Prepare yourself for a rambling post.
All ready? Okay.
We’re slowly working our way through our Great American History Expedition Checklist. Not many done so far, but two that seemed appropriate for while we’re doing pre-Columbian America and the dawn of the 16th century were the National Museum of the American Indian and the exhibit about the “discovery” of the Americas at the Library of Congress. We’ve done them both for fun before, but this time it was school related. Yeah, it’s not that different, but still.
There are a lot of things to recommend the American Indian museum. Architecturally, it’s pretty awesome. The collection is fascinating. While we were there, we saw tons of interesting artifacts – both things we haven’t gotten to yet in our studies and things we have like Clovis points and Mayan sculpture. We went through the “Our Universes” exhibit, which highlights some different tribes (including the Maya and the Inka, which was useful for us studying those two cultures) and focuses on traditions and storytelling. The problem is that everything is such a mishmash. I feel it every time I’m there. I understand the benefits of seeing a whole bunch of animal sculptures in a single case so you can do cross cultural explorations. And I get that they were trying to make a unified political statement about the value of indigenous American cultures across the board. But when you can’t find out what culture or geographic region anything is from because there’s a total lack of signage and the computer touch screens that are supposed to stand in for signs are complete junk, then you’ve really over homogenized a diverse array of peoples and robbed us of our ability to get any sense of the scope of history and geography as visitors.
Luckily, while the scope was very different, the small exhibit at the Library of Congress was excellent. They had a larger number of indigenous artifacts than I expected along with European documentary records about the initial clash between the two worlds. Things were arranged in a logical progression. Plus, there were cool old maps at the end. I’m a sucker for old maps. Also, their touch screens not only work, but provide real information I wanted to know about. The whole thing reinforced for me how utterly frustrating I find the American Indian museum. Plus, it’s architecturally interesting too. There’s the kids fascinated by the floor on our last visit.
After we finished the exhibit, BalletBoy begged me to go down to the Young Readers Room. This is a seemingly secret basement children’s library inside the Library of Congress where they keep lots of current children’s literature that has been stamped “extra copy” and looks about as beat up as at most regular libraries. Maybe if you’re a senator, you can take your grandkids there and check out books for them? But for the rest of us plebs, it’s for looking only. It’s a bright, happy space with room for programming, lots of comfy chairs, tables of coloring pages, and a pretty adorable little puppet theater you can play with. They have a few interesting things, like an entire copy of a Harry Potter book in Braille (it takes up a whole shelf!) and, most tantalizingly, a whole table of ARCs and galleys.
I must say, when I saw the selection of ARC’s, I wished quite fervently that I were the sort of book blogger who might receive ARC’s occasionally. Alas, I am not. But there was a new Grace Lin, a new Catherine Gilbert Murdock fantasy, a Daniel Handler YA, and a Katherine Paterson novel called The Flint Heart that which looked downright delightful. I read the first few pages of that one and I suspect it will make a great read aloud when it comes out.
Most excitingly, though, one of the books BalletBoy has been bugging me about literally every week was there! The next Squish book by Jennifer Holm doesn’t come out for another month, but there on the table, I found an ARC for him! He sat and read the entire first half of the book, but wanted to save the rest for when he can have it for real. If they’d had an ARC of the next Amulet book, I suspect he wouldn’t have been able to be pulled away.
As we left, the kids picked up posters for the National Book Festival in a few weeks. If you’re local and don’t know this event, it’s really a treat. In our most memorable year, we had the pleasure of seeing (nearly back to back), Holly Black and Tony Diterlzzi, Mo Willems, Steven Kellogg, Megan MacDonald, and Jon Scieszka and David Shannon. It was just as amazing as it sounds. You know you’re jealous. Here’s the lineup for this year. They’ve added an extra day and a “storytelling stage” which includes a lot of great authors too. Sorry soccer practice, but we’re totally there – books over brawn. The weekend of September 24-25.
In my final bit of ramble, after we left the Library of Congress, (and bought BalletBoy’s new ballet shoes since we were on the Hill anyway), we went over to the brand new Yards Park next to the Nats stadium. I’ve been meaning to go for awhile, but it kept not happening. We’ve not been at a lot of baseball this season. Well, I must say, it’s completely and utterly awesome. If you’re local you must go. I command it! Mushroom, BalletBoy and I played a slightly epic game of Hide and Seek there. But that’s not a commandment, just a recommendation.