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Ghost Hawk

At last!  It’s time to talk about GHOST HAWK, arguably Susan Cooper’s best book since The Dark Is Rising Sequence.  (I say arguably because I think the other book you can make a case for is KING OF SHADOWS.)  That’s not really part of the Newbery criteria, however, but the book does well in that department, too.  As far as middle grade novels go, I favor THE THING ABOUT LUCK and THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP, but GHOST HAWK would easily sit in that third place spot for me, and here’s why.

The surprising plot twist at the end of part one is arguably the best of the year, perhaps surpassed only by the flip-flop twist of THE REAL BOY.  Moreover, the switch from first person narration to first person omniscient narration helps segue the story from the wilderness survival adventure of the first part to the epic historical fiction of the second part.  The story seems to grow in both scope and ambition, as Cooper starts on a singular viewpoint and gradually zooms out until she’s captured the nation’s viewpoint, or at least a synthesis of viewpoints.

Setting is distinguished in many of our top contenders this year, including (but not limited to) NAVIGATING EARLY, P.S. BE ELEVEN, THE THING ABOUT LUCK, and THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP.  What sets this one apart for me is the depth and breadth of the world that Cooper has built from vivid descriptions of the physical setting to the evolving social fabric of colonial society.  Again, she does this gradually and skillfully.

Finally, I also find the themes of this book to be in the category of most distinguished.  Cooper’s narrative is bookended by a pair of contrasting epigraphs in front (by Roger Williams and Woody Guthrie) and a timeline in back, both showing how wave after wave of encroaching settlers altered the physical and human landscape of this country.  Cooper’s story, however, is written from Little Hawk’s perspective, a choice that engenders empathy for the disappearing indigenous people and their culture.  Even when the focus of the story shifts to the second protagonist, this is always in the back of our minds.

In conclusion, I find GHOST HAWK distinguished in all elements pertinent to it, and when it comes to plot, setting, and theme, I find it rises to the level of most distinguished.  When Nina asked what we wanted in a Newbery winner, my response was that I wanted to feel like I was in the hands of a master storyteller, someone who has complete mastery over her story–and I certainly feel that way here.


Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. Hi Jonathan,

    As some people know, I blogged Part One of Cooper’s ( story in early June. The technique I used in that post is one that is very popular with my readers. They want to know about the process I go through as I read and analyze a book about American Indians. Some people feel strongly that doing that is unfair, particularly because I haven’t yet provided answers to concerns and questions I raised in that post. I have similar notes for posts about Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four and intended to write them up and post them, too, inserting answers to my questions/concerns as I conducted research necessary to answer my questions.

    When I read the Author’s Note, however, I decided to write and post my overall thoughts on the book ( because I don’t think the answers to my questions/concerns will change my primary concerns with the book. In a nutshell: we have an author using seventeenth century sources to imagine the life of a Native character, and then (presumably) using those same sources to imagine the after-life of that Native character. I see no evidence that she consulted any sources that counter the bias and misinformation in the ways that American Indians are portrayed in those seventeenth century sources. In the Author’s Note, she sends us to two websites, but the first one is sketchy and further adds to my concerns that she did not read any of the critical writing by scholars who counter bias and misinformation in materials about American Indians. As such, she’s doing a whole lot of imagining. She imagines the life of living/breathing Native people, and then she takes a huge leap and imagines how that tribe has laid out its spirituality. Given its glowing reviews, what she does works for most people, and that’s troubling. Shouldn’t we be past that kind of imagining that romanticizes American Indians?

    A second concern is that in her story, her fictional main character, John Wakely, saves the life of Metacom/King Philip. According to the entry in Hoxie’s ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS, he “personified native resistance to colonial power in southern New England in the seventeenth century” (p. 373). John is so adored by the Indians, that they hold their children up high so they can get a glimpse of him. In a way, this is the John Smith/Pocahontas story all over again. But again–shouldn’t we be past themes in which whites save the day?

    Obviously, I disagree that the writing is skillful and the themes distinguished. Cooper’s story, as Jonathan says, “engenders empathy for the disappearing indigenous people and their culture.” His use of “disappearing indigenous people” is telling, I think, because that is exactly what I’m talking about. As a society, most Americans want to love a certain kind of indigenous person and story about indigenous people. It is a superficial love for something imagined. Unfortunately, the kind they love is the kind that was mistreated but then disappeared.

    Where’s the love of modern day American Indians critical of that superficial love?

    It was/is a bit unnerving to read the comments to Jonathan’s earlier post (“October Nominations”), in which commenters discourage others from reading what I said in my post about Ghost Hawk.

    I’m not hoping for people to love what I or any Indigenous people say. What we all need is a different perspective of Native/White relationships, past and present. What we need is a citizenry that can see and reject stereotypes of who American Indians are, and a citizenry that wants accurate, not romantic, stories about who we are. Heralding books like GHOST HAWK or SALT will keep us stuck in that same old place of honoring Indians, and that kind of honoring is superficial and not helpful to anyone.

    • Debbie, if you read what I said more closely, you will see that what I was objecting to was the “I haven’t read the book, but…” comments. That’s such an anti-productive element to introduce into any book discussion or evaluation situation, particularly on a blog that’s supposed to be modeling a Newbery committee’s discussions. I wasn’t discouraging people from reading your blog. Please. It’s a free country. I was discouraging readers from reading your blog and making up their minds about Ghost Hawk BEFORE they’ve read the book.

      That’s just on principle.

      About your Ghost Hawk post specifically: first of all, please know that I find your presence in the children’s book world enormously valuable. Yours is a voice that needs to be heard, and heard more often. Like Jonathan, however, I didn’t find your blog post on Ghost Hawk illuminating, because it was all instant reaction and no thoughtful reflection. I felt like you were simply red-flagging every line where Cooper might have deviated from your ideal telling. If that’s what you see as your job, all well and good…but I am a firm believer in the idea that each book teaches its reader how to read it. I think you tend to approach books the other way around–at least, that’s how it seemed (to me) that you approached Ghost Hawk.

      By the way, count me as one of the people who think King of Shadows is Susan Cooper’s best book ever!

      • Sara Ralph says:

        Martha – I disagree that posting the link to Debbie Reese’s blog was “anti-productive.” As a children’s librarian of 10 years experience, I often read what other people say about a children’s book, both in professional reviews and children’s literature blogs, before reading/selecting it Not sure what your profession is, but this is pretty much a standard practice in library science. Some readers prefer to read books without exploring the thoughts of others. I think this post, Debbie’s posts and other professional reviews on Ghost Hawk will enhance my reading experience. I certainly do not advocate reading one source’s opinion of a book and then not reading it.

