Kaya and the Grandmothers

Short story collection published in 2006; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


While exploring the woods near the camas harvest field, Kaya comes across an elderly woman who says she's looking for her cousin. Kaya knows that she shouldn't leave the woman alone, and invites her to come stay with Kaya and her family, to rest a bit before she continues searching for her cousin. The woman is closed-off at first, but relents. Kaya's father happens to have seen her cousin's family, and knows they will be arriving to the camas harvest in a day or two. Kaya enjoys listening to "Old Grandmother" tell stories, and together the two find a coyote den that Speaking Rain was sure was around; she'd heard the puppies.

Meanwhile, Kaya and Speaking Rain are walking on eggshells around each other. Speaking Rain will soon leave to spend time with White Braids, and they're both upset at themselves for being upset. Speaking Rain says that with Old Grandmother around, Kaya won't have to miss Speaking Rain, and Kaya counters that Speaking Rain doesn't care about her family anymore now that she has White Braids. Old Grandmother talks with Kaya about the coyotes, and Kaya soon catches on that Old Grandmother is using them as an analogy about the bond sisters share. Kaya and Speaking Rain make up, realizing what they knew all along: they each love many important people, but that doesn't mean they love each other any less. They enjoy the time they have before Speaking Rain leaves with some Salish traders to see White Braids.

Then it's time for the First Roots festival. Kaya watches her mother prepare for the ceremony, excited to join her when she's older. Before it starts, Old Grandmother gives Kaya her own digging stick. Kaya is moved by the gesture, and promises to use it well just as Old Grandmother had. Kaya looks at her elders around her, and thinks of Swan Circling, and promises that she'll make them all proud.

Looking Back

As a hunter-gatherer society, the Nimíipuu of Kaya's time ascribed to traditional gender roles: men were the hunters and fishermen and laborers, women were the gatherers and preparers and nurturers. But both men and women were respected, for both were necessary for a functioning society. and both men and women could be leaders. Camas bulbs were especially important, as the nutritious roots were a winter staple. The first time a girl gathered camas bulbs, she would be celebrated with a feast, during which she served the people in her camp, but she herself wouldn't eat: she was now a provider (boys had a similar ceremony when they started fishing). Today camas bulbs aren't an everyday food for most people, but many Nez Perce enjoy them on special occasions.


The camas plant was important enough to give its name to a city in southern Washington near Vancouver. One of my dad's friends works for the city of Camas in an elected position.

I guess it took a little for the camas bulbs to be ready; clearly Kaya made it back from the last story in time for the festival.

We never find out if Old Grandmother reunited with her cousin.


Kaya and the Flood

Short story collection published in 2006; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


Now that she's mourned the loss of Swan Circling, Kaya is eager to harvest the camas bulbs, which her sorrow prevented her from doing last year (her emotions might have tainted the plants). But she might miss another First Roots festival when she's needed to assist her grandmother with a young woman in labor. Kaya is disappointed at the prospect, but also excited to be considered so important the she can help with this event. By evening, a healthy baby boy is delivered, and the mother is doing well too. Maybe even well enough to travel after a good night's sleep.

But Kaya awakes to hear the horses panicking. There's a flood! Quickly Kaya catches the last horse that hasn't run off (she tethered the alpha horse, which would normally prevent all from wandering away) for the mother and baby to ride, and her grandmother grabs her bag of medical supplies. They flee to higher ground, and the rest of their supplies are washed away in the flash flood--but the people are safe. After the waters recede a short time later, Kaya goes looking for the missing horses. She can't find Steps High or her foal Sparks Flying at first, but then she hears Steps High whinnying nervously. Steps High is safe, but Sparks Flying is stranded by the floodwaters on a small island. Kaya has to swim across with Steps High to convince the foal to swim back to the shore. It's a tricky crossing through cold, turbulent water, but the horses can sense Kaya's confidence and trust her. Kaya's grandmother saw the ordeal, and praises Kaya's bravery and resourcefulness not only for the rescue, but all her actions over the last twenty-four hours. As her grandmother starts to prepare a meal, Kaya notes that they'll be staying to rest a while. Her grandmother confirms that Kaya might miss the ceremony, but certainly not the harvest. She'll be able to provide for her family just as Swan Circling did, the same way Kaya emulated Swan Circling's bravery. Kaya's grandmother points out that she's kept the baby safe, and looking at the newborn with his mother, Kaya's satisfied that she's done well.

Looking Back

Staying safe was everyone's responsibility is Kaya's time. Though scouts were assigned to watch for danger day and night, the rest of a camp was expected to be aware of surroundings and ready for anything. Children were encouraged to play active games to keep fit and make-believe games that mimicked the skills they would need as adults. People kept an eye on what the animals around them were doing as well, as the animals' keener senses could alert them to fire or floods or other dangers before a scout's eyes and ears could pick them up. From a young age, children were shown how to watch for dangerous animals like mountain lions, bears, and venomous snakes. Armed with the knowledge of what to watch for and how to stay safe, Nimíipuu children would grow up confident in their surroundings.


One of the supplies Kaya fetches for her grandmother is a diaper for the baby. Smart woman; asking for that. The diaper is a buckskin cover that holds milkweed fluff which can be easily removed and replaced when soiled.


Kaya and the Injured Dog

Short story collection published in 2006; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


Kaya's harvesting medicinal plants near where one of her uncles is fishing, and takes some time to play with his dog. She misses Tatlo bitterly, and her uncle's dog helps ease the pain. But the dog is still young and not fully trained. Still, the dog is loyal: when a bear charges toward Kaya, the dog fights it. The dog doesn't fight very well, but enough to distract the bear from Kaya and save her. Before the bear leaves, it takes a final swipe at the dog, severing one of her front legs. Kaya's uncle thinks the dog is dying and is about to euthanize her when she opens her eyes. Kaya insists that the dog wants to live, and they bring the dog back to camp. There, the medicine woman treats the wounds as best she can, and instructs Kaya to continue treatment.

