Putting together a third-grade curriculum for my daughter this summer was a lot of fun, along with being a lot of work. We’re talking probably at least six weeks of several hours per day, figuring out what she needed to learn this year, and then searching for what resources I have available to me so I can help her learn that. One of the many things I’m excited to study with her are some of the many Native American tribes around the US. Thanks to my various online homeschool groups, we have a fantastic curriculum that uses almost entirely Native voices, which is so much better than the little bits and pieces I learned in school that weren’t from Native people themselves. Of course, one of the pitfalls of constantly searching for books for my daughter was that I also found books I wanted to read as well, so my TBR definitely took a few hits during this process, but I came across some great books like I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day (HarperCollins, 2019), so it was absolutely worth it!
Edie has grown up knowing that her Native American mom was adopted by a white family, and that’s really all she knows about that side. Her mom doesn’t like to talk about her childhood, Edie knows almost nothing about her heritage, and for her, questions like, “Where are you really from?” and “What are you?” started early. Edie wishes she had more answers, regardless of how rude and inappropriate these questions are. When she and her friends stumble across a box of pictures in the attic, pictures of a woman named Edith who resembles Edie in an almost eerie way, she can’t help but be curious. Could this woman be the key to unlocking all these family secrets?
With the pictures and letters in the box, Edie begins a journey to understanding her family history, how it came to be that her mother ended up adopted, and what it all means. With heartfelt emotion, author Christine Day tells the story of one family and a country’s racist policies, the effects of which are still being felt today.
I Can Make This Promise is a story for the mature middle grade reader due to its coverage of such a painful part of Native American history, but truly, it’s something all Americans should be aware of. Children were taken away from their parents at various ages in order to strip their language, culture, and history from them and force them to assimilate. These acts of genocide created horrific effects that are still affecting Native communities today, as generational trauma does, and the US educational system doesn’t teach it (and with idiot parents out there whining like toddlers every time schools try to shine a light on some of our not-so-great history, this probably won’t get better anytime soon), so this is a much-needed book that illuminates a story and voices that our culture too often neglects.
Edie is a typical middle schooler, trying to figure herself out and struggling with friend drama. Certain events in her life have her questioning her history and heritage, and wondering why her mother is so secretive about her background. Not knowing is frustrating; the truth, when it comes out, is shocking and painful, but it’s also liberating, and Edie comes to feel more herself when she’s able to connect with some of what makes her her. I Can Make This Promise is a story of the trauma and pain that has shaped far too many Native families, but it’s also the story of growth, of reclaiming what’s been stolen, and blossoming. While not a difficult read, it tackles a difficult subject matter; its curious and charming narrator helps ease the story along. Explaining traumatic history to young children is a difficult task, and Christine Day manages this with grace and strength.
I Can Make This Promise would make for a great parent-child read, or a parent-child book club (is this a thing? I really want this to be a thing for like the 8-12 crowd). Highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Ms. Day.