Middle grade readers will love Nancy Oswald’s new book, Hard Face Moon, and teachers and librarians will be thrilled to have a work of historical fiction that ties in so well with the curriculum. Published by Filter Press, a Colorado publisher of southwest history, biography, and historical fiction, Hard Face Moon deserves a wide audience.
Hard Face Moon focuses on events leading up to the horrific Sand Creek Massacre. The reader sees the action unfold through the eyes of Hides Inside, a Cheyenne boy. After the trauma of losing both parents when he was barely old enough to walk, Hides Inside hasn’t spoken. Although he sometimes feels words rising in his throat and tries to force them out, nothing happens.
Because he doesn’t speak, Hides Inside is taunted unmercifully by the other boys, especially by Two Crows, his archenemy. Every so often, he loses control and fights back, inevitably disappointing his brother, Standing Tall, whom he loves and admires. More than anything, Hides Inside wants to be a proud Cheyenne warrior like Standing Tall. Meanwhile Standing Tall, older, wiser, and more experienced, believes the Cheyenne should try to make peace with the white men and is beginning to put aside the ways of a warrior.
Hides Inside’s growth pains are something all boys and girls can identify with. He wants to go on raids, fight, and count coup. He wants to be someone who is celebrated and honored when he returns to camp. Too young to make his own decisions, Hides Inside must wait until Standing Tall believes he’s ready. Until he learns patience and self-discipline, his older brother will not allow him to train to become a warrior.
Both Hides Inside and Two Crows disagree with the peace-seeking efforts of their chiefs. This is the one thing they have in common. As the story progresses and both boys mature, Hides Inside begins to grow in his understanding of Two Crows.
Oswald’s style is perfectly suited to this story. Her spare prose seems to meld with Cheyenne ways and culture, most of all with the heart and mind of Hides Inside. Hard Face Moon is rich with imagery, perfectly portraying the way Hides Inside experiences the world. Picture this: “We leave the valley between the two ridges and climb onto the flat. Now it is easy to see everyone stretched out in a long line like colored beads on an invisible rope.” Hear and feel this: “Wind presses against my cheeks, chanting a wild earth song as my pony’s hooves drum the ground.”
The end captures the true horror of the massacre, and we feel the overwhelming sadness and pain of Hides Inside and his people as they suffer the full extent of their betrayal by white soldiers. Reading Hard Face Moon is a far more meaningful way for students to learn about what happened that awful day at Big Sandy Creek than reading from a textbook could ever be.
Ms. Oswald provides an Author’s Note to help with the historical context, as well as a Timeline of Events and a bibliography for those who want to read more.