Indian Captive
Lois Lenski
Originally published 1941
Newbery honor
Re-issued multiple times, most recently by Open Road Media in e-book format
e-book date 2011

Megan should really be writing this review since she did her thesis on Lois Lenski’s “historicals,” as they’re often called. Lenski was a prolific author/illustrator, illustrating such works as the Betsy-Tacy series, creating multiple picture book series (we’re big fans of the Papa Small books around here!), and writing quite a few novels.  Her novel Strawberry Girl earned her a Newbery; Indian Captive earned her a Newbery honor. In addition to her historical novels, she also did a series of novels about different regions of the country (Strawberry Girl is part of that series, I believe). If you’re unfamiliar with her work, you need to remedy that!

If you’re unfamiliar with her work, though, this e-book from Open Road may be just the place to start. In addition to reproducing Lenski’s original text and illustrations, the Open Road folks have also included a nicely done short biography of Lenski complete with several photos of the author and her family.

I was delighted with how approachable this book still is for today’s audiences. Published in 1941, this book is more than 70 years old–how would its treatment of Native Americans, for one, translate to today’s sensibilities and politically correct emphasis? Quite well, actually. This is a wonderful novel based on the true story of a young girl taken captive in the 1750s by Indians the day before her family was killed by the same group of Indians; after two years in captivity with the Seneca Indians, Molly Jemison, aka Corn Tassel, chose to stay with them. She’d learned much from her Indian family, had grown to love them, and realized that she could indeed make a life as a white girl amongst an Indian tribe. They accepted her as their own, even though she’d been technically a captive. The Seneca Indians are shown to be a hard-working, beauty-loving, stern-yet-loving people; they are also caught between the French and English as they battle for control of the continent. By the end of the novel, the reader can’t help but affirm Corn Tassel’s decision to stay with her new family.

All of Lenski’s original illustrations are also in the e-book format. She not only draws the characters but illustrates multiple examples of Indian crafts and tools. Lenski clearly did her research into the time period and its cultures.

I’ve labeled it historical fiction partly because I think it would be shelved with fiction in a traditional library; it’s really closer to a biography covering 2 years of Mary/Molly Jemison’s extraordinary life. This would be a great option for a book lists for students doing outside reading on different periods in history; upper elementary and middle school students could read it on their own, but it could be read aloud to younger students, too.

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