Saturday, April 11, 2009

BIRCHBARK HOUSE is on "We the People" Bookshelf, 2009

Through January 30, 2009, librarians were invited to submit a proposal to win a set of books on the 2009 "We the People" bookshelf. Schools winning a set are being announced this month.

The big news, for me and readers of American Indians in Children's Literature is that Louise Erdrich's book, Birchbark House, is among the books this year. The theme is "Picturing America."

I've been disappointed (furious, actually) with some of the selections in years past. I'm delighted, though, that over 4000 schools in the country will be receiving a copy of Birchbark House book from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Congratulations to Erdrich, and to all students who will have this book in their library.


Thomas C. said...

This is so exciting -- here's hoping that those schools recieving a copy of Birchbark House will use it to replace the Little House books.

Debbie Reese said...

If everyone who reads this blog went to their local public library and elementary school and asked for the book, that would be awesome. Be Active!

Debbie Reese said...

Ask for the book means ask for BIRCHBARK HOUSE by Erdrich, and the sequels, GAME OF SILENCE and PORCUPINE YEAR.

jpm said...

This is an interesting "first" from a group that so far seems to have focused its selections on perpetuating the dominant narrative of "American history". I'm curious about some of their other choices this year. Am not familiar with Kathleen Krull's book on Cesar Chavez (illustrated by award-winner Yuyi Morales), but I see that she also wrote something titled "Pocahontas: Princess of the New World" (illustrated by David Diaz, whose cover "princess" has a romanticized look) which according to the author's Web site is "fascinating birth-to-death account of this true American princess." A Chavez book that would have been VERY interesting to see on the list is Rudolfo Anaya's Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez. Though "too old" for the age group NEH has chosen for the Krull bio, Elegy is a straight-from-the-heart look at what Cesar Chavez meant to many, many Mexican-Americans and countless others who observed, took part in, and/or benefited from his tireless activism. AND the dust jacket is this amazing time-line poster, perfect for teachers. Illustrator Gaspar Enriquez did some remarkable work. So I am curious about the decision-making process for that "Picturing America" option.

Two other WTP selections raise questions for me regarding representations of indigenous people in this year's "Bookshelf". For example, what does The Captain's Dog have to say about the Lewis and Clark project, especially about the Native people encountered encountered by the expedition? And Freedman's Life and Death of Crazy Horse I read years ago - but what might have been the reason to choose it over a biography by someone of indigenous background? Insider perspectives continue to be a problemlematic absence for the WTP bookshelves; let's hope that the inclusion of Birchbark House signals the beginning of a trend.

Also noted: this year's shelf has a repeat -- a version of the Paul Revere "midnight ride" story was also part of the 2005-06 Bookshelf on "Freedom". Wonder if the committee/s had any conversation about choosing David Hackett Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride instead (for older readers) which unlike the Longfellow poem, focuses on historical accuracy.

Debbie Reese said...

Good questions JPM... I'm going to repost your comment as a stand-alone piece!

Claudia said...

Last school year,2008-2009, I applied for and was granted the We the People bookshelf: Picturing America for my high school library. With the economy in such bad condition, libraries have been scrambling to find low cost/free resources for their collections. We assume that since NEH selects the bookshelf with input from the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, the selections should be representative of the theme and of American history. After reading this blog, however, I am not quite sure now. Librarians are taught in library school to develop the collection to be reflective of their patrons, to provide resources for the course of study, to have balance by providing materials to accommodate multiple perspectives as well as other considerations. I wonder what the NEH uses as their selection criteria. The themes are somewhat broad and the selections are very diverse.

It is obvious to me now that the selection committee does not seem to keep the American Indian reader in mind when the book selections are made. There does seem to be a larger emphasis on titles that might appeal to the Hispanic/Latino reader especially with the addition of Spanish language books. The year that the theme was “Becoming American” would have been a perfect time to focus on our country’s great diversity. Granted, it may have been difficult to represent each minority group due to funds, but not impossible.

I have visited the American Indian Library Association site and see that it is an affiliate of the American Library Association. Does the ALSC have a member who is also a member of the American Indian Library Association? It seems like that would be a good way to have some input and a voice on the selection committee.