      • Hi Sara. I am very happy that you read reviews in professional journals and blogs before ordering books for your library. Long live reviews! My objection pertains only to book discussion and to the kind of public evaluation a book receives on a forum like Heavy Medal. Like you, I’ve worked in this profession for a long time, and I have been in too many committee meetings and book discussions where something like this happens: One person says something negative but unsubstantiated about a book, another person says they don’t like books that feature that negative characteristic, a third person says in that case they are sure they won’t like the book under discussion — and the next thing you know, the book is DONE. It’s been judged and rejected based completely on hearsay evidence. Really, I’ve seen this happen again and again, and it’s painful to witness. So it was that snowball effect that I was trying to head off. I think book discussion should be based on having actually read the book, especially, as I said before, on a blog that is supposed to be modeling Newbery discussion.

      • Sara Ralph says:

        Martha – I understand your point and certainly didn’t mean to create a snowball effect where the book is dismissed offhand. I look forward to reading this book to see which side of the debate I fall on, especially considering Betsy Bird’s review of the book earlier this week. I look forward to diving in very soon.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        What did you make of Betsy’s review?

      • Sara Ralph says:

        Warning: this comment contains spoilers!

        So I’ve read Ghost Hawk. Then I reread this review, Debbie Reese’s posts and Betsy Bird’s review.

        Let me start by saying which part of the book that I find distinguished and that is the setting. Cooper recreates seventeenth century Massachusetts for us. The setting details during Little Hawk’s spirit journey and then his return to his plague-ruined village drew me in as a reader.

        Debbie’s arguments are that Ghost Hawk romanticizes Indians, creating a unproductive superficial love. She also finds fault with John, the white person in the story, saving the life of the Indian, Metacom. While this is may not be her interpretation, in my mind, this boils down to the fact that white people are incapable of writing a story with non-white characters without committing the crime of cultural insensitivity. I do understand this perspective, but as was already commented, sensitivity to a cultural group is not part of the Newbery criteria. Accuracy, however, is part of the criteria. As a librarian, the flaw I find in Debbie’s argument in terms of accuracy is that she has not cited sources that dispute Cooper’s dipiction of these tribes. To refuse to put this book in my library, I need something more than her just her assertion that Cooper’s depiction of the tribes are inaccurate. Regardless, It is nice to have her voice in the mix because these questions are not going to naturally occur to most readers, although I did find apologies/thankfulness to the land to be overdone in such a way that it made that part of the book seem stilted and just plain odd. And I really do not have adequate words to decribe my feelings about the old woman in part four.

        Betsy takes issue with Cooper’s plot development, describing the spirit form of Little Hawk to be a “clunky” choice. She also finds the death of both Little Hawk and John to be pointless. She also is frustrated by the appearance of the old woman, writing, “above and beyond whether or not it’s kosher to end a book with a white woman swooping in to save the day one has to assume it’s a bit odd when the author places such a clear cut stand-in for themselves on the page.”

        As a reader, I was engaged with Part 1 of the book. Even with the criticisms in the back of my mind, I was able to enjoy the story. Part 2 did feel clunky and by Part 4, I was just glad to be done with the whole thing. The question of accuracy is still not determined for me. As far as cultural insensitivity, I do agree with Debbie that Cooper stereotypes American Indians in some ways, but based on the criteria, that would not have an influence on the Newbery. What would present Ghost Hawk with problems in terms of the criteria is the plot, which I agree with Betsy was clunky and seemed to be pointless. What I find most regrettable is that Part 1 is a really good story (assuming that Debbie doesn’t find sources to prove it inaccurate). Cooper should have stopped there.

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Discussion on GHOST HAWK started to break out on the October nominations post and the topic turned to Debbie Reese’s comments about the book. I’ve been following Debbie’s analysis of children’s literature for about fifteen years now, first on the child_lit listserv and then on her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature. I always find it helpful to get her perspective on things, although I rarely agree with it. I don’t really check in to see whether she recommends various books or not, because she recommends Indian writers and illustrators and finds fault with everybody else. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just that *anybody* can do that. So the reason that I continue to read Debbie is for those occasions when she not only raises real and potential concerns, but also cites sources of Native authority and further resources to help non-Indian readers become more critical thinkers.

    So asking questions is great, but providing answers is even better. Debbie, I look forward to seeing what sources of authority on Wampanoag history and culture that you can dig up to shed further light on Cooper’s treatment of American Indians. I’m not sure whether it will change my opinion of the distinguished nature of the book because (a) the Native response to a particular book is not necessarily a single monolithic entity, but rather rich, varied, and nuanced. See, for example, K.T. Horning’s recent Horn Book retrospective Caldecott article about ARROW TO THE SUN for an illustration of how Pueblo responses to the book varied. And (b) since Cooper writes in her afterword that this is not a historical novel, but rather a fantasy set within a historical period, I grant her the same literary license that I extend to, say, Rita Williams-Garcia when she played with the historical timeline.

    • Hi Jonathan,
      I submitted a comment an hour ago and its still in the moderation mode. Will it appear soon?

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Debbie, I just approved it. Not sure why it let this comment post, but not that one. In any case, my comment was written before I read yours. I look forward to what other people have to add to the conversation . . .

  3. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Well… “arguably” would be right. I’m glad to count Cooper among my favorite authors, but I don’t think this is her strongest work. Accuracy issues aside for the moment, since those answers are hard to unpack; this book fails to me at the “plot twist” that Jonathan finds distinguished. Little Hawk was developed as a character, but his motivation as Ghost Hawk seems solely John’s motivation, so he becomes an unconvincing tool. Why is he so fixated on John and John’s people? (He mentions his own only in passing). I’m not sure I see the breadth of viewpoints here that Jonathan sees. The single viewpoint (the “superficial love” that Debbie describes above) is excrutiatingly revealed at the end, in the interaction between the contemporary woman and “Ghost Hawk” (p319 ARC)

    She says, “I’m trying to take care of this piece of land, Little Hawk. I’ll do my best.”
    Something about the tilt of her head reminds me of Suncatcher again.
    I say suddenly, “Are you Wampanoag?”
    She shrugs. She says, “There are all kinds of tribes in me, most of them from across the ocean. And I don’t belong to any of them. If human beings weren’t so big on belonging to groups, I don’t believe they’d fight wars.”

    This is clearly the theme that Cooper is developing throughout her story… but I don’t think she does that theme service by interpreting through the ghost of an Indian who is so flatly and unconvincingly characterized that he makes John’s story seem wooden. Cooper’s talent with prose, on the sentence level, is surely evident in this book, but she’s undermined herself.

    • I was hooked right up until the “plot twist” moment — the end of part one — and that moment affected me deeply, I was so invested in Little Hawk’s story at the point. I admire Susan Cooper’s skill in bringing Little Hawk’s world and self to life; I REALLY admire the daring it took to carry out that plot twist. Truly remarkable. But in part two I began to feel a bit lectured to…

    • In addition to the tribalism/war theme, I also see a theme having to do with land. Cooper opens the book with the Woody Guthrie epigraph (there’s two epigraphs, as Jonathan says). Here’s the Guthrie one:

      “This land is your land, this land is my land
      From California to the New York Island,
      From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
      This land was made for you and me.”