Gradually the dog gets stronger, much to the surprise of a boy who likes to tease Kaya. When the dog starts learning to walk on three legs, he still manages to get in a jab that if the dog can't be trained Kaya should name it Magpie. Angry though she is, Kaya knows he's right. She starts training the dog, but she isn't sure if the training is taking until they come upon another bear. Kaya orders the dog to stay put--the bear hasn't noticed them yet--and though she desperately wants to fight it, the dog obeys. The bear leaves, and Kaya's uncle, who she didn't know was also there, praises the dog and her trainer. The teasing boy is also there, and grudgingly congratulates Kaya. Kaya graciously says that she wouldn't have worked so hard to train the dog were it not for him. Kaya's uncle, seeing the bond between Kaya and the dog, says that Kaya can keep the dog for her own if she wishes. Kaya gratefully accepts, and names the dog Three Legs--with four legs, the dog was brave; now with three, she is brave and trustworthy.

Looking Back

Like all peoples before the advent of modern medicine (and plenty today), Kaya would have relied on medicines made from the natural world: roots, leaves, bark (willow bark can be used to make aspirin, incidentally), and many other things. Nez Perce with special knowledge of these natural remedies were called tiwata'aa if women and tiweet if men. Often their wyakins would be in the form of bears, considered very gifted in medicinal powers. Nez Perce today avail themselves of the modern conveniences but also look to traditional medicines. The combination gives them access to a wide variety of credible treatments.


A lot of the sketches in this and the other short stories are the same ones from the main six books.


The Silent Stranger

Published in 2005; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


With a stretch of mild weather in the usually-cold winter, Kaya and her camp are preparing for a solemn horseback ride to mark the end of the time of mourning for Swan Circling. Kaya has the honor of leading Swan Circling's riderless horse. But soon a mystery presents itself: a young woman from another, unknown tribe is found in the woods. Her hands have been badly burnt, and she's traveling alone. She doesn't speak any language that anyone in Kaya's camp knows, and doesn't use sign language (either because of her injuries or because she doesn't know it), so there's no way to tell who she is or where she's from or why she's alone in the bitter winter. She's very reserved but opens up a tiny bit to Kaya when she sees Tatlo. Something about the dog softens the woman's wary exterior just a little. After the horseback procession, Kaya is happy to see that the woman is allowing herself to be cared for, although still not attempting to communicate. 

Speculation runs rampant over where the woman came from. Some of her clothing is like that of the tribes by the sea, and some like inland tribes: could she be an escaped slave? Maybe she was driven out by her own people as punishment: will she bring misfortune to Kaya's camp? Maybe the woman is actually the spirit Coyote, in disguise to play a trick. Kaya's grandmother is adamant that they show her hospitality; it's the right thing to do. Kaya agrees, especially as the woman seems only sad, not dangerous. She sees the woman watching a hawk circle and thinking that a hawk may be the woman's wyakin, decides to call her Hawk Woman until she learns her real name.

Hawk Woman remains withdrawn, silently accepting food and other help, but always avoiding eye contact. Clearly there will be more questions before any answers are found. Kaya sees Hawk Woman walking into the woods with Tatlo and follows. She finds Hawk Woman cradling a doll and singing to it, a very peculiar behavior. Tatlo seems entranced. When Hawk Woman sees Kaya, she hides the doll and holds up her hands, empty, as if trying to hide that she was playing with a doll. Kaya offers to help the woman find whatever she's looking for, but Hawk Woman either doesn't understand or doesn't want help. Trying to find the right way to help Hawk Woman, Kaya offers her one of Tatlo's sisters since Hawk Woman seems to like dogs. But Hawk Woman refuses and instead holds Tatlo close. Maybe the people who think Hawk Woman was exiled as punishment are right. Maybe she has no respect for anyone or anything, and would be content to simply take whatever she desires whether it belongs to someone else or not. 

That night, Hawk Woman has what seems to be a night terror, vacillating between rocking her tattered doll and lashing out. Kaya's finally able to calm her with a lullaby, but Hawk Woman is no more forthcoming about her past. In the morning, when Kaya's toddler cousin (the one Swan Circling saved) runs past Hawk Woman, headed for the river. Hawk Woman just stands and watches and doesn't try to stop the little girl. Fortunately Tatlo heads her off. Kaya can't understand why Hawk Woman would just stand idly by while a toddler was at risk of drowning. Add to that the fact that Tatlo seems to be growing attached to Hawk Woman and Kaya's starting to resent Hawk Woman. And then Tatlo's sister is killed by a mountain lion, and Hawk Woman is seen in the brush nearby. Does Hawk Woman have the power to summon the forces of nature to do her bidding?

Kaya talks over her concerns with her grandmother. Her grandmother remains steady that they need to care for Hawk Woman. While the injuries to her hands are healing, something has grievously injured her spirit. They must have compassion for Hawk Woman. Other Nez Perce are arriving for the Spirit Dances, and Kaya hopes the medicine man with them can help Hawk Woman. During the ceremonies, Hawk Woman disappears. Kaya tries to track her but has no luck until she's visited by a wolf which might be an apparition; the text isn't clear. It tells her (Kaya could communicate with Lone Dog this way too) to look for Hawk Woman not with anger, but with an open heart. She can't hold it against Hawk Woman that Tatlo follows her. Tatlo is trying to help Hawk Woman too.

The wolf's advice helps Kaya, and she finds Hawk Woman in a cave with Tatlo. She convinces Hawk Woman to come with her at least a little way, though Hawk Woman--finally using sign language--says she must go north, but she can't remember why. Then the doll she's been carrying falls in the fire and when Kaya rescues it, Hawk Woman suddenly remembers everything. She'd been taken captive years before, and eventually married a man from another tribe. She and her husband were traveling with their baby, to whom the doll belongs, when lightning struck. It killed her husband, horse, and dog (who looked like Tatlo), and started a fire. Hawk Woman couldn't find her baby, only the doll. When Kaya returns to camp with Hawk Woman, one of her family members tells her a story that one of the visiting Nez Perce had related, how he found a baby by the body of her father just as his wife had borne a child. They've cared for the baby as their own. Kaya puts two and two together; the story matches Hawk Woman's. As quickly as she can, Kaya arranges for Hawk Woman to see the baby, and Hawk Woman instantly recognizes her daughter.

