Back Cover: The boy belongs to the Sauk tribe, the last Native Americans to live east of the Mississippi River. He learns survival skills from other tribal members. He witnesses the introduction of horses and the influx of white men using steel traps instead of wood and rawhide snares to capture fur-bearing animals. These are life-changing events for the tribe. According to Sauk custom, the boy leaves the village alone to seek a vision which allows him to enter adulthood with a new name—Black Sparrow Hawk.
In 1767, a boy was born into the Yellow Earth tribe, also known as the Saukies because of the summers spent in a large village called Sauk-e-nuk. As the boy grew, he began working, first by guarding the crops from the crows using his arms and flapping to scare off the crows wanting the freshly sown seeds.
The boy and his friends spent countless hours watching animals and birds. They could identify each by the movements it made and the colors and sizes of its body. The boy knew that the sparrow hawk was the only falcon that could hover. He knew exactly was this marvelous bird looked like right down to the markings on its head.
In the winter, the tribe left Sauk-e-nuk to camp west of the Mississippi River where many more wild animals lived. With spring drawing near, the Saukies moved to sugar camps along the river. Once the sugar harvest was complete, the tribe returned to Sauk-e-nuk, their beloved summer home.
According to tradition, a boy became a man after seeing a vision. When the boy was fourteen, he walked away from the tribe, taking no food. Days went by without a vision. The boy grew hungry, his head pounded, and his lips were parched. Finally, a sparrow hovered and then soared above the boy. He knew from his childhood this was a sparrow hawk, but something was not right.
This sparrow hawk was pure black, lacking even the white head markings sparrow hawks normally have. The boy knew this was the vision that marks his entrance into manhood. When a feather dropped from the sparrow, the boy plucked it and gave himself a new name: Black Sparrow Hawk. Now a man, Black Sparrow Hawk could return home.
Black Hawk is a fact-filled story of one boy’s life in the Sauk tribe of the eighteenth century. It seems the author missed little, if anything, while describing the life and transition of one boy to manhood. This boy is not just any boy. He will become the great leader of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The story begins with the mother, Summer Rain, and the father, Pyesa, throwing a grand celebration to announce the arrival of their boy. All who gathered came to
eat, dance, and learn the baby’s name.
Seems this was an important moment in the boy’s very young life, yet we never learn the name given to the boy. That information seems to be too important not to pass on. Everything in Black Hawk is in preparation for the day the boy becomes a man, taking a new name based on his vision.
Much is known about Black Sparrow Hawk as a man, but very little of his youth. This could explain the lack of his given name at the ceremony. This is a well-researched account of life in the Sauk Tribe in 1767 to 1781. Readers get a glimpse of life for the Sauk Indian, the way they fed their large numbers, trained their children, and worked as one.
The story ends the moment the boy takes a new name. I would have liked a little bit about his life after taking the name. The Author’s Note (sic), contains a couple of random facts about Black Hawk, but nothing is referenced. An historical fiction book needs to be filled with facts, as is this one. A book in that genre also has those facts referenced. A bibliography and references, for kids who want to know more, is sorely missing and would have made this book complete.
The illustrations depict life during the late 1700’s with wonderful precision. The illustrations help the reader understand how harsh and difficult, yet harmonious and connected to the land the Native Americas were, particularly in the Sauk-e-nuk area. Black Hawk can be helpful to any student researching the Sauk tribe or any American Indian tribe in general, and the beginning of life for Black Sparrow Hawk in particular. I wish the author would have delved at least a little into the great warrior’s adult life and the influence the name Black Hawk would have on Indian life in America.
Black Hawk was written for ages five to ten, but I think this is a middle grade book, for ages eight to twelve, though younger children, with advanced reading skills, can benefit from the information and enjoy the story.
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Author: Carol March McLernon website Illustrator: Kay Pleuss Meyer website Publisher: Mirror Publishing website Release Date: August 16, 2011 ISBN: 978-1-61225-060-1 Number of Pages: Ages: 5 to 10