Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk

Eleven year-old Jimmy McClean may be Lakota, but unlike the other Lakota boys who have darker coloring and black hair, he has inherited more than just a Scottish name from his dad's side of the family.  Not only does he not have a Lakota last name, but Jimmy also has light skin, blue eyes and light brown hair, traits that make him the target of two bullies at their school on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Corky Brin, a white boy and Jesse Little Horse, a Lakota boy, may not like each other much, but they are united in letting Jimmy know every chance they get that he  isn't a real Lakota because of his coloring.

Luckily, school is out for the summer and Jimmy will have a break from their relentless bullying.  And Jimmy's grandfather on his mother's side, Nyles High Eagle, has invited him along on a road trip that will allow them to journey in the footsteps of Crazy Horse, the Lakota hero and leader who lived in the 1800s and who, as Jimmy learns, was also teased as a boy because he had light coloring and brown hair.  In fact, Crazy Horse's name as a boy was Light Hair.

As the two journey through South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana, they are literally following in Crazy Horse's footsteps.  At each stop, Grandpa Nyles tells Jimmy how that area played an important part in the life of  Crazy Horse, carefully explaining what he did and why.  Slowly, Jimmy (and the reader) learn about how all these events made Crazy Horse the great leader that he became.

For Jimmy, and probably for most readers, learning about Crazy Horse and his heroic struggles to defend the Lakota people from the encroachment of white settlers, gold miners and the US Army is an eye-opening experience.  Most of us never really have the chance to see how these familiar and sometimes unfamiliar events played out from the Native American perspective.  We all know, for example, that General Custer and part of his battalion were defeated with no survivors at the Battle of Little Bighorn, but reading about how this battle was planned and executed and what the victory meant for Crazy Horse and the survival of the Plains Indians is a perspective that gives this battle a whole new meaning.

Making it all the more heartbreaking when Crazy Horse, who was such a great Lakota leader and warrior, is forced to surrender at Fort Robinson along with the people he led.  But his reasons for doing so may surprise readers.

And Jimmy?  For him, this is a journey of discovering what courage really means, of the importance family, culture and tradition in his life (as in all of our lives), and a bonding trip not just with his Grandpa Nyles, but with his whole Latkota heritage.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse is a well told, well researched work.  It switches between the present and the past as Grandpa Nyles relates the story of Crazy Horse's life, written in italics with the subtitle "The Way It Was"and in chronological order.  It is fascinating reading, though I sometimes wished it were more detailed, especially since Grandpa Nyles is such a wonderful storyteller.

Jimmy isn't really a fully developed character, more like a vehicle for the unfolding of Crazy Horse's life, but that's OK, he was developed as much as he needed to be to move the story forward, and enough for young readers to relate to.

The language is pretty straightforward, though some of the battle descriptions are rather vivid.  It is recommended for readers age 10 - 14 years old,  but I think the language is too young for them and more appropriate kids age 9-12, after all, Jimmy is only 11 and hearing the same things the readers is reading.

And, in fact, one of the things I really liked is the way Joseph Marshall doesn't gloss over the graphic details of some of the events Grandpa Nyles tells Jimmy about, but to his credit, he does tamps down the violence with some wise words about never glorifying war and to never forget what the Native American warriors did, but to remember the soldiers kindly as well (pg 73).  I should mention that Grandpa Nyles is a veteran and knows that nobody ever really wins when it comes to war.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the back of the book, and remember there is an extensive glossary there, too.  I read an ARC but I understand there is a map in the book for tracing the journey Jimmy and Grandpa Nyles took (much easier than reading with a road atlas like I did).

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse has come out just in time for Native American Heritage Month, but it is also a welcomed addition to the history of Native peoples, and a wonderful supplemental text to American history classes, as well as an excellent book for personal reading.

This book is recommended for readers (in my opinion) age 9+
This book was received at Bank Street Bookfest 2015


  1. Have to get a hold of this one...I did research on Crazy Horse for my Mount Rushmore book and would love this fictional account.....

  2. Sounds like a good book! I'll have to pick it up.

  3. This sounds great! I will definitely keep my eyes out for it.

  4. Great review. My daughter's 5th grade class did a section on Native American Culture. This would be a good book for the teacher to add to the reading list.

    I visited the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota when I was about 9. It was just under construction but an amazing site.

  5. Thank you for your in-depth review - I must get hold of this book! I think my son would enjoy it too. (Via #KLBH)


Imagination Designs