Kaya couldn't be happier for Hawk Woman, but she still feels like she should do more for her. She consults Swan Circling's spirit, and in heart she knows what she must do. She tells Hawk Woman, who reveals name is actually Hawk Rising, that when spring comes and they meet with traders who can take her back to her people, Hawk Rising must take Tatlo with her. Hawk Rising is moved by Kaya's generosity, and she's not the only one. Kaya's grandmother saw Kaya's selflessness, and decides that Kaya is ready to Swan Circling's name and, once the weather is better, to go on her vision quest.

Looking Back

Although many Native American tribes traveled and lived in overlapping territories, they didn't all follow the same customs. A stranger from another tribe would instantly identifiable as such by different hairstyle, dress, and mannerisms. Individual tribes had their own languages as well, but many knew the same sign language and could use the communicate across cultural barriers. A stranger traveling alone with no way to communicate--like Hawk Woman--was cause for unease. Traveling alone could mean that a person had been exiled, but it also might mean that the person was an escaped captive. Because a stranger's intent wouldn't always be easily known, a shaman would inspect the new person to determine whether harm could be brought to the village. Hospitality was an important virtue for the Nimíipuu, and taking care of a stranger like Hawk Woman, who would probably die on her own, was the right thing to do.


This book is dedicated to "Kathy Borkowski, historian, with love and gratitude."

I thought the big reveal would be that Hawk Woman's child had died and she was out of her mind with grief. I'm glad that the baby was still alive, even if she's just a fictional character.

I usually don't like the American Girl mysteries (or the Baby-sitters Club ones), but this was really good. It had a cohesive plot without lots of dead ends or pointless tangents. It might even be my favorite Kaya book.


Kaya and the Beavers

Short story collection published in 2006; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


One clear day in early winter, Kaya tells her brothers that she has a surprise to show them. She leads Wing Feather and Sparrow through the woods to a pond, in which lives a family of beavers. Kaya and the boys like to watch them swim about, preparing their home for winter just like their own family does. They're not the only ones watching: Bent Bow, an eight-year-old who's grown sullen and cruel since his parents were attacked and killed by an enemy tribe, starts throwing rocks at the beavers, scaring them into their lodge. Bent Bow recently killed a grouse during a hunt but left its body for the crows, wasting it. All the boys were switched by the Whip Woman for the disrespect he showed the animal, but he didn't seem to show any remorse. Kaya and her brothers are worried he'll harm the beavers. The next day the trio returns to the beaver lodge, and see no sign that Bent Bow has returned. However, a bear spies the beavers and attacks them. They're able to escape, and the bear doesn't smell or see Kaya, Wing Feather, and Sparrow in their hiding place. After it ambles off, Kaya sees that Bent Bow is back again. Cautiously, she tries to connect with him by exclaiming with relief that the beavers are safe, but Bent Bow counters darkly that his parents never had that chance and stalks away.

Kaya returns to the beaver pond the next day, happy that soon it will be cold enough that ice will protect the beavers from predators, safe in their lodge. But their dam is broken, and water is rushing out. If it gets too low, then the pond will freeze solid and the beavers won't be able to access their storage of food under the water. She sees human footprints near the break in the dam, and then sees Bent Bow. How could he have broken their dam, dooming them to starvation! She angrily reprimands him, but Bent Bow explains that he was trying to help by adding more logs to the dam. The beaver family reminds him of his own (his mother's wyakin was a beaver), and he was only angry that the beaver parents didn't trust him. When he tried to fortify the dam, he accidentally broke it. Kaya can seen that Bent Bow is being truthful, and shows him that the logs haven't washed too far away. They need to leave the rebuilding of the dam to the beavers, but they can bring the logs back to the pond. Working together all day, they help the beaver family restore the dam. It's nearly done when the sun starts to set, and Kaya says they need to go back to camp. Bent Bow wants to keep working, but Kaya says they will visit in the morning, and by then they'll see that the dam is good as new. Sensing a change in Bent Bow, Kaya thinks that he will be healing as well.

Looking Back

The historical section compares and contrasts beavers with the Nimíipuu lifestyle of the eighteenth century. Both used autumn as a time to store up extra food and reinforce their homes for winter, but while beavers are largely dormant during the cold months, the Nimíipuu kept busy mending supplies and making new ones. And of course, beavers didn't pass along cultural knowledge through stories or hold ceremonial rituals. But both had their ways of life threatened by settlers from Europe. Beaver pelts were highly prized, and the animals were hunted near extinction. Trapping limits were set, and the populations rebounded, although beavers switched from being mostly diurnal to mostly nocturnal in response to the hunting.


The twins refer to animals and birds as if birds aren't animals. They're only five though, and they meant to distinguish between land animals and birds. But lately I've been seeing people posting on the internet that insects and other arthropods aren't animals...presumably these people are older than five. Are insects supposed to be fungi or plants, then? Inanimate objects?

My dad will sometimes sarcastically ponder whether beavers have to file environmental impact statements before building dams. I see beavers swimming in the river across the street from me (and a couple times, otters!), but I've seen neither paperwork nor dams over there. Lots of felled trees, though.

Beavers are the second-largest extant rodent, the largest being the capybara. North American and European beavers are similar sizes. The porcupine is the next largest rodent.


Changes for Kaya

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


 Kaya's life is going pretty well. Speaking Rain is back safe, Cut Cheek is doing well impressing her parents and may soon be her brother-in-law, Tatlo is (gradually) learning to behave, her grief over the loss of Swan Circling is lessening, and she's only rarely called Magpie now. And there's word that a herd of feral horses might have some of the ones stolen from her camp last year. She's able to ride out with her father and an experienced horseman, Raven, and is elated to see Steps High--with a foal! The horse recognizes her and seems happy to be back. But as they're headed back to camp with their stolen horses, a wildfire blocks their path. The three ride desperately ahead of the flames, but Steps High's foal gets lost and the horse goes after her offspring. Kaya catches up to Steps High and mounts her, knowing that it's the only way she can hope to stay near her horse. Steps High remembers being ridden and doesn't buck Kaya off. They find the foal and follow the sound of Kaya's father whistling back out of the flames and beyond a firebreak. Kaya's father is grateful to see his daughter, but he didn't whistle and neither did Raven. It must have been the Stick People (who are mentioned from time to time in the Kaya books and seem to be spirits that can either hinder or aid people lost in the woods). She'll have to be sure to leave a gift of gratitude for the Stick People.