      At the end (Part Four), Little Hawk’s ghost and Rachel (the middle-aged white woman who, in modern day, lives on the island where Little Hawk can make himself visible to people) talk about land. She asks him if the island was his land. He says that the land belongs to no one. I’d bet that a tribally enrolled Wampanoag person of the present day might say otherwise. The “land belongs to no one” trope has been used against Native Nations and their control over their lands for hundreds of years.

      In the Author’s Note, we learn that Susan Cooper lives on an island. She opens the author’s note with “Seven years ago I built a house on Little Hawk’s island.” Back in part four, Little Hawk watches as the middle-aged builds a sturdy house on the island. I’m guessing then, that the middle-aged woman in the story is Cooper.

      We know that the US is all about land and who owns it. This no-one-owns-land/this-land-is-my-land theme is especially interesting, given that the Mashpee Wampanoag (Cooper pointed her readers to their website, which is legit, not sketchy like the Pokanoket site she also referenced) have been fighting for years and years for federal recognition (finally granted in 2007), and that they don’t have a land base they can call a reservation.

      Recently, they did get funding to buy some land and in September, broke ground on their first housing development (see, and they’re trying to get 170 acres in Mashpee and 146 acres in Taunton taken into federal trust so that they can have a reservation (see

      I suspect that readers will object to what I’ve said in this comment about land. Some people want books to be evaluated on their own merit, but I can’t read them without a present day and historical context. Books do a lot of work, and that’s why I read them as I do.

      • Thank you, Debbie, this is really thought-provoking.
        What a complicated situation. It sort of makes my head spin.
        Because, of course, Woody Guthrie wrote This Land Is My Land as a protest song, in response to Irving Berlin’s syrupy and complacent God Bless America. His song is political, purposely antiestablishment, pro-have-nots:

        As I went walking I saw a sign there
        And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
        But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
        That side was made for you and me.

        In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
        By the relief office I seen my people;
        As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
        Is this land made for you and me?

        I would guess that in choosing the Guthrie epigraph Cooper was indicating her strong sympathy for the song’s point of view and the people it represented: the disenfranchised side, in this case the Wampanoag characters. Does that carry any weight? or have we moved beyond good intentions.

      • Hi Martha,

        I’d like Guthrie’s song better if it also had a verse that said “this land was their land” so that the song itself is more comprehensive in its consideration of American Indians/American Indian Nations.

        I’ve also wondered about who it is that “made the land.” Is there an assumption that there’s one God and it was him (her?) that made it for Americans? That goes dangerously close to the Puritan writers who felt that God sent sickness to clear the land of the Indians to make room for the Puritans.

        That said, I think a lot of people only know the first verse, and do not know that it is a protest song against the very forces that cause many of them to be disenfranchised. It has been co-opted, too, by certain segments. This PBS page talks about how the National Organization for Marriage (against same-sex marriage) was using the Peter, Paul, and Mary version until they were asked to stop using it (


      • While Debbie might like a song that says “this land was their land” that’s pretty much the opposite of the intention of Guthrie’s actual song, which is heavily socialist. His point is that the land is not “their” land for ANY function of “their” but the collective property of the people. I strongly doubt that Guthrie ever paid much attention to American Indian issues, but I would argue that the “you and me” of the song almost has to be read as applying to any and all listeners of the song, including American Indians. I don’t see how the co-option of the song by conservative forces can be used against Guthrie or his song any more than the co-option of American Indian practices and ideas by white people can be used against American Indians.

        While I’m at it, I take strong issue with Debbie’s contention here: “Is there an assumption that there’s one God and it was him (her?) that made it for Americans? That goes dangerously close to the Puritan writers who felt that God sent sickness to clear the land of the Indians to make room for the Puritans.” I don’t know what Guthrie’s religious preferences were, and I don’t see any evidence in the text of the song that it would be at all relevant to know them. Certainly, though, we can say that his song and its sentiments have nothing at all to do with the repugnant claims of (some) Puritans that the land was cleared of Indians by God.

        All of which brings me to Roger Williams. Debbie claims that in the other epigraph to the book, “It was, by the way, rather patronizing of Williams to assume that his God made Indians. How does he know it didn’t happen the other way around, with the Indians god making the Englishmen”

        How did he know that? Um, because he was a devout Christian who believed unequivocally in one god. It is frankly offensive on Debbie’s part to say that Williams should have been willing to abandon his deeply felt beliefs, especially given that within the context of those beliefs, Williams was making an incredibly bold and pro-American Indian claim that few people at the time were willing to listen to. Williams was one of the very few good guys among white settlers of the time–against African slavery, pro-Indian rights, and pro-real religious freedom. To call his remarks about American Indians “patronizing” is itself patronizing, assuming as it does that Williams was something less than sincere in his religious beliefs and socio-political ideals.

    • Like Martha I was absorbed completely in the first part of the story. However, the post-plot-twist perspective did not work for me. I agree with Nina who wrote, “… but his motivation as Ghost Hawk seems solely John’s motivation, so he becomes an unconvincing tool. ” The only other book I can recall reading with this unique narrative perspective is The Book Thief, but there I totally got that the narrator Death would be all-knowing whereas I was never able to do so with Ghost Hawk. I just kept wondering how he knew so much about the Europeans, language, etc. Why him?, I kept wondering.

      As for the history, I have been teaching a unit on the Pilgrims for many years and we go yearly to Plimoth Plantation which does an excellent job unpacking the many complicated threads of that colony and story. In addition to the Mayflower II and the 1627 Pilgrim Village they have the Wampanoag Homesite which is run by Wampanoags and other Native People. Here’s what they have in their FAQs about the Homesite ( They’ve also got more articles and materials there.

      8. How do you know about the Wampanoag People of the 17th century?

      Wampanoag oral history and European written sources are the two ways that we know about the Native People who lived in Patuxet (renamed Plymouth by the English) and the rest of the Wampanoag homeland.

      For Native Peoples, the spoken word is very important in recalling historical events. The position of historian has always been given great importance in Wampanoag communities. It was and is essential that the stories passed on by the historian were accurately and faithfully told. This continuing tradition of oral history is a crucial key to understanding the past.

      Although the Europeans wrote about the Native People who lived here, much of what the Europeans reported reflected a biased view of Native culture. However, there is still much actual historic information that can be gleaned from their writings. This written information combined with the oral cultural history of the Wampanoag gives us a good idea of how this area’s Native population lived at the time the English colonists arrived.

      • Interesting that you brought up The Book Thief. Sedgwick wrote this glowing review of GHOST HAWK for the guardian:

        On a separate note, how much does it matter what we know about the actual Wampanoag people? (This is a fictional story, agreed?) Are committee members allowed to discuss information that they may have read about the Wampanoag in a text published prior to 2013? Aren’t there rules starting that only texts published in that year may be discussed?

