a true story
by dave eggers
illustrated by julia sarda
a picture book about moving a now-historical mansion, told in a slightly annoying narrative tone, overlooking the privilege and history of forced native american resettlement at the end of the 19th century.
roast me all you want about political correctness and woke culture, but the "truth" of this story is slim and merely adds to the already-saturated expanse of work dedicated to western expansionism and european dominance of native cultures.
oh, but it's only a picture book for kids, there doesn't have to be anything political about it! lighten up. man!
but the unwritten prolog, the whole reason this story even exists, was because about 20 years prior to the events depicted here, native tribes of nez perce, among others, were cleared away. this left the wood river valley open for new settlers and prospectors who -- lucky for them, not so for native tribes that once hunted and fished there -- discovered silver and lead in rich quartz deposits that would make them richer than croesus. (croesus, former king of lydia back in the BC days, known for his wealth, whose name was also used for a mine in the same valley. you know, just to give you a sense of how rich this particular seam of mining was viewed).
okay, fine. the natives are cleared, a prospector accidentally discovers a mine in a meet-cute between a dog and a gopher, and wealth is amassed. minnie moore was the accidental prospector, and in time was so rich he figured he could sell the mine to a man named miller and retire. or whatever. but he was lonely, so after finding love in idaho he sends his bride annie off to see europe while he builds her a mansion. "the home, we can assume, was known as the miller's minnie moore mining mansion."
we can assume? in a true story? and we can use this assumption as the title of the book?
yes, it's a cute narrative dip, just like later there is the line "there is no better place for horses than idaho. any horse will tell you that." so, yeah, these are small, innocuous cases that don't actually affect the truth of the narrative, and in some ways make it more fanciful, almost tall-tale-adjacent, but it's in the bending and secreting of truths that history is warped. i will harp on about the george washington cherry tree myth any chance i get because it is dangerous to teach absolute BS as historical fact, much less a buttressing of character, and especially dangerous to children. here, in the moving of a house via horse and logrolling, we get a lighthearted tale that ignores the relocating of natives and appropriation of land that made it all possible. are there no other stories of moving houses that could be told, was this story that unique (short answer: no)? does having a cute, possibly entirely fictitious name for a house (we have no proof the owners ever called it this) justify the retelling of it's origin and genealogy?
overall, the tone and visual aspects of this title is extremely reminiscent of picture books from the 1960s, with muted browns, blues, and grays and flat midcentury modern landscapes. its the kind of tale that disney might have animated and told alongside their telling of paul bunyan, a "true" story of a legendary house on the move. but today, in our current climate, i think we would be better served by stories that reflected the cultures historically silenced from this era. and, i'm a little saddened that author dave eggers couldn't do better.