Back at the camp, there are other gifts to prepare. Kaya's family and Cut Cheek's family have agreed that Brown Deer and Cut Cheek should marry before winter fully arrives. Already the fires have been put out by a light dusting of snow, so everyone gets busy preparing a feast and presents for Cut Cheek's family (who will bring presents to the feast themselves). As Kaya works with her grandmother, they talk about the vision quest she'll be undertaking, maybe in as soon as a few months. Her grandmother asks if she's fearful about it. Kaya reflects on her past year: she's dealt with teasing, been taken captive, forced to leave her sister behind, lost a dear friend, and led her horse through a fire. A visions quest doesn't scare her. She thinks about Swan Circling's bravery, and decides she's determined. For now, she'll focus on the wedding planning, but when it's her turn for a rite of passage, she's ready.

Looking Back

In 1805, the Nimíipuu had their first significant interaction with European settlers in the form of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Their initial meetings were friendly, but as the United States spread west under the flag of Manifest Destiny (the belief that all the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific was the US's God-given right), the Nimíipuu and other tribes found themselves edged out. The US government tried to buy land from them and give them small reservations, but the Nimíipuu were used to traveling over a large area, following the food sources: harvesting wild plants here, catching fish there, hunting over there. Their hunter-gatherer lifestyle didn't fit within the confines of the agricultural society the US was used to. Their cultures conflicted in other ways as well. Some Christian missionaries weren't satisfied with sharing the spiritual aspects of their beliefs and insisted that Native Americans conform to more European societal expectations, like men having short hair and women wearing clothes that covered more of their bodies. Then there was the problem of disease; many illnesses which the descendants of European and African people could withstand were devastating to the Native American tribes (actually one reason that African slaves were favored while Native American slaves weren't). Skirmishes broke out from time to time between Native American tribes and settlers. Eventually a large band of Nimíipuu fled for Canada (which doesn't have a clean record on interactions with indigenous people either, but was a better option then), pursued by the US Army. There were battles along the way, culminating in the defeat of the Nimíipuu, when Chief Joseph spoke his famous "I will fight no more forever" speech.

Today, the Nez Perce culture still survives, and has been allowed to grow again. Nez Perce cultural centers offer a more understanding world the opportunity to learn and take part in various aspects of Nez Perce life. As the Nez Perce saying goes, "Where ever we go, we are always Nez Perce."


This book is dedicated to "my stepdaughter, Becky, and her children, Tony and Adrienne, with love."

I wonder why Speaking Rain never got a Best Friends book. Same with Addy's friend Sarah. I can see that it would be hard to pick one of Josefina's sisters for a Best Friends book, and it would probably be depressing to have one for Kirsten's friend Marta (maybe it could have focused on Singing Bird), but Speaking Rain and Sarah could easily have fit the series.


Kaya and the River Girl

Short story collection published in 2006; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


While several tribes are gathered to fish at Celilo Falls, Kaya is challenged to a race by a girl from the Wishram tribe, Spotted Owl. Kaya is one of the fastest children in her village, but Spotted Owl is faster. Kaya tries to be a good sport, but her ego is bruised. Spotted Owl becomes friends with Speaking Rain, who spends part of her time with White Braids, making it even harder for Kaya to swallow her pride. Kaya is still outwardly cordial to Spotted Owl, but wants to be able to really feel as she should. Spotted Owl takes Kaya and Speaking Rain to a high cliff wall where a painted face serves as a watchful spirit for the Wishram people (who aren't nomadic). Kaya wonders if the spirit, She Who Watches, can help her get over her resentment of Spotted Owl. Despite her sincere efforts, Kaya still has troubling feelings toward Spotted Owl. During what should be a friendly competition, Kaya body-checks Spotted Owl harder than she should have and knocks the wind out of her. Kaya confides in Speaking Rain that she knows Spotted Owl is a good, kind person, but she can't get over how she feels. Speaking Rain reminds Kaya that people should work together and encourages Kaya.

Kaya goes after Spotted Owl, but before she speak to her, they both see an elderly woman slip as she tries to get in her canoe and fall into the rapids of the Columbia River. Without hesitation, the girls work together to rescue the woman, relying on each other's strengths to save the woman's life. When the ordeal is over, Kaya is over her ego and offers Spotted Owl a toy horse she had made (part of the rescue involved Spotted Owl riding a horse). Spotted Owl gives Kaya a doll she made in return, and Kaya suggests they become trading partners. Now the girls will find each other every fishing season and build a strong friendship. Kaya thinks She Who Watches must have been helping them, and will be pleased with how they've become friends.

Looking Back

The historical section is about how different tribes would trade goods when they met at large gatherings, like fishing the salmon runs. Since the tribes were from disparate areas, they would have had access to things that others wouldn't have, and vice versa. The things that everyone could get, like woven baskets, were still sought-after trade items, because one tribe might use different materials or designs than another. Trading partners built relationships with each other that could last a lifetime.


And because I typed about a spiritual being on a "high cliff wall" I have "King of Pain" by The Police in my head. There's a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall/That's my soul up there. It's a great song, so I don't mind.

Kaya is the last of the historical characters to get a short story collection.


Kaya Shows the Way

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


The salmon are running, and it's time for Kaya and her family to travel to Celilo Falls to fish. Other Nimíipuu will be there, and other tribes as well. Kaya's older sister Brown Deer is excited and nervous to see Cut Cheek again, hoping his family will approve of her and that they can marry. Kaya feels the same about seeing Two Hawks when the Salish arrive: will he have good news about Speaking Rain, bad news, or no news? Kaya's father tells her that there's a band of Salish on the other side of the river, and Kaya goes to see if Two Hawks is with them.