        If the committee can agree that in a work of fantasy need not present information accurately than they can apply this section of the criteria:
        “Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.”
        This takes all of this present conversation off the table. Allowing the committee to focus solely on the text. (I can not find anywhere in the criteria that discusses a text’s implications so how a book may affect readers is always irrelevant. One can not let their politics our values (even those most humanist and well meaning) come into play.

  4. Hmm…Sedgwick doesn’t mention The Book Thief in his review (which was written by Marcus Zusak).

    I should clarify that my issue isn’t about the history; based on what I know it seemed very well researched. I just provided that Wampanoag reference for those who might be interested in learning more.

    • Eric Carpenter says:

      sorry. embracing Marcus mix up…This is what happens to one’s brain half way through Fall Break.

    • Memory holes. I do have an answer on that one.

      When I called the Mashpee Historic Preservation office in June, I asked specifically about memory holes. The woman I spoke with said it sounded like something from Philbrick’s MAYFLOWER. So, I got a copy and found memory holes on page 105. The woman was rather derisive in referencing Philbrick’s book. I remembered that Indian Country Today (ICT) had run an article about a forum on the book, and that I’d pointed to their article, so I went back into my site to find it. My link doesn’t work right now because ICT is redoing their website and not all of their items are archived/available yet, but I was able to find the article in its entirety at another site. Here’s the link:

      The article does not specifically address memory holes, but I think it is fair to say that the response to the book casts a lot of doubt on Philbrick’s book. I haven’t read it, but from the reviews, it sounds a lot like he did what Cooper tried to do.

  5. I thought the book was powerful, and while I was surprised by the twist, and it took a little adjusting, I followed along.

    My one real complaint (given that I don’t feel qualified to judge the historical accuracy issues) is that the end lost me.

    It just felt like Sections 3 and 4 dragged everything out, so that I lost what I’d loved about the book– these two characters. And the “Rachel” stuff at the end felt like an extra flourish the book didn’t need.

    I’d need to reread to get into specifics. It’s been awhile since I finished it.

  6. So, let me get this straight. When this blog was discussing Okay for Now there was in-depth, real and serious discussion about if Joe Pepitone could have been in attendance at *a fictional play* or if he was on a road game that night and couldn’t have possibly been in attendance at *a fictional play*. And this turned into an actual issue about if the book could win the Newbery.

    And now when this book has some clear and troubling problems with the accuracy of its history the main response is, “This is just fiction! It’s a fantasy!” and “Yeah, I want some sources, though.” and “Do a closer reading!”

    How disappointing.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Angie, I don’t know if you actually read the OKAY FOR NOW discussion but Eric didn’t have a problem with OKAY FOR NOW either. The Joe Pepitone situation wasn’t problematic for him in terms of Newbery recognition. He’s being entirely consistent.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        I’ll also add that we should probably draw a distinction between accuracy (a Newbery criterion) and sensitivity (which is not). It’s not clear to me that the book has “clear and troubling problems with the accuracy of its history,” but if you want to argue that the book is insensitive in the way that it portrays American Indians then I think that’s a much easier argument to make at this point in the discussion.

      • Here’s my larger problem: it’s not that we can’t have discussion. It’s not that we can’t debate what counts as “accuracy”. It’s that the “Joe Pepitone” question lead to a lot of serious, thoughtful conversation about what accuracy means in historical fiction and how it impacted the Newbery criteria of Schmidt’s work. Legit. I mean, I think Schmidt’s work is magical realism, and thus not historical fiction and needn’t be bound by constraints of “but the REAL Joe Pepitone…”. But that’s me, right. So: legit.

        But here? When someone has brought up issues of accuracy in work of historical fiction with some elements of fantasy? (and that’s what this is: not “I am offended by this, it should not win an award!” But is it “distinguished” when it comes to accuracy?) Suddenly it’s a fantasy! If it’s a fantasy why not make up a tribe, then? Why not make up an entire Native tribe from whole cloth and not write this “the land belongs to no one!”/”I have lots of tribes in me!” (Gee, that’s moving, Nice White Lady) without ascribing it to the Wampanoag? It’s a fantasy because the author said so! Because there’s a ghost! Because…there’s elements of magical realism in it. Saying that in general, much less in light of the deep, thoughtful, detail-focused discussion I’ve seen and enjoyed at this blog? That felt like a shutdown and, worse, it felt like an microaggression.

        Hence my disappointment.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Angie, I can’t speak for Eric, but I have said repeatedly (both here on this thread and others–look at IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE where I say we should judge that book as both poetry and picture book text) that when a book is a hybrid, that when it partakes of two genres, then it is fair to evaluate them by the standards of both genres. Thus, it’s entirely reasonable to evaluate the accuracy of GHOST HAWK in the context of historical fiction. But we have evaluated straight historical fiction novels on this blog, found them wanting in terms of accuracy, and still found them among the most distinguished books of the year. Last year we had a running conversation about this starting with the post “Peccadillos vs. Fatal Flaws.”

        Joe Pepitone could not have attended that play. That area of Oakland is not hilly. Those are black and white. There’s not much room for discussion or debate. Many of the things that have been mentioned here are shades of gray; they are subject to interpretation, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t serious, or don’t have merit. I’m still puzzled by what accuracy issues you think we are dismissing. Is it something black and white? Or shades of gray?

        Let me take an example and work through my thought process: the memory holes. Nobody on this blog has mentioned them, but Debbie addresses them on her site. Are they an authentic part of Wampanoag culture? Debbie doesn’t know, and neither do I, but we both have our doubts. Some fantastists invent entire new worlds, but Cooper prefers to use our own, and borrowing myth and legend, she invents a few details and adds some kind of time slip (or in this case, a perspective slip). The memory holes seem like just the kind of thing that she would imagine, and she does warn us in the afterword that some parts of the story are subject to her imagination, she just doesn’t tell us which ones.

      • (Reposting this because my earlier upload of it is in the wrong place. Sorry!)

        Memory holes. I do have an answer on that one.

        When I called the Mashpee Historic Preservation office in June, I asked specifically about memory holes. The woman I spoke with said it sounded like something from Philbrick’s MAYFLOWER. So, I got a copy and found memory holes on page 105. The woman was rather derisive in referencing Philbrick’s book. I remembered that Indian Country Today (ICT) had run an article about a forum on the book, and that I’d pointed to their article, so I went back into my site to find it. My link doesn’t work right now because ICT is redoing their website and not all of their items are archived/available yet, but I was able to find the article in its entirety at another site. Here’s the link:

        The article does not specifically address memory holes, but I think it is fair to say that the response to the book casts a lot of doubt on Philbrick’s book. I haven’t read it, but from the reviews, it sounds a lot like he did what Cooper tried to do.

      • Angie’s making an excellent point about fantasy. If a book is fantasy, anything goes. If Cooper wanted to write fantasy, why didn’t she just make up a tribe?

