This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Publisher’s Blurb:

In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, the Lincoln Indian Training School is a pitiless place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to Odie O’Banion, a lively orphan boy whose exploits constantly earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Odie and his brother, Albert, are the only white faces among the hundreds of Native American children at the school.

After committing a terrible crime, Odie and Albert are forced to flee for their lives along with their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage. Out of pity, they also take with them a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy. Together, they steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi in search for a place to call home.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphan vagabonds journey into the unknown, crossing paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, bighearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.

My Take:

This Tender Land was suggested as a possible addition to our American Lit curriculum at my school. It was through this lens that I was reading it. We’re looking for a book with high-interest topics/ characters, quality writing, relevancy to our students’ lives, diversity in characters or themes and/or authorship, and obviously have some connection to a major event or period in US history.

Our core book list needs a good updating; we are in the middle of the process right now. Here’s a list of our current books: Raisin in the Sun, The Great Gatsby, Poet X, Dear Martin (teachers will choose PX or DM),The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Catch-22, The Catcher in the Rye, Crossing Over, Death of a Salesman, A Farewell to Arms, The Grapes of Wrath, The Hot Zone, My Antonia, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ordinary People, O, Pioneers!, The Scarlet Letter, Tortilla Curtain, Walden. As in many high school English departments, there are several factors that go into the dreaded book list. These include: Classic vs Contemporary, Diversity in topic/ characters/ author, money available, and board approval. Money has been an issue over the past ten years, so many teachers have had to rely of local grants to purchase class sets. ie I received Egger’s What is the What through a local Rotary grant several years ago. And two sets of Dear Martin a couple years back from a different grant.

How did This Tender Land hold up to our requirements?

  • The writing in the novel was excellent. I was constantly marking passages that would be perfect for studying different elements of fiction including symbolism, character development, and understanding the differences between external and internal conflicts.
  • Length may be a factor though. At almost 500 pages, it would take over month and maybe upwards of 6 weeks to read in a class setting. This would create issues in scheduling the rest of the curriculum for the year.
  • The main factor that ultimately makes me pause is that it takes place during the Depression. I think the English department would like to get a book that takes place in a more contemporary setting. This would improve the relevancy of the themes and student interest would definitely go up.
  • I wouldn’t foresee any issues with this book becoming a part of our core curriculum, but I just don’t know if it is the best use of our current funds.

Great book. But we as a department will have to discuss if it fits our needs.

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