a Pinkerton detective and Chief Crazy Horse: distinctive historical fiction

I love a good piece of historical fiction, especially when it’s covering new ground. These two books do an exceptional job of bringing us face-to-face with a couple of important individuals and whetting our appetites for further investigations of them and their worlds.

in the footsteps of crazy horse cover imageIn the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, by Joseph Marshall III, illustrations by Jim Yellowhawk
published in 2015 by Amulet Books

Native American kids lit occupies a much-too-small bookshelf, so I’m always elated when I discover another great title. I love this piece of historical fiction about the years of conflict between the Lakota people and the U.S. government for a number of reasons.

Foremost, of course, is the access it gives us and our kids to a Native voice speaking about American history. If you have never read this crazyhorseperspective before, I think you will find your brain actually jarred — it’s that impactful. Since the Native side of the story is virtually absent from almost all of our texts, unless you’ve sought out writings like Dee Brown’s classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, you are likely utterly unaware of these realities. In this respect, Marshall’s book should be one that you purpose to read with kids ages 9 or 10 and up.

The book is structured around a contemporary Lakota boy and his grandfather taking a road trip through parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana to see historic sites associated with their hero, Crazy Horse. This provides a fresh, current atmosphere, with the narrative jumping back and forth between modern America and the American West of the 1800s. Great move. Tying the history to geography rather than proceeding in a strictly chronological fashion can be a tiny bit confusing if you don’t pay attention, but I really like the way it elevates the importance of the land.

bighorn mountains

Another excellent choice is having Grandfather’s storytelling be the means of educating both Jimmy, his grandson, and us on the history of the Lakota people and Crazy Horse’s epic leadership. Each time Grandfather launches into one of his accounts, passing down the stories he heard from his grandfather, I found myself falling into another time and place. 

The Battle of Little Bighorn, by Kicking Bear

The Battle of Little Bighorn, by Kicking Bear

Included is a helpful map and a lengthy glossary. Highly recommended.

the detective's assistant cover imageThe Detective’s Assistant, by Kate Hannigan
published in 2015 by Little Brown and Company

In this book bursting with mysteries, secrets, adventures, and spies, you’ll meet up with Allan Pinkerton and his crack, female detective, Kate Warne; Abraham Lincoln; gangs of bloodthirsty conspirators; Underground Railway operators; and a spunky little orphan named Nell. It’s a zesty amalgamation of historical elements from mid-1800s American history.

The story is told by Nell, who has recently and tragically lost all the members of her family. She arrives in Chicago on the doorstep of her unwelcoming Aunt Kate. In fact, Kate is so averse to taking her in, Nell quickly dubs her The Pickled Onion. That sour.

pinkerton prive eye

There’s a reason for Kate’s prickly behavior: She’s the first ever female detective, working in various disguises for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, and having a youngster tagging along is not especially conducive to secrecy. Besides, Kate bears an enormous grudge towards Nell’s dad due to one dark, bitter moment in the past.

civil war era gownsWhile Kate and Nell together catch criminals including those who would take Abraham Lincoln’s life, Nell searches to understand the shadows hanging over her dad, as well as the cryptic letters from her best friend who recently fled to Canada.

It’s a fast-paced, pleasurable read, with bold seams of feminism, for ages 9 and up that will open the doors to learning more about lincoln's spymaster cover imageseveral aspects of history. For those curious about the Pinkerton agency, you might turn to Lincoln’s Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye, by Samantha Seiple, published in 2015 (Scholastic Press), 196 pages. It’s a fascinating read, but be aware that numerous hangings and killings are grimly depicted.