The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman

Summary:  Asa is a young boy growing up on the Minnesota prairie shortly after the Civil War ends, “in the shadow of the Great Sioux War.” His family isn’t warm or loving and has suffered many hardships. The most recent hardship has been the locusts that have come every year and devour everything in sight including every living crop that they must grow to live. When Asa’s Aunt Hazel comes to live with the family, Asa instantly develops a relationship with her and begins to learn the terrible history that is lurking always in the background of their family life.

Caleb, Asa’s father, and Hazel came to Minnesota with their family, leaving the South and slavery behind. They move to a farm situated across the river from a band of Dakota Sioux. The family befriends the Indians and the children play with one another. Hazel teaches some of the Indians English and they share folklore, both Dakota and German. When a young Dakota girl commits suicide after mysterious circumstances and a government payment to the Indians is delayed, the Indian prepare to take revenge. When the Indians finally attack the town and outlying farms, the results are horrendous. Hazel is captured but survives by trying to become Dakota. Caleb fights with the small army of soldiers from the fort and when reinforcements arrive, they are able to capture the warring Indians. The 37 warriors held responsible for the uprising are hung for their parts, including the young warrior who had become Hazel’s husband.

Asa loves hearing Hazel’s stories of the past but when she begins to suffer again from the epilepsy that had kept her institutionalized for so many years, Asa’s mother threatens to send her back to the hospital. Asa takes off alone to find medicine for Hazel and almost dies. When Caleb finds him and brings him home, Hazel is already gone and it is only then when Caleb tells him the rest of the story.

Why I picked it up: This was a 2013 ALEX Award Winner, the award given to adult books with young adult appeal. I wanted to read it because it is historical fiction and it might be a good book to suggest to students.

Why I kept reading it: I have always been interested in this time period and Asa’s family are German immigrants, much like my family. The Sioux Uprising was much overshadowed by the Civil War and it is somewhat ironic that the federal government was fighting to free slaves and make them equal but at the same time putting Indians on reservations and treating them as less than human.

Who would I give it to next:  I would give this to anyone who like historical fiction, especially those that are interested in Native Americans. Well-written, researched historical fiction is a great way to learn history.

Reviewed by Mrs. Accorinti

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