On the other side of the Columbia River, Kaya's dog Tatlo leads her to a wonderful surprise: he recognized the scent from Speaking Rain's doll (Kaya brought it with her just in case) and heads right for Speaking Rain herself! The girls duck inside a shelter as a storm passes, and Speaking Rain tells Kaya how shortly after Kaya's escape, the enemy tribe broke camp and prepared to move on. In the swirl of packing, Speaking Rain was left behind; maybe intentionally, maybe not. She tried to find shelter and food, but being blind in unfamiliar territory made that all but impossible, and Speaking Rain soon grew weak and ill from malnutrition and exposure. An elderly Salish woman, White Braids, found Speaking Rain and nursed her back to health. White Braids had lost a daughter years before, and sees Speaking Rain as a second daughter. Speaking Rain now helps White Braids with many tasks and braids strong, valuable hemp rope which White Braids trades for things they need. And then Speaking Rain gently tells Kaya that she's made a vow: she won't leave White Braids. She owes the woman her life, and White Braids has no family to care for her.

After the storm dies down and morning comes, Kaya goes back to the other side of the river. She tells her family the good news about Speaking Rain, and the bad that she won't live with them anymore. She talks with her family members about her mixed feelings, and how she wishes Speaking Rain hadn't made the vow. She knows it would be wrong to ask Speaking Rain to break a promise, but she'll miss her sister terribly (they briefly consider asking both White Braids and Speaking Rain to move in with them, but White Braids only speaks Salish and Kaya doubts she'd be comfortable living away from her people). While discussing things with Brown Deer, Kaya has a revelation: they see the Salish a few a times a year...what if Speaking Rain spends half the year with White Braids and half the year with Kaya's family? That way Speaking Rain can have time with both her adopted mothers, honor her vow, and be a part of both families. 

Kaya's family meets with White Braids, and Speaking Rain and Two Hawks help interpret. White Braids hurries to explain that she never meant to take Speaking Rain from her family, only to love her and help her get well. Kaya's father understands, but says he has to honor his daughter's promise. Then he has Kaya explain her idea, which everyone agrees to. Two Hawks and his father will meet Kaya's family in the spring on the Palouse again, so that Speaking Rain can spend the winter with Kaya and then join up again with White Braids in time for the hard work of the spring harvest.

Back home with all the family, Kaya and Speaking Rain help Brown Deer while she decorates a deer hide for Cut Cheek's mother. Cut Cheek's family has approved of her, and she wants to have a special gift ready for the matriarch. The next step is for Cut Cheek to live with Kaya's family for a time, to prove that he's worthy of Brown Deer. Kaya is very satisfied: she can enjoy the company of both her sisters for a long time.

Looking Back

Celilo Falls, just east of the Cascade mountains on the Washington-Oregon border, was a traditional salmon fishing ground for hundreds if not thousands of years. Native American tribes came from as far away as California, Alaska, and Missouri to fish. With the large gathering of so many tribes, as much trading went on as fishing. Friendly competitions like races and a game similar to field hockey were also held. Sometimes marriages between tribes would be arranged, offering the same political protections as marriages between countries in Europe. But in 1950, the Dalles Dam was put up to supply hydroelectric power, one of eight dams along the Columbia River. Not only do the dams block salmon from reaching their fishing grounds, they prevent modern-day Nez Perce and others from fishing as they have for generations. Several Native American tribes have been working with the government to try to at least partially open some of the dams to allow for fishing.


This book is dedicated to "my stepdaughter, Betsy, with love."

Kaya is still getting teased by being called Magpie.

The book gives some background about Speaking Rain's adoption: her mother died of an illness when Speaking Rain was about one--just learning to walk--and not long after her father was gored to death on a bison hunt. Speaking Rain's mother and Kaya's mother were cousins, who had always been close and grew closer after they both bore daughters near each other (Kaya's slightly older). When Speaking Rain was orphaned, it was only natural for her to be taken in by Kaya's parents. She was already blind at that point, possibly from the same illness that killed her mother, although the book doesn't specify.


Kaya and the Lone Dog

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


When Kaya was captive, she was forced to work long hours without enough to eat. She vowed then to not chase away any of the starving dogs that sometimes come to her camp. When it's time to harvest camas bulbs, she gets a chance to make good on her promise. Because Kaya's still grieving the absence of her sister and the death of Swan Circling, she can't join in the harvest lest her negative thoughts affect the roots. Instead, her father gives her a job training a horse. While working with it, Kaya sees a heavily pregnant dog hanging around the woods near the camp. The alpha dog of the camp's pack doesn't seem to trust this new one, but Kaya remembers her vow and promises to give the dog food whenever she can. At first the dog is skittish and Kaya only earns teasing from the other children. But the animal, who Kaya names Lone Dog, calms down significantly after giving birth to four puppies. She's still wary, but lets Kaya see the puppies. Kaya's parents and grandparents want her to stay away from Lone Dog until Kaya explains she made a promise. Knowing that Kaya doesn't want to go back on her word, her elders revise their ruling so that Kaya may feed Lone Dog but must exercise extreme caution in case Lone Dog is dangerous. They surmise there must be a reason the dog is alone; maybe it was driven away after it bit a child or attacked a horse. 

Meanwhile, the harvest continues. Other tribes arrive at the Palouse Prairie, and trade items back and forth. One man has come all the way from the coast (the Palouse is more than three hundred miles from the Pacific as the crow flies) and mentions seeing European explorers in large ships. Kaya's grandmother is concerned that he mentioned bright red flags, because of a vision she had where red cloth became red blood. Everyone agrees to be cautious, but before they talk about it much more Two Hawks jumps up from his place. He recognizes some of newcomers as Salish, and might even recognize the horse one of them has. He rides out with Kaya and her father, and one of the Salish men turns out to be his uncle, who confirms that to Two Hawks that his parents are alive and well. They haven't heard anything about Speaking Rain, but promise to watch for signs of her and even send some scouts to look around when it's fishing season and they're nearer the enemy territory.

As the days pass, Lone Dog's puppies grow bigger, and she learns to trust Kaya enough to let her pet the puppies and herself. Kaya's younger brothers follow her to the den one day and want to pet the dogs too, but Kaya warns them that she's not sure how tame Lone Dog is. The twins agree to stay away, but Sparrow can't help himself and goes to see the puppies. Wing Feather tells Kaya, who rushes to protect her brother from the possible threat. However, when she gets to Lone Dog's den, there is much more real problem: a bear is trying to get to the puppies, and Sparrow, approaching from a different direction, doesn't see the bear until it turns on him. Lone Dog comes out of nowhere and scares the bear off, getting some superficial wounds herself. 

