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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-04-15 05:02 pm

Newbery Honor: Runaway Papoose (Grace Moon)

I'm... less than optimistic about this book, because of the title. It's also out of print - I've got it on an interlibrary loan - but after Wonder Smith, Dream Coach, and Tod of the Fens (on the one hand) and The Story of White People and Shen of the Sea (on the other), I have serious doubts that the survival of a title on this list actually has anything to do with its quality. ^_^

* Well, author Grace Moon and artist Carl Moon have certainly written a lot of Native-themed stories: the "Books by..." list starts with Lost Indian Magic and Indian Legends in Rhyme, and goes on from there.

* The art looks good, anyway, based on the frontispiece and facing title-page illustrations - really lovely accurate Southwestern USian landscapes, and the little Native girl's costume is accurate to that area as well.

* Um, this dedication is... dubious. It's a little eight-line poem, very Kipling pastiche... but if this were Kipling writing, the reference to "little cliff folk" would be about small animals, not human beings.

* There's another eight-line poem at the beginning of the first chapter. Author, three repetitions of the interjection "Hi!" in sixteen lines is ENOUGH. Stop now and never do it again.

* Okay, our main character, Nah-tee (welcome, female protagonist #2!), is a very young Native girl of unspecified tribe, living in the Southwest, who is out at night for the first time and is scared of something that is not just being out at night. Okay...?

* The language here is hyper-hyper-simplified. Nah-tee is missing her family and "the shelter place they had built" - rather than a "house" or "hogan"; she remembers how this very morning her father "talked with happy words"; her "big black eyes had laugh twinkles in them when the fear thoughts were not there". It reads like a Southwestern version of the Up-Goer Five text editor!

(Uh, I should explain. Some time ago, the webcomic xkcd ran a blueprint of the Saturn V moon-rocket, explained with only the thousand most common words in the English language. It was called Up Goer Five. Cue spin-offs and joke references all over certain segments of the Internet.)

* Strange men came to Nah-tee's family's camp and started a fight, and Nah-tee ran away in fear; now she's lost and can't find her way back.

* "And now she must think what to do. Thinking was a thing Nah-tee had never been told how to do." ...um, if Nah-tee is somewhere between two and five years old, as she looks and (in the narration) sounds, I can kiiiind of excuse this - certainly there are many children, in fiction and in reality, who find themselves a bit lost when they first try to fend for themselves, and even a smart pre-K child getting lost in the desert would most likely have trouble getting un-lost - but, uh, does anyone else find this an uncomfortable phrasing? It makes me think, "As opposed to what - a thing a white child the same age would have been told how to do? Do people even learn thinking by 'being told how'? What is going on here?"

* Especially since we're told that "learning the ways of the animals she knew" "did not take thinking at all". I mean, what. O_O

* Nah-tee is not Navajo, but speaks a language very much like the Navajo language. This comes up because she hears a voice speaking Navajo in the distance and a dog barking in answer.

* "...and fear thoughts cannot stay very long when smile feelings come." I'm only on page nine! HOW AM I HATING THIS BOOK SO MUCH. The best-case scenario I can figure out is that this book is aimed at very, very young children, just about Nah-tee's age, and it's intended to be read aloud to them over a period of several weeks as a bedtime story. Thus the ultra-simplistic language paired with the *checks* 264 pages of close-set print.

A more credible scenario is that the Up Goer Five pidgin language is meant to represent Nah-tee's inner monologue. Which is why I'm headdesking every time it becomes particularly egregious.

* Nah-tee climbs down from the tree she's climbed and follows the smell of the Navajo shepherd-boy's cooking supper; he gives her food, and agrees to help her find her family when it's light again. There's also an attempt at giving Nah-tee a typical four-year-old's imagination, but the boy's flat dull reaction and Nah-tee's awkward explanation that "it is nice to think things--not the outside things, I do not think about them very much--but the inside things, they are nice" just... gah. What. Do these people have any personalities or any prior experience of the human condition at all?!

* The Navajo boy, whose name is Moyo, takes Nah-tee on his pony to look for her camp (did I explain that Nah-tee's people were currently on the move from an old "home place" to a new one, and that she ran away from a day-camp?), but they can't find it anywhere, even when they climb to the top of a mesa to look around. So Nah-tee's cries over how she's lost her family, but the author hastens to explain that she shouldn't have cried because she's going to have Awesome Adventures due to getting lost.

* I am so bored of this book.

