Book Review: The Courage of Sarah Noble

Rating: ★★★★☆

Eight-year-old Sarah Noble’s father is setting out from colonized territory into the wilderness of Connecticut.  Knowing that her mother and siblings must stay behind with the baby, Sarah volunteers to accompany him on the dangerous journey to establish their new home.  Upon her departure, her mother fastens her red cloak under her chin and admonishes her, “Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble.”  The cloak and the words travel with her all across the wild territory, through nights in the open with wolves around, and a night under shelter with unfriendly fellow settlers.  During this night of grudging hospitality, Sarah is confronted with fears about the Indians she will meet at her future home, and she must wrestle with these fears for the rest of the journey.  Throughout this engaging tale, Sarah makes choices in spite of the persistent thoughts that hinder her, and she learns she can do what is right even when she feels afraid.  It is an inspiring, accessible story of character, expressed in the context of a loving family.

Dalgiesh writes compellingly at a transitional-reader level, effectively using repetition of the phrase “Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble” to draw out the theme of Sarah’s inner struggle through each of the story events, like beads on a cord.  The story is pleasingly illustrated in old-fashioned style by Leonard Weisgard.

There is some historical treatment of the tensions between settlers and Native Americans, with some Native people friendly to the settlers and others hostile.  There is also some opportunity for adult discussion of long-held differences in religious thought: at one point while saying her prayers, Sarah wonders if God takes care of Indians and whether she should pray for them.  In the same scene, the Indian family observing her decides that “She speaks with her Great Spirit, as we speak with our Great Spirit.”  This perspective greatly oversimplifies the complex distinctions between the Christian tradition and Native American spirituality, and unfortunately blurs their differences.  However, we must recognize that during the colonial period there were serious debates about whether Native Americans were fully human and whether their religion was worthy of the same respect as that of other world religions.  This scene goes some distance to address that false prejudice.  Modern readers, however, ought to be wary of the opposite tendency in modern thought to equivocate between religions, suggesting they are all really the same.  This difficulty can be straightforwardly addressed with adult discussion.

One additional caution: In chapter seven, Sarah’s father twice refers to an Indian woman as a “squ*w,” a word for “woman” which in colonial times was value-neutral but which in modern usage has taken on controversial sexist and racist overtones.  In a read-aloud context it would be easy to substitute the word “wife” with no loss in meaning.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Publication Information: Dalgiesh, Alice. Courage of Sarah Noble, The. Weisgard, Leonard (Illustrator). Aladdin. 1954. ISBN: 0689715404.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 04-08, Book Tree, Books Children Love,, First Chapter Books, Honey For a Child's Heart, Newbery Honor, Transitional Readers
Tags: , , , , ,

Posted on October 27, 2010

No responses yet. You could be the first!

Leave a Response