Now that everyone in the village trusts Lone Dog, Kaya hopes she and her puppies will join the pack. Even the alpha dog has accepted Lone Dog. But while the puppies are happily settling into pack life, Kaya can tell that Lone Dog is uneasy. Kaya confides in her grandmother that she worries Lone Dog won't follow when they move on. Her grandmother says Kaya could tie a collar around Lone Dog's neck and make her stay with them, but Kaya, having been tied up as a captive, can't do that. Her grandmother agrees that Kaya shouldn't force Lone Dog into a life she doesn't want. Indeed, once the puppies are fully weaned, Lone Dog leaves. Kaya is sad to see her friend go, but one of the puppies, which she calls Tatlo ("ground squirrel;" which the puppies looked like as newborns), seems to remember how Kaya helped his mother. He and Kaya form a close bond.

Looking Back

The historical section is about how Nimíipuu children grew up in Kaya's time. When a baby was born, it was cause for great celebration among the whole extended family. The baby would be given a name that reflected the parents' hopes for the child (Kaya's referred to a healer arranging rocks around a sweat lodge; her mother hoped Kaya would be gifted in medicine). A person's name could change more than once during a lifetime, sometimes because of a landmark event or because another relative wanted to bestow a name (like Swan Circling did). For most of their first year, babies spent a lot of time in cradleboards. The snug carriers were perfect for taking babies along on horseback among the nomadic tribe. Before the introduction of horses to the Americas, the Nimíipuu traveled from hunting ground to fishing grounds to winter camps on foot, and toddlers and young children walked or ran with the dogs to stay safe. The Nez Perce today are heavily involved in wolf conservation.

When children got older and more independent, their parents and other relatives watched them explore their world to see what innate talents they might have, so they could encourage them in those ways. By five, children were fully included in daily rituals, and learned more tasks as they got older. When they were about twelve or thirteen, they would undertake an important rite of passage, the vision quest. During this time of fasting, isolation, and prayer, they would hope to see a wyakin (guardian spirit). The wyakin would first appear in the form of a person to impart a talent, then the form of an animal to reveal its true self. These visions would tell the teens about themselves and what skills they could best develop.


This book is dedicated to "my daughter, Kris, her husband, Paul, and their sons, Will and Peter, with love."

This book was released in 2002 with the other main six, instead of split over two years like the last couple.

Kaya sees a flock of geese migrating from their winter homes back north. There's a picture of some Canada geese, but those summer in Canada and winter in the US for the most part. Some areas--including parts of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho--have year-round Canada geese. Trumpeter swans would have been a good bird to use. Her brothers also chase some green racer snakes, which live in the eastern part of North America; they should have been chasing garter snakes.

The Big River is confirmed to be the Columbia River; there's a picture of it "meeting the sea" which is clearly where it divides Washington and Oregon on the Pacific coast.

I think it's interesting that the Nimíipuu rite of passage happened at about the same age as Jewish children become Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, and some Catholic parishes have Confirmation.

Some of the Looking Part feels a little "noble savage" but I'm not sure. 


Kaya's Hero

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


Winter has set in. Kaya and her family--minus Speaking Rain, that is--are at their winter camp. Two Hawks is still with them as well. When the weather's better, Kaya's father has promised to help him look for his family among the Salish people. Two Hawks is still recovering from his broken ankle, and doesn't speak the same language as Kaya, and is often in a poor mood. Kaya's able to get him out and about a little, on horseback due to his ankle. But most of the time Two Hawks sulks, angry about still not being able to communicate well and being away from anything familiar. Eventually he lets a few people get close to him, and finds some friends.

Kaya is also getting to know Swan Circling better. The wyakin Kaya saw when she and Two Hawks were escaping seemed to briefly take the form of Swan Circling, and Kaya admires the brave young woman, hoping to one day be like her. But Kaya still feels guilty about Speaking Rain being the captive of an enemy tribe, and thinks that if other children are still calling her Magpie maybe she won't be able to grow up to be as wise and courageous as Swan Circling. But Swan Circling takes every opportunity to encourage Kaya and talk to her. Maybe Kaya is capable of being like Swan Circling. Swan Circling seems to know that there's something Kaya feels uneasy about and tells her different stories alluding to the fact that Kaya can tell her about it, but Kaya worries that Swan Circling won't want to associate with her anymore if she learns how Kaya and Speaking Rain got captured.

One especially cold day, Kaya's baby cousin comes down with what almost sounds like pertussis (which can be fatal especially in infants and for which we now have a vaccine--check to see if you're up-to-date on yours). The medicine woman needs a particular kind of bark to help the baby. Swan Circling heads out into the bitter cold to find it, but her horse comes back riderless. The bag of bark is tied to the saddle, but where is Swan Circling?

A group of men ride out to try to find her. They come back with the news that her horse must have slipped on ice and thrown her--they found Swan Circling's body near some boulders. Kaya is overcome with grief. Not only has she lost a friend and mentor, she didn't have a chance to work up the courage to tell Swan Circling about her Magpie nickname or the night she and Speaking Rain were captured. At Swan Circling's funeral, Kaya silently vows to become the person Swan Circling knew she could be.

A short time later (as the baby's on the mend), Kaya's mother acts as a sort of executor of Swan Circling's estate. Her spirit won't be able to rest until her possessions are given away or burned, so this must be done quickly. Kaya is surprised and honored to be given Swan Circling's saddle, and then doubly so when Kaya's mother announces that Swan Circling had had a vision of her death, and wanted to given Kaya her name! Later, in private, Kaya confides in her mother that she's not sure she's worthy of the name. Her mother assures her that she is: Swan Circling knew about Kaya's nickname and capture, but still believed that her other actions outweighed those and that Kaya would grow to be strong, brave, and wise. 

The book ends with Kaya visiting her heroine's gravesite. She tells Swan Circling's spirit that she's not ready yet to go by the name, but she will strive to live up to it. She wants to prove herself first by getting Speaking Rain back. She's grateful for the woman's trust in her abilities, and wants to deserve the name before she uses it.

