So, Mom. After George Harrison--I mean George Washington--captured all those red jackets--I mean Red Coats--he went back to his plantation and then became president like 2 years later.
Ah. He went back to his plantation. You know some things about plantations, right?
Yes. His plantation. Yes, I know some things about plantations. WAIT. Did George Washington have SLAVES?
He DID? How could he even DO that? Fighting for his own freedom from the British and then keeping slaves? That's just...WRONG. It makes NO SENSE.
I cannot tell a lie: This conversation actually happened. It's a rare, beautiful parenting moment when you see a child connect the dots on something important. I also have a confession: I haven't read the book, Revolutionary War on Wednesday, that prompted this conversation. Revolutionary War on Wednesday is part of the Mary Pope Osborne series, The Magic Treehouse, which Marc has been reading with Wyatt. Wyatt borrows one book at a time from the school library in as close to numerical order as he can, and Marc and he read it as quickly as our weekday schedule allows. Few things are better at bedtime than having your dad read to you about Jack and Annie's latest adventure. And the next day? Wyatt peppers me with mom-did-you-know-thats.
Today, Wyatt asked, "Mom. Do you know how the British were defeated during the evolutionary war?" (Revolutionary. "Revolutionary" and "evolutionary" are different, I told him.) He took it from there, giving me what he remembered about the story, including Washington's crossing a river, sneaking up on the British, capturing soldiers, and of course living on a plantation. Our conversation eventually moved from Wyatt's shock and dismay about Washington's slave ownership to the stories we have read about enslaved people, and how "nobody (like, say the city, for example) was MAKING George Washington KEEP his slaves instead of freeing them."
Historical fiction offers unique opportunities for examining a story from lots of angles. And while (I imagine) it's probably better if a parent reads the book herself before discussing it with her child, in this case, I'm glad I didn't. If I had read it, I'm sure I'd have formed all kinds of opinions that I'd be tempted to share, or possibly even impose (the horror!). Because I hadn't read it, I had no agenda. Instead, I had to listen carefully, and I was genuinely curious about the story. Mary Pope Osborne's mention of Washington's plantation provided a perfect opportunity to complicate and cast some skepticism on what I'm guessing was (remember, I still haven't read this book) a narrative about Washington's heroism that arose out of notions of freedom and liberty.
I am a big believer in the idea that if you're reading something, you should be asking questions. Who is telling this story? What are they trying to show? Who's missing from the story? What are those peoples' perspectives? Why were they left out? These (and others) are such important questions for all of us to answer, whether we're reading a story or listening to its retelling.