Category Archives: Primary

Dear America and The Royal Diaries as “Settling Narratives” (Primary Post)

In Bradford’s gloss of Lynne Cheney and Robin Priess Glasser’s America: A Patriotic Primer, Bradford explains that Cheney and Glasser’s examples of Native Americans – Pocahontas, Sequoyah, Tecumseh and Sacajawea – cast Indigenous people in the United States as “friends and helpers to the colonists” and as an “assimilated, docile presence within the nation” (2). What A Patriotic Primer doesn’t provide is the reality of “colonized people displaced by waves of settlers” (1). 

Bradford looks primarily at texts where the reality of colonization is displaced through the use of the “romanticization” of native people, and through transforming native people into the aforementioned friendly, docile, assimilated presence. In this post on primary texts, I wanted to draw our attention to a corpus of texts that I think does similar work – it emphasizes USian exceptionalism and uses strategies of forgetting – while at the same time providing the reality – or at least, a pseudo-reality – of “colonized people displaced by waves of settlers.” I speak, of course, of my childhood companions: the Dear America series and the Royal Diaries.

The Dear America series and the Royal Diaries were both put out by Scholastic Press in the late 1990s. Each of the Dear America books is written as a diary from the perspective of a young woman living through a significant period of US history (the revolution, the civil war, the sinking of the titanic etc.). Each of the Royal Diaries is written as a diary from the perspective of a known “princess” during her teenage years (the future queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, Nzingha, Mary, Queen of Scots etc.)

There are thirty six books in the original Dear America series (it was relaunched in 2010), and twenty in the Royal Diaries series. The books that include Native American protagonists are:

  1. My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880, by Anne Rinaldi
  2. The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864, by Ann Turner
  3. Kaiulani: The People’s Princess, Hawaii, 1889 by Ellen Emerson White
  4. Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, Massachusetts-Rhode Island, 1653 by Patricia Clark Smith
  5. Lady of Palenque: Flower of Bacal, Mesoamerica, A.D. 749 by Anna Kirwan
  6. Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490 by Edwidge Danticat

Of these six books, only one – Lady Of Palenque – does not center around colonial violence and the colonial displacement of indigenous people. My Heart is on the Ground takes place at the Carlisle Indian School, founded by Richard Henry Pratt, whose motto for the school was “Kill the Indian, Save the Child”; the protagonist of The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow is one of the people forcibly removed by federal forces onto a reservation through the trail of tears. Kaiulani, Weetamoo and Anacaona are all indigenous leaders who (unsuccessfully) fought colonial expansion in the Americas.


Nor are these books that shy away from portraying colonial violence. Kaiulani: The People’s Princess portrays both Kaiulani’s attempts to stop the USA from annexing Hawaii and the injustice of the colonial state’s refusal to negotiate with her. Anacaona depicts the brutality of the european invaders of Haiti: readers see the invaders murdering children, shooting civilians and cutting off indigenous peoples’ hands. In My Heart is on the Ground, several of Nannie’s friends die at the Carlisle Indian School, while others run due to the violence of the teaching techniques. And obviously, The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow centers around one of the most infamous examples of colonial violence in USian history – the trail of tears. One could argue, thus, that these books are exceptions to the trend Bradford identities – that they are trying to remember the colonial violence that shaped the United States, rather than trying to repress this history in order to build a narrative of american exceptionalism.