        I’ve been searching hard for materials to support some of what Cooper wrote but am coming up empty handed. That would be ok, I think, if it was NOT ascribed to a specific people.

        I feel a bit silly, actually, trying to find evidence for some of these things, like the smoke signals in the book. Remember that part? One puff means one thing; two puffs means another; three puffs something else… I see lot of scouting sites with a smoke signals code (which, by the way, is silly in itself), but I’d love to know her source for her smoke signal code. But, If this is the fantasy part, my searching is a waste of time because there’s no source!

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Debbie, that’s very interesting. I don’t imagine that you still have the Philbrick book on hand, but on the off chance you (or anyone else, for that matter) does, can you tell us what source Philbrick cites for memory holes? Just curious.

  7. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Eric, discussing a text that provides an analysis of an eligible book’s “accuracy” (which is a criterium) is of course ok. We’re not discussing that text as an eligible book. We’re looking to authoritative texts to evaluate the book at hand. The committee chair would make sure that analyses are made available to all committee members prior to discussion. Often, the committee together, through the chair, will seek out “content reviews” of the text for them to consider.

    You say: ” I can not find anywhere in the criteria that discusses a text’s implications so how a book may affect readers is always irrelevant.” What then, is “interpretation of theme or concept” all about? Isn’t that about how readers respond to, and are affected by, the text?

    Is this a work of fantasy? Really? I don’t think that a ghost makes this fantasy. It is fiction, surely, but historical fiction. Readers deserve historical accuracy, and fictional excellence, in a work of historical fiction, and those are the elements that I am hearing questioned.

    There are politics/values embedded in this, but so far I here everyone unpacking those carefully and presenting them as such; so that when we do talk about the Newbery critieria, we can see what is what.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Well, Susan Cooper says it’s a fantasy in the afterword. That’s good enough for me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t also evaluate it as historical fiction, too, but I’m probably going to let some things slide. Just as I’m letting things slide for other historical fiction titles (e.g. P.S. BE ELEVEN). It doesn’t have a greater responsibility to be accurate just because it has a politically loaded subject.

    • Eric Carpenter says:

      You asked, What then, is “interpretation of theme or concept” all about? Isn’t that about how readers respond to, and are affected by, the text?

      I read this as the level of distinction in the interpretation of theme or concept and not whether or not one agrees with the appropriateness of the theme or concept. If (and this is not the case here) a horrendously vile theme or concept was interpreted in a text at a high level of excellence or distinction we would have to consider it award worthy even if we cannot agree with the content of the theme. I think the criteria is saying that we have to ignore our own values as well as the values within the text and simply look at how the values are interpreted in the text.
      We know from the line about “didactic content” that the award is not for books with a great message, lesson, moral, or whatever so inversely we can’t penalize a book (again not speaking about GHOST HAWK here) for having a disagreeable or even vile message, lesson, etc.

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Thanks Eric, I think that is a fine distinction. I was reacting against you saying that we could take “all of this present discussion off the table.” You can call this “fantasy” because Cooper does, but I think you would be hard pressed to get your fellows at the table to agree that accuracy doesn’t bear in this book. Or that “how a book may affect readers is always irrelevant”. You are right that didactic intent has no bearing in the Newbery deliberations, or our own feelings about the *value* of the theme or concept…that rather it’s how it is interpreted.

  8. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Some thoughts . . .

    1. Monica, I think this book fits quite neatly in the dead narrator category, a subgenre inspired by THE LOVELY BONES. Most of the books in this genre start with the narrator already being dead or dying within the first chapter (e.g. Patrick Ness’s MORE THAN THIS). I think Chris Crutcher has one–DEADLINE, if I’m remembering correctly–where the protagonist dies and narrates the last chapter from the afterlife, but since that character was terminally ill it doesn’t come as the shock that Cooper’s does. All of these dead narrators have a measure of omnipotence, but not all of them are written in first person.

    2. Nina and Monica have both hit upon things that remain a mystery. Nina notes the curious relationship between LIttle Hawk and John Wakeley. If I remember correctly, Little Hawk himself is a bit mystified by this relationship. I’m not going to deny that Little Hawk’s story serves John Wakeley’s in the second half of the book, but then it doesn’t bother me that Hawkin’s story essentially does the same thing in THE DARK IS RISING. The difference, of course, is that we have exposition in the latter example; we know the reason why. In the absence of a reason why for GHOST HAWK you can ascribe your own motivation, good or evil, but that’s something each individual reader brings to the text. I don’t think it’s part of the text.

    3. Monica wonders more about the mechanics of the slip into the first person omniscient viewpoint, and I am also sympathetic to this. In fact, I had a similar complaint about WHEN YOU REACH ME (that the science fiction rationale for the time travel–facets-in-a-diamond-a-thousand-points-of-light-blah-blah-blah–made less sense then a George Bush speech). I don’t deny that these are valid problems for certain readers. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

    3. In her book of essays and speeches, DREAMS AND WISHES, Cooper writes about why the Matter of Britain could not have developed a counterpart here in America. It’s because you didn’t have the gradual layering of one culture on top of another (Celts, Angles, Saxons, Britons, Romans, etc). Here there was a relatively abrupt and destructive confrontation between Europeans and Indians. The Indians were killed and their land destroyed. I actually think there are areas in America where this kind of layering happened or could have happened, say, New Orleans with its Indian, French, Spanish, European, and African influences or parts of Latin America (possibly including the American Southwest). Anyway, it’s notable that none of Cooper’s fantasies have had an American setting–until this one, and it’s not surprising that it addresses the issues that she first laid out years and years ago.

    More later . . .

    • Keep meaning to add this comment about the Timeline.

      I think that Cooper is the first children’s author who brings up Abraham Lincoln and the mass execution of the Dakotas. It is in the Timeline on page 323. Kudos for that.

      But the part about Ishi being the “last living member of the Yahi, the only California tribe to have escaped total extermination by the whites…” is an error. There are a lot of tribes in California today.

      One more comment: If you’re going to read ISHI IN TWO WORLDS, do read the controversy about Ishi, too. Take a look at “Who is this really about, anyway? Ishi, Kroeber, and the Intertwining California Indian and Anthropological Histories” by Lew W. Field in JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH, Volume 61, #1, Spring 2005.

  9. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Jonathan, I’m just having a hard time with the fantasy argument. Despite the fact that Cooper says in the afterword “The story is a work of the imagination: not a historical novel, but a fantasy set written a historical background.’ [sic, this is the ARC]….everything about the book presents itself as an historical fiction. If we accept that Cooper is making some things up, just not telling us which ones…. then why, indeed, has she chosen a real set of people/cultures to depict? Isn’t she trying to tell a real story of these people? Or another way to ask this: if it is a fantasy, then what is the theme that she is developing?

