Children's books that focus on contemporary Native Americans are few and far between, and this early chapter book by an award-winning storyteller is a rare find indeed. Fourth-grader Danny Bigtree is having trouble adjusting to his big-city school — he's homesick for the Mohawk reservation where his family used to live, and he wishes he could make a friend. The kids in his class, from a variety of backgrounds themselves, tease him about what they perceive to be his roots: "Hey, Chief, going home to your teepee?" Danny has learned from experience not to correct them; they don't care that the Iroquois used to live in longhouses and that he lives in an apartment building now.
At home, the usual stereotypes are turned upside-down. Whenever Danny's dad puts on his Hollywood Indian voice, Danny knows a joke is coming, and the whole family shares in the laughter. Danny longs for the warmth of his home life to dispel the loneliness of his Brooklyn school, and so his father agrees to help, coming to Danny's class to tell the legend of the great leader, Aionwahta (Hiawatha), and his song of peace. While the visit makes a difference, Danny realizes that the most important step toward finding friendship is still to come — and it will be one he's brave enough to make by himself.
Joseph Bruchac's sensitive story is filled with information, and the important mix of tradition within a contemporary family context shows readers just how real — and alive — the ongoing history of Native Americans can be. A short glossary and pronunciation guide at the back of the book helps with the Mohawk words used within the story, and makes this ideal supplementary reading for units on Native American cultures.