Monday, May 30, 2016

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

I picked up In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall on the recommendation of several people in the kidlit community who insisted it needed more attention due to its being a much needed portrayal of Native/First Nations people. Now I have read it and I agree whole heartedly.

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy despite his last name and lighter coloring (both due to his paternal grandfather). He is bullied at school for not being white and also for not being "enough" Lakota. Over his summer vacation, his grandfather takes him on a special road trip. Together they retrace the steps in the life of the famous Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. Through this journey Jimmy learns more about the past of his people and about himself.

In all honesty, the parts with Jimmy and his grandfather are not shining examples of excellent characterization and dialogue. However their part is just the frame for the bigger story. The main point of the book is to tell the story of Crazy Horse and life on the plains for Natives from a Native perspective. Marshall (a Lakota himself) uses Lakota storytelling traditions to tell of the journeys and life of Crazy Horse. Through these stories we see life on the plains from the perspective of the Natives. We also get to see the atrocities visited on the Natives by the US Army through the eyes of the people who suffered them. This book is incredibly important. It places Natives as a people who still exist very much in the present in their natural construct while also giving an insight into the past we rarely get. History is written by those who win after all. THERE ARE NO OTHER MG BOOKS THAT DO THESE THINGS. (Tim Tingle's excellent How I Became a Ghost deals with history, but I can think of no other that presents modern Natives to children.) That we have a book about Native people told by a Native is incredibly important.

The pacing of this story is quick and it is a short read. It is written at such a level that it would be easily accessible for the majority of elementary students studying US History. In addition there are details of exactly where Jimmy and his grandfather are going and how they are getting there. As I was reading, I was forming plans in my head for a historical road trip with this book when my son gets to this point in his history studies.

Despite some choppy writing here and there, I firmly believe this is book that needs to be in every elementary library and public library. Next step is getting publishers to publish more of a variety of books like this. It should not be the only one. We need books, both contemporary and historical, that cover all tribes and places.


Alex Baugh said...

I also found the writing a little choppy, but feel the same way - that it is an important book for kids to read. You might want to look at the book Sitting Bull by S.D. Nelson, also a middle grade work that is incredibly informative and an nice companion to Crazy Horse's story.

Brandy said...

Thanks so much for the recommendation! I'll check that out.