    The issues in GHOST HAWK, that I see, vastly outweigh Joe Peppitone. In the Peccadillo vs Fatal Flaw post you mention, you point out the importance of balancing inaccuracies against the import of the book:

    “I don’t read OKAY FOR NOW to learn about baseball schedules. I don’t read ONE CRAZY SUMMER to learn about Oakland geography…. And I don’t read DEAD END IN NORVELT to learn the price of Girl Scout cookies in 1962. That’s what Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube are for.”

    However, Cooper is telling the story of the Wampanoag and the colonials. That’s what you read this for, as best I can tell. And she’s chosen to perpetuate a very clearly stereotypical and romanticized depiction of the Wampanoag. This has accuracy problems: shades of gray, but way more than 50, and that is the problem. It also has audience issues. Can she tell her story well, with “excellence of presentation for a child audience” and distinguished “interpretation of the theme or concept” using a questionable depiction of these people? Not if it is historical fiction, because this depiction rests at the heart of this historical fiction’s success.

    If it’s a fantasy, I don’t buy that it is distinguished, because it doesn’t read anything at all like fantasy. (Ursula LeGuin is the only writer I can think of who managed to cross SciFiFantasy with Anthropology… but this is nothing like that.)

    • Eric Carpenter says:

      Of course Cooper is making some things up – this is a work of fiction.
      Almost all fiction, historical or contemporary depicts a real set of people/culture. Charlotte’s Web depicts small family farmers in mid-century America, does Lewis have to tell us that spiders cannot write words in their webs?

      I disagree that Cooper is telling “the story of the Wampanoag and the colonials”. She is telling “a” story in which some Wampanoag and colonials happen to appear. Cooper doesn’t make the claim that this story is an accurate portrayal of any culture or people. If, as a reader, you want to hold Cooper accountable for this, that is fine. But to me, this seems as careless as a reader of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH holding Robert O’Brien accountable for the his depiction of mice and rats when he could just as well have invented fictional animals to play these roles if in fact he was writing a fantasy.
      I read GHOST HAWK for the chance to enter a world created by Susan Cooper’s amazing writing talent not to learn about a particular historical moment (that is what nonfiction and primary sources are for).
      I’m not sure how this doesn’t read as fantasy, as it includes a ghost. Cooper’s Dark is Rising Sequence delves into her interpretation of Authurian legend and it’s relationship with English history. Unless we want to start faulting Cooper’s fantastical depiction of ancient pre-roman british culture, I’m not sure we can fault her fantastical depiction of long ago american culture.

      It amazes me that no one got upset about a real (and at the time of publication) living animal being depicted in a fantasy last year with IVAN. Applegate invented and changed quite a lot to create her novel, and she didn’t have to come out and say it was a fantasy because it was a “talking animal book” well GHOST HAWK has an actual ghost and characters who can speak it it!!! This is not a realistic story any more than IVAN was. Last year’s committee clearly had no problem with the accuracy of information presented in IVAN even though it may now be giving untold thousands of kids the impression that gorillas can communicate complex ideas through painting and talk to dogs and elephants. How is that different than giving kids a not entirely true story of some early americans?

  10. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Has anyone read WRITTEN IN STONE by Rosanne Parry? It’s a historical novel set in the 1920s. No starred reviews, but it is a Junior Library Guild selection. It clearly doesn’t have the high profile of GHOST HAWK or SALT, but I’m still curious if anybody has read it . . .

  11. I’ve read it! 🙂 Thanks Jonathan.
    Actually I have a follow up comment for Eric on the 17th.
    To claim that the presence of a ghost makes a work automatically fantasy is to greatly misunderstand Christianity and I suspect also the spiritual practices of the Wampanoag. Belief in the communion of saints is ancient. It is part of Apostles Creed. The ability of ordinary people to commune, or speak, with angels and saints is not fantasy. It is part of the daily prayer practice of millions of your countrymen from the Puritan era to the present. Prayer is not magic. Putting the spiritual experience of a devout character on the same plane as talking animals is not, in my opinion, useful to this conversation. I am not disputing that there are fantastical elements in this story. But we should be very careful about which elements we call fantasy.

  12. Genevieve says:
  13. I wrote the review for SLJ for this book– which is probably the only critically negative review it’s received– and I 100% stand by it. Ghost Hawk is NOT a children’s book. It’s not even what I would consider a young adult book. And it’s not really even an adult book, though there are obviously many adults who have enjoyed it. I say this because if you read Betsy’s review, she really nailed it at the very end when she talks about a poor 4th, 5th, or 6th grader being assigned this book to read by a well-meaning teacher. That child will read this and most likely either a) not finish it because he/she will be bored out of their minds or b) finish it and think “What was the point?” I’ve worked with children for 7 years and I can say with 100% complete confidence that 99% of the children I’ve worked with would not like this book, and that includes the ones that like reading historical fiction and like reading about Native Americans. They would say it was boring and difficult to understand. And for some it would turn them off of historical fiction completely. I know that sounds extreme, but I’ve seen it happen again and again and it is so, so hard to get them back to that genre once they’ve been turned off. It’s more difficult than any other genre I’ve seen which makes me sad since I love historical fiction.

    One of the other issues I have with this book is the long time span and the fact that it’s written in a particular way that makes Native Americans seem so stiff and regal and unrealistic. The book spans 50 years, which is much too long for a children’s book. For this to really be a children’s book, she should have just continued the story as it was for the first half minus Little Hawk’s death, and then had the two become friends and had their lives be changed by their relationship with each other, in essence continuing the coming of age idea but in a tighter time frame. She covers a huge span of history here and most children cannot comprehend that on a realistic level. By picking one specific time period and focusing on that she could have really honed in on the characters and their interactions with each other. I personally really liked how she focused on the early interactions of Natives with the white settlers and the issues going on amongst the settlers themselves and I think focusing on that time period would have been wonderful for children.

    Also, If I’m going to read a book about Native Americans, I would like them to be portrayed accurately and realistically. And that is not done here in my opinion. Now I am no expert and I often rely on the readings of others like Debbie for my information about accuracy regarding Native Americans, so this is my personal reaction. The whole book just felt really stiff and unrealistic to me, not because of the ghost element but because of the way the Native tribes were portrayed. This continuous portrayal of Natives by non Native writers as regal and stiff and formal just needs to stop. It’s like political correctness on steroids and it’s why I believe non Natives just shouldn’t write about Natives. If they do, they should only do so having had plenty of experience and relationships with them so they understand the culture and history in an intimate way. One of my former co-workers was Native Abenaki and she really taught me a lot about Native culture and got me thinking about the issue of non Natives writing about Natives in ways I had never done before.

