Waterless Mountain, by Laura Adams Armer, was published in 1931 by Knopf.
Younger Brother is only eight years old, but already he knows he will be a Navaho medicine man. He has seen signs and has had a vision. It will take many years of hard work for Younger Brother to learn how to use his gifts. As he grows, he must also master skills for survival, such as how to read a trail, train a horse, and find water in the desert….This deeply moving and authentic account of young Navaho’s childhood and spiritual journey is filled with wonder and respect for the natural world.
Newbery Medal winners have always been cultural and historical in scope, but I feel as if the earlier ones tend to be so without focusing so much on the darker side of life (self-esteem problems, bullying, loss, etc.) Waterless Mountain is a celebration of life and of the Navajo people, told through the eyes of a poetic, deeply-thinking boy.
I wish I could have appreciated this book more, but I read it at a time when I was working long hours and I would always be falling asleep while reading it. I don’t really think that has anything to do with the quality of the book, although perhaps a more exciting book, or a book I was more excited to read, would have helped me stay awake. In any case, the book blurred together for me, although I do know that I thought Younger Brother’s trip across the country was a little strange. Not that he would go on it, but that it made the book have a kind of Western movie feel to it, complete with bandits.
If you don’t really know much about the Navajo culture, this book will certainly teach you a lot—and it shows, also, how separated the culture was, at least back then in the 1930s, from the Western country it lived in. I’m not sure how integrated Native culture is today (presumably more so now), but seeing that the Navajos managed to keep their culture and their way of life years after all the big forces that moved them around and took away their land is heartwarming.
Waterless Mountain maybe isn’t the most interesting Newbery I’ve read, but it’s definitely one of the most informative and one of the most culturally imbued. I’m not sure if it’s a “pick up and read again and again” book but I do think it’s a book that needs to be read.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Uncle, where does the Turquoise Woman live?”
“On an island in the wide water of the west. There she waits every day in her turquoise house for her husband, who carries the sun.”
“And when the Sun Bearer reaches his home in the west, what does he do with the sun, Uncle?”
“He hangs it up on a turquoise peg on the turquoise wall of the turquoise house of the Turquoise Woman.”