Yet although these books certainly do not romanticize colonial violence, if we look below the surface, they also seem to be working towards a project of indigenous assimilation. On an editorial level, all of the Royal Diaries (with the exception of Lady Of Palenque) portray native civilizations that are on the verge of being destroyed, conquered or displaced. Even if some of the books, like Weetamoo and Kaiulani, do not show the death of their heroine in the narrative, the reader needs only flip a few pages to the historical note to discover how the protagonist died, and to learn about the conquest and displacement of the protagonists’ people by the colonial state. On one level, these texts create sympathy for these indigenous heroes, and turning to the historical note may lead readers to question the colonial apparatus that led to their death. By sympathizing (through fiction) with an indigenous hero, a reader may be more likely to question ideologies like american exceptionalism and manifest destiny. On another level, however, these historical notes create a sense of the inevitability of colonialism. No matter how intelligent, how brave, how resourceful and strategic these leaders are, they all fail. And since three of the four indigenous leaders in the Royal Diaries *do* fail (and the last one lives too early to ever encounter the colonial apparatus), the meta-narrative these diaries construct is one where colonialism is a historical certainty, and anyone who opposes it is doomed to tragic failure. They can be sympathetic, yes – but they cannot stop the march of “manifest destiny.” So while individually, each of these texts may post a challenge to the colonial apparatus, taken together, they simply reinforce the power of the colonial state, and the inevitability of the conquest of indigenous people.

Ann Rinaldi’s My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose takes the “inevitability” of manifest destiny to the extreme.



Throughout the entire book, both in terms of plot and on the meta level of Ann Rinaldi and Scholastic’s editorial decisions, what comes through is the inevitability of whiteness and white assimilation. While the Carlisle Indian School’s methods are depicted as brutal, the school is, in the end, portrayed as the only good option for native children. Children who refuse to assimilate either die, or inevitably change their minds. When Nannie Little Rose’s brother runs away from Carlisle, he eventually comes back, having realized that Carlisle is the best option for him (a completely unrealistic scenario, given that nearly 2,000 of the school’s 10,000 students ran away, never to return). The character with the closest connection to her native heritage, Lucy Pretty Eagle, has an epileptic fit while she is attempting to go into a spirit trance; the teachers mistake her epilepsy for death and bury her while she is still alive. The message is clear: white culture will destroy any attempts to remain close to one’s native heritage. The school is portrayed as a positive experience for most children. The book’s proofreader, Genevieve Bell, even remarked on this tendency when she finished proofreading, telling the editor:

At some points the diary reads almost as an apology for assimilation, as though being at Carlisle, while painful and unpleasant,was ultimately a good thing. I am not sure that this is the tone that Ann Rinaldi wants to strike, nor am I certain it is the experience of most Carlisle students (…) This was a project and an agenda that many Native Americans actively resisted at the time and remain highly critical of today. I think perhaps your author’s note needs to acknowledge that Ann Rinaldi is not Native American, and that there were many different ways to be at Carlisle of which Nannie’s is just one. Many students did not want to be school teachers, they did not want to be pilgrims, they did not want to be in school. They wanted to be in their homes, in their communities, with their families. And many of their descendants are very angry about the ways that parents and grandparents were denied their own culture. Most Native Americans would not like to see their ancestors’ experiences written about this way (…) the consensus is that this was not a good place and that the best we can do about it now is celebrate the students who survived with their cultural identity intact and mourn those who did not. I am not sure that this diary does either of those things. ( )

Ann Rinaldi’s author note is takes the inevitability of whiteness to the extreme. She visited the Carlisle Indian School, including the school’s cemetery and saw:

“dozens of white headstones bearing the names of Native-American children from all tribes who had died while at the school. The names, with the tribes inscribed underneath, were so lyrical that they leapt out at me and took on instant personalities. Although many of these children attended Carlisle at dates later than that of my story, I used some of their names for classmates of Nannie Little Rose. … I am sure that in whatever Happy Hunting Ground they now reside, they will forgive this artistic license, and even smile upon it.” (my emphasis)

As many, many commenters have pointed out, Ann Rinaldi’s act of appropriation in choosing to use the names of real children who died at Carlisle without the permission of their descendants or their tribes is deeply offensive. To retroactively give herself permission by creating a racist fantasy in which these children give consent from the “Happy Hunting Ground” – a symbol, as Bradford would point out, not of actual native culture, but of a white fantasy and appropriation of native culture – serves as a further act of appropriation. Here, the role of Native people – of real, native children – is to become part of a white fantasy, to help play a role in ultimately celebrating the school that cost them their lives. In the most vivid example of the tendency I’ve been chronicling, colonial violence against native people helps enact a form of colonial apologia, by showing the inevitability of the colonial expansion. The dead children are mourned in the text, yes, but the creation of America – and of Nannie Little Rose’s assimilation – is celebrated.

