Book Review: The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh is a Christain historical fiction chapter book for young readers. It shows up in many of the lists of books recommended by homeschoolers. Sarah Noble is an 8-year-old girl in the 1700s who travel with her father into the wilderness. He builds a log cabin while she cares for their home and makes friends with the local Indians. Then her father leaves her with one of the Indian families as he returns home to collect the rest of their family. It is based roughly on a true story and focuses on Sarah’s fears and growing courage.
I am somewhat surprised at how highly some people recommend this book. It is neither extraordinarily good nor all that bad. It did win an award and is very popular, but I honestly was very neutral about it. I like the book’s focus on developing Sarah’s character and Christian faith, but that is very rushed in this short book.

My primary negative impression is that it does convey the racist views of its time towards Native Americans overtly and counters those views too subtly. Most readers overlook those statements since Sarah becomes a good friend with the Native American children and stays with a family in the village. Still, the book does ask offensive questions about whether God could love the Native Americans and then emphasizes Sarah’s desire to become their teacher. As a Christian myself, I am not against evangelizing, but some of these racist issues, even though accurate for the time, are inappropriate for young readers if not discussed by a parent or teacher. At that age, I would instead focus on seeing God’s love being the same for all ethnic groups. This is a mature issue for a book written to a 3rd-grade reading level. I also don’t feel like the book counters this thinking adequately, considering that her mother’s views are racist and unchanged.

From opposite position, this book does connect the root of racism to fear and lack of understanding about other cultures. As Sarah becomes friends with Native Americans, she does dress like them and even prefers their shoes to hers own. Even so, I do stand by my emphasis to address Sarah’s developing racial views rather than ignoring it to focus on just simple fear verse courage or just leaving your young reader to accepting a live-and-let-live view of racism. Just because racism is historically accurate does not mean we avoid emphasizing why itt is very wrong. I would be uncomfortable giving this book to the young Cherokee children I have taught.

Even with that criticism, the book is well written with a good character arc and plot. I am not likely to recommend this book for the content, but more for the simple reading level. There are few well-written chapter books as easy to read as this. Since it focuses on developing the character traits of courage and faith, you may really enjoy this book, but be prepared to discuss the issues of racism brought up in multiple places with your young reader. This conversation topic is unavoidable when reading this book.