Friday, July 18, 2014

Picture Books about Christopher Columbus

Earlier this week, a colleague wrote to me about a new picture book about Christopher Columbus. This morning, I was e-talking with Annette Wanamaker, editor of Children's Literature in Educationabout an article in CLE about Columbus! I read it right away.

In "The Columbus Myth: Power and Ideology in Picturebooks About Christopher Columbus," Christina M. Desai shares results of her analysis of depictions of Columbus in picturebooks published since 1992. She looked at a representative sample of over 30 books and found that little has changed. Native peoples are still being misrepresented and stereotyped.

She also points to something very troubling:
In her defense of humanities education, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Nussbaum (2010) warns that, as emphasis on the humanities declines in the U.S., curricula are increasingly designed to advance economic growth. She posits that such curricula will "present national ambition, especially ambition for wealth, as a great good, and will downplay issues of poverty and global accountability" (p. 21). The books examined here certainly exemplify such a curriculum and promote its agenda, by glorifying conquest and profit at the expense of ideals such as human rights and self determination.
That paragraph reminded me of Floca's Locomotive. Though his picture book is about early trains in the US, it is also about conquest and profit at the expense of Native peoples. Locomotive won the Caldecott Medal this year. I found it lacking. Floca responded to my critique.

I think Floca's win and Desai's article tell us how little we've come in terms of a humane society. If you don't have access to Children's Literature in Education, ask your librarian to get a copy of Desai's article. It has a lot to mull over for those of us who read, review, and recommend children's books.

Here's the citation:
Desai, Christina M. (2014). "The Columbus Myth: Power and Ideology in Picturebooks About Christopher Columbus," Children's Literature in Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10583-014-9216-0.

1 comment:

Gale said...

I found this page while looking for pictures books about Columbus. It is so hard to find books for young readers that don't entirely gloss over his enslavement of the native peoples. I'm a homeschooler who would like to expose my child to history mainly (for now, since he's only 6) through picture books. And while I realize these short books can't tell everything, and that some details would not be appropriate to share with young children, I don't really want a book about Columbus that just glosses over all the "bad parts" of his story.