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Waterless Mountain

3.31  ·  Rating