Friday, March 16, 2012


Donna Jo Napoli's book, The Crossing, is subtitled "Lewis & Clark's historic journey seen through a brand-new pair of eyes".  That "brand-new pair of eyes" belongs to Sacagawea's baby, Jean Baptist.

On the first page, we see a tiny baby in a cradleboard on his mother's back. His mother and two men (and a grizzly bear) all look to the right (west). The accompanying text is:
Rolled in rabbit hide,
I am tucked snug
in a cradle pack
in the whipping cold
of new spring
Cradle pack? In the author's note on the last page, Napoli tells us that Jean Baptiste was in a cradle board (commonly written as one word). Why did Napoli use "cradle pack" in the text? It is likely that other Native readers (like me) and readers who know "cradleboard" is the right word, will ask that question, and those without that knowledge will "learn" something inaccurate about what that item is called.

On the next page, she writes:
Wind catches the sail,
swing and woop!
Over we go, Bia' and Ape' and me--
Mother and Father and Babe--
splash, shiver.
There are five men shown on that page. Presumably, one of them is the baby's father, Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trader and trapper. "Bia'" is Shoshone for mother, and "Ape'" is Shoshone for father. We see Bia' and Ape' a couple of times. It suggests a lovely nuclear family. On most pages however, Madsen (the illustrator) shows us mother and child and two men. Those two men are likely meant to be Lewis and Clark.

Alongside the author's note is the Acknowledgement section, where the author notes that she consulted two different websites of English/Shoshone language. That is where I learned that Bia' means mother and Ape' means father. I also entered "cradleboard" and found that "gohno" is the Shoshone word. I wonder how the author decided when to (and when not to) use Shoshone words.

Did the baby learn Shoshone? Did he call his parents Bia' and Ape'?

It is nice that Napoli introduces her readers to two Shoshone words, but she could have given us more of that language.

I have many questions. On one page, Napoli writes:
The old chief speaks Chinook
to the prisoner, who speaks Shoshoni
to Bia', who speaks Hidatsa
to Ape', who speaks French
to his friend, who speaks English.
There was need, during that journey, for communication to occur in a chain like that, but I'm caught up wondering about that prisoner. Who is that? The previous pages in the book provide no context for having a prisoner.

Later, we read that:
Summer heat tires us.
Horses get stolen overnight and no one saw a thing.
The illustration shows Indian men walking away from a camp. Did Indians steal horses from Lewis and Clark's expedition? If yes, why? And, what was taken from them and all the other Native Nations at that time and in years prior to that?

Chronologically, events are out of order.

Overall, The Crossing is disappointing. In the acknowledgements, Napoli thanks Brenda Bowen for suggesting that Napoli write about the child on Sacagawea's back. The Crossing is not about that child. The child is a vehicle for telling the same glorified and romantic Lewis and Clark story.   


Anonymous said...

You are aware that this children's book is written as fiction, correct?

Kristen said...

Even if it's written as fiction, the content/context makes it historical fiction and I believe the author has a responsibility to provide some basic accuracy. Especially since the book will probably be bought by schools and teachers who don't know better and think they are doing the right thing by using it. I am continually learning about the American Indian experience feel this author missed a great opportunity to educate her audience.