Together, all of these texts, while acknowledging the atrocity of colonial violence, also enact a form of colonial apologia and reinforce the “myth of the (USA’s) own foundation” – manifest destiny (Bradford 5).

Sources for the controversy around My Heart Is On The Ground:

  1. Blog post from Genevieve Bell, Ann Rinaldi’s fact-checker, who encouraged her not to use the dead children’s names.
  2. A Critical Review of Ann Rinaldi’s My Heart is On The Ground. 
  3. Goals for Writing and Reviewing Books With Native American Themes 

Primary — Erasing Second Generation Memory

Since Sarah has done such an excellent job laying out Ulanowicz’s methodologies and arguments, I don’t feel the need to belabor them here. To quote Sarah’s fabulous gloss, “[Second-generation memory] isn’t a passive reception of memories, but an active integration of the past into one’s present life – a critical awareness of how the memories of past generations can affect one’s own interpretation of self.” With this awareness in mind, I’m going to turn both briefly to The Giver and then, more substantially, to Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, the last installment in the Divergent trilogy.

First, however, I want to offer a brief foray into moments in my teaching where I’ve used ideas drawn from Ulanowicz and other scholars dealing with transgenerational trauma (which is a term more often used in explicit studies of race-based trauma, and I found myself wondering in Ulanowicz’s text about the need to create a completely separate term for her ideas). This gifset (also embedded below) was an excellent, excellent conversation-starter to explore transgenerational trauma and the denial of this trauma in both popular culture and dominant educational systems.

Analyzing this gifset in class opened up a plethora of opportunities for exploring both agency and oppression in the creation of history and the ways that this history affectively (to say the least) impacts people’s day-to-day lives.

And now… to The Giver! A brief note — I was disappointed by Ulanowicz’s lack of centralizing racial oppression in The Giver. As Mary J. Couzelis’s “The Future is Pale” essay in Carrie and Kate’s book discusses at length, the central memory issues are kind of meta-textual: everyone seems to be white in this future that Lowry creates, and this goes unquestioned both in the text and in many popular reader responses. The biggest memory issue, therefore, is one of racial violence: unacknowledged white supremacy has erased the history of racism that is absolutely central to the kind of oppression that The Giver supposedly critiques in the first place. Erasing racist violence in the narrative re-enacts this violence, and I was surprised that this was not the central feature of Ulanowicz’s analysis here.

This leads me to my “primary” analysis, of Allegiant.

In brief, the plot of Allegiant centralizes a conflict of memory versus the forcible erasure of memory. (The details are… quite muddy, because, well… it wasn’t, perhaps, the best planned out book in the history of the world. But, happily, the major details aren’t too necessary right now. The basics: The city that Tris, the protagonist, comes from [Chicago] has been subjected to a massive memory wipe, generations before, so that the dystopian U.S. government can experiment on the population in an essentially country-wide eugenics project. The experiment isn’t going as planned, so the government wants to wipe out the memory of Chicago’s inhabitants, which Tris equates to killing them. Then she… well, she — SPOILERS — does it to the government. *deep breath* Okay.)

Thus, the entire premise of Allegiant is that massive amounts of people have forcibly had their memories removed ‘for their own good.’ Inter-generational memory, for Tris, is therefore based on both brutal realities, passionate joys, and historical lies.

However, when she encounters people who still know U.S. history, race is never brought up. Though the novel has very strange and unsettling racial dynamics (I have a book chapter on it that’s in the works for publication, and I’m presenting on it at MLA — who else is gonna be in that hell hole?), race — moreover, racism — itself is never explicitly discussed in the narrative. Never.

