Cover image for The heart of a chief
The heart of a chief
Bruchac, Joseph, 1942-
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, ME : Thorndike Press, 2002.

Physical Description:
192 pages ; 23 cm
An eleven-year-old Penacook Indian boy living on a reservation faces his father's alcoholism, a controversy surrounding plans for a casino on a tribal island, and insensitivity toward Native Americans in his school and nearby town.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.7 6.0 32049.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Large Print Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Chris Nicola lives on the Penacook Indian Reservation and goes to school in town. School is great, but at home the Penacook are divided over building a casino on a beautiful island Chris thinks of as his own. What can one sixth-grade boy do?

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-8. In this novel Bruchac explores three contemporary issues in Native American culture: alcoholism, casino gambling, and the racist names of sports teams. Chris, an 11-year-old Penacook Indian, is trying to hold on to his people's traditions in very unsteady times. At school he speaks out against the name of the sports team, the Chiefs; at home he reaches out to his father in rehab; and on the reservation he fights against bringing in a casino to alleviate widespread poverty. Bruchac has trouble weaving the three strands into a unified whole: the conflicts emerge quickly and are resolved too easily. What works are Chris' dignified struggle and the honest dialogue, which is never preachy despite the book's overtly political themes. Bruchac perfectly captures a boy's pride in his culture and the pain and anger he feels when his rich identity is mocked by a "tomahawk chop" from a sports fan. Readers who see injustice in their own lives will admire how much Chris accomplishes with a simple message of respect. --Randy Meyer

Publisher's Weekly Review

Bruchac explores what it means to be Native American in a modern society through the perceptive first-person narrative of 11-year-old Chris Nicola. The sixth-grader confronts a plethora of changes: he must now ride a bus from his Penacook Indian Reservation to school; his alcoholic father is in rehab; and the current chief plans to build a casino in the center of their island to bring money and jobs to the reservation. Bruchac weaves in fascinating details about Chris's life on the reservation and the wisdom of the elders alongside credible anxieties concomitant with adolescence. For example, Chris remembers the words of his grandfather, a former chief, as he becomes conscious of his posture on the first day of school and turns from a scared deer or rabbit ("They were made with eyes on the sides of their heads.... They are made to be hunted") to a wolf ("They were made with eyes in front. They are made to be hunters"). The author also makes readers privy to the Tribal Council's decision-making process via Chris's leadership in a school project. Chris's emerging confidence at school coincides with his growing sense of responsibility both to himself as a Penacook Indian and to his tribe. And as his confidence builds there, he takes on a crucial role on the issue of the Penacook casino. Though the plotting is sometimes clunky (including a few too many story lines involving the adults), the story's themes are universal and Chris's compelling voyage of self-discovery is grounded in everyday events that middle-graders will recognize. Bruchac succeeds in allowing readers to see into the heart of this burgeoning chief. Ages 9-12. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-A contemporary story about an 11-year-old Penacook boy's emergence as a leader. Chris Nicola and his little sister are cared for with affection and wisdom by elderly Auntie and Doda. Their mother is deceased and their father is away battling alcoholism. The stories and traditions of Chris's people give the boy the courage and conviction to deal with life. Upset by the proposed establishment of a casino on a pristine island on the New Hampshire reservation, he and three friends destroy a surveyor's stakes. With unwavering passion, he defends his actions to reservation law officers. Wary but determined, Chris starts sixth grade at Rangerville Junior High and mingles with the white world. He is chosen as leader for a group report on using Indian names for sports teams. His call for unanimity through discussion mirrors tribal practices and generates a presentation that exposes the insensitivity of the school and attracts community attention. Chris is an appealing, resilient, optimistic character. His sincerity wins friends among adults and peers, even the reputed school bully. An effective balance of dialogue and first-person narrative propel the story forward. This upbeat narrative does not disguise the harsh realities of reservation life or the social and emotional struggles of Native Americans. Rather, the qualities of leadership emerge in Chris as he taps into his rich cultural past, recognizes his own potential, and stands up for his values.-Gerry Larson, Durham Magnet Center, Durham, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.