HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Waterless Mountain
Author: Laura Adams Armer
Illustrator: Sidney Armer
Publisher: Dover Publications, reprinted 2014
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10 – 14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Armer, Laura Adams. Waterless Mountain (originally published in 1931 by Longmans Green and Co.; republished in 1975 by David McKay Company Inc., New York City, NY). As the story, set in the 1920s, opens, Little Brother is an eight year old Navajo boy who lives in a hogan near the Waterless Mountain with his father, a silversmith, mother, Elder Brother who is grown, and Baby Sister. Uncle, his mother’s brother, lives nearby and is the tribe’s medicine man. Little Brother’s job is to tend the family’s sheep, but he wants to become a medicine man like Uncle. When the boy is twelve, Elder Brother gets married, and Little Brother begins to help Uncle. Then around age sixteen or eighteen, Little Brother feels a strange call to go to the big water where the Turquoise Woman lives, so he saddles up his pony and leaves home. Does he find what he is looking for? Will he make it back home? Can he ever become a medicine man?
This book, the 1932 Newbery Medal winner, really has very little plot. It is more like “eight to ten years in the life of….” Yet, it is a well-written, thoughtful, if slow-moving, look at coming of age in the Navajo culture which offers a vivid portrait Navajo beliefs and traditions. There are a few common euphemisms, such as “gee,” but the biggest complaint which I saw about it is the claim that it is racist. One reviewer even called it “racism masquerading as not racism.” Of course, the Left calls anything racist that does not fit in with its politically correct agenda of blaming white males for everything under the sun. Author Laura Adams Armer was considered an authority on Native American life and lore. She spent time among the Navajo, being the first white woman to have a sand painting prepared in her honor and the first permitted to film the sacred Mountain Chant ceremony for distribution as a feature-length movie. Waterless Mountain was endorsed by Navajo leaders. How can that be racist?
The biggest caution I would raise about the book is that it includes various legends about worshipping the Sun Bearer, the Turquoise Woman, and various animals, along with other forms of Native American mysticism. This does not necessarily make it bad. I believe that these kinds of things can be studied from a purely historical standpoint without necessarily endorsing or promoting them, but they might not be appropriate for younger children because they could potentially create some unwise curiosity. Rather, it would be better recommended for older, well-grounded students who are interested in knowing more about the Navajo people with their life, culture, and religion. I enjoyed reading the story and felt a great deal of empathy with Younger Brother in his growing up.