Regional focus: The United States
Author: Dave Eggers
Illustrator: Shawn Harris
Genre: children’s literature
I recently spent 5 days in Houston, Texas. I’d never been to Texas and while I had a few preconceived notions of the Lone Star State, my prototype of the region was ambiguous at best. Prior to my visit to Houston, the top five images that came to mind were:
- Cowboy boots
- George Bush
- Pace Picante Sauce
Some months ago I had seen “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” the Houston TV episode, hence, I knew that the state had more to offer than nachos and cowboys–don’t get me wrong, I love nachos and cowboys–but I also love culture and diversity.
At first sight, Houston appears to be suburbia at its finest. Track houses with square gardens expand throughout the city, Target, Barnes & Noble, and Whole Foods are abundant, and mega-highways create maze like structures. On the surface, Houston doesn’t seem different from other US cities that have “grown up” in my lifetime. I could have been in my childhood suburb of Valencia, CA or in Tempe, Arizona.
However, behind the suburban veil, Houston displayed a surprisingly more authentic persona.
My first lunch was at an Indian restaurant, and at the table next to me, a group of friends chatted vibrantly in Spanish. At night, I ate at Mai’s Vietnamese Restaurant and spotted at least 10 different cultural groups. While shopping at Target, I heard Portuguese, Spanish, Polish and other languages I couldn’t decipher.
Not only did these cultural groups exist in the same environment, they also seemed to co-exist…that is to say, to live together, work together, speak together, while maintaining their cultural identity.
One of my favorite pastimes is perusing book stores in new cities, hence when I stumbled across a book store in a shopping center, I was lured into the wonderful world of stories and illustrations in the children’s section. On display was Dave Egger’s, Her Right Foot, a profound children’s book that was published last year. Egger’s story brings to life the history of the Statue of Liberty, and on a much broader level, speaks of the statue’s symbolism of welcoming immigrants with love, grace, and empathy. The current news is daunting, and I am not naive in thinking that immigration today is “a bowl full of cherries.” However, when visiting places in the United State like Houston, where cultural diversity exists and in many ways thrives, I feel a tiny bit of recoil to the angst I often experience when thinking of the boundless hardships that current immigrants encounter in the “land of the free.” Her Right Foot expresses the powerful message of acceptance that our statue proudly stands for, and as Entertainment Weekly so perfectly stated, “a friendly reminder of how America can be at its best.”
Her Right Foot tells the story of how the Statue of Liberty came to be one of the most famous landmarks in the United States and shares an array of fun historical facts of her creation. In addition, Eggers zooms in on Lady Liberty’s right foot, that is in constant motion, alluding to the idea that she is always moving, always acting, never stagnant in her plight to protect our values of equality, freedom and diversity.
What I love:
- Her Right Foot is a story that children of all ages will delight in, and that adults will treasure.
- Her Right Foot reminds us of the origins of the United States, a country rooted in the journey of immigrants.
- Harris’ illustrations, made with cut paper and ink, are playful and vibrant.
Themes: immigration, freedom, acceptance
- Why do you think people for different countries might immigrate to the United States?
- What is freedom? Why is freedom important?
- Would you like to visit the Statue of Liberty? Why or why not?
- The Statue of Liberty is a symbol (an image that represents and idea or concept) of liberty and freedom. Design your own symbol of liberty. How would you represent liberty in an immense statue?
- Harris uses paper and ink to create his illustrations of the Statue of Liberty. Experiment with collage (cutting and gluing paper scraps together) to create your own version of the Statue of Liberty.
- Investigate why the Statue of Liberty is green. The statue was originally a dull brown when it was inaugurated in 1886. What happened? You will find an explanation here and can even conduct your own experiment to see how the statue slowly changed from brown to green.