From the series title (History Smashers), it was obvious to me that Christopher Columbus and the Taino People by Kate Messner and Jose Barreiro (Random House, August 2023) was going to an accurate and historically based book about Christopher Columbus. Some books for kids glide over the negative aspects of Columbus’ journey to the Americas, and even perpetuate myths about medieval travelers not understanding that the world was round, or that Columbus was the first explorer to consider traveling West.
Rather, Messner and Barreiro’s contribution underscored which facts were not true. It began by showing Columbus’ life journey, including successes and failures, to get to his historic 1492 journey. The subsequent voyages of Columbus were discussed, including the impact of those voyages on all the natives, not just on the first island. It did not overly dwell on many negative aspects of his personality and influence, but did mention his poor leadership abilities and his enslavement of many natives as he took them back to Europe. It was refreshing!
In addition to being a mini-biography of Christopher Columbus, this middle-grade nonfiction book gave background on the people who lived in the Caribbean islands that Columbus found, including their way of life. There is an emphasis on the ways European life sharply contrasted to the giving and generous welcome from the natives. And, there is an entire chapter about the Taino people today.
My husband laughed when he saw the series title: “Oh, they sure have an agenda!” he commented. He found it strange that people in elementary school would need to hear more than “Columbus sailed to America in 1492” and “After Columbus, the world was different.” After all, he insists that he didn’t learn more than that in school.
On the contrary, in my childhood, I often felt my education encouraged a feeling of general admiration for Columbus. We had a holiday in his name, after all. And so many towns and societies are named after him. I do think there is a need to open the history dialogue further. While our cities may still bear his name, let’s approach Columbus as he truly was: a flawed man whose life impacted the world significantly, for good and for ill. I am so pleased that books today allow us to hear a variety of facts from multiple perspectives.