Sunday, April 12, 2009

We the People 2009

Last night I learned that Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House was on the 2009 "We the People" bookshelf. I mentioned that books on that shelf in previous years had been disappointing. This morning, JPM submitted an excellent comment to that post, so I'm reposting it here:

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 problematic 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.

And if you want to read past posts on this discussion, here they are:

June 7, 2007: "We" the People?

April 4, 2009: BIRCHBARK HOUSE is on "We the People" Bookshelf, 2009

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