Cover image for Sweetgrass
Hudson, Jan, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1999.

Physical Description:
159 pages ; 20 cm
Living on the western Canadian prairie in the nineteenth century, Sweetgrass, a fifteen-year-old Blackfoot Indian girl, saves her family from a smallpox epidemic and proves her maturity to her father.
General Note:
"A PaperStar book."
Reading Level:
640 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.2 5.0 641.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.8 7 Quiz: 11147 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Mass Market Paperback Central Closed Stacks

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Can the whole tribe depend on her? Award-winning author Jan Hudson tells the enchanting story of a young Blackfoot girl caught up in the sweep of Western Canadian history.

Being the oldest unmarried girl in her Blackfoot tribe is misery for fifteen-year-old Sweetgrass, but her father feels she's not ready for the hard work and responsibility that come with being an Indian wife. Then, during the cold prairie winter, a smallpox epidemic breaks out. With the men away at war, Sweetgrass is one of the few women left to fight for the survival of her tribe. This is her chance to prove her maturity, but is she strong enough to fight the cold, hunger, and disease?

"In a colorful, lyrical style evoking all the sense, Sweetgrass tells, with strength and tenderness, a dramatic story."-- Kirkus Reviews (pointer review)

An ALA Notable Book, Booklist Editors' Choice, and winner of the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award.

Author Notes

Jan Hudson , a Canadian author of historical fiction, wrote two novels, Sweetgrass and Dawn Rider , both of which exemplify her interest in "social anthropology--the little things that make up most people's lives," as she stated in a 1989 Publishers Weekly interview with Bella Stander. She conveyed these details by using the history of the Blackfoot Nation as her background. Hudson's hope, more specifically, was to write about the lives of Canadian Indian women of the past who, in her opinion, had been ignored.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-9. Vivid characters bring the culture of the Dakota Indians in the 1830s to life through this richly patterned historical novel. Sweetgrass, a 15-year-old Indian teetering between childhood and maturity, longs to be married like other girls her age. Specifically, she pines for her childhood friend, Eagle-Sun, now a warrior. During the long year that climaxes in death and devastation by smallpox, Sweetgrass slowly matures from a daydreaming girl into a woman on whose skills, intelligence, and determination her whole family must depend. Hudson draws readers into the story through convincing characters and holds them with a colorful panorama of Dakota ways and the dramatic tale of Sweetgrass' development into a strong, capable woman. Hudson neither romanticizes the harshness of her heroine's ordeal nor makes her fully mature at its end; Sweetgrass retains a rather winsome quality despite all her trials. First published in Canada in 1984, this award-winning book deserves a wide readership south of the border and seems likely to get it, given its quality and, pragmatically, its dust jacket. Jan Spivey Gilchrist's painting captures the letter and spirit of the story, as well as its direct appeal to the heart. An unusually fine first novel. --Carolyn Phelan

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the summer of 1837, Sweetgrass, a Blackfoot girl with a lively mind, restlessly awaits permission to marry. Because her father is a man of means and is fond of her, she can reasonably presume that a desirable match will be made. But when? And can she respect its full effect on her future? Much of this coming-of-age story shows how Sweetgrass learns to value her role in the cultural pattern of her people, the ``beaded design.'' At the same time, it presents a heroine luckier and stronger than other women, particularly the poignant and resigned young bride, Pretty-Girl. Although the story line meanders, the final chapters, in which Sweetgrass nurses her family through a smallpox epidemic and a dreadful winter, are graphic and powerfully written. Especially convincing is the spark between Sweetgrass and Eagle-Sun, lovers who rarely speak or touch but make the most of a yearning glance. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-10-- A masterpiece combining elements of an historical, a native American, a survival, and a coming-of-age novel set in the 19th-Century western Canadian prairie. During an attack against her village by another tribe, Sweetgrass, the 15-year-old spirited Blackfoot heroine, demonstrates her practicality, but her father still considers her too young for marriage. The real test comes during a fierce winter when smallpox spreads through the camp, taking two of her brothers, her best friend, and many other Indians. She cares for her family members faithfully, tries unsuccessfully to hunt for food, and decides instead on defying the river demon by catching fish, even though Blackfoot laws forbid the consumption of fish. For her selflessness, she earns the respect of her almost-mother and her younger brother, Otter. Now at last her father considers her a woman. Hudson's language is simple and flowing, with many vivid images (``Prickly is how frost feels, like plant burrs against my insides, like my fear of the nearness of winter''). This is a book which could be enjoyed even by reluctant readers, and is one which will invite re-reading. The message is one which is valuable for young readers to consider: maturity is not measured by one's physical growth alone but by the manner in which one faces both the emergencies of life and the ordinary and practical chores of everyday living. This will be a welcome addition to fictional works on the American Indian because of its point of view and because of its rich detail of Indian life. --Yvonne A. Frey, Peoria Public Library, Ill. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.