Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Quinault

At its heart, Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry is about Pearl, a Native American teen who has always dreamed of hunting whales like her father. Too many factors work against that goal, however, which causes Pearl to search for other ways to preserve her the Makah culture. While the story did whet my appetite, I unfortunately found the plot cluttered.

The plot contains so many threads, several of which are never connected, that it strains under their burden. First, there is the loss of Pearl’s parents: she just lost her father, who died on a whale hunt; her mother died during an influenza epidemic five years earlier. Tied into these tragedies is Pearl’s turmoil over having kept a memento from her mom, which goes against Native tradition, and her guilt over feeling maybe she is to blame for her father’s death. Next, because the whaling industry no longer exists, a new way of making money must be found. One way might be to accept an offer from an art dealer, who turns out to be a trickster. Then, there’s the convenience of Pearl getting lost and making an important discovery of unique rock carvings. Last, there’s Pearl conflict over how to best preserve her tribe’s traditions. All these events interested me. Unfortunately, it felt as if Parry skimmed through some of them, instead of taking time to give them depth and to build the  connections needed for a cohesive plot.

Written in Stone was inspired by Parry’s experiences teaching on a Native American reservation. Her respect for the Makah way of life is evident in her writing. Pearl values closeness of family, the whale hunt, and the traditions of her tribe. I learned about a variety of Native American traditions that were new to me such as potlatch, and ones which weren’t completely unfamiliar to me such as petroglyphs. While I eventually figured out that potlatch is a big party that can be thrown for many reasons, there were other terms I never did understand, two of them being Pitch Woman and Timber Giant. Parry says in the Author’s Notes that she did not think it was right for her to share these tales, but the result is that her readers will not know what to make of these things.

During her time of teaching on the Makah reservation, students would often ask Parry, “Why is the story never about us?” Written in Stone is dedicated to those children. But was Parry the right person to write their story? After all, she is not Makah.

Ever since I’ve begun researching diversity in literature, this issue has plagued me. As a special education teacher, I feel the need for more books that realistically depict kids with learning disabilities or with behavior disorders. Am I really required to sit back and wait for one of my students to grow up and write such a book? Or can I draw on experience and research to write their tales?

This is essentially what Parry did. Not only did she draw on her own experience with the Makah tribe, she also spoke to historians, curators, fisherman, and carvers. And yet she has faced criticism for telling the Makah’s story. The American Indians In Children’s Literature site doesn’t recommend Written in Stone, because her novel feels as if carries an outsider’s perspective. And obviously it does. Yet it inspired this outsider to want to know more, which is why I’m giving Written in Stone a semi-positive recommendation.

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

How would you rate this book?

“Many years of research and hundreds of revisions went into the making of this book,” writes Rosanne Parry about her novel Written in Stone. As a fifth-grader, Rosanne Parry saw the Raven stories of Northwest Coast mythology told and danced by a Native American chief and his family at a longhouse in Washington. The performances seemed magical to her. Parry never dreamed that one day she’d grow up to teach where similar stories were told. Yet that’s exactly what happened. Parry landed her first teaching job on a reservation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Parry also never imagined that one day after leaving the reservation, she would write a story about the Makah and the Quinault tribes. Yet that’s also what happened. Written in Stone is about the way of life of these tribes in the 1920s, a time of critical upheaval when they gave up their whaling culture. I’ll post my review of it tomorrow. Save the date: March 29!

Whether or not you have already read Written in Stone, it might help to know some of background about the two aforementioned tribes. My information comes from tribal websites.


Bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean, the early Makah Tribe held a large area of inland and coastal territory. Within this territory, the Makah had five permanent villages: Waatch, Sooes, Deah, Ozette and Bahaada. Each village contained several longhouses composed of cedar planks. The Makah and their extended families would share these structures and it was common to have several generations living in each one. During the summer, families traveled to summer camps, which were closer to the traditional fishing, whaling and gathering areas.

As is the tradition among indigenous people, the Makah used nearly all they took from the land and sea. As they acclimated to the seasons, they knew when and where to hunt and to gather food and materials.

They were mariners and utilized the bounty of the sea. Sea otters proved a valuable trade item used for trade, because it has the thickest, densest fur of any mammals. In the 1700s, their skins could earn the seller enough to purchase a schooner.
The otter’s skin was also used as a chafe guard to be worn under cedar clothing.

Whaling to this day has remained a source of great pride among the Makah. Sperm, right, humpback, gray, fin, and blue whales were among the species traditionally hunted. The Makah hunted whales for their meat and blubber; nearly every part of the whale was designated for use. Oil rendered from the whale’s blubber earned great wealth. The bones of the whale were useful for making spindle whorls, war clubs, bark pounders, shredders, combs, and personal adornments.

As mariners, they used various types of canoes. There were war, whaling, halibut, salmon fishing, sealing canoes and large cargo canoes. There were even smaller canoes which children used for practice. All canoes were carved from western red cedar. The canoes had sails so that paddlers could use the wind to their advantage. When they landed, it was done stern first so that, if necessary, the paddlers could make a quick exit.

Contact with Europeans had a devastating effect on the lives of Makah people. Thousands of tribal members died from epidemics of tuberculosis, small pox, influenza and whooping cough. The loss of family members caused the Makah not only caused grief and fear, but it interrupted the transfer of traditional knowledge and caused many of the old ways to be lost.

