Allison's Book Bag

Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle

Posted on: March 26, 2014

Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle is part of the Pathfinders series. The series has two goals. One is to present books that preserve the history, culture and stories of Native people. The other is to provide books which will hold the attention of reluctant or struggling readers. In narrating the trials of a fictional sixteen-year-old who survived the very real Navajo Long Walk of 1864, Tingle provides insight into an important event in Navajo history. With his emphasis on high action and low vocabulary, Tingle also succeeds in writing an enjoyable Hi-Lo novel.

Through Danny’s story, readers will learn that in 1863, in Canyon de Chelly, in New Mexico, American soldiers raided Navajo villages. These soldiers burnt the Navajo homes and killed their livestock. Then the soldiers tied up the wrists of the Navajo, including those of children, and corralled them together. They forced them on a long walk, which included walking past dead bodies. If anyone resisted, they were shot. Through the author’s note, readers won’t learn about the destructive cycle of raids and counter-raids which had occurred on both sides. However, they will learn about the Long Walk itself, along with the aftermath of it. For example, in 1868, the Navajo were finally allowed to return to their homelands.

Another thing which readers will learn about is the extremely negative attitudes which often existed towards Indians. For example, because Indians spoke their own language and not English, they were viewed as dumb. Whenever an author writes about prejudice, there’s a risk that characters will end up being stereotypes. Tingle’s story feels fairly balanced. A number of the stock solders act in cruel and cold ways, including slaughtering livestock in front of the Navajo, but there are also those who offer kindness and respect. While there is only minimal development of Navajo characters, there is one whom Danny discovers has married a white woman. As for the more significant characters, there is one white man who remains bent on killing Danny, but also two white men who help Danny in his efforts to escape.

As a Hi-Lo novel, the emphasis in Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner is obviously on action. The first chapter describes the raid. The next two describe attempts by various Navajo to flee, including Danny. Two more describe what happened to Danny after he’s captured again, including how he is transported to Fort Davis for being a troublemaker. And finally there are Danny’s many misadventures at Fort Davis, such as prisoner fights, encounters with snakes, and more daring attempts to escape. In between all this action though, Tingle also slips in quiet and contemplative moments, where Danny misses his family, his traditional way of life, and his freedom.

Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner is a quick and engaging introduction for all readers to an important event in Navajo history. It might also what many reader’s appetites for longer and more complex stories about Native American culture.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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