HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Moccasin Trail
Author: Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Cover Illustrator: Maureen Hyde
Publisher: Puffin, republished in 1986
ISBN-13: 978-1435204829 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1435204824 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0140321708 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0140321705 (Paperback)
Related website: http://www.penguin.com/youngreaders (publisher)
Language level: 3 (unfortunately)
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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McGraw, Eloise Jarvis. Moccasin Trail (published in 1952 by Coward-McCann, New York City, NY; republished in 1986 by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY, a division of The Penguin Group). It is 1844, and nineteen-year-old Jim Keath had grown up in Missouri, with his farmer father, mother, two brothers, Jonathan and little Daniel, and sister Sally. However, Jim didn’t want to be a farmer, so at age ten he ran away after his uncle Adam Russell who was a trapper. The next year, he was attacked by a bear and left for dead but was rescued by the Crow Indians of Absaroka and taken into the tribe. Later he learned that his uncle had been killed by Blackfoot Indians. Then at age sixteen, he left the Crows, though continuing to live and dress as an Indian, and joined another trapper, Tom Rivers. Now, he receives word that his father has died, and his mother decided to take the family west to Oregon, but she has died on the trail, and his brothers and sister need him to lead them to Oregon and help them stake their claim. Will they make it? Will his family and the other settlers accept Jim and his ways, or will he feel mistrusted and decide to leave?
Eloise Jarvis McGraw was a great author. We have read two other really good books by her: Mara, Daughter of the Nile and The Golden Goblet, both set in ancient Egypt. Just for your information, there are references in Moccasin Trail to smoking tobacco, dancing, and gambling. As to language, a lot of euphemisms (blast it, gee, dratted, doggone, gosh, by gor, and especially golly) occur, and on one occasion, it is said that Johnny “exploded into profanity,” although no actual curse words are mentioned, but the terms “Lord” and “A’mighty” are frequently used as exclamations, all of which I edited out in reading aloud. I didn’t remember this in McGraw’s other books, but I guess that she figured that ancient Egyptians didn’t talk like this. The biggest complaint that others, mostly the politically correct crowd, have against the book is the claim that it is “racist” towards Native Americans. One could argue that the book simply portrays the poor attitude toward the Native population in America that is a well documented, though certainly sad, historical fact, to give an authentic perspective on how much some white people hated the Native Americans.
Yes, the book, which won a Newbery Honor Award in 1953, does contain some characters with prejudices, but it goes on to show how the characters realize that their attitudes are based in fear and ignorance as they learn to overcome their prejudices. All Indians are not pictured as worthless or bad. The author does a good job of providing a fairly balanced portrayal of life during the time period depicted, and many feel the portrayal of the Native Americans to be sympathetic without being patronizing or glorifying. From a positive standpoint, lessons on the importance of family, how our decisions impact others, learning to understand and appreciate people of different values, the damaging effects of running away from problems, rising above individual differences, and unconditional love can be found. From a purely literary standpoint, the action sequences are extremely exciting, with nice bits of history from the Mountain Man era. One might conclude that the book’s purpose is, as one reviewer said, to show young people how to recognize what prejudice is, why it might develop, and thus how to overcome or avoid it entirely in real life, in a fun story that does not talk down to them. We enjoyed it as a family read aloud.