In 1855, the Makah villagers negotiated and signed a treaty with the United States. Certain rights were specifically outlined to insure the Makah could continue traditional practices. For example, in order to retain whaling rights, the Makah ceded title to 300,000 acres of tribal land to the U.S. And yet representatives of the U.S. government sought to assimilate the Makah through the implementation of laws against other traditions and the Makah language. The government efforts weren’t completely successful, as evident in the Makah peoples’ continuance of their ancient culture.

The Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) consists of the Quinault and Queets tribes and descendants of five other coastal tribes: Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz. It is a point of pride for them that they are among the small number of “Americans who can walk the same beaches, paddle the same waters, and hunt the same lands our ancestors did centuries ago”.

Located on the southwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula, their reservation is a land of forests, rivers, lakes and miles of unspoiled Pacific coastline. The boundaries of the reservation enclose a large acreage of conifer forest lands. Roosevelt elk, black bear, blacktail deer, bald eagle, and cougar, are among the animals which make these forests their home. Their ancestors lived on a major physical dividing line. Beaches to the south were wide and sandy; to the north were rugged and cliff-lined.

Families lived in long houses up and down the river. They were sustained by the land. The western red cedar, which the Quinault refer to as the “tree of life,” provided split boards for houses, logs for canoes, and bark for clothing, to name a few uses. The Quinault also make use of the sea mammals, salmon runs, and other wildlife.


Although it seems to be a generic education site, another potentially useful resource is: Native Americans in Olden Times for Kids. It’s here that I found out that a potlatch isn’t just a party. Instead, it’s a really big deal. Planning for a potlatch might take an entire year! Each person invited to a potlatch receives a present. This present can be as simple as a pencil or as complicated as a carving. At any particular potlatch, everyone receives the same present. Other terms explained here include: longhouse, canoes, baskets, woven mats, and totem poles. There’s also a sample raven story.


Written in Stone

The book I’m reviewing this weekend is Written in Stone by Rosanne Perry. It’s about the Quinault and Makah Indians, two Pacific Northwest tribes whose background I’ll cover tomorrow in a post. Parry spent her first years as a teacher in Washington on the Quinault Indian Reservation. The bio blurb on the back of Written in Stone says:

There she learned to love the taste of alder-smoked, blueback salmon, the wind and the cold mists of the rain forest, the sounds of the ocean and the eagles, and the rhythm of a life that revolved around not the clock and the calendar, but the cycle of the salmon running up the river and returning to the ocean. The writer she became had everything to do with the people she came to cherish and the land between the Pacific and the Olympic Mountains where stories seemed to grow out of the earth all around her, tall and sturdy as cedars.

On Saturday, I’ll review her novel which was inspired by those experiences. Save the dates: March 28-29!

Parry was born in Illinois and lived just a few miles from the childhood home of famous author Ernest Hemingway. When Parry turned five, her family moved to Oregon. Parry has also lived in other states such as Arizona and Washington. She also made a temporary home in Germany, moving there just as the Berlin Wall was coming down.

Her large childhood family included six siblings. One brother and sister were twins. Her grandfather from Berlin also lived with the family. He lived to be 96 years old.

Growing up, Parry’s favorite job was being a summer camp counselor. She also liked to play with violin, but couldn’t throw a Frisbee. Now her favorite job is being a writer. She also enjoys many outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, skiing, and going to the beach. Of course, Parry also likes to read. Some of her more unusual interests are juggling and riding a unicycle.


RosannePerryParry shares with Literary Rambles that her road to publication was more long than bumpy. She started seriously writing when her three children were under the age of six. Parry’s plan was to take the time she had at home with her children to develop her writing. If she wasn’t getting anywhere by the time her youngest started school, she’d set the writing aside and go back to teaching—another profession which she loves.

Two weeks after her fourth child had started kindergarten, Parry got a check in the mail from Oregon Literary Arts for almost a thousand dollars. It was a fellowship to help Parry finish her work in progress. That was a life-changing letter. A Parry got an agent and, within a year, sold her first novel.

For Parry, one of her favorite things about being a children’s writer is the friends she has made. Under Ten Things to Know About Me, Parry states that she feels blessed with an amazing community of writers in Oregon.

Parry’s critique group has been instrumental in keeping her novels authentic. One example she gave Literary Rambles involves her book Second Fiddle. Writing it required Parry to have knowledge of Paris, but she has only been to Paris once. Among her critique group, however, were members who had lived in Paris as a high school exchange student, a college exchange student, the child of a diplomat, and a street performer. The group helped her understand how far a person could walk in a day, and which parts of the city would feel safe, and what kind of reaction they would get from typical Parisians.

Authenticity is equally important in books such as Written in Stone, which I’ll review here on Saturday, and is set in the 1920s. Parry tells Literary Rambles that sometimes the simplest things proved the hardest to check. For example, you’d think train schedules and fares would be easy, but apparently nobody keeps out of date travel guides. Parry had to look in the archive of a travel book company. Her list for one historical novel amounted to more than 60 sources.

One interesting anecdote I found while researching Parry involves social media, with which she isn’t comfortable with. Her novel Second Fiddle features a character who plays a violin. She teamed up with another author who had written about music too. They invited the Metro Youth Symphony to come to a local bookstore and play with them. Parry explains to Literary Rambles: “They played a little Mozart. Liz read her book and talked about researching the life of Wolfgang Mozart’s big sister. Then the kids played Pachelbel’s Canon, which is a piece of music my girls are working on in the book. I read a little from Second Fiddle. The musicians and I chatted a bit about the fun of making music with friends. And then we handed out kazoos so everyone could play.”

Parry now lives with her husband in an old farmhouse in Portland, Oregon. They have four children and three chickens. They also raise fruit and sometimes their voices in song.

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