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Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Vivian Martindale
ED 493: Examining Alaska's Indigenous
Children's Literature
Review #2: The Education of Little Tree
4/12/04

Peeling Away the Bark: Examining the Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

"The Education of Little Tree," by Forrest Carter is about a young Cherokee boy named Little Tree who is orphaned and goes to live with his Cherokee grandparents. Since its publication debut in 1976 "The Education of Little Tree" has never been out of print. It hit the consumer shelves with ecstatic reviews in prestigious publication such as the New York Time and the Atlantic Monthly. The book sold more than a million copies and in 1985, a new publishing house, the University of New Mexico Press obtained publication rights and it continues to be their biggest seller, selling more than 1 _ million copies.

At first read, the small 216-page book would seem suitable for young readers up through High School (Recommendation by publishers is grades 9 through 12). The book has its moments that make you smile and wonder. When it was first introduced into our school systems as required reading, schoolchildren around the country formed Little Tree fan clubs. Yet, shockingly enough, the book, "The Education of Little Tree" was publicly exposed as a fraud the year it was published. However, despite this evidence, in 1991, 15 years after its publication and 12 years after the author's death, "Little Tree" won the Abby Award and made it onto the New York Times' bestseller list. The Abby Award is given out each year by the American Booksellers Association to honor "hidden treasures." Ironically the Award began in 1991 with its first award being the book, you guessed it, "The Education of Little Tree".

In addition to its publication success in book form and the promotion from the Hollywood film industry the book continues to have a following today. The University of New Mexico Press, who publishes "The Education of Little Tree", presented the public with a 25th anniversary edition, which included a cover painting by an Oklahoma Cherokee artist. By this act the publisher validates its authenticity although the newer edition now states in small print that it is a work of non-fiction. The new edition, however, does not mention author Forrest Carter's real identity, Asa Carter, or the controversies that have surrounded the book. In a biography on Asa Carter, Carter's brother claims their family has no Cherokee heritage whatsoever. In addition, Carter was employed by George Wallace as one of his speechwriters promoting Wallace's racist platform. But in 1973 Carter published a book called Gone to Texas about the life of the outlaw Jose Wales and later "The Education of Little Tree." The author claimed he was from Florida, that he had Cherokee blood and he was an official storyteller as well as a historian for the Cherokee Nation. Which of course seems ironic since near the end of the book Carter claims that there is no Cherokee Nation. As well, Carter perpetuates the stereotype of the image of the dying nations, which of course did not died-the Cherokee Nation is still vital today.

Carter a white supremacist turned author Forrest Carter, aka Asa Cater, was a founder of a white supremacist magazine called the Southerner as well as noted for his infamous run as governor in Alabama in 1970, where radio broadcasts perpetuated his racial biases. Eventually, the author formed a group called the White Citizens Council, a white supremacist organization with the same views as the KKK and later another group with more evil intentions called the original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy. This new group was connected to violent acts across the southern states including the assault on Nat "King" Cole in 1957 and in the same year the abduction of a black man Edward Aaron. The group castrated Aaron and poured turpentine on his wounds.

My question is why does the public, as well as educators still want to believe in this book and its author? It is simply not enough for teachers to include the controversy and include it in their lesson plans, while allowing students to read this book. The deception by the author is no less a form of malice. And to make matters worse, the Hollywood movie industry ignored the controversy and introduced a whole new generation of readers and fans to the book through the movie version for young adults. We as educators and parents owe it to new generations of readers to stop the perpetuation of "The Little Tree" myth. One website sponsored by the Main Association of School Libraries at www.maslibraries.org/infolit/samplers/educational.html offers teachers activities surrounding this book and includes a focus on the controversies surrounding the author. This would be one way to deal with the 'author' issue, however, I feel the association completely ignores the ideals behind the authors words by using the book to further their education about the 1930 and the Cherokee people. How might I ask, does one learn anything productive from an author who participated in the brutal torture of a human being.

These issues make it clear that as reviewers of children's literature regarding Native American's it is important that we examine the author closely. "The Education of Little Tree" is a perfect example of texts that promote stereotypes and perpetuate racial myths. On the surface "The Education of Little Tree" is an endearing story about a little boy and his relationship to nature and his culture, however, on more than one occasion the author inserts his views on survival of the fittest and the theory of allowing the dominant species to rule.

By peeling at the layers of bark on this "Little Tree," we see that the author Forrest Carter, aka, Asa Carter, aka Little Tree is one nasty man who used a story based on lies and deceit to perpetuate the image of the dying Indian and the supremacy of the dominant White race, his ultimate agenda in life. Am I asking readers to evaluate every author's background? In essence, yes, but I am also asking readers to examine the 'authenticity' and 'sincerity' of the authors, especially when it comes to our children's books. Perhaps as an adult, fully knowing Carters personal background, I could read "The Education of Little Tree" with reservations, but I would not subject my adolescents and teenagers to its read because I feel the author doesn't deserve to have anyone read his material nor does the publisher deserve on more dollar in their coffers. Carter promoted the book as truth and in turn it was a hoax and he was rewarded for it. In turn, he made a fool of many readers and certainly his publisher. I recommend that students in elementary or secondary grades NOT read this book because of the dangers that lie beneath. Perhaps an examination at the college level would be more appropriate or a discussion on the negative effects of such a book at the high school level. This book has earned two salmon: 0 to 8 salmonsalmon . Something smells fishy! This book is a rotten salmon and bad for the digestion of little minds.

The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004.

The book reviews are written by the students and are a reflection of their own analysis of the books and have not been altered in any way. The reviewers have given permission to share the book reviews on the HAIL website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last modified August 21, 2006