Saturday, January 06, 2007
Winter People by Joseph Bruchac. Audiobook. Library copy.
The Plot: It's 1759; the French and Indian War. A surprise attack on the village of St. Francis; screaming, shouting, chaos. The attackers are ruthless: they kill men, women and children; burn buildings, including the Church; and take women and children captive. Buildings are burnt with people inside; the attackers steal everything from food to the silver in the church.
The villagers are warned moments before the attack; not enough time to save everyone, but enough time for some of the people to prepare a defense and others to help lead many of the villagers to safety. Saxso, fourteen, helps lead people to safety.
Sasxo's mother and younger sisters are among those captured. Within days, grim stories are told of the prisoners being killed and eaten . Saxso refuses to believe his family is dead, and sets out after them.
Oh by the way -- the residents of the village are Abenaki. The attackers are British soldiers, led by Robert Rogers. Historical fiction, yes; but all based on fact.
The Good: Edge of the seat excitement, from the first page. Saxso and his friends and relatives are attending a dance when they are warned about the impending attack; not enough time to save everyone, but enough time to put together some defense and to save many.
Saxso relates the attack; the burning, the screaming, the efforts to save as many of the women and children as possible. This then turns into a chase story; tho Saxso has been injured, he resolves to go after his family. "The Worrier" helps him, but warns him against killing anyone. One teenage boy -- how can he find them? And once he finds them, what can he do?
Along the way, the reader learns a lot about the Abenaki in the 18th century and the village of St. Francis; myths and legends; the diversity of the Abenaki. Joseph Louis Gill, the Chief of St. Francis (also known as Odanak) was biologically white.
Because I listened to this on audiobook, I missed out on the author's note. Thank goodness for Amazon, which allowed me to read it. Before I read it on Amazon, I began researching on my own, so discovered even without the note that all of the people mentioned by name in the story are true, except for Saxso, his family, and "the Worrier;" and the facts of the raid, and it's aftermath are also all true (except of the specifics of Saxso's own story.)
This works in multiple ways. It's solid action adventure; it's historical fiction that does not invent history; and it also tells a different side of the stories usually told. If you're interested in reading books about the Americas in the 18th century, this is a must read.
While I would urge including this book in any study of the French and Indian War, I especially urge its inclusion in any teaching unit that includes materials on people captured by Indians, such as Calico Captive. The "Mrs. Johnson" who teaches Saxso English is the same woman who wrote the memoir A narrative of the captivity of Mrs. Johnson : containing an account of her sufferings, during four years, with the Indians and French. (By the way, that link is to a full text version of her narrative). And it's that memoir that is the basis for Calico Captive.
Links: Robert Rogers. Note that this Wikipedia entry contains his version of the attack.
Don't believe the allegations of cannibalism? Check out these notes on the raid.
Picture Book Malian's Song, Malian and her song appear in Winter People. Take a look at the whole site, because it goes into great detail about oral tradition and how it matches other records and evidence, and great links.
Rogers Raid: unlike the above Wikipedia entry, this includes the French and Abenaki records.