akibird

A Blog of Children's Literature

Sweetgrass Basket April 18, 2011

Sweetgrass BasketSweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell (2005)

Novel in Verse, 243 pages

In heart-wrenching dual free-verse narratives, Carvell crafts the voices of two Mohawk sisters, Mattie and Sarah, who are sent to an off-reservation school after their mother dies. Doing what he thinks is best, their father sends his children away to go to school, where they have lessons, march, and do domestic work. In their alternating voices similar to diary entries, the girls share their stories of leaving home on a long train ride and receiving a slap in the face by the head mistress, Mrs. Dwyer, because they are too afraid to let go of one another on their first day at the school. While the girls soon find a few friends and kindness in some of the school’s employees, both just want to return to the land and culture they call home. While Sarah cries all the time from homesickness, Mattie begins to be more headstrong and refuses to cower like the other girls under Mrs. Dwyer’s strict hand. When Mattie is wrongfully accused of stealing Mrs. Dwyer’s silver brooch, she refuses to admit she is guilty and attempts to escape the school. Carvell’s poetry embodies the broken souls of both sisters and does not skip a beat when the narration switches voices. Painting a painful but often true story of misunderstood culture and emotional child abuse, Sweetgrass Basket portrays the experiences of many Native American children who went to the boarding schools so far away from their homes, their families, and themselves. I would highly recommend this book to ages 11 and up.

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