This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
This is a short (~40pps) young children's illustrated book depicting the role played by a slave named York during the May, 1804 through September, 1806 expedition of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark. While the expedition is well-known, the contributions made by the Lemhi Shoshone woman known as Sacajawea (meaning 'bird woman'), and by Clark's personal slave, known as York, are less well publicized.
Sacajawea's contribution to the success of the expedition is no less valuable than York's so it's a pity she gets such short shrift in this story, especially since she did it while pregnant, giving birth, and successfully raising the infant during the trip! On the other hand, it is about York so it's understandable that he's center stage.
Very little is known about York, about what he did on the expedition, or about what became of him afterwards, and there are differing stories on this. It would appear that he was treated differently during the expedition than he was before or after it, when Clark seemed to revert to treating him exactly like a slave, whereas during the trip he was treated more like an expedition member than anything else. The fact is though, that while we know he was on the expedition and obviously contributed to the effort, and while he was rewarded by having a couple of places named after him (one of which was later renamed after someone else!) we know nothing about the day-to-day inner life of this man.
We do know that Sacajawea and York made history by being (as far as is known) the first woman and the first black man ever to vote in the USA! Again, not that Sacajawea is mentioned as voting in this story, only York. This wasn't a vote for political office, merely a vote on where to build a winter fort, but nonetheless, these two were included - again confirming that they were treated as full members of the expedition rather than anything else.
That aside though, everything in this story is necessarily conjecture. We don't know exactly what happened or exactly how relationships were, or what either York or Sacajawea felt or thought. They were never asked to contribute in that regard, so the book is really more about the trip than it is about York. It's a story that needs to be told, but I cannot support a story that seeks to raise up one people by downgrading another.
People do need to understand that African Americans, American Indians, and many other minority groups were involved in important events in USA from before the start, throughout history, and continue to be so nowadays, and this book could have been an important contribution to that. The story is simple and easy to follow, and the artwork by Alleanna Harris is excellent, but I cannot condone a book which, under the guise of seeking to set right the appalling wrongs of slavery and racism, ends up devaluing half the population - that is the female half.
I have to say that the unsupported assertion wherein York vows to protect Sacajawea in recognition of their supposedly common bond in slavery of one sort or another was disingenuous. Sacajawea was in no need to of anyone's protection. She was as tough as they come, and for York to be depicted as patronizing her by vowing to protect her (and then never even so much as mentioning it again) devalues both people and treats Sacajawea just as much as a possession as the very thing York was supposedly railing against: the fact that Sacajawea was bought by her 'husband' Charbonneau. I thought that this was disgraceful and inappropriate and for this reason I cannot commend this book.