Review: My Heart is on the Ground

My Heart is on the Ground: the Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880 (Dear America)My Heart is on the Ground
by Ann Rinaldi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Heart is on the Ground (Sioux School) / 0-590-14922-9

This installation in the Dear America series details the life of a Sioux girl, brought to live at a school for American Indian children to learn American English and the customs of the Caucasian Americans. This book has generated a great deal of controversy and concern, but I feel that (as best I can fathom) Rinaldi has done the best she can with a difficult period of history.

The diary format is employed here, as elsewhere, with dual 'languages' - plain type denotes the narrator's attempts at English, italic type denotes her native language. As in other Dear America diaries, the diary device is meant as a teaching device and the narrator's English improves throughout the story. This dual writing device is useful because it shows the narrator's sympathetic struggles with a new language, without muting her inner thoughts or making her seem 'stupid' for her poor communication.

The school is shown in a very mixed light and, I feel, the terrible plight of the American Indians is shown here very starkly. The narrator explains how they have fewer animals each year to hunt, because the practices of the Caucasian Americans are causing the extinction of the animals. She tells with sadness about the slaughter and starvation of her people, and the other American Indian tribes. Although the school staff believes they are doing her a favor in turning her from her 'barbaric' past, she bravely insists that her past is not barbaric, that she is a proud descendant of a unique and beautiful culture. She accepts the training taught to her at the school for HER own purposes only - she wants to use what she learns to go back to her people and help them, in whatever way she can. In this way, I feel that the narrator character is one of the strongest and bravest characters in the Dear America series - willing to take on the world to save her people.

There are some frightening parts here that may not be acceptable for small children. The narrator's closest friend goes into a trance and either dies or (as our narrator is convinced) is buried alive by the foolish medical staff. Other children die of various illnesses, and the medical staff at the school is (probably accurately) shown as not very competent. The teachers are, in general, cruel and vicious and refuse to treat the different tribes as different - they treat all the children as one conglomerate whole of "Indians", which chafes the students and causes much private dissension.

I cannot say with accuracy how much of this book is correct in terms of tribal customs of Hopi, Sioux, etc. I can say that this book seemed, to me, to be very sympathetic and in the spirit of the best of the Dear America books. I would recommend this to any child, and any inaccuracies I would use as a stepping stone to learn more about this subject and to explain how poorly the American Indians were treated.

~ Ana Mardoll

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