Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh

The Courage of Sarah Noble is the author's re-imagining of the true story of Sarah Noble, who traveled alone with her father to the then-new settlement of New Milford, Connecticut, from Westfield, Massachusetts, to cook for him on the journey. While her father builds a house for the family, Sarah makes friends with the Indian children who come to visit her campsite. And when her father goes back to Massachusetts to bring the rest of the family, Sarah stays with the Indians in their nearby village.

Before I go any further, I should say that I first read this book in second grade and loved it. Loved. It. Many of my "creative writing" pieces through about fourth grade were loosely based on this story. It had, however, been about 20 years since I'd picked it up, and it was like seeing an old friend after a long time finding it in the library again.

The book is written from Sarah's point of view, and you see how being on the frontier is scary to an eight-year-old. There are wolves, and Indians who may not be friendly, and she is worried about her baby sister back home, who was not strong when she left. Her mantra throughout the story is "Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble". I know from experience that the "keep up your courage" message is one that stays with the child reader - I remember several occasions where I was scared, took a deep breath, and thought of Sarah.

When I read it as a 2nd-grader, I was impressed by Sarah's ability to actually keep house for her father on their journey (she was not today's typical 8-year-old!), and fascinated by her experience of living with Indians and essentially getting to be an Indian child for a few weeks.

As an adult, I am intrigued by the truth behind the story. Sarah Noble was a real woman, and according to one of her sisters' testimony, she did travel with her father and stay with an Indian family when she was eight years old. Her father was actually acting as a guide to a Dutch fur-trading post in Albany, not bringing the rest of the family - Sarah had a 22-year-old brother who was also settling in New Milford, so it is likely that he would have brought everyone when he came. Sarah's fears in the book are very real as well - her grandfather had been killed by Indians twenty years earlier in King Philip's War, infant mortality was of course a very real concern, and Connecticut was brand new frontier territory at the time (the story takes place around 1707). Sarah did well, though; we know that she became New Milford's first schoolteacher, married, and had ten children, nine of whom lived past early childhood. There is no record of her death, but we do know that she was widowed - she probably lived her last years with one of her children and their family. My source for all of this is here.

The illustrations by Leonard Weisgard are perfectly suited to the story - if you can, read the edition with his work on the cover as well as inside (pictured above). The book is written for a young audience, and with that in mind, I give it a 9. It makes an impression.

As it happens, Sarah's birthday was March 22, 1699 - happy 311th birthday, Sarah!

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