    Yes, Susan Cooper is a fantastic writer. Like Betsy, I grew up reading “The Dark Is Rising.” When I was given Ghost Hawk to review I was very excited though a mite wary because of the subject matter. But this is nowhere near her best book. Seeing all of the positive buzz its getting makes my heart sink. Have any of these reviewers worked with children recently? Betsy and I have and so have many other people who are speaking up and saying this isn’t really a good children’s book. I personally believe that good writing is only part of what makes a book a Newbery contender. Because there’s the other part of the award, the writing for children part, that should be equally as important. Without that, the Newbery is just another writing award for literature in general. And a book that most likely will not appeal to children and does not appear to have been written for them, despite what the publisher says, shouldn’t be considered. I’ve never been on the Newbery committee but I do know the high importance that teachers and librarians place on the award and I personally would like to see a well-written children’s book win. And in my opinion, while Ghost Hawk does have some beautiful writing, it is not a children’s book.

    • Eric Carpenter says:

      “If I’m going to read a book about Native Americans, I would like them to be portrayed accurately and realistically.”
      I would counter by saying if I am going to read about about a group of characters I would like said characters to be portrayed in a way that best serves the story the author chooses to tell.

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Eric, Necia has given the long reply, but I would just add that I don’t think your counter is a counter. it just holds up the point. Cooper is telling an historical fiction, and Ghost Hawk undermines her story in many ways.

      • Eric Carpenter says:

        but is it historical fiction?

        I keep thinking of last year’s winner. We didn’t hold applegate accountable for accuracy b/c the animals talked. If we aren’t calling IVAN realistic fiction, i don’t think we have to call GHOST HAWK historical fiction.

      • Eric Carpenter says:

        sorry wasn’t finished.
        Necia writes: “Susan Cooper can choose to portray her characters however she wants; however, if said characters are in a story set during a specific time period in a specific region and based on a specific group of people, then she is under obligation to try to be as historically accurate as possible.”
        The same could be said for Applegate. She chose to set Ivan in a specific time period, in a specific region and it’s based on a specific animal. Was she under any obligation to try to be as accurate as possible?

      • I have to agree with Eric – claiming that Ghost Hawk has to be “as historically accurate as possible” is question-begging in the extreme. A major point of the critical inquiry is to try to determine by what critical methods we judge a particular book. To just claim, a priori that any book set in a particular historical period must meet certain levels of historical accuracy is absurd. Why should it? What does that add to the literary evaluation of it? Do the generally accepted great works of historical fiction follow this pattern? (answer to the last question: no, they don’t).

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Hm. While Mark is arguing to the degree that historical fiction must be accurate, and there’s an argument there…. I find that trying to argue that GHOST HAWK is not historical fiction at all, and suggesting that it’s similar to to IVAN in that regard, is pretty weak. All stories are set in a specific time period and place.

        If Cooper, in GHOST HAWK, hadn’t tried to be as specific as she was, I think the lack-of-accuracy argument would have more strength. But she clearly is intending to tell the story of this specific point and place and people in history, and while I agree that she isn’t necessarily trying to tell the *accurate history* of it, she is attempting to tell her take on what was happening in the thoughts of the peoples at that time.

  14. Susan Cooper can choose to portray her characters however she wants; however, if said characters are in a story set during a specific time period in a specific region and based on a specific group of people, then she is under obligation to try to be as historically accurate as possible. That’s how the genre works. Does that mean children should learn their history from fiction? No, it just means that by reading a historical fiction book set in a specific time period they may be able to gain an understanding of that period that may lead them to seek out more factual information. I view historical fiction as a means of allowing writers and readers to enter into a historical time period and live that fantasy of “what if?” without having to follow a fully historical person around and be bogged down by facts. So while all the characters may not be real, the setting should be as accurate as possible. She can call the book more fantasy than historical fiction if she chooses, but I feel her story in it’s present form itself begs to differ. Simply having a ghost doesn’t make a book wholly fantasy, giving her creative license to tell a story about real people in a real historical era however she chooses. She isn’t just telling a story in which Natives and colonials happen to appear. They are the characters and setting she has chosen, and the setting, time period, and even some of the minor characters, like Roger Williams, were real flesh and blood people. Comparing that to the accuracy of gorillas talking and spiders spinning words into webs is ludicrous.

    I’m not saying I expect perfect historical accuracy in my fiction, I’m just saying that if an author is choosing to tell a story in a specific time period, and especially if he/she is using a specific group of people as characters, he/she should really try to be respectful and accurate. Where Cooper gets it wrong for me is in cultural accuracy as I feel she’s showing strong leanings toward cultural imperialism. I can forgive some historical accuracy in fiction if it’s unintentional or doesn’t hurt the story too much, but I have great difficulty with cultural inaccuracy or someone using another culture in a way that for me just isn’t respectful. And by using Native Americans as wise, sage, mystical people I think Cooper is just perpetuating a stereotype about them. And I find that grating.

    sThe Dark Is Rising Sequence is a completely different issue because while she’s using King Arthur and the Arthurian legends, the legends themselves have a long contested historical reality so her ability to weave the story however she chooses is much more fluid. Telling a story about a character from myth and legend who has no concrete evidence to his being a real person is far different than telling a story in which the setting and time period have many historical facts and primary sources to back it up.

    Authors, whether they are writing for adults or children, are subject to certain laws and rules of order regarding the stories they create, especially if those stories are historically based. Just because something has fiction in it’s genre description that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to have some kernel of truth in it for it to be believable. That is the way that all good fiction, historical or not, works.

  15. Eric, while I can’t accurately discuss “Ivan” because I haven’t read it, I can discuss the other book, you mentioned, “Charlotte’s Web.” As I see it, that book was realistic fiction with fantasy elements, while “Ghost Hawk” is historical fiction with a fantasy element. That said, I find your argument comparing the two books a bit like comparing apples to steak. They’re both food, but while you can eat the apple without cooking it, a steak really does taste better if it’s cooked, even just a little bit. By this I mean that you’re comparing two fiction stories, but that’s where the similarities end. Just as both an apple and steak are food, one requires a bit more work to be truly palatable than the other does. The same is true for historical fiction. By calling a book “historical,” to me that implies that you’re using history– its events, people and places– to tell your story. You may be telling a story that isn’t true or allowing a character that you’ve made up to enter into your story, but you’re still using real events and situations. So that’s where the need for accuracy comes in.

    Please read my earlier comment again: I did not say that I think children should learn history from historical fiction or that I expect perfect accuracy from it, because I don’t. But I do think that historical fiction is held to a different standard than regular fiction because of its inclusion of factual, verifiable elements. And we can do this because it is a different genre. I wouldn’t hold fantasy to the same standards that I hold to historical fiction because fantasy is just that, fantasy. It’s fantastical, it’s completely imaginary. Even fantasies like “Ranger’s Apprentice” or “The Dark Is Rising” that have strong elements of realism to them, are still held to a different standards of accuracy than historical fiction. The author still needs to try to be accurate about how long it would take to go from point a to point b in their imagined world, but they don’t have to be concerned with the presentation of a historical event or people in our world because they’re not writing about our world. Does every author do this perfectly? Certainly not. But I feel the attempt should be there no matter what genre you’re writing in. So if E.B. White has a spider that can write in a realistic fiction book with fantasy elements, and that spider is presented as smart and capable, that spider should be able to spell when called upon to do so in the story. And if Cooper has a Native in her historical fiction book with fantasy elements, that Native should be presented as culturally accurate as she can without pandering to stereotypes. I really believe it’s that simple.

