Book Review: Standing Bear of the Ponca

Standing Bear of the Ponca by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Imagine having to argue in court that you are a person.

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About the Author

Amazon Summary:
Imagine having to argue in court that you are a person. Yet this is just what Standing Bear, of the Ponca Indian tribe, did in Omaha in 1879. And because of this trial, the law finally said that an Indian was indeed a person, with rights just like any other American.
Standing Bear of the Ponca tells the story of this historic leader, from his childhood education in the ways and traditions of his people to his trials and triumphs as chief of the Bear Clan of the Ponca tribe. Most harrowing is the winter trek on which Standing Bear led his displaced people, starving and sick with malaria, back to their homeland—only to be arrested by the U.S. government, which set the stage for his famous trial. Standing Bear’s story is also the story of a changing America, when the Ponca, like so many Indian tribes, felt the pressure of pioneers looking to settle the West. Standing Bear died in 1908, but his legacy and influence continue even up to the present. 

My Thoughts:

I've never even heard of the Ponca Indian tribe, and as a future elementary teacher I've taken a recent interest in kids' books, so I saw this in a LibraryThing giveaway and thought, "Why not?"

While the book wasn't exactly up my alley - history never was my subject - I did enjoy it. The author seeks to make the story enjoyable and give you cultural background information to help even the most clueless reader (i.e: me!) understand the Indian story. There are full-size color illustrations, which is nice. I have to admit I didn't care for the blurred, somewhat digital-looking style of the illustrations, but they did fit nicely with the tale being told.

The reading level matches up well with the target audience. This book makes a great peek into Native American life for your average American student. I plan to use it with the students I tutor at some point. The focus on personhood and how Native Americans held the same rights as any man was a very strong and interesting lesson. We learn so much in school about black/white history, the Civil War, rights, and that sort of thing. But I'd never even thought about the Native American side of the racial rights debate! This is a great book to open up that side of the story.

The only concern I held content-wise was that the book came a little too close to promoting Indian religious beliefs for my comfort. Of course, that's really a question of readers' and parents' preferences. Another reason this book wasn't my favorite was because the writing felt dry at times. The story itself was interesting, and the narrator's passion for her subject showed through, but it just felt too much like a school book and too little like a story. (Yes, I know, that's what it is, but when a school book draws kids' interests as more than a 'school book,' that's when learning is truly promoted.)

I give this book four stars and recommend it for lessons involving Native American history, equal rights, or studies on individual Indian tribes.

I received a free copy of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.


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