Looking Back

During the winter months, most outdoor activities halted. Kaya and her family would have relied on the food they'd gathered and hunted in the warmer seasons to last through the winter. But there was still plenty to do: fishing nets, clothing, bows, arrows, pots, blankets, tools, and more needed to made or mended. Some of the items might be decorated with colored porcupine quills, elk teeth, shells, or other things. Winter was also a prime time to bond and share with other people. Elders would tell stories that passed along lessons and culture. Important ceremonial dances like the medicine dances took place in the winter as well. There, people could watch to see if their wyakins showed themselves.


This book is dedicated to "my son, Mark, his wife, Sue, and their boys, Sam and Max, with love."

Of course this isn't a Christmas book, but there is a scene with Kaya mending Speaking Rain's doll so it will be ready for when her sister is back safe. Another winter book, another doll!

A couple characters mention the Big River. I think that must be the Columbia, especially when Swan Circling talks about diving into it from cliffs. The Columbia goes through some columnar basalt gorges.

I wonder why such important medicine wasn't just stored routinely in the camp. Maybe it needed to be fresh?

Kaya sleeps under a blanket of woven strips of rabbit skin. Right now, I'm really cold and a soft, warm blanket sounds amazing.


Kaya's Escape

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


It's late summer, and time to start stockpiling for winter. Kaya and her mother and older sister are picking berries (Speaking Rain is with other women at the camp weaving baskets) while the men are hunting for elk and deer, which together with the fish and vegetation will provide food for the winter. Though the work is hard under the hot sun, Kaya is happy to help provide for her family. Until she eats a few of the berries and another girl calls her Magpie again. 

But that night Kaya's troubles get much bigger than a taunting nickname. An enemy tribes raids the camp and makes off with several horses, as well as Kaya and Speaking Rain. Kaya blames herself: if she hadn't followed Swan Circling, a warrior woman, to the horses, she and Speaking Rain could have stayed hidden. The horses ride too far and too fast for Kaya to safely jump off, much less Speaking Rain.

When they reach the enemy camp, Kaya is worried. There's another captive boy there, who looks tired and beat-down. Kaya wonders if Speaking Rain will be considered too much work and that she might be abandoned to die, and makes a promise to herself to work twice as hard to make up for what her blind sister can't do. But Speaking Rain isn't useless; the women of the enemy camp soon realize that she can help with their babies and do many chores by touch. While she toils, Kaya sees some magpies and bitterly reflects that if she hadn't been so impulsive she and Speaking Rain wouldn't be in this mess. She ties a magpie feather to her belt to remind her to make better decisions.

Not long after, Kaya and Speaking Rain realize that their captors have almost as much food as their horses can carry. Soon they'll go to their winter campgrounds, even farther away. They work out a plan to escape--but Speaking Rain points out that it would be more sensible if Kaya left without her. Although Kaya is horrified at the thought, she knows Speaking Rain is right. Kaya can go faster on her own, and then bring her family back to get Speaking Rain. Using a sign language, Kaya is able to communicate with the captive boy, who is a member of the Salish tribe friendly with Kaya's, and they plan to escape together. A storm one night gives them perfect cover. Kaya cuts her bonds with a knife that Speaking Rain gets her (being blind, Speaking Rain wasn't tied up) and meets the boy, Two Hawks, in the woods. With pangs of grief at leaving behind Two Steps and her beloved sister, Kaya and Two Hawks escape. They run through the forest, but soon have difficulty. Two Hawks doesn't want to do what Kaya says, even though she has sensible ideas like being guided by the North Star and fishing for food, because he's done with being told what to do. The next day Kaya is exhausted and weak from hunger, but he insists they go on without eating. Kaya refuses and Two Hawks continues anyway. Kaya is about to just let him go when she finds the fresh body of a fawn--that means a predator is nearby. She follows after Two Hawks to warn him, just in time to see a mountain lion pouncing at him.

They're able to scare it off together, and Kaya uses some medicinal plants on the fortunately-superficial wounds Two Hawks has. They agree to work together; they're not enemies. They make good progress back toward Kaya's people (Two Hawks isn't sure if his family is even still alive and winter is too harsh to travel far). One night Kaya feels a strong spiritual presence along a trail, and holding true to her name's meaning of "She who arranges rocks" Kaya builds a cairn (a stone monument) to mark the place. She places the magpie feather in it.

Then as they're traveling, Two Hawks slips and breaks his ankle. He's not able to go very far at one time before needing to rest, and Kaya isn't strong enough to carry him. It starts to snow, and Two Hawks seems to get delirious from the pain. Kaya builds a shelter to keep them warm while they wait out the storm, so frustratingly close to her home. 

In the snow, Kaya sees the image of a woman, which turns into a wolf and trots off as if beckoning Kaya to follow. Is it a wyakin (spirit guide)? She goes after it, and it leads her to her father! He'd seen the cairn she built with the magpie feather as he was searching for her and Speaking Rain. They get Two Hawks and head back to their camp. They won't be able to look for the Salish until spring, and probably not for Speaking Rain for a while yet either, but her father is still impressed with Kaya that she escaped and made it back. Kaya keeps the vision of the wyakin to herself for now.

Looking Back

Because this is the second of the central series, the historical section talks about the education Kaya would have received growing up. She wouldn't have attended a formal school, but throughout her childhood the adults around her were teaching her. She would have been mostly taught by example and by being allowed to follow along with people older than her. Starting at about age three, she would have accompanied her mother and other women to gather roots, berries, and other plants. She would learn to identify animal tracks and signs, and to prepare food and make clothing. Exercise and cleanliness were important lessons too; Kaya would have made being active a priority, and started every day washing in a river or stream and every evening cleansing in a sweat lodge.

About fifty years after Kaya's childhood, the US government began forcing Native American children to attend boarding schools where their culture was suppressed and sometimes literally beaten out them. The children weren't allowed to have any part in their traditional way of life: everything from food to clothing to even language. This was all done in attempt to assimilate the Native Americans into the rest of the US population. But the traditional ways weren't stamped out entirely, and today Nez Perce children are encouraged to learn about their history. Still, not many people alive today can speak Nez Perce fluently.


This book is dedicated to "my daughter Laura Beeler, for Don Read, and for my granddaughter Maya Rain Beeler Balassa, with love."

