I have been seeing more and more books by and/or about American Indians, so here is a sampling that might help young readers celebrate November...
I have been seeing more and more books by and/or about American Indians, so here is a sampling that might help young readers celebrate November as Native American Heritage Month.
The picture book “Ancient Thunder” by Leo Yerxa (Groundwood, 32 pp., $18.95, ages 3-5) is a visual treat. The artist uses a mix of watercolor and gouache to create the effect of leather in his collages that celebrate a whimsical herd of horses frolicking through a native landscape. Young children are sure to find these pages compelling.
In “My Name is Sally Little Song” by Brenda Woods (Putnam, 183 pp., $15.99, ages 9-up), an African-American girl takes the lead role. During the days of slavery, Sally’s family bravely attempts to escape a Georgia plantation by running off to one of Florida’s vast swamps, where the Seminoles live. The story is based on a fascinating chapter in America’s history, a time when the Seminole Indians helped many runaway slaves begin new lives in Florida. Some of these former slaves were even adopted into their tribe, and this was considered a great honor.
“Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond” by Joseph Medicine Crow (National Geographic, 128 pp., $15.95, ages 9-up) is the fascinating memoir of a Crow elder, once known as Winter Man and later hailed as High Bird. Writing in a warm, conversational style, Medicine Crow shares his memories of growing up as both a Baptist and a believer in the traditional Crow religion.
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As a young boy, Medicine Crow felt very much at home in his Crow culture (he actually heard firsthand accounts of the Battle of Little Big Horn). Eventually, his family sent him to school, only to be disappointed by his lack of progress under an overly strict teacher. In a second school — one that catered to white children — he dealt with racist peers.
In time, he willingly left the reservation to finish his education in an Indian boarding school in Oklahoma. Some years later, he received a degree from Linfield College. He also served in World War II, inadvertently managing to perform the four war deeds necessary to become a Crow chief. It would be an understatement to say the tribe had plenty to celebrate when he finally returned home.
“Jim Thorpe: Original All-American” by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 277 pp., $16.99, ages 9-up) portrays a truly amazing athlete, excelling in football, track and baseball. Not only did Thorpe earn two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics (for the pentathlon and the decathlon), he also played professional football and professional baseball.
Thorpe’s story cannot be told without also delving into the story of the Carlisle Indian School, as Bruchac does here. Carlisle, which Thorpe attended, had an amazing athletic program, and its football team was truly astounding.
Bruchac chose to present this biography in Thorpe’s own voice — a risky choice. Fortunately, the risk pays off, bringing Thorpe’s career to life while also getting in plenty of hard facts.
Joe Smelcer is a writer to keep an eye on. “The Trap” (Holt, 170 pp., $15.95, ages 11-up) already gives Gary Paulsen — author of “Hatchet” — some stiff competition. Smelcer’s style is lovely, celebrating the natural world at every turn. And as the story unravels, he pulls at an elastic line of suspense until it explodes into a fine denouement.
One Alaskan winter day, Albert Least-Weasel is out checking his traps when he accidentally steps on one — and finds himself in the predicament of his prey. Though his boots prevent the teeth from puncturing his leg, he is unable to release the trap. Unfortunately, no one really expects him to return home for a few days.
Back in the village, Albert’s grandson Johnny is doing his best to live a good life in a community that is hurting. Johnny’s the one who eventually becomes determined to find his grandfather, especially after his grandmother begins to worry. Yet a Northern winter is nothing to toy with — something Johnny and Albert don’t need to be told.