Book Review: Cheyenne Again Analyze Multicultural Children

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Cheyenne Again

Analyze Multicultural Children's Picture Books

Eve Bunting's Cheyenne Again

One of the struggles many teachers have regarding the legacy of Anglo-Indian relations is to present the topic in a fair manner that does not whitewash history yet also not traumatizes young students. Eve Bunting's Cheyenne Again tells the story of young Indian children who were forced, either by economic circumstances or political pressures, to attend a white-run school that attempted to anglicize them and acculturate them to white society. The book humanizes and teaches history by focusing on the plight of one Indian boy named Young Bull. The book ends on a positive note, as the child learns to be 'Cheyenne Again' inside even though the outer world is pressuring him to forget his Indian ways.

The white-run schools were specifically designed to teach children how to 'be white. The book's protagonist Young Bull is sent away by his parents during a time of famine. He takes a train to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a school set up in the 19th century to educate Indian children in trades and enable them to 'fit in' to white society. Immediately, the men on the train inform Young Bull he is no longer allowed to speak his native tongue. He takes an instant dislike to them, but has no escape.

At the school, the children are punished for being 'like Indians.' They are educated to become servants to whites, not independent in their own right. Their hair is cut and they are made to feel ashamed of their brown skin. The fact that teachers are often villains in the narrative demonstrates to children that adults, even adults in positions of great authority, are not always right. Children who have felt stifled at school are likely to identify with Young Bull, regardless of their ethnicity. As well as being forcibly assimilated, the Indian children are also forced to effectively work as unpaid slave laborers for the school. Although the school was supposed to teach the children trades to make them more self-sufficient, the children in the real Carslie School "were hired out as work gangs, or farmer's helpers for various simple manual tasks. The school received the money for this contract labor" (Giese 2007).

Even today, Native American culture is often relegated to a marginal place in the mainstream curriculum. Bunting's book better enables the teacher to restore it to its rightful place. Indians are not merely persecuted, sad people -- they are shown to be proud people with a different culture and language who have a right to their heritage, a right which was denied by the institutions of the United States. The book still ends on a hopeful note as Young Bull, after running away in the cold only to be returned again, resolves to remain Cheyenne within, despite the fact that most of his teachers are so hostile to Indian ways. One more sympathetic teacher in the school also gives the reader hope that not all whites were 'bad whites.'

The book shows the injustice of the Indian's plight, but for some reviewers its tone was insufficiently harsh. According to Beverly Slapin, a reviewer for the American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL), although the illustrations in the book were evocative such as the contrast between the "open, light expanse of the Great Plains with the depressingly dark confines of the school," overall she regards the book as a literal and figurative whitewashing (Slapin 2007). "Bunting does not mention the many deaths -- from malnutrition, from diseases, from beatings, from broken hearts. Nor does she mention the jail cells and the arbitrary punishment such as having lye rubbed into young mouths for the sin of not knowing what was expected. She whitewashes the abject wretchedness of the children's lives" (Slapin 2009).

Slapin particularly objects to the fictional presence of the kindly teacher, saying that no white man at an Indian school would have been willing to have embraced the Indian worldview and told a student like Young Bull that he should remain Indian inside. The school's teaching "methodology was designed to force the children to deny -- and later, forget -- their Indianness, inside and out. Any teacher encouraging a child to remember who he was would have been fired on the spot" (Slapin 2009). Slapin's passionate critique of the text raises the question of the extent to which historical fiction for children should present the unvarnished truth, or if the truth should be couched in a manner that is less frightening for the children. If the beatings, malnutrition, and death of the children were presented in a picture book, the images would be unbearable. Also, the children might not necessarily identify with Young Bull any more than they would identify with children depicted on the news who have been the victims of horrific tragedies in far-off regions of the world. Young Bull's struggles are real, but they are comprehensible to children today because they are framed in the context of a school environment.

On the other hand, Slapin's comments about the ending of the book do have a great deal of validity. "On the last page, Young Bull, having drawn pictures in a ledger book of warriors riding on painted ponies, breaks through 'the lines across the page' and rides once again with his relatives 'across the golden plain.' He has again become, as Bunting so facilely makes possible, 'Cheyenne again'" (Slapin 2009). So long as he is Cheyenne in his heart, Bunting states, Young Bull will still feel like an Indian.

However, this completely distances what it means to be an Indian from the experience of Young Bull in the school. To be an Indian is to be a part of a collective culture, not to be an individual in sad isolation. In fact, that is precisely the clash between Indian and white civilizations. To whites, individualism and autonomy is the most important thing -- that is why 'owning' things, including land is so important. To Native Americans, who had a more fluid relationship with the land and ownership, and who were part of a collective culture, being an Indian 'inside' was not enough. A person had to be integrated into a tribe and fulfill specific expectations and customs. This was denied to the children in the Indian schools. According to another critical review, the returning children "were not accepted by white people, socially or for any kind of jobs; but they were often distrusted and shunned by more traditional Indians, including those of their own age who had been able to hide out when the school-takers came, who were often scornful of the misfit returned students" (Giese 2007). The children seldom saw their parents again, and this is another issue sanitized by Bunting: Young Bull's parents give him up willingly, because of the poor harvest but many children and parents resisted the abduction of their children.

Despite all of the book's flaws, Cheyenne Again still has utility in a classroom. Although there are many good children's books on Native American culture, few address this specific issue in such depth. A good teacher asks questions of children: "does it seem realistic that this teacher in the school is encouraging Young Bull to still be an Indian" and talks about the real history of the period. Slapin's critique seems to suggest that she would like teachers to 'scare' or horrify children with realistic stories of the period. But there must be a middle ground when first introducing this subject matter to young people. Later on, in high school, when students learn about the Indian schools in more detail, there will be time to read first-person accounts of the suffering the children actually endured. One of the powerful tools of using fiction is that it is fiction -- it can be shaped and edited enough to introduce even the youngest readers to difficult subjects in a manner that is more comprehensible to then than raw 'real life.'

References

Bunting, Eve. (2002). Cheyenne Again. Sandpiper.

Giese, Paula (2007). Review of Cheyenne Again. Children's Books.

Retrieved at: http://www.kstrom.net/isk/books/children/ch76.html

Slapin, Beverley. (2007). Review of Cheyenne Again. American Indians in Children's

Literature. AICL. Retrieved at: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2007/11/eve-buntings-cheyenne-again.html

Multicultural Children's Picture Book Analysis

Presenter's Name ____ Date

Did you and your partner:

YOUR COMMENTS

1. discuss how your children's picture book illus-trates the importance of having children read literature about a variety of cultures, ethnicities, classes, genders, sexual orientations

Eve Bunting's Cheyenne Again highlights an important part of American history many children might not otherwise hear of: the forcible removal of Indian children from their homes so they could be 'correctly' educated in white ways.

2. present brief but specific notations of at least five ways that difference was presented in your children's picture book]

The young Indian protagonist is forced to learn English; to be separated from his family; the authorities are not shown to be 'correct' in the way they view other cultures and treat the children; the children's parents have no rights… [END OF PREVIEW]

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