Because a Nimíipuu girl in the eighteenth century would have had vastly different experiences than the other historical characters released before Kaya, most of her main six books having a different titling theme.

Roosevelt Elk live in the Pacific Northwest. They're the second largest extant member of the deer family, after moose. I've seen a few, once by the side of I-90 once as I was driving to Spokane. I was very happy that it didn't run out to greet my sedan; that thing was huge (I've also seen moose in Idaho, and about a million deer). Another time I saw what I thought was a large dog sitting in a field...when it turned to look over its shoulder I saw that it was actually a very large cat: a mountain lion. Again I was very happy to be in a car!

The website that I linked to in the review of Meet Kaya mentions that a horse-raiding party wouldn't have been interested in taking people; those were different raids. Although it does seem like taking Kaya and Speaking Rain were abducted just because they happened to be in the path of the raiders.


Meet Kaya

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


Kaya'aton'my, who goes by Kaya, lives in what will become the area that we know today as southeast Washington, northeast Oregon, and the lower panhandle of Idaho, but in 1764, none of North America was part of the United States. Kaya is Nimíipuu, today called the Nez Perce, and spends much of her time with her father Toe-ta, mother Eetsa, older sister Brown Deer, four-year-old twin brothers Wing Feather and Sparrow, and adopted sister Speaking Rain. She and her mother and siblings are traveling to where her father is fishing at a salmon run with other Nimíipuu men (the Nimíipuu are a nomadic hunter-gatherer society). Her grandparents are there too. Kaya's excited to show off her new horse, Steps High. She thinks Steps High is the best horse there could be, but also tries to listen to her mother's admonishment to not boast. As they reach their destination, Kaya is charged with watching her younger brothers--Eetsa and Brown Deer need to unpack, and Speaking Rain is blind, so the task falls to Kaya. At the fishing camp, Kaya gets talked into racing her horse against another boy's. She gets lost because Steps High isn't trained well enough yet for racing. As she's finding her way back, Kaya suddenly remembers her brothers. When she finds Speaking Rain, the boys have run off from her.

Fortunately, Kaya and Speaking Rain find the boys and they're safe. But because of Kaya's carelessness, she must be punished. And that means all the other children will be, too. The Whip Woman, an elder appointed to carry out punishments, gives all the children a switching across the backs of their legs and then reprimands Kaya's thoughtlessness as something even magpie wouldn't do, prompting several of the children to start calling her Magpie. Kaya's grandmother tells her to learn from the nickname, that each time she hears it should strengthen her resolve to never act so rashly, and as Kaya becomes an adult the nickname will fade.

Kaya tries to heed her grandmother's advice, though the taunts of the other children sting. She's able to put it aside shortly after when the tribe holds a large ceremonial dance. Her sister is old enough to court, and Kaya thinks she should choose Cut Cheek, a handsome young man who is also a good hunter and fisherman. Kaya describes what's happening during the courtship dance ritual to Speaking Rain, and both are happy when Cut Cheek seeks out Brown Deer and she accepts.

The next day Kaya and Speaking Rain ride out on Steps High to the river to look for their grandmother's knife. When they get near where their grandmother thinks she left it, Speaking Rain waits by some berry bushes while Kaya searches. Speaking Rain starts picking berries, and gets close to the steep bank of the river without realizing it. Kaya tries to warn her, but the dirt under Speaking Rain's feet crumbles and she falls into the fast-moving river. Kaya urges Steps High into a gallop is is able to overtake Speaking Rain and ride into the river to catch her before she's swept away. Her father, who heard Kaya cry out, arrives in time to see the rescue. One of the boys who was teasing Kaya saw too, and it restores some of the respect he'd lost for her.

The book ends with Kaya reflecting on all the commotion of the last few days. She knows that soon she'll be an adult, and hopes she can be a strong and courageous leader. To do so, she knows she'll have to earn that respect and not just boast to feel important. She also knows she can make that happen.

Looking Back

The historical sections is about the Nimíipuu culture. One important facet was (and I think is?) oral tradition, passing down history and stories with the spoken word. When Kaya was growing up, she wouldn't have had much interaction with European settlers. There was some impact though: the domestic horse is from Europe, and so are diseases like smallpox. But European immigrants and their descendants started exploring more west, most notably with the Lewis and Clark expedition. Kaya would have been 50 when the group met the Nimíipuu tribe in the winter of 1805, a meeting which probably saved the explorers from starvation. But as more settlers arrived, the Nimíipuu and other tribes were forced to assimilate into a new culture. Children were sometimes essentially kidnapped and made to attend boarding schools where they weren't allowed to speak their native languages and were coerced into abandoning their culture. The Nimíipuu are still in America today as the Nez Perce, some on reservations and some not. Many do what they can to reclaim and preserve their culture.


This book is dedicated to "the Nez Perce girls and boys, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, unto the seventh generation."

"Kaya" is pronounced "KY-yah."

I remember when Kaya was first introduced. There was a lot of talk about how the doll would have a closed mouth, because showing teeth would have been offensive in her culture. Yet Kaya has an opened-mouth smile on the cover of this book.

Kaya's four-year-old brothers still nap. My older daughter stopped that about age two, but I shouldn't complain because I myself stopped napping around my first birthday.

I'm from the Pacific Northwest too, the Seattle area specifically. I like college football, and cheer for the UW Huskies. UW's rival is the WSU Cougars. What's my point? Kaya should be worried about mountain lions, or pumas, or catamounts (yes, that's a legitimate word). Not Cougars. Ugh.

While European disease certainly took their toll on the indigenous populations of the Americas, there was a whole series of deadly epidemics that started in the 1500s, including what researchers now think was a strain of Hanta virus that acted like the Ebola virus that ravaged parts of Central America. Due to a combination of illnesses from around the world, it's estimated that 90% of the original inhabitants of what would become the east coast of the United States died before most of the European settlers arrived, and the depopulation spread west from there.

For some very interesting perspective on whether Kaya is a respectful portrayal of a young Native American girl, check out this website. It also points out some factual errors. One of the things it mentions is that while the Looking Back section says the name Nez Perce comes from French fur traders thinking the people wore seashells through their noses, it was actually a reference to the way they would pierce the septa of their horses' noses so the animals could breathe deeper and therefore run longer.