    Literature for me isn’t just one cauldron that we put everything in and mix it together. Different genres require different elements to make them work. So what works in one genre– eg. the inclusion of historical facts, people and setting in a fictional narrative for historical fiction– aren’t necessarily the same in another genre. When the two genres are mixed as in “Ghost Hawk” I believe we should judge each included genre equally. So for me, the historical fiction aspect of “Ghost Hawk”– specifically the way Native culture is presented– does not work in this book and therefore I find the book sorely lacking on the distinguished front. But if I’m understanding you, you seem to think that Cooper should just be able to do whatever she chooses with her book, characters, time period etc. simply because they are her creation. It’s her book and we should not judge her for how she chooses to present the genre, or genres, that she’s chosen to write in. So if this book is historical fiction, it does not matter whether she’s using real people and events, she can treat them however she wants and do with them whatever she wants. And I wholeheartedly disagree. So we are at an impasse.

    • I spent the last two days in New Haven at a conference on Indigenous Slavery and Incarceration. It was fascinating to hear from scholars and Wampanoag and Abenaki people who are bringing that history to light. My contribution as a panelist was focused on Squanto, Thanksgiving stories, and Ghost Hawk. Some people know Squanto was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain. That’s where he learned to speak English. Some people know there were another 20 or so who were kidnapped with him. Who were they? And their kidnapping was not an anomaly. The New Haven Register ran a terrific overview of yesterday’s panels:

      Of import to Heavy Medal discussions of GHOST HAWK is the reaction from Wampanoag’s to my overview of the book. They groaned at some of it, and they laughed aloud when I talked about the smoke signals. I cannot see how this book can be considered for recognition if the people it purports to be about laugh at it.

  16. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Not sure if this thread has been exhausted yet, but I just noticed that there is an extensive list of resources on Susan Cooper’s website that she consulted for the writing of GHOST HAWK, all of which are scholarly and some seem informed by a Native viewpoint. For what it’s worth.

    • I don’t know if it is exhausted or not, Jonathan, but will reply anyway. In an earlier thread, I posted a link to a response from Paula Peters, a Wampanoag woman who was working as the Interim Director of Marketing at Plimouth Plantation. In her piece, she and others were very critical of Philbrook’s MAYFLOWER, which is one of the items on Cooper’s website. In another earlier part of the discussions here on Heavy Medal, I noted that another of her sources is about Ishi, and that being “the last” of his people has also received push-back from California tribal peoples. My overall point in those posts is that Cooper has, as you noted, put together quite a large bibliography, but they’re biased. Indeed, what she says on her page with that bib is also indicative of a bias. She says that “no American Indian of any tribe” had written down his or her language. We can parse that in so many ways… What counts as writing is one question. Anyway, for everyone’s convenience, here’s what Ms. Peters said (in its entirety):

      Correcting history: Telling ‘our’ story
      Posted: November 03, 2006
      by: Paula Peters / Indian Country Today

      For nearly 400 years, colonial ideology has dominated the telling of the story of our nation’s beginning. While the Pilgrims are cast in hues of courage and righteousness, historians have typically treated the indigenous people as ignorant rebellious savages who resisted missionary efforts to be humanized. The Native people and culture necessarily sacrificed for the good of the advancement of manifest destiny.

      It is an easy leap … right over the truth.

      Nathaniel Philbrick did it with ”Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War.” The book, published last year by Viking, was hailed a ”great read” in rave reviews and ascended to the top of The New York Times best seller list. In it, Philbrick told the story he painstakingly culled from existing documentation primarily written by colonists and filtered through his own life experience void of the indigenous reality and punctuated by stereotypes and hallmark myths like the Thanksgiving holiday.

      He is among hundreds of authors who have marginalized and romanticized Native people, but perhaps the first to participate in a public forum challenging the portrayal of the savage 17th century Wampanoag juxtaposed with the saintly Pilgrim.

      In early October, Philbrick sat on a panel sponsored by University of Massachusetts and Plimoth Plantation that included Native scholars and historians clearly stacked against him. The audience of about 200 people included students, educators and many indigenous people, as well as a busload of employees from Plimoth Plantation, a bicultural living history museum where the unfiltered 17th century Pilgrim and Wampanoag story is on display.

      In his defense, Philbrick is also the first popular author to present both sides of this saga up to and beyond King Philip’s War; and while his narrative is told through the colonial voice, he does expose the injustice toward the Wampanoag, which inspired the conflict. What he fails to do is portray the Wampanoag with the same human qualities as the Pilgrims or give them proper credit for defending their ancestral homeland of more than 10,000 years.

      Colonization of the Wampanoag territory in southeastern Massachusetts, which began with the Pilgrims’ arrival on the Mayflower in 1620, had no regard for existing land rights, social customs or spiritual beliefs of the people native to the land.

      European setters, who ironically came here to express their own religious freedom, established a society that was both intolerant and oppressive of the Wampanoag. To add insult to injury, there was no consequence for the colonists’ violated treaties and broken promises.

      I can say this so glibly because I am a modern Wampanoag writer.

      In ”Mayflower,” however, Philbrick told the story from his perspective. He told his story which, at the end of the day, is his truth. A truth strongly criticized with deep emotion by his fellow panelists and indigenous people in the audience, who picked at the text like plucking ticks off of a dog seizing the most blatant examples of inaccuracies and offensive portrayals.

      But he is not the first writer to slant the telling of this story in favor of the Pilgrims or the worst offender of Native sensibilities. In fact, I think he sincerely believed he was being fair to both cultures in his book. He also was brave enough to fall on the sword for all the books written on this topic that fail to adequately voice the indigenous story.

      And as a celebrated American author, this was no small gesture. His participation in the forum was generous and opened a dialog for serious consideration by historians, educators and – perhaps most importantly – students who are the next generation of storytellers.

      We would hope that in the future, authors make a greater effort to fairly portray Native people: but the answer is not to have authors like Philbrick tell the story from a Native perspective. That would lack sincerity and integrity. Quite honestly, no one would believe it.

      The answer is to have Native people write our history from our own true perspective.

      It is a concept not lost on Philbrick, who in spite of his chiding has offered to write an afterward about the forum to be included in the second printing of ”Mayflower” and to facilitate the effort to publish the works of Native historians.

      His gesture comes on the heels of the United Nations’ approval of a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September that includes language specific to the recording of history. Article 14 of the declaration states:

      ”Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

      ”States shall take effective measures, whenever any right of indigenous peoples may be threatened, to ensure this right is protected and also to ensure that they can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.”

      It seems the time to make history ”our” story has finally come.

      Paula Peters, Mashpee Wampanoag, is the interim associate director of marketing at Plimoth Plantation.


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