Read this book!
In four Sonlight homeschooling curriculum Cores, there have been only two books we didn’t like. More often are books we adore. Or, maybe it’s just books I adore! 😉 Not really. My boys re-read and re-read and re-read them.
I have a friend who especially appreciates literature for children, and any time we read a book that is particularly excellent, I think, “Oooh, Kathy would like this!” I managed to get a credit at Borders recently and I spent it on books for Kathy! 😀 In fact, I have one sitting on my shelf that I have not yet given to her, and though it was a wonderful book, I’m wishing I’d purchased this one, instead. It’s taking a lot of effort to NOT buy yet another book for her. So, Kathy, please get Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. What an amazing book, especially as a read-aloud. I love books that have accents or jargon written phonetically; it adds so much to the experience when reading it out loud.
The whole book was fascinating, beautifully — almost poetically, very descriptively — written, with patient (though certainly not boring!) character development. The ending is so amazing, so perfect. It is a Newbery Honor book that wouldn’t be given the award today, because of the nature of how Native Americans are depicted, and because of the central theme of Psalm 23, which is a vital plot point. Although Psalm 23 is lovely, it never held quite so much significance to me until reading it, whole, near the very end of the book. I absolutely wept.
A few reviews have suggested that Moccasin Trail is a racist book. I, instead, think that it’s a thoughtful examination of cultures at the time of the setting — Oregon in the 1850s. In fact, for the time in which it was written, 1952, I think it was very sensitively written. It is true that, in the book, not all Native Americans are painted in a glowing light, but neither are all the whites’ actions and attitudes. Instead, the author shows both the strengths and weaknesses of both cultures; characters steeped in each culture learned, eventually, to highly value the benefits of the culture unfamiliar to them, white for Native American, and Native American for white.
The book also has quite a tender handling of nature that surprised me. Books written in the mid-20th century were all about “progress.” This book makes a case that there is a time and place for progress, and a time and place for the wildness of nature, describing the inundation of the Willamette Valley via “bourgeways” from the Oregon Trail with more than a little poignancy.
Also, I kept re-checking the author’s name. With vivid — sometimes almost lurid — detail, she describes adventuresome events that have mostly been the realm of male authors. It’s rather akin to when I read Alexander McCall Smith books, and think, “How does he know the inner workings of women’s minds SO WELL???” Well, here, it’s, “How does the she understand the mind and experiences of a near-wild 19 year old young man SO WELL??”
All in all, an absolutely worthwhile read.