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.

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