Runs with Courage

By Joan M. Wolf. Sleeping Bear Press, 2016. 214 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $9.99/paperback or eBook. Recommended for ages 9–12.

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The history of residential schools for Native Americans is a challenging topic even for adults. How to face America’s culpability for the abuses visited upon Native children, stolen from their homes or sent under duress? To address this subject in a book for middle school-aged children is a task to daunt any author.

It is to Joan M. Wolf’s credit that she has handled this painful topic in a sensitive and empathetic manner in Runs with Courage, recounting the struggles faced by her Lakota heroine Four Winds when she is surrendered to a Christian mission school. In the company of girls from other tribes and unexpected allies at the school, she moves through culture shock to despair and acquiescence alternating with rebellion. Ultimately she flees to make the long trek home through the Badlands, only to discover the terrible choice her family had been forced to make in sending her away. Faced with a choice between her own happiness and her family’s needs, she takes an important step toward her own maturity and the future of her people, and so earns a new name and honor from her elders.

Wolf incorporates some of the abuses that were common at the residential schools, clearly softening the picture for younger eyes. Nevertheless, she conveys the grimness of the environment and the bigotry and shaming faced by the students in an unforgettable manner. Especially in this increasingly blind and bigoted age, this important book should be on any middle school required reading list.

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