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The Emotional Phases of Re-Reading The Indian in the Cupboard

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Jessica Woodbury

Staff Writer

Jessica Woodbury's professional life has taken her to prisons, classrooms, strip clubs, and her living room couch. After years as a Public Defender in the South, she now lives in Boston with her two small children. Cursed with a practical streak, she always wanted to pursue music or writing but instead majored in Biochemistry because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. These days she does absolutely nothing with science or law and instead spends too much time oversharing on the internet. She has a soft spot for crime novels and unreliable narrators. And the strip club gig was totally as a lawyer, she swears.  Blog: Don't Mind the Mess Twitter: jessicaesquire

If you decide to read The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks to your child, your experience might go something like this:

The Indian in the CupboardPhase 1: Nostalgia

I used to love this book so much. My kids and I are going to have such a great time reading it! This is what parenting is all about! This is what I’ve been waiting for since they were born! This will be awesome!!!

Phase 2: Slight Awkwardness

Hmm. How old is this book? 1980? I guess they didn’t want to change the title to The Native American in the Cupboard. But it’ll be okay. Things were mostly PC in the ’80s, right?

Phase 3: Confusion

Wait, this book is set in England? I don’t remember that. This kid’s name is Omri? What kind of name is Omri? Who names their child Omri? Is it pronounced ahm-ree or ahm-rye or ohm-ree or ohm-rye? I need to pick one and stick with it so no one gets confused. His brothers are named Gillon and Adiel? Maybe I can just call them Brother #1 and Brother #2. Hmm, so the cupboard isn’t actually a cupboard but a medicine cabinet. That’s…not how I remembered it. Someone needs to re-title this book The Native-American in the Medicine Cabinet and then maybe things would make more sense.

Phase 4: Relief

YES the Indian (I mean Native American, this is going to be constantly awkward, isn’t it?) is finally here!!

Phase 5: Growing Unease

There’s already been mention of firewater, the Great White Spirit, tepees, and scalping and it’s not even page 30 yet. And Little Bear speaks in broken English that makes me feel really uncomfortable when I read it aloud. I am reading my kids a book full of racist stereotypes. Maybe it’s time to find a nice documentary on Native Americans instead…

Phase 6: Rationalizing

Well, these stereotypes are mostly coming from the kid, Omri, not nearly as much from Little Bear (much less guilt-inducing to say than “Indian,”) and Omri is a kid who watched a bunch of Western movies and those movies are absolutely full of racist stereotypes and the kid doesn’t know any better. I can already tell that this book is really about empathy and learning to respect other human beings and it will ultimately be worth it.

Phase 7: Hope

It’s getting better! Little Bear demands a longhouse instead of a tepee. He knows the culture of his tribe, the Iroquois. There will be important cultural lessons!

Phase 8: Mortification

Dammit, they just killed a new plastic Indian–Native American!–and I’m starting to realize this book is too advanced for my 6-year-old… Are we going to have to have a conversation about death? DAMMIT NOW THERE’S A COWBOY, TOO. And his accent is utterly ridiculous. At least reading the Cowboy’s dialogue means I’m just sounding stupid when I read every character’s voice.

Phase 9: Apathy

What does it matter? These kids are horrible and don’t treat the former-plastic men like real people and surely my kid is similarly indifferent to everything that’s happening in this book and this is all going over his head and it’s totally okay. Also it’s gross how these boys have the little men in their pockets all the time. How is that humane? Aw man, now they’re giving the cowboy whiskey? Does my kid know what whiskey is? I don’t think so, and by now what’s the point of trying to explain any of this?

Phase 10: Acceptance

The book is finally over, there was indeed a moral about human empathy, and that makes up for it, right?

Phase 11: Damage Control

Hey kids, let’s go to the library and find some historically accurate books about Iroquois!

(A few suggestions: If You Lived With the IroquoisThe Very First AmericansLife in a Longhouse Village.)