Today’s Oddity Odyssey selection I am submitting in the categories of Odd Title and Odd Subject Matter. In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall and illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk is an absorbing journey into the history of the Lakota people – an indigenous tribe of North America – and their struggle to prevail and maintain their traditional lands and culture in the face of advancing white folk. The oddness in the title is the “Crazy” part – which is a synonym for “odd ” – and the oddness of the subject matter relates to the fact that I have never read a book so focused on North American First Nations people. Thanks to Abrams Kids, the book’s publisher, from whom I snagged a review copy through Netgalley, for the opportunity to extend my knowledge in this subject area.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge for 2015, feel free to click on the challenge button at the top of this post. There’s still time to join in!
But back to the book. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you would not guess it by his name: his father is a white man and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” Joseph Marshall provides readers with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.
If you know any middle grade boys who are ripe for an action-packed, rite-of-passage adventure with a difference then this is a book you definitely want to get into their hands. While I by no means wish to deter young ladies from reading this book, it has a definite male skew and has many aspects, including riding, fighting and learning from older mentors that will especially appeal to young boys.
The story begins with young Jimmy discussing with his grandfather the ways in which some boys at his school try to make him feel different. Jimmy’s grandfather, a proud Lakota man, takes it upon himself to teach Jimmy some of his history and culture, and point out that one of the Lakota’s most famous warriors, Crazy Horse, also found life as a young man less than smooth sailing. The tale alternates between conversations and interactions between Jimmy and his grandfather in the present day as they travel to sites of historical significance for the Lakota people, and a narrative following the snippets of the life of Crazy Horse, as he grows from a lad of about Jimmy’s age, to a man and a leader of his people in a time of upheaval.
While not being from North America, or having much knowledge of the First Nations people of that area of the world – outside that dubiously provided by watching Dances With Wolves and the like – many of the situations in which Crazy Horse and his loved ones found themselves felt eerily similar to the historical incidences of genocide, oppression and discrimination levelled against Australia’s own indigenous people since the arrival of European settlers. I imagine the stories of many First Nations groups across the world share themes of destruction of culture and loss of land, accompanied by an inexplicable astonishment from the oppressing forces as to the audacity of various indigenous populations in fighting against impending death and displacement. This book will no doubt open up important discussions for North American readers, but could also be used in Australian schools and families as an oblique way to introduce our own history of indigenous oppression, which remains a contentious topic for many.
In terms of the narrative, the writing felt a little didactic to me as an adult reader at times, but overall I found this to be a highly accessible story that addresses issues such as finding one’s identity, the social impact of civil conflict, and coping with difference. It’s also a reasonably quick read with plenty of action and this is aided by the switching between present and past. I’d highly recommend this as a class read-aloud to engage reluctant male readers in discussions about history, identity and ethics.
Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Total: 15/16
Until next time,