Young readers of this biography may be surprised that Jim Thorpe, an athlete they may never have heard of, was once considered “the best athlete on the planet.”
Most students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania were shocked by the treatment they received under superintendent Richard Henry Pratt, who believed white American culture was superior and to “help” his students meant to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” New students were given new names, new clothes, and haircuts and were allowed to speak English only. It was a harsh, alien world, and only a small percentage of students ever graduated. The child of a Sac and Fox/Irish father and Potawatomi/French-Canadian mother, Jim Thorpe grew up in a mix of white and Indian culture and was better prepared than many when he entered Carlisle at the age of 15. Sheinkin weaves complicated threads of history—the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the story of Carlisle, the early days of football, and the dual biographies of Thorpe and his coach Pop Warner—with the narrative skills of a gifted storyteller who never forgets the story in history. He is unflinchingly honest in pointing out the racism in white American culture at large and in football culture, including headlines in the newspapers (“INDIANS OUT TO SCALP THE CADETS”), preferential officiating, and war whoops from the stands. Sheinkin easily draws a parallel in the persisting racism in the names of current football teams, such as the Braves and Redskins, bringing the story directly to modern readers.
Superb nonfiction that will entertain as it informs. (source notes, works cited, acknowledgments, photo credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10-16)