Middle School (9 - 14) Books

INDIANS OF THE NORTHEAST WOODLANDS, Beatrice Siegel Illustrations by William Sauts Bock; Walker and Company, New York; Thomas Allen and Son Ltd, Markham, Ont. Can. 1972, rv. ed 1992. 96 pages, paper, $6.95, Index, bibliography. 0-8027-7455-5. Also available in library binding.

This book invites comparison with Wolfson's Growing Up Indian from the same publisher. It is similarly structured, with a series of questions, and several pages of text to answer, a formula which may have been copied by Wolfson from the first edition of this book. This book does right everything Wolfson did wrong. By limiting herself to one cultural group, Algonquians and Iroquoians of the Northeast Woodlands, Siegel avoids a homogenization treatment. She begins with an environmental sketch, and thus places the Woodland culture in a context. Next, she answers (for white children) why "we" might want to know about "them". This is certainly an answer any writer of children's books of this type must first have answered for herself whether or not it's explicitly stated for readers:

"Native Americans had a way of life that is worth studying in itself. They were the first people on this land, and now, after centuries of struggle to survive, their traditions and beliefs are being recognized for the valuable lessons they hold for us all....Europeans used their knowledge, skills, and assistance to settle in a different world."

In its last 2 chapters, the book explains what happened to these tribes, and explains that there are Indians in New England today, who have won several large land-thefts compensation lawsuits, and gotten some land and money, and started enterprises such as the Pequot casino, factories, and others. "Indian writers, artists, scholars have burst upon the world with important works," which Sigel does appear to have read, a couple of which are listed in a suggested reading list. A chapter called "Places to Visit" mentions some tribal cultural arts centers, as well as a few standard museums. The author thanks a Narragansett tribal historian for her help. The author knows there were many languages even in the relatively small area, as well as intercommunication among Algonquian language group tribes. She provides a little vocabulary listing of a few simple Algonquian - Narragansett words, and definitions of a few New England place names, and the (Indian) names of a few sachems (leaders) of the 17th century. What is more to the point, a spirit of respect for the people -- their culture, their lifestyles, their achievements -- is perceptible in Siegel, and its opposite breathes through Wolfson's very similar writing. Siegel is a good workaday writer, whose prose, though not fancy, is not wooden. Siegel talks directly to her young readers with respect, too, Wolfson's prose has the objectionable talk-down baby-talk aspects of the adult who cannot actually relate to children. In short, Siegel's book can be recommended although I am not highly enthusiastic about books of this general type. Regrettably, Bock's illustrations are not attractive (all are black-and-wite pen sketches, Bock has problems with perspective and with proportions of human bodies, and his stippling technique is often out of control giving odd spotty effects). There are many passages that should have been illustrated. For example, the full-page Indian canoeing is all right, but how birchbark canoes were made is best shown in a series of process illustrations. The interior of a longhouse, the exterior layouts of the villages (old engravings do well for this), tools clothing and ornaments. There should have been 2 area maps also, original tribal ranges, and current tribally-claimed lands and reservations. Since this book has been simultaneously published in Canada, for its next edition, the author should learn something of the Canadian histories of associatd tribes, including present-day situations of Micmac, Innu, Malecite members of the Algonquian language group she has focused on. All "present day" updated history is exclusively U.S. Reviewed by Paula Giese.

File: mi231

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Thursday, April 11, 1996 - 3:53:11 AM