1955 Honor: The Courage of Sarah Noble

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh is a pleasantly surprising children’s book that emphasizes the positives of the newly budding relationship between white settlers and Native Americans in the early 1700s. Eight-year-old Sarah travels with her father into the Connecticut wilderness to help build a house. When her father leaves to get her mother and sister, Sarah musters up her courage and stays with the nearby Indians, waiting for her family to return.

This was a very simplistic and charming book based on the true story of the first settlers of the town of New Milford, Connecticut who were friendly with the Indians in their region. While this book is definitely targeted towards younger readers, Sarah is an admirable heroine for readers of all ages who braves the wilderness by herself and learns a completely new culture. Her adaptability in a foreign situation can get children thinking about how they would do in a different culture and makes for a heroine who also has to stick up for her newfound friends when her family doesn’t quite approve of them.

This novel’s simplicity is its greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness. There’s not much conflict, and the plot is pretty lacking despite having a strong main character. Despite this, The Courage of Sarah Noble could easily be a great discussion starter to get children interested in American history in colonial times. While it does have some stereotypical American Indian characters in supporting roles, it definitely beats other early year Newbery winners such as Daniel Boone and The Matchlock Gun in its portrayal of Indians as more than just savages, but this book lacks the subtlety and thematic weight of later Newbery Honor winner The Sign of the Beaver.

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1984 Honor: The Sign of the Beaver

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5

Elizabeth George Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver is a story of survival and friendship among two vastly different cultures. When his father leaves one day on family business, twelve-year-old Matt is suddenly left alone to guard their cabin in the wilderness with no weapons and having no way to hunt for food. With his father gone for longer than expected, Matt begins to develop a friendship with Attean, a boy from the local Beaver clan, and begins to learn about the Native American way of life in exchange for teaching Attean how to read.

The growing friendship between the two young boys lends this children’s book some gravitas that takes it beyond a simple survival tale. Despite coming from two completely different cultures, they bond over their enjoyment of a Robinson Crusoe book and their misconceptions of each other begin to be challenged.

The harshness of the settler lifestyle is intriguing to read about, as Matt is put into dangerous situations like trying to figure out if he can trust a stranger who wants to stay the night in his cabin or finding ways to deal with the constant fear of wild animals potentially getting into his food stores or attacking him.

The only really negative thing about the book was that I felt the Indian tribe was written in a very stereotypical way and may not be as historically accurate or nuanced as it could have been. Despite this, it was nice to see a Newbery Honor book paint Native American interactions with white settlers in a positive light, unlike The Matchlock Gun and Daniel Boone, as well as the author’s melancholic foreshadowing of the continual takeover of Indian land and how that affected Indian tribes. The ending highlights these ideas to great effect as it ends on a bittersweet note with Matt forced to choose one life over the other.

Overall, this is a decent survival story with characters that are easy to sympathize with. Young readers will be able to identify with Matt’s struggles while also introducing them to how settlers and Native Americans interacted and lived in the 18th century.

 

1995: Walk Two Moons (long roadtrips and crazy friends)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 4.5/5

In Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle takes a road trip with her eccentric grandparents to visit her mother before her birthday. During the drive, she tells them the story of Phoebe Winterbottom, her friend who received mysterious messages, who was stalked by a lunatic and whose mother disappeared. Part mystery, part romance and part coming of age tale, Walk Two Moons deftly weaves two parallel stories together and builds to an emotional, touching ending.

Salamanca is a fun, yet subdued protagonist. Her retelling of Phoebe’s adventures mirrors her own insecurities regarding her mother, who one day left and never returned. She tells Phoebe’s story as a way to address her abandonment issues and deal with her father’s new girlfriend. Her relationship with her grandparents is fun to watch, as they encompass all the quirky traits of the world’s best grandparents. Each character is enjoyable to read about, and it’s easy to imagine hanging out with the grandparents, Phoebe and Salamanca.

Walk Two Moons was an inspiring tale that explores a variety of familial issues – abandonment, long lost relatives, deceased family, and more. While many topics are covered, the story never gets too heavy; it’s told in a light and humorous way – especially the times when Salamanca talks about Phoebe’s over-the-top encounters with her stalker and her mother’s alleged kidnapping.

Keep this book around for a day when you want to step into someone else’s shoes and experience life from a different perspective. Walk Two Moons is both comforting and heartbreaking with a little bit of craziness to boot and is filled with memorable quotes.