My Heart Is on the Ground Discussion Guide
Activities and questions to pose after reading the book by author Ann Rinaldi.
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl is Ann Rinaldi's even-handed tale of a time in American history filled with conflicting points of view. In the 1880s, the American government, in cooperation with various church groups, decided to educate Native American children. The idea was to take the children from the reservations and educate them at residential schools run by white administrators and teachers who would see to it that the "Blanket Children" would be assimilated into American society. This assimilation meant forcing the children to change their appearance: cutting the hair they were so proud of, forsaking deerskin clothes for Victorian dresses for the girls and uniforms for the boys, forbidding the use of their native languages in favor of English, and generally pressuring these youngsters to turn their backs on the culture they grew up with.
Nannie Little Rose's diary is filled with these experiences at the most famous of the Indian schools, Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. While Nannie deals with being pulled between two cultures, she also flourishes at the school, learning to read and write and gaining self-confidence and courage. Her brother, on the other hand, rebels and runs from the school to return to his home on the reservation.
While beliefs and customs clashed at the Indian schools, the intent of educating the children was well meant. Indeed, Indian chiefs allowed the children to attend the schools because they saw their way of life disappearing, and they saw the need for their children to be educated to make it in the white man's world or to come back to the reservation and help the tribe.
Ann Rinaldi uses her highly praised skills as a writer of historical fiction to highlight an important, but little known, episode in American history. In Nannie Little Rose's diary Rinaldi has given young readers a chance to walk in the uncomfortable, new shoes of a Native American child at the Carlisle School and to grapple with Nannie's love for learning and her love for home and family and a culture she was forced to turn away from.
Nannie Little Rose's diary — "the white man's talking leaves" — begins on December 1, 1879, shortly after she arrives in Pennsylvania. Through this "self-telling," a twelve-year old Native American, whose identity is firmly rooted in her love for nature and her tribal customs, reveals her transformation into an Americanized Sioux in "citizens' clothing." Little Rose's diary allows us to witness firsthand the differences between her former existence and her life at the Carlisle Indian School. "I come from the place called Dakota. My people belong to the Great Plains tribe. Our men are very brave and honorable. Our women are noble."
At the Carlisle School, Captain Richard Henry Pratt, his faculty, and his staff assume that in order to learn, Native American children must be stripped of their culture — their language, religion, and tribal beliefs.
After more than two months at Carlisle, Nannie finally summons enough courage to write about her first day. "Never will I forget the sound of the scissors, the feel of it when I no longer had braids down my back. A deep loss came over me. My braids gave me comfort, strength...At supper that first night no one ate. Stiff in our new clothes, itching from the under-where, mourning the loss of our hair and the blanket Indian clothing they had taken out to burn, we cried, until we were scolded and sent to sleep in the white peoples' beds...The next day they made us pick new names...So now I am Nannie Little Rose. And now I am here. And I have learned to wear this citizens' clothing and write their words. But I will never forget my past."
My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl presents the heart-wrenching account of this twelve-year-old Lakota Sioux girl, her older brother Whiteshield, her best friend Pretty Eagle, and the other Native American students at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania — who they were, and who they became.
Thinking About the Book
- Nannie Little Rose's father, White Thunder, sent her off to the Carlisle School telling her that she must do one act of bravery to bring honor to her tribe. Was Nannie Little Rose brave? Cite examples from her diary to support your answer.
- Although neither Nannie Little Rose nor her brother, Whiteshield, wanted to go to the Carlisle School, once they got there the reactions of brother and sister were very different. Explain why you think each reacted as they did.
- Chief Spotted Tail agrees to have the children from his tribe attend the Carlisle School. But when he visits the school, he decides that the children should go back to the tribe. What made him change his mind?
- Do you think Lucy Pretty Eagle was in a trance and buried alive or was she dead? Explain why you feel the way you do.
- Throughout her diary, Nannie Little Rose makes references to her face. On Christmas, her brother accuses her of losing her face because "when an Indian becomes like a white person, he loses his face." Nannie snaps back, "I will not lose my face." Did Nannie keep her face during her time at the Carlisle School? What does it mean if you tell your friend that she will 'lose face'?
- "Acts of kindness make us beautiful" were the words Mrs. Campbell shared with Nannie Little Rose. What does the teacher mean? Do you think Nannie is beautiful according to this definition?
- Captain Pratt and the teachers at the Carlisle School felt they were doing the right thing to take the Native American children, cut their hair, make them wear "citizens' clothing," speak a new language, and forget the ways of their people. Why do you think they were right or wrong in their decision to treat the "Blanket Children" the way they did?
- Nannie Little Rose was a member of the Rosebud, or Lakota, Sioux. Chippewa, Cheyenne, Sauk, Fox, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, and Pawnee were some of the other tribes represented at the Carlisle Indian School. Learn more about the other tribes Nannie talked about in her diary.
- Words are very important to Nannie Little Rose. Ask each member of your discussion group to select the single most important word in My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl. Have each member of your group explain why they chose the word they did. Now compare your important words with those selected by other discussion groups. Do one or two words appear more than any others?
- Read the Author Interview and try to answer Ann Rinaldi's question for readers. Pretend your parents told you tonight that you would live at a school many miles away, where the teachers spoke a different language, worshiped different gods, and treated you harshly. Write journal entries for the day your parents tell you about this school, the day you leave, the day you arrive, and at the end of one week. How do your feelings compare to Nannie Little Rose's?
- Nannie Little Rose provides us with the names she uses and the English equivalents for eleven months of the year. Can you find Nannie's name for November and its English meaning? If you were to create your own names for the months, according to the meaning each month has in your life, what would they be called? Using the list you have created, write and illustrate a book of months that describes what each month of the year means to you.
- Using a map of the United States, mark the locations of the tribes Nannie Little Rose mentions in her diary. Then locate Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Make a Venn Diagram that will demonstrate the similarities and differences between the Native American children's tribal homelands and the school's location, comparing such things as the landscape, climate, culture, etc.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.