Review: Tapenum’s Day

“The Wampanoag culture is a living culture. Today there are many Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.” p. 37

Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times by Kate Waters, Photographs by Russ Kendall.
Scholastic, New York, 1996.
Informative fiction, 40 pages.
Lexile:  680L  .
AR Level:  4.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .

The story of a Wampanoag boy in the 1620s.  While others in this series follow an imaginary day in the life of a recorded person, this book aims to show what daily indigenous life was like at the time and place of the Plimoth settlement.

Tapenum's Day Cover resized
Tapenum’s Day by Kate Waters, photographed by Russ Kendall.

It was with great relief that I found and read this book.  Diverse books about Thanksgiving are in short supply, and it is one of the holidays always in demand from both families and teachers.

Before reading it, however, I was sorely disappointed in many of the reviews.  Quite a few people made basic errors despite having supposedly read the book.  Some confused the time period, assuming it takes place in the present day.  Others confused the location, assuming that this one story about the Wampanoag people in what is now Massachusetts/Rhode Island represents an entire continent of indigenous peoples.

The errors in reviewing made it very difficult to determine if I should buy this, so to clarify – this is very clearly a book about Wampanoag life in the 1620s.  The one confusion I could see is that a specific date is not given on the title page.  However there are four pages of notes outlining the historical and geographical setting so even a cursory glance should clarify when and where this book is set.

This is one of those tricky books to catalog.  It’s technically fiction but the primary purpose is to inform about Wampanoag life in the 1620s.  Another issue I had with online information about this book was that the blurbs frequently stated Tapenum was “chosen to be a special warrior prince.”  Since that language is NOT in the book, I assume someone wrote an inaccurate summary that was copied repeatedly.

Waters is better known for books about the pilgrim experience, and is not Native.  However since this book was produced in conjunction with the Wampanoag Indian Program (part of Plimoth Plantation), I feel more confident about the accuracy.  If you know of any #ownvoice reviews please let me know!

Although this book tells us a great deal about Tapenum’s life, he’s only around his mother and sister briefly.  It looks like other books in these series include a male and female perspective, and I’d love a book outlining the daily life of a Wampanoag girl.

Tapenum’s goal is to become a pniese, described as “a special kind of warrior counselors.”  He’s disappointed not to have been chosen for training this year, but decides to work harder and seek advice from Waban, an elder pniese.  His day is full but free and flexible.  He mentions the colonists when speaking to his friend, but they are not otherwise present.

Tapenum's Day p 2-3 resized
Pages 2 and 3 of Tapenum’s Day.

The story is written in the first person and few quotations are used.  Dialogue is mostly described or summarized.  The first part is text heavy with over four paragraphs.  Afterwards the text doesn’t exceed about 2 paragraphs per two page spread.  The photographs vary quite a bit – some spread over two pages with text superimposed on top, some sequences of images, and others more typically laid out.  A few even have their own captions such as the preparing to hunt sequence.

Although the layout varied, Waters and Kendall kept the narrative clear and easy to understand.  That helps this book appeal to a wider range.  It could be used as an interesting supplement in middle school, or be read aloud to a kindergartner with a good attention span.

Kendall’s photography was fine.  I was impressed that he kept the style and lighting consistent even through varied times of day and locations.  The map at the end is fabulous.  I wish that the “Who Is Issac Hendricks?” paragraph was not relegated to the last page, although it seems to have been done for ease of layout.

Tapenum's Day p 40 resized
Page 40 of Tapenum’s Day tells about Issac Hendricks who played Tapenum in the book, and credits the other participants.

The end section “More About the Wampanoag Indians” is essential even if you only read it to yourself to answer the children’s questions.  Debbie Reese always mentions the importance of using present tense.  Since this book is set in the past, some references understandably use past tense.  But when reading, you can use the present tense to talk about the modern Wampanoag who were photographed as different characters in the book and who run Hobbamock’s Homesite where the photographs were taken.

A welcome addition to our basic lineup of Thanksgiving and fall read-alouds.  I’d suggest this more for the older age range of elementary listeners, not due to content, but because of the longer text portions and more complex story and vocabulary.  While Native voices should be prioritized at Thanksgiving, I think this is an acceptable supplement.

Mostly though, I’m disappointed that Scholastic isn’t promoting this title.  Why are they leaning on books with more stereotypical representations of Native Americans instead?


Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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