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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

A Boy Named Beckoning

Absolutely excellent. A first-rate resource for teaching the use of sources in a bibliography and a biography of an important Native American activist. 

A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero adapted and illustrated by Gina Capaldi, Carolrhoda Books/Lerner, 2008, has become one of my very favorite biographies this year. 

Gina Capaldi frames this story around a five-page letter written by Dr. Montezuma to Professor H. W. Holmes of the Smithsonian Institute in 1905. But she doesn’t stop with one source, instead she interweaves twelve years of research to more fully present Dr. Montezuma’s life. In fact, she corrects an unintended error by Dr. Montezuma himself centering on his mistaken early belief that he was Apache instead of Yavapai.  

Capaldi provides incredibly interesting sidebars containing primary source material such as photographs of key people, a dwelling, and even one of his Pima captors. The abduction of Carlos Montezuma, known as Wassaja or "Beckoning" in his Yawapati language, includes a scene of despair where Wassaja sits sobbing while his captives begin a war dance. The original paintings by Capaldi capture the despair and frustration as dust-covered, featureless adults surround him threatening him with spears, war clubs, taunting, and spitting by women and children as well as the men. 

Soon he is offered for slavery as the Pima men drag him through town in an attempt to trade unsuccessfully for a horse. Instead, Wassaja is sold for thirty silver dollars and adopted by Carlo Gentile. A Boy Named Beckoning continues with Wassaja’s life through his travels, his learning how to make friends while delivering newspapers, and his education. 

Dr. Montezuma entered college at fourteen and graduated from the university by seventeen. He then spent five years becoming a doctor while working for living money. His story continues as he seeks to learn the answers of his family and begins working to help his people. 

His role as an activist is described more thoroughly in the additional information in the back. The bibliography includes a note on the use of sources by Capaldi as she reconstructs and chronicles his life. 

The simplicity with which this story is presented is disturbing to the reader or listener which is absolutely appropriate in my opinion. Learning the fate of Wassaja’s mother is wrenching, but the focus of this biography is not about the terrible things that happened. Instead it is a straight-forward telling of one Native American activist’s life and how he continued on despite the tragedies. 

SLJ and Booklist gave this starred reviews. It’s a Junior Library Guild selection and Rutgers gave it an excellent review. Book Links included it as a Best New Book for the Classroom. The author blogged about it on Tugeau 2 and created a temporary site at 

Still, the story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma haunted me, so I decided to contact the author.