by Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, and Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA
For the month of January 2020, Seemi and Celeste continue providing their takes on books centered on the power of strengths and abilities, especially those of little-known athletes of local and global origins. This week, they discuss Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army, written by Art Coulson and illustrated by Nick Hardcastle.
SEEMI: This illustrated biography about Jim Thorpe, a multi-talented athlete, covers his childhood, education and the historic football game he played against the West Point Cadets while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. This book includes bibliographical references. The main event highlighted is firmly placed in 1912 when game took place as a rematch of sorts to the actual battle between the forefather U.S. soldiers and the American Indians (First Nations/Native Americans). In this match, the Carlisle players met their stronger opponents with unusual formations and innovative play. This is the story of skill, strategy and determination.
I am blown away with the content and historical nature of this book. The Coulson and Hardcastle did excellent work depicting the content of the story, especially with respect to Thorp’s life, play and inevitable win as a Native American. One observes such few examples of untold Native American stories like this one.
CELESTE: I disagree that Thorpe’s story is an example of an untold story. I have not read any of the other books about Jim Thorpe yet, but there are many. Some of them are by non-Native authors, such as Steve Sheinkin’s book Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team and Bright Path: Young Jim Thorpe by Don Brown. Others are by Indigenous authors. Joseph Bruchac, Abenaki, has two books about Thorpe for young readers, Jim Thorpe: Original All-American and Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path. Coulson, the author of Unstoppable, is a member of the Cherokee Nation.
Because I haven’t read the other books, one of my questions is how is this particular book different from the others? Of course, some of them are picturebooks, as this one is, and some of them are for middle school and high school readers. Now that my curiosity has been piqued, I know I need to read the others. One thing I enjoy about this book is the way all of the sports in which Thorpe participated are given some attention, even though the cover illustration highlights his football career. I’ve always been amazed with the story of his Olympic victory in two different and ill-fitting shoes, but I did not know that his medals were rescinded because he participated in professional baseball, as it states in the back matter. There are so many fascinating aspects to his story, so many ways in which he is a role model for us all, that each of these books might focus on a different element of his life, or different defining moments, and each be equally important to have on our shelves.
SEEMI: I did do some research and found the books you mentioned. Yes, there are so many different aspects to his life some highlighted in the back matter of this book in particular. A lot more emphasis needs to be given to such a historical figure. I hope libraries and schools will add these books to their collections and highlight them in their curriculum.
Title: Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army
Author: Art Coulson
Illustrator: Nick Hardcastle
Publisher: Capstone Editions
PubDate: August 1, 2018
Reviews and Awards
Booklist, 06/01/18, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 09/01/18, School Library Journal starred, 10/01/18
Throughout January 2020, Seemi and Celeste give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!