Sunday, June 09, 2019

Stone River Crossing

Tingle, Tim. Stone River Crossing
May 30th 2019 by Tu Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Martha Tom lives in a town in the Choctaw Nation in 1804, right across the Bok Chitto River from a plantation. She ventures across the river one day and meets Lil Mo, whose family is enslaved by the owner, Mr. Kendall. The two become friends, and when Lil Mo's mother is to be sold away from the family, the residents of Martha's town help the family escape. Because the family now falls under the laws of the Choctaw Nation, they are safe... as long as slave catchers don't cross the river and take them. As much as Mr. Bledsoe would like to do this, he knows that this would cause a war, so he takes his anger out on Mr. Porter, one of the plantation managers, instead. Mr. Porter's son, Joseph, is good friends with Lil Mo, and Mr. Porter thinks the enslaved people should be treated much better than they are. Lil Mo's family settles in to life in the town, and are even given a house in which to live by Funi Man, who also teaches Lil Mo the Choctaw language and tells him stories in order to help him understand the culture. While Bledsoe is still determined to get the family back, they are safe for a while, but soon Lil Mo is approached by a witch owl. The witch gives him an owl feather fan that burns his skin, and tells him that he is not safe. Lil Mo is torn between believing the voice and trusting his new friends. Funi Man, and well as Shonti, who has powers over snakes, are able to help him break the spell. Bledsoe eventually gets his comeuppance, and the Choctaw very graciously offer Mr. Kendall land in exchange for the family, so that they can live unperturbed.

It is difficult to find books on Native American topics that are sufficiently sensitive and historically accurate. I am not well versed enough in the intricacies of Native culture to offer an opinion on all of the various aspects of this book. Mr. Tingle is a member of the Choctaw Nation and has based the picture book on which this novel is based, Crossing Bok Chitto, on the stories handed down through his family. Debbie Reese, of Native American in Children's Literature, says about his books in general that "Tim knows what he is doing". I have not seen her review of Stone River Crossing, but hope that this book is as accurate as Mr. Tingle's other works.

The story of enslaved people being aided by the people of the Choctaw Nation is one that I have not heard, and is an important one to tell. The friendships between Joseph, Martha, and Lil Mo underscore the point that children must learn prejudices, and are willing to make friends with anyone to whom they can connect, regardless of ethnicity, before they learn this. The Choctaw are exceedingly helpful to Lil Mo's family, who are grateful and relieved to be in a safe environment. While the times in which these characters live are difficult, they show their best selves. While Bledsoe and Harold are unrepentantly evil, even Mr. Kendall and Mr. Porter are shown to have more sympathy for enslaved people than most others at this point in history.

There is a huge need for more middle grade novels about Native Americans, both historical and modern day, and I hope that this book will be added to the AICI list of "best books" along with Gansworth's Give Me Some Truth,  Dupuis' I Am Not A Number, Erdrich's Makoons, and Marshall's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse.

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