So… the characters have literally had their memories of racism erased, and the narrative — the part that readers interact with (meta!) has also erased race. The generation of fictional children that Tris belongs to have literally been born into a self-contained city whose history is based on memory-altered lies, and the generation of real-world children that read about Tris are also having racism erased from their minds vis a vis the disturbing erasure of it in the narrative.

What, then, does second-generation memory mean when the refusal to transmit full memories (in this world and in future Tris’s world) actually perpetuates transgenerational trauma through erasure? What of the ways that transmission of transgenerational trauma by interpollating second-generation memories into generations who have not experienced such oppressions re-creates new oppressions (I’m wondering here about many things, including the potential hierarchicalization involved in needing to mediate Zlata’s Diary through Anne Frank)? What of ethics when memories inflict trauma? Thinking of the gifset above, what of ethics when memories are contemporary and transmitting knowledge across generations provides young people with tools to (try to) survive?

Freud in Oz – Primary

As a psychology major and future psychologist, I found Freud in Oz to be quite fascinating.  Kenneth Kidd does an excellent job of analyzing the intersection of psychoanalysis with the different forms of children’s literature.  Kidd also gives an extremely comprehensive summary of the literature revolving that intersection.  Not only does he look at The Wizard of Oz, but he also looks at many other texts and gives a vivid account of how psychoanalysis played a major role in their themes and methods.

Kidd addressed many interesting points within the reading, but the two following points in particular stuck out to me; a) The Hidden Adult, of which Rose mentions this theory of children’s literature that is derived in part from psychoanalysis, and the literature allows the child to receive a message that the adult cannot and will not directly convey; b) Picture books and the important impact that they had on psychoanalysis.  Books, such as Where the Wild Things Are were embraced as a psychological primer, “a story about anger and its management through fantasy”, and Freud’s voice is extremely vocal within the tale.

Kidd does not attempt to rework Rose and Nodelman by writing Freud in Oz, much rather he takes instructions from both of them, most notably Nodelman.  Kidd seems to be less interested in theorizing children’s literature by psychoanalysis, however he does look to examine the mutual ties of the two discourses. Kidd also touches upon the Americanization of children’s literature and the sacrificial nature in which the protagonists often make sacrifices to prove that they are mature.  Which therefore shields children from enduring traumatic experiences, simply because the fictional character goes through it for them.  Which ties back to the Hidden Adult being ever-present in children’s literature, providing a very important moral lesson for the child readers and listeners.

In the first chapter, Kidd speaks heavily about Freud and his connection to fairy tales.  There was a transition period where fairy tales went from being stories for adults to being for children.  As per Maria Tartar, this was a long process, and a prime example of such texts is Grimms.  However, Freud’s method of addressing fairy tales was very similar to how he approached his theories on dreams.  Freud believed that fairy tales were symptomatic expressions of wish fulfillment and they play out dynamics of sexual repression.  For example, the “Oedipus Complex” was first a folklore that Freud transitioned into one of his most popular theories.

Kidd pays recognition to Franz Ricklin, a clinical psychiatrist that blends fairy tale analysis with patient case histories effectively and beautifully. Whereas for Freud, the fairy tale offered something like a side path to the individual unconsciousness.

In chapter 4 on Picturebook Psychology, Kidd gives a detailed account of the evolution of Where the Wild Things Are.  Kidd praises the accolades of Sendak and often quotes other authors who acknowledge the excellence that is, Where the Wild Things Are, for instance:

“The picture books that become classics do so,” writes Ellen Spitz, “because they dare to tackle important and abiding psychological themes, and because they convey these themes with craftsmanship and subtlety” (1999, 8).  By this standard, the “classic”’ status of Where the Wild Things Are should come as no surprise; indeed, the book functions for Spitz (among others) as the exemplary picturebook a classic; classicism or canonicity is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but rather the result of particular values and practices.

