Saturday, January 27, 2007

Moccasin Trail

Moccasin Trail is the story of 17-year-old Jim Keath. At a young age, he ran away from home to follow his trapper uncle into the wilderness. He was attacked by a grizzly and saved by a tribe of Crow Indians, who adopted him and raised him to become an Indian warrior.

At the opening of the story, he has left the tribe to wander and trap beaver on his own, but he realizes that the way of life of the trapper--and of the Indian--is coming to an end. Then he gets a message that his younger brothers and sister are on their way west. Their parents have died and they need his help.

He does help them, but is reluctant to give up his Indian ways, as they wish him to. Through a series of episodes, the reader is shown both the good that his Indian lifestyle has imparted to Jim and the contrasting good--which seems so foreign to Jim--of the indomitable pioneer spirit. The book sensitively and grippingly portrays the conflicts within Jim himself, and between him and his family, as he strives to settle the question of where he belongs.

When I was a kid, stories of the Old West were one of my favorite genres. Usually, the pioneers were portrayed as the bad white men, moving in and spoiling that whole romantic scene, or else they were all heroes, with the Indians playing opposite them as the bad guys. This novel was unusual, in that it portrayed the old west in its final throes of glory, while painting the pioneers with a grand and noble brush of their own. It juxtaposed the two cultures, not as a competition, but as the inevitable ending of one era and beginning of another. It also closely examined the prejudices on both sides and showed them as walls, separating the two; over the course of the novel, they crumbled through communication and knowledge.

I really enjoyed reading this book aloud to my 11 and 7 year old boys, and my 11 year old picked it as his favorite book of the year so far. (It is written just above his reading level; it would be perfect for middle school age and up to read alone.) It takes a sympathetic and detailed look at the Indian and pioneer cultures--excellent for an American History unit such as we're in the middle of. But I appreciated it as a great literature selection too. It won the Newberry Honor in 1952, but its themes of belonging and the need for racial and cultural understanding are timeless.

For more book reviews, see Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books!


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Elliott Broidy said...

This is a great read for children of all ages.