Smith, Lane. There is a tribe of kids. Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, 2016. 40 pages. HC $18.99 ISBN 978-1-626-72056-5.
Lane Smith is no newcomer to the world of children’s publishing. He has worked on dozens of books for young readers, including perennial favorites like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and Math Curse both by Jon Sciezka, and the Caldecott Honor title Grandpa Green. In one of his most recent published works There is a Tribe of Kids, Smith tells the story of a young boy who goes on a journey, and eventually finds his way to a “tribe” of kids who welcome him into their imaginative play.
Below you can see a book trailer created for There is a Tribe of Kids.
Early reviews praised There Is a Tribe of Kids for its creative wordplay and whimsical illustrations, but some people pointed out issues with both the use of the word “tribe” as well as some of the drawings by Smith. While tribe on its own is not a racial slur of any kind, it in combination with depictions of young children wearing leaves and playing in nature can be seen as problematic. New York Times book reviewer Minh C. Le (2016) wrote that “Unfortunately, for me the juxtaposition of the word “tribe” with the woodland utopia conjured uncomfortable associations.” He goes on to explain that “It’s a whimsical vision in isolation, but some readers may detect something ill-advised, if not sadly familiar, in its echoes of the longstanding trope in children’s literature that uses Native imagery or “playing Indian” to signify wildness, especially since the word “tribe” is so central to this often captivating book” (Le, 2016). Debbie Reese (2016) from American Indians in Children’s Literature also wrote that “it looks to me like they’re dressed up to play indian.”
Of course many individuals disagreed with the idea that There Is a Tribe of Kids could be racially insensitive. Roxanne Feldman (2016) was one such person saying “What I do not observe is the child protagonist attempting to mimic in any of these KIDS, as if these are roaming animals. I do not see the “wildness” linked to a colonial sense of the world TRIBE (as stated by Mihn C. Le and as troubling to others). I see children engaging in regular childlike and childhood activities.”
Because of these disagreements, There is a Tribe of Kids proves to be a perfect example of white privilege and the dissonance between white and diverse populations. White people do not see the problem, because to them it is not a problem. They are not the ones being potentially shoehorned into an outdated stereotype. They are the ones who are privileged enough to not be affected by it.
There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith has many wonderful qualities, but professionals can and should be aware of its issues as well. We cannot simply shut down a conversation because we do not agree with it, we have to listen, learn, and keep moving forward.
Feldman, R. (2016). A tribe of kind souls: A closer look at a double spread in lane smith’s there is a tribe of kids. Retrieved from https://fairrosa.com/2016/07/17/a-tribe-of-kind-souls/
Le, M. C. (2016). Il sung na’s ‘the opposite zoo’ and more. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/books/review/il-sung-nas-the-opposite-zoo-and-more.html?_r=3
Reese, D. (2016). Lane smith’s new picture book: There is a tribe of kids (plus a response to rosanne parry). Retrieved from https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/07/lane-smiths-new-picture-book-there-is.html