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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

PUBLICATION DATE: October 7, 1986 (first published 1952)
FORMAT: Paperback, 256 pages
GENRE: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Juvenile Fiction
ISBN: 9780140321708
Jim Keath has lived for six years as a Crow Indian when he learns that his two younger brothers and a sister are journeying west to take up land. Although Jim finds it difficult to fit in with the family he hasn't seen since childhood, and though they are wary and distrustful of him, Jim feels his duty is at their side. But slowly, as they survive the dangerous trek west, the perils of frontier life, and the kidnapping of their younger brother, Jim and his family realize that the only way to survive is to accept each other and truly reunite the family.


I read this book aloud to my children. It won the 1953 Newbery Honor and 1963 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

When Jim Keath was young, he looked up to his Uncle Adam who was a trapper. At the age of 11 years, Jim left his family to live in the Oregon wilderness with his uncle. After a grizzly attacked him, he was found by natives from a nearby Crow village.  They nursed him back to health, and Jim stayed with them. He felt that he was more "Indian" in his ways than "white," and he was comfortable living with the Crow people.

Many years later, Jim receives a message from his brother, Jonnie, telling him that his parents are dead and that he is going with their brother and sister to Willamette Valley to claim some land. However, since none of them are of legal age, they need Jim to claim the land for them after they get there. Jim feels compelled to help his siblings, and he catches up with them. They are shocked when they see Jim after all these years. He doesn't even look like them anymore. With his long braids, coup feather, and moccasins, they never would have recognized him. His brother, Jonnie, who he was once very close to, is a little taken aback but happy to see him. His sister, Sally, on the other hand feels a lot of anger and hostility towards the brother who abandoned his family. She says he looks more "Injun" than white and does not approve. Only his little brother, Daniel, thinks Jim looks cool and begs Jim to teach him how to be an "Injun."

After Jim claims the land for his siblings so that they can start their new lives, he plans to leave but they ask him to stay with them. Jim helps Jonnie build a cabin and clear the land for crops, and Jim cannot help but feel sad that the landscape is changing which will drive the wildlife away. He longs to be back in the wilderness, but he tries to fit in. After the fall harvest, he decides to go back to the wilderness with his trapper friend, Tom Rivers. Unbeknownst to Jim, little Daniel is heartbroken and runs away to go be like an Indian just like Jim.

While Jim is away, he sees pioneer wagons travelling through the mountains and realizes that the land is changing and that he cannot run away from it. He realizes that he has made a mistake in leaving his family and turns to head back. When he reaches home, Sally is distraught over Daniel's disappearance and blames Jim. It is up to Jim to find his little brother, and he risks his life to rescue Daniel from the Umpquas tribe that is camping nearby. They are known for taking slaves, and he finds Daniel trussed up and crying. After returning Daniel home, he thinks that his family would be better off without him because Daniel never would have run away to join the Indians had it not been for him. He plans to leave his family again, but Jonnie tells him that he better not leave this time without saying good-bye to Daniel.

When Jim tells Daniel that he is leaving, Daniel begs to go with him and says he wants to be just like his big brother. In desperation, Jim hacks off his braids and throws down his coup feather and tells Daniel to go ahead and be like him and that he won't act like a Crow any longer. After a long talk with Jonnie, Jim realizes that he doesn't have to forget his Crow ways to fit in with his family. The Crow saved his life, and Jim shouldn't forget that. They taught him how to survive in the wilderness, to be brave and fast. Jonnie said that he is grateful for that.

Jim's internal struggle was heartbreaking. He felt that it had to be all or nothing, that he either had to live like a Crow or give up the Crow ways. It seemed that he wasn't happy with any of the decisions that he made. He clearly missed his family and longed to feel accepted by them. He was afraid that Daniel would make the same mistakes as he did, and it wasn't until that moment that was willing to give up all his wild ways. It was touching that he was willing to give up something that he felt so strongly about for his brother, Daniel. Jonnie was touched, too, and I was happy that he told Jim that he didn't want him to forget his Crow upbringing. It was a satisfying ending.

This book makes a great read-aloud and is a good addition to your American History studies. My children and I really enjoyed it!

4 stars! It was really good! You should put it on your "To Be Read" list.

This book qualifies as: 

1 comment:

  1. Darlene, this sounds like a great read - a page turner! I need to catch up on many of the early Newbery winners and honor books. Thanks for this review.


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