Sing Down The Moon Summary

Scott O'Dell

Sing Down The Moon

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Sing Down The Moon Summary

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Sing Down the Moon (1970), a children’s novel by American author Scott O’Dell, focuses on a fourteen-year-old Navajo girl named Bright Morning who lives peacefully with her people until Spanish slavers come to the Navajo country to kidnap girls. She and her best friend are taken captive, but Bright Morning is determined to escape and find her way back to her family. However, the world around her is changing, and she soon finds that a return to normalcy may not be as easy to obtain as she had hoped. Set amid the backdrop of the Native American struggle to survive in an age of European colonialism, Sing Down the Moon explores themes of survival, inner strength, faith, and colonialism, and was released to critical acclaim. Praised for its detailed depiction of the slavery and forced marches that the Native population endured, and for the strong inner voice of its protagonist, the title received multiple awards, including the Newbery Honor in 1971, a Booklist Contemporary Classics for Young Adults award in 1984, and was named the Phoenix Award Honor Book from the Children’s Literary Association in 1990. It has remained consistently in print and is still taught widely as a representation of Native American culture in American schools.

As Sing Down the Moon begins, Bright Morning is a teenage girl living happily with her fellow Navajo tribe. Her mother was a successful woman and the owner of a large flock of sheep. Shepherding is a key part of the Navajo way of life, and Bright Morning carries on her mother’s work with the help of her loyal black dog. The morning that the story begins, her friends White Deer and Running Bird accompany Bright Morning as she takes her flock to the High Mesas so it can feed on fresh grass. Bright Morning and Running Bird are exploring the High Mesas when they are suddenly captured by a group of unfamiliar men. They later realize that these men are Spaniards. The leader of the Spaniards, who is cruel and ruthless, is known by Bright Morning as “the one with white teeth.” He is a slave catcher who has made a deal to supply slaves to a woman in a neighboring town. Bright Morning and Running Bird are separated, and Bright Morning is sold to the woman with whom White Teeth arranged the capture. This woman has another slave, a twelve-year-old girl named Rosita who was also brought to her by the leader of the Spaniard slavers. Bright Morning does not know who purchased Running Bird.

Bright Morning struggles to adjust to life as a slave, and keeps holding out hope that she will escape. The woman who purchased them gives them slightly more freedom than many slaves get, and allows them to go to town for an Easter celebration. There, she meets Nehana, a native girl from the Nez Perce tribe who tells her where Running Bird is being kept. She lets Bright Morning know that there is a plan to escape. Bright Morning heads back, and soon she, Nehana, and Running Bird mount their escape. Before they can get too far, the Spaniards catch up. It is only through the interference of Tall Boy, a young man whom Bright Morning knows and wishes to marry, that they are able to escape. The one with the white teeth is killed, and Tall Boy is shot, leaving one of his arms disabled. The group manages to escape, but when they arrive back at their land, they find that the Americans, or “Long Knives”as they are called, have claimed the land. The Navajo are threatened and forced to leave their home Canyon De Chelly. They are forced on a long march, joined by countless other Natives. Many die along the way. They eventually reach a camp named Bosque Redondo. Tall Boy and Bright Morning are married, and Bright Morning soon becomes pregnant. However, Tall Boy is soon thrown in jail after a fight. He breaks out, and he and Bright Morning decide to run away from the camp, so Bright Morning can have her baby in her home. They decide to build a family in their sacred canyon, where Bright Morning will continue to watch over her beloved sheep.

Scott O’Dell was a prolific American author of children’s fiction. He wrote twenty-six novels for young people, as well as three novels for adults, and four nonfiction books. He is best known for his historical novel Island of the Blue Dolphins, which won the 1961 Newbery Medal for its take on the true story of Juana Maria, a Native American girl who survived for eighteen years alone on San Nicolas Island. Many of O’Dell’s works dealt with Native American culture, as well as the history of California and Mexico. He was widely acclaimed during his lifetime, winning the international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1972, the highest honor available to creators of children’s books. He was the runner-up for the Newbery Medal three times, in addition to winning it once.