This fictional diary, seventh in a series of children’s books, explores the life of black Seminoles as the Indian Removal Act begins to take effect.
Ebony Noel Carter, about 12, lives in Florida Big Swamp with her family, who belong to Seminole Indian Chief Jimmy Otter and his wife, Smiling Tiger (although tigers are not native to the Americas). Ebony’s father was a runaway slave from Georgia; in Florida, he met Ebony’s mother, a black Seminole (called slaves but similar to tenant farmers). Ebony’s siblings include Little John, about 16; a pesky younger brother, Pompey; and twin ever bickering sisters, Willie May and Jethro May, about 14. Ebony records scenes from everyday life—farmwork, meal preparation, fighting with siblings, storytelling—together with notable events like a birth, a death, visiting a trading post, and the Green Corn Dance, a dayslong Native American celebration. She describes the festival’s special games, dances, foods, and ceremonies, like Court Day, during which engagements are announced and punishments given to rule-breakers. This year, that includes Ebony, who has taken a forbidden look inside the men’s sweat house. The Corn Dance brings some wonderful news but also dreadful: War and forced Indian removals are coming. The Seminole community, both native and black, must flee from Florida toward a new chapter in their lives. An author’s note supplies some historical background. McWilliams (The Journal of Leroy Jeremiah Jones a Fugitive Slave (Alabama 1855), 2015, etc.) supplies a little-seen and intriguing setting for her African-American characters as black Seminoles in Florida. As in other series entries, the voice is exuberant—many capitals and exclamation points—and written in lively dialect: “And we gals hee haw and hee haw and HEE HAW ’cause not one of we can never say that white man’s name!” It’s hard to say how authentic Ebony’s dialect is, but it’s consistent and animated. Readers will likely enjoy the book’s cultural details, so different from a plantation setting. Barring a short epilogue, the book ends as the characters leave Florida, something of a lost opportunity.
An unusual setting adds interest to this energetic account.