For decades, American Indian children were sent off to boarding schools that were supposed to educate them in the white man’s world. Often these children were sent by well intended parents who thought this was in the best interests of the children.
Mattie and Sarah are sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School after their mother dies. Some of their other siblings have already gone to other Indian schools, so this isn’t something new for the family. Mattie – the oldest of the two girls, and Sarah, both have reservations right away about their new school. The people in charge seem cold, distant and often just plain mean and cruel. However, Mattie quickly gains a friend and begins to like one of her teachers. Sarah struggles to do both. Yet it is the outspoken Mattie who finds herself a target of the head teacher.
Mattie is accused of stealing a pin from the head teacher, Mrs. Dwyer. Even though she says she didn’t, the other students begin to look at her as if she is guilty. Mattie feels that her only recourse is to run away from the school.
Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell looks at a troubling and often terrible time in our history. Readers will understand the longing and nostalgia both Mattie and Sarah feel for home, even as they try in vain to make the best of their situation.
Recommended for grades 6th and up.