The Spokane School District will pull “Tintin in America” from school libraries after a Native American employee challenged the book as racially demeaning and insulting.
It is the first time in years the district is pulling a book off library shelves. Five or six books a year are challenged, but the district usually decides to keep them.
“Tintin in America” is part of a comic series that began in 1929 and is enjoying new popularity for its nostalgic artwork and quirky sense of humor.
The series may be popular, said the district’s Language Arts Coordinator Fran Mester, but no ethnic group escapes its stereotypical portrayal. The books also represent drunkenness and violence as funny.
“On almost every page you find something you would not want kids to see,” Mester said. She acknowledged the comic-book style makes them fun for children to read.
Kathy Posnett, a Yakama Indian who is a tutor in the district’s Native American education program, challenged the book after seeing it displayed at Stevens Elementary.
“Tintin is tied to a pole. Indians are presented in a stereotypical way with headdresses dancing around him in an angry kind of way,” Posnett said. “And it was all males, which doesn’t depict Indian people in a positive or truthful manner.”
Indians speak in broken English in the book. They have names like Big Chief Keen-eyed Mole, Browsing-Bison and Bull’s-Eye. White characters refer to them as “redskins.”
The district will allow teachers to use the book to teach students about stereotypes, placing copies in an Equity Library at the newly remodeled Libby school.
School librarians will screen other Tintin titles for bias. When they do, they’ll find buck-toothed Chinese, turbaned Arabs, half-naked Africans and almost no women characters.
The books also have zany plots in which Tintin, a boy reporter, confronts mad scientists and spies. Tintin’s talking dog Snowy is usually the most intelligent character. Belgian artist Georges Remi wrote and illustrated the Tintin comics under the pen name Herge. When he died in 1983 the Washington Post ran his obituary on page one.
“Tintin in America” was first published in 1931 as a serial in a Belgian newspaper. Today, it is a popular title at Spokane’s Auntie’s Bookstore, said Sheri Boggs, children’s book section manager.
“It’s not much worse than a John Wayne movie,” Boggs said. “It’s stereotypical, but it could be used as a springboard for parents and teachers to talk about stereotypes.”
“The Read-Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease endorses the books: “To be understood, ‘Tintin’ must be read - and that is the key for parents and teachers who care about reading. Each issue contains 8,000 words. The beautiful part of it is that children are unaware they are reading 8,000 words - which means you don’t tell them either.”
John Keller, a vice president of Little, Brown and Co., which republished Tintin, acknowledged the books “do not represent the cutting edge of sensibilities.”
Some stores order all the titles except “Tintin in America,” he said.
Keller said the market should have the final say: “If
indeed this book is offensive to enough people in America, the sales will stop.”
Posnett doesn’t want to be seen as a book-banner, she said. She filed her complaint on behalf of her colleagues in the Indian education program because the book’s bias was so “painfully obvious.” She believes her 10-year-old son needs real history, not stereotypes.
“He needs to know what really happened, that my grandmothers and aunts and uncles went to boarding schools where they had to learn English so now I don’t know my language.
“These are the things he needs to know so he can value the things we don’t have now. And go back and try to learn them.”
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