My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, by Ann Rinaldi, was published in 1999 by Scholastic.
My Heart is on the Ground is probably the most controversial Dear America book, and perhaps reportedly the most historically inaccurate. It’s the story of a young Lakota girl at the Carlisle Indian School and her experience there, and unfortunately it’s really not the best representation. That’s really a bit of an understatement, but since I don’t know much about the Carlisle Indian School (or any of those schools), I can only surmise from what I’ve heard people say about the book, as well as from the book itself.
I’m of the opinion that any book is useful for learning and teaching, which is why I didn’t give this book a lower rating. If anything, this book is a good stepping stone for a discussion on Indian schools and the treatment of the children there. It’s also a good lesson for how simplifying material to fit the audience can distort at best, and mislead at worst, other cultures and beliefs.
The story is…not great. Even I can tell the tone is tone-deaf, at best, and I only know little bits of Indian history from books such as I Buried My Heart at Wounded Knee. Just like in The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow, the tone is completely wrong. Nannie Little Rose is way too happy about the school, even in the midst of describing how the Carlisle Indian School is visibly eliminating most everything to do with her culture.
Plus, the author’s note is so lethargic, and so vague, that it makes Rinaldi seem as if she’s deliberately downplaying the history that she must have researched, or not willing to go into more depth and nuance in a children’s book. It is possible that the audience and nature of these books pressured her, or perhaps Scholastic did. I won’t really speculate as I can’t know for sure. But it seems odd that some of these books seem so well researched, and others not at all (or the research ignored).
I think many works of historical fiction have benefit, but it’s hard to talk about any benefit to My Heart is on the Ground beyond “how to enrage people with inaccurate history.” I’m really not sure what Scholastic, or Rinaldi, was thinking. Letting children know about that time period: good. Doing it in the way they did, when any amount of historical research will reveal the opposite of what this book is saying: bad.