Guest Post by Linda Boyden
Too often, history is written by the victors. Nowhere is this truer than in regards to the histories of the indigenous people of America, but Joseph Marshall III’s new middle grade novel, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, offers a different perspective.
An enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota tribal nation, Marshall retells the life of one of the most heroic men in Lakota history, Tasunke Witko, known in English as Crazy Horse.
Set in present day on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, the book centers on eleven year old Jimmy McClean and his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, a Viet Nam War veteran and an elder who also follows the traditional ways of his Lakota ancestors.
Jimmy is having a tough time of it at school. His mother is Lakota and his dad is Lakota but also Caucasian. Both parents have rich brown skin and dark hair like most of the other people on the reservation, but Jimmy was born with blue eyes and light brown hair.
Older kids bully him, telling him, “Who ever heard of a Lakota with blue eyes and a name like McClean?” Jimmy doesn’t take it lying down; he yells back at them in Lakota, which infuriates the bullies because they can’t speak their own language. His mom comforts him by explaining it’s because his three parts Lakota are on the inside while his one part white is on the outside. Regardless, the constant teasing takes a toll on Jimmy.
Grandpa Nyles tells Jimmy he knows how to settle the issue once and for all. Jimmy expects Grandpa will beat up the bullies, but Grandpa has another suggestion: if we cannot change those boys, what if Jimmy changes his attitude? They walk to a nearby creek, talking about the Lakota hero, Crazy Horse.
Though Crazy Horse played a big part in western history, no photographs were ever taken of him, so no one knows exactly what he looked like. However, Grandpa tells Jimmy about his great-great grandfather, born in 1860, who as a teen saw Crazy Horse and described him as having light hair and light skin, very much like Jimmy. In fact when Crazy Horse was Jimmy’s age his name was Light Hair. Even better, Grandpa suggests they spend summer break traveling and following Crazy Horse’s footsteps.
Marshall’s story blends present time with the past, taking readers on a journey that meanders like a river. Using his knowledge of Lakota history and tribal stories, Grandpa presents both Crazy Horse’s and the cavalry or Long Knives’ points of view fairly. They travel through Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana and back again, literally following Crazy Horse’s biography across the land he loved and called home.
This book is a wonderful way for young readers to learn about history, making dry facts come alive with simple phrasing. It explores themes of courage and what makes a hero: are heroes the ones who win battles or do heroes sometimes need to do what is best for their people? In the Footsteps of Crazy presents the truth of such battles as The Battle of the Hundred in the Hands (or the Fetterman Massacre) and The Battle of the Little Big Horn without glorifying either the soldiers or the Lakota. Further, it will make a strong addition to any classroom library because it includes both a detailed map of their travels and a comprehensive Glossary of unfamiliar vocabulary as well as Lakota words.
Bio: Author/illustrator, Linda Boyden has written six and illustrated five picture books, “The Blue Roses,” (2002), “Powwow’s Coming,” (2007), “Giveaways: An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas” (2010), “Boy and Poi Poi Puppy,”(2013), “Roxy Reindeer,” (2014), and “Boy and Poi Poi Puppy in Doggone!” (Spring, 2016) . She has had many poems published in literary journals. She belongs to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and Writers Forum of Redding CA.
“I write. I teach. I color in or outside the lines. I spoil kids and grandkids. 2016 is my fifth year of writing a poem a day. Poetry gives voice to our silent songs.” Visit http://www.lindaboyden.com