to show you that no matter what race or gender you are, if you have your mind set on a goal, than you should always shoot for that goal!


message 3: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Requested from the library, hope I get the book soon.


message 4: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
That's great Gundula! This really is a great book!


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) When I was at university in teacher-training, about 1990, this book was on the syllabus. I even found a paper-doll version (wish I still had it).


message 6: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
There was a paper doll version of this tale? Man, I wish I could have seen it!


message 7: by Manybooks (last edited Mar 10, 2011 04:18AM) (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments I have now read the book, and I basically like it quite a lot. It has a wonderful message that anyone can be anything they desire to be, regardless of race, gender etc. I also liked the fact that when it comes down to the voting period, everyone votes for Grace, including Raj and Natalie (Natalie even whispers to Grace that she was fantastic, which shows that Natalie was never really all the prejudiced to begin with and that in the end, voted for Grace because Grace was the best, that the fact that Grace is a girl and African American really did not matter that much in the end, all that mattered was Grace's ability and talent).

However, I do have a problem with one part of the book. This is supposed to be a picture book about tolerance and by extension, it would or at least should also be a book about cultural sensitivity. With that in mind, I have a huge problem with the fact that not only is Grace described as playing Hiawatha, but that she is illustrated as a typical Indian chief in tribal regalia, as many Native Americans really chafe at this and find the idea of people (including kids) playing Indian chief quite culturally insensitive, even insulting to both their culture and religion. I think this book would have been much better without that little addition. It left quite a bad taste in my mouth and makes me wonder why we are still so loathe to consider the sensitivities of Native Americans or First Nations individuals even at a time when we are becoming much more attuned to African American, Latino American sensitivities etc. It is really too bad, as this addition, but especially the illustration kind of ruined the book for me a bit. I still quite enjoyed it, but I will only be able to give it three stars at the most. The description and depiction of Grace playing "Indian" would also make strongly hesitate to recommend this book to Native American or First Nations children (which is sad because the book does have a wonderful message, a message that should be for everyone). Maybe I'm being a bit picky here, but this did and does bother me a bit, especially because the author and illustrator could have so easily used a less culturally problematic anecdote (a less culturally insensitive character for Grace to imagine herself being and playing).


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) Good point; I'd forgotten that bit. Maybe I should try to get it from my library rather than rely on memory.


message 9: by Manybooks (last edited Mar 10, 2011 04:07PM) (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Cheryl in CC NV wrote: "Good point; I'd forgotten that bit. Maybe I should try to get it from my library rather than rely on memory."

It just seems such a shame because with that kind of an image, I would really not feel right recommending this book to Native American children (although the message would be wonderful, and without that image, the book would be stellar). You mentioned the paper dolls. Were any of them Grace in a Hiawatha costume?


message 10: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
I forgot about that part too Gundula. I agree that having Grace portraying an "Indian" oufit is a bit offensive to the Native American audience. It's a shame that we can barely find any books that portrays Native Americans in a positive light and it would be great to learn more about Native American history through books that actually show the honest side of their history.


message 11: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Ronyell wrote: "I forgot about that part too Gundula. I agree that having Grace portraying an "Indian" oufit is a bit offensive to the Native American audience. It's a shame that we can barely find any books that ..."

One of the problems I think is that many of us don't really know what is offensive to Native Americans and what is not, so mistakes will obviously occur. But, it is relatively well-known that many Native Americans really do not like pictures and descriptions of non Native American playing "Indian" and I can certainly understand that (that is also why many Native American groups have tried to get Native American "mascots" removed from sports teams, but many fans get into a real snit about this because it is their "tradition"). For Amazing Grace, if the book had been a classic picture book from the 70s or earlier, while it still would have bothered me, I think one could make a bit of an excuse that it is simply a bit "dated" but with a book published in the 90s, the author and illustrator should have realised that many Native Americans do not like images of non Native Americans playing at being an "Indian" chief, and Hiawatha is a controversial literary character as well (same with Pocahontis, don't know if I spelled that right).


message 12: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
I agree Gundula. I would have let this slide if the book was made during the 20s - the 70s since prejudice and racism was strong during those times, but since this book was made during the 90s, I think it's a shame that not much research was taken to see whether or not this would offend the Native American audience.


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) I'm sorry; I don't remember the paper doll set very well - I suspect it did include the Hiawatha costume.


message 14: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Ronyell wrote: "I agree Gundula. I would have let this slide if the book was made during the 20s - the 70s since prejudice and racism was strong during those times, but since this book was made during the 90s, I t..."

My GR friend Abigail has pointed out that the author is British, and I do realise that in Europe, the idea that playing "Indian" is or can be controversial is not as present as in the United States (although even in North America, many people still don't realise that Native Americans take exception to this kind of action and/or wonder why they would). This of course does not excuse this, but it might be a reason why the author and illustrator did not consider that Grace dressing up as Hiawatha could perhaps be considered problematic. In some countries in Western Europe, there are actual "Indian Clubs" where members dress like "cowboys and Indians" and try to reenact the Old West, funny, but also quite culturally inappropriate as the scenes, the ideas usually come from 19th century novels.


message 15: by Ronyell, Your Humble Creator! (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 688 comments Mod
That's a bit of interesting information Gundula! I never realized that other countries also think this way about Native American culture.


message 16: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Ronyell wrote: "That's a bit of interesting information Gundula! I never realized that other countries also think this way about Native American culture."

I think in some ways the playing Indian etc. is even more pronounced in Europe, probably because it was considered so "exotic."


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) Sure, think of the 'Indians' in Peter Pan.


message 18: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments Cheryl in CC NV wrote: "Sure, think of the 'Indians' in Peter Pan."

Good point, but you would think that they might have learned a bit by the 90s.


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) I agree.


message 20: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Davie (kathydavie) | 100 comments I think y'all are getting bogged down. Yes, I agree that the portrayal of Hiawatha was not in the best taste. HOWEVER, the important message in this book is that you can do and be anything you want.


message 21: by Manybooks (last edited Mar 20, 2011 07:40PM) (new)

Manybooks | 147 comments I don't think any of us are saying that the book does not have a great message, and for the most part, I really enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to most children (although I would definitely discuss Grace's Hiawatha costume and why I believe it to be not quite appropriate). On the other hand, I would think twice if I were going to read this otherwise excellent picture book to Native American children, because the mere concept if playing "Indian" is often so controversial and problematic for them, and rightfully so.


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