* Hm. On the other hand, in chapter 2 we learn that there is news of a white man travelling the area, and we hear from a Native standpoint about the (real-life) kidnapping of Native children and how the white man wants to force all the Native children to attend White-run board schools far away and abandon their heritage. The dialogue is still stiff and stilted as it can possibly be - "Me he cannot make to go!", Nah-tee cries out - but I have to give the author points for addressing this issue from this angle. :D

* The subject suddenly changes, and Moyo's friend Tashi (who's been watching the sheep, sorry, I keep skipping Plot) mentions that there will be a great dance soon on the high mesa a long way away. Maybe Nah-tee's people have gone there; so Nah-tee asks Moyo to bring her to the dance, and he agrees.

* Oh, I see: the white man in question, whom I hereby dub the Child-Catcher, was heading to the Trading Post when heard of, and the mesa is in the opposite direction, so the boys hope that by going to the mesa, Nah-tee and Moyo can escape him. Tashi will take the sheep into the canyons, and hopefully evade the Child-Catcher that way.

* Moyo and Nah-tee come upon a fat pedlar riding a very small burro up a steep trail. They have a little fat-shaming conversation about the pedlar behind his back, then Moyo plays a trick to make the burro run away with the fat pedlar running behind him holding his halter. Nah-tee is concerned about both the burro and the pedlar, but Moyo repeatedly assures her that forcing fat people to run fast is a Good Thing. Because they are fat and lazy. :P

* Now a great storm abruptly blows up, yellow skies and all, and after trying (and failing) to out-ride it, they find a cave in which to hide from it. The cave has formerly been a mountain lion's lair, as we learn after a few pages of Moyo acting weird and not explaining the mountain-lion signs to Nah-tee because "girls did not have to know such things when others stronger than themselves were there to protect them". :P Oh author... I would have swallowed that if it was "she's barely more than a toddler, let's not scare her", although a certain amount of "If you see a big kitty, don't try to pet it" is still in order imo. But tying it specifically to Nah-tee being a girl? Even with the points from addressing the Child-Catcher issue, I'm going to stop reading this book if it doesn't let up its repeated swings from "blah" to "terrible" pretty soon.

* Nah-tee is hyper and excited in the morning. Moyo gets annoyed, and scolds her and tells her to obey her elders, and she snarks that she didn't know he counted as an elder. And because stuff like this happens in this book for no reason, Moyo doesn't let matters go after Nah-tee agrees to obey him, but starts telling us a very long story "of his people" (I don't know if it really is or not, and I'm not going to google traditional Navajo tales in order to check something this boring) about WHY little kids must always obey their elders. And then if Nah-tee's people's story is not the same she's going to tell it to Moyo in return. Gah.

* So the story is, that an old witch called the Spider-Woman lived out in the desert and tried to kidnap little children, and the children hung around her hogan against their parents' wishes, and there was only one boy who never went there, though the other children mocked him for it. A festival came with a great race, and all the children except this boy went and got speed-potions from the old witch in order to try and win the race - but it turned out the potions actually turned them into spiders under the Spider-Woman's power, and the obedient boy won the race and got all the prizes.

[ETA: I thought I recognized the name "Spider-Woman", so I looked her up. Turns out she's supposed to be a BENEVOLENT entity; this webpage says that she was indeed used as a bogey-woman sometimes in the "she'll come down and eat you up!" style, but that she also taught the Navajo how to weave, helped those in trouble, etc. I am not impressed, Grace Moon.]

* This is different from Nah-tee's people's story, but we don't get to hear that one, because Moyo thinks he hears a mountain lion coming back, and decides they should leave the canyon and start travelling toward the mesa where the festival will be held, again.

* So the floor of the canyon is rather quicksandy (though not bad enough that they can't both ride on it on the pony), and at one point they come to a place where the prints of a man's bare feet suddenly begin, as if the man isn't far ahead of them, and then suddenly stop. Even with the superfluous italics, it's a bit creepy. ;-)

* Anyway, the quicksand gets quicksandier - there's more water flowing through it, down the canyon, and while it's not exactly a flash-flood, the water is rising and the canyon will soon be a river. They get off the pony and try to cross the soft quicksand one at a time, but the pony is scared by a loud noise and runs away, and the two kids are left without transportation, on a low ledge by the side of the quicksand. They're also Being Watched... end of chapter. :-)

* Ten pages later, they've managed to climb out of that canyon and are climbing down into another one. They think they might smell food cooking. This is such a slog of a book.

* And now Moyo goes to see if he can find a cave for them to stay the night in, while Nah-tee sits still on a ledge, and when Moyo gets back, Nah-tee has fallen asleep and someone or something has mysteriously left them stew and flatbread to eat! O_O I have no idea what's going on, and I'm not sure I want to slog through the rest of this book just in the hope of finding out.

...yeah, guess what? I'm done. I don't even care what happens in the rest of this book. Good-bye.

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