Kidd then continues to express how children’s literature changed around the time that Where the Wild Things Are was published. More and more, the importance of Feelings, both in a residually Freudian sense and in the context of humanistic psychology became evident.  The Freudian context comes shining through when Sendak presents the complexities of feelings and society through a dream.  Kidd gives the ultimate compliment by saying that …”Where the Wild Things Are gets the dream-work just right.”

I found Kidd’s reading to be extremely informative and insightful when it comes to historicizing the evolution of children’s literature and psychoanalysis. He provided excellent and in depth examples of the history of children’s literature and psychoanalysis was given, however, his stance on agreeing, or disagreeing with those of which he mentioned was few and far between.  Or as he so eloquently put it, “Betwixt-n-Between.”  It was a very successful review of the literature on Kidd’s part.

Is reconciliation possible?

Gubar is thorough and methodical in her argument that the children’s literature of Victorian England reflected a changing social dynamic. ‘Nineteenth century England was a nation in which the concept of childhood was being actively developed and redrafted (sweet 171)  – through this period all kinds of debates were taking place about the definition of childhood and the child’s proper role within the family and society at large.’ (152)  Bur as I read Gubar’s Artful Dodgers I felt as if I were being compelled to take her position instead of Rose’s,  namely that children’s lit is not a ‘colonization’ of children by adults as Rose contends, but rather a collaboration with them – and though she may be right, I feel more comfortable somewhere in between.  Isn’t it possible to reconcile the ‘cult of the child’ with the ‘artful dodger’?

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist seems to be a manifestation of that reconciliation. Although the book is considered adult literature, it exemplifies the ‘collaboration’ between child and adult that Gubar suggests. If her argument is that many celebrated Golden Age children’s authors were extremely self-reflective about their own genre, producing children’s book that attend to the issue of the complications that ensue when adults write books for children.(126) Might we assume

that Dickens’ was aware of this complication as well, and perhaps even created characters that personified  the debate? Oliver in all his goodness, is a symbol of the ‘pure child’, while Dawkins, is the symbol of an experienced, precocious one. Oliver is shy, timid, and very much a pawn of the adults around him, while Dawkins is empowered, an agent of his own destiny, who is able to make his way in the adult world.He tries to convert Oliver to his lifestyle, but Oliver does not have the constitution for it. Hawkins appears as a foil to innocent, guileless Oliver. Each character or caricature, is at opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s as if they need each other to exist.
Although children of the era may not have read Oliver Twist, the story is does contain a lesson aimed at them, namely that goodness and obedience are rewarded, while Artful Dodging lands you in prison.

Primary Post: Karin E. Westman’s “Beyond Periodization” and Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays

Since Jennifer did a great job pinpointing the overall argument and bits of missing elaboration of Westman’s “Beyond Periodization,” I’m going to say a bit about the Westman article to set up my primary textual analysis and shift the focus of this post to the primary text that I’ve chosen, and how I feel it highlights some of Westman’s points and adds some food for thought.

For the past 3 years, I’ve read and written about Thomas Hughes Tom Brown’s Schooldays for various reasons, but I never thought about how this novel relates so well to Westman’s point about texts that speak to the way that children’s literature such as TBSD has the ability to do two things based on the idea of the “generic performance . . . of children’s literature” (466).

Westman asserts:

  1. It can shed the shackles of the chronological organization of history and the types of “periodization” Westman dislikes and consequently break free from stricter chronological notions of genre. In the same way that people can have multiple occupational titles (see Wikipedia) and have a name that doesn’t necessarily call attention to any of the occupational titles, children’s literature is “everywhere and nowhere” because it can act or “perform” as multiple genres that exist at the same time across periods, but the term children’s literature evokes questions about its own origins and defining traits separate from other genres (465).
  2. Because TBSD has been deemed children’s literature, it can simultaneously and seamlessly “perform” as multiple genres, specifically a schoolboy novel, a semi autobiography, and a bildungsroman while having an identity that is not as academically clear as the aforementioned genres nor necessarily invested in the other three generic identities. Westman’s questions about children’s literature (When did children’s literature begin? What text is worthy of an award? Is children’s literature its own genre or only the intersection of others? For whom is children’s literature written?) show that the criteria for all of these answers can vary in ways that have nothing to do with the genres I’ve chosen to categorize TBSD

