This post is a follow-up to my earlier analysis of Candace Fleming’s The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh. The book continues to receive accolades, and I continue to be profoundly disturbed by the way in which media coverage of this award front runner avoids the core of Lindbergh’s life and legacy. As I wrote earlier, I understand that coverage of a book is not the same as the book itself. I do have issues with the book itself, a young adult biography of one of the most notorious antisemites in modern American history. I am also beginning to find it more difficult to artificially separate those reservations from the way in which both Fleming’s publicity and critics of children’s books are presenting her work.
Early in December, School Library Journal published their “Best Books” list for 2020. (There are several categories on the list: picture books, chapter books, middle-grade books, young adult books, nonfiction, graphic novels. There are 112 books listed; one of the graphic novels features Jewish themes, although this fact is not noted in the description.) Although there are no books about Jewish history, the Lindbergh book is, predictably, recommended. The brief description reflects the same refusal to confront Lindbergh’s disgraceful legacy that I noted earlier. It is a “balanced biographical account,” of a man who led a “complicated life,” and had a “rather unusual childhood.” It would be difficult to argue that his life and his childhood were notably more complicated or unusual than those of many other Americans. Then we learn that he used “pro-Nazi and anti-immigrant rhetoric.” The bizarre exclusion of antisemitism is obvious. Lindbergh hated many people, but Jews were definitely at the top of the list. He also engaged in actions in support of Nazi Germany and immigration restriction which went well beyond “rhetoric.” This characterization of the Lindbergh’s life is grossly misleading.
Today I read the nominations for the American Library Association’s YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Nonfiction Award and, yes, the Lindbergh book is there again.
Lindbergh, according to the award committee, is a “deeply flawed hero.” Apparently, qualifying “hero” with “deeply flawed” is enough to justify the use of that term. I can only repeat the thought exercise of imagining a contemporary book about such non-heroic Americans as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Strom Thurmond, David Duke, and George Wallace which awarded them the title of “hero,” flawed or not. The YALSA description is one of the most disturbing which I have read. The hierarchy of attributes and events in Lindbergh’s life evokes sympathy for an odious antisemite and virtual traitor: “Celebrated aviator, dogged scientist, heartbroken father, Nazi sympathizer, unapologetic eugenicist…” Well, he was a celebrated aviator. No one can dispute that. He was not a scientist, “dogged” or otherwise. Lindbergh practiced only pseudoscience, a series of disgusting experiments without any value in order to “prove” the superiority of the Nordic “race.” Again, there is no mention here of the baseless hatred of the Jewish people who were already the target of vicious attacks in Germany, and would soon be almost completely exterminated in Europe.
I understand that Fleming’s book is poised to possible receive some prestigious awards. In spite of the useful and important information which it does contain, I find the uncritical reception of the book, and the obtuse attitude towards its subject, to be indicative of a refusal to engage with antisemitism. Perhaps if School Library Journal had included even one work of fiction or history about the people so hated by “Lucky Lindy,” the critics’ praise of this biography would be slightly less painful and less significant.