Westman states that “children’s literature—more than any other literatures—eludes conventions of periodization” made sense to me at a glance (466). But I think that maybe Westman wanted to say (as I think she somewhat elaborates upon after the statement on 466) that children’s literature has the ability to elude certain conventions of types of periodization, in that children’s literature’s ability to perform generically gives it the ability to resonate with certain genres or elude them. In this way, periodization is not this all-encompassing sinister monster in an academic horror film that attempts to swallow children’s literature whole. Not all periodization is terrible, and there are other types of periodization that are useful.

Period-based criticism of a novel can be represented by intervals of growth (bildungsroman, autobiography, schoolboy narratives) rather than significant ‘history book’ dates colored by the events that occur within the date’s timeframes. TBSD is such a text that does not try to elude certain generic periodizations such as the bildungsroman, semi-autobiography, and schoolboy novel; it embraces them without losing its title as children’s literature. Whether I know what distinctly makes it children’s literature apropos to the questions posed by Westman is something I’ll discuss near the end of this post.

Hughes writes in the Preface of TBSD that he “fearlessly” infused the novel with “Dr. Arnold’s teaching and example,” which “creat[ed] “moral thoughtfulness” in every boy whom he came into personal contact” (xlii). Tom Brown’s Dr. Arnold, the schoolmaster of Rugby in the novel and the representation of Hughes’s schoolmaster, is similarly pivotal to Tom’s growth as a student and all-around young man. So when Tom is on vacation from Oxford at the end of the novel, a letter that tells of Dr. Arnold’s death is “the first great wrench of his life, the first gap which the angel Death ha[s] made in his circle[,]” a “dull sense of loss that could never be made up to him” (370, 374). While this could be read as the pain of loss, Hughes ends the novel by telling readers, “Let us not be hard on [Tom]. . . Such stages have to be gone through, I believe, by all young and brave souls who must win their way through hero-worship, to the worship of Him who is the King and Lord of heroes” (376).

Whether Dr. Arnold’s 1842 death had the same effect on Hughes isn’t clear, but what’s important to note here is Hughes’s desire to portray some of his own beliefs, particularly a schoolboy’s hero-worship of a man as a path to God. And because of his own didactic desires, his novel is meant to speak to all schoolboys during his life and afterwards, in the hope that they will also learn from Dr. Arnold’s and Hughes’s teachings and maintain their ideologies. While it is easy to label TBSD as a bildungsroman or schoolboy novel because of the explicit growth of Tom from boy to adult, and the fact that most of the novel takes place during Tom’s time at Rugby, the novel’s semi-autobiographical status shows a bit more of the religious didacticism in Hughes’s novel. But even with TBSD performing as three genres, these simultaneous generic performances alone are not what definitively make it children’s literature.

I believe Westman’s claim that premier generic performance is a prerequisite for children’s literature because the unmatched ability to put on many generic faces is key to children’s literature’s elusiveness and encompassing ability. But I also think that children’s literature’s ability stems from power dynamics between children and adults, print culture, and a marginalizing need for shifting definitions of literature and childhood, all of which defined and still define children’s literature.

In short, TBSD is children’s literature because it is both an amalgamation of a didactic semi-autobiography/bildungsroman/schoolboy novel, but its ability to do so comes from using such genres for hegemonic agendas. We should “champion the generic performance and remediation of children’s literature,” but we should constantly question whether the performances are used to maintain oppressive ideologies or liberating ones (467). On top of the questions Westman poses in her article, we should ask: Who dictates the goals of children’s literature? Did children’s literature become a tool at the same time of its induction? And what role does children’s literature have in influencing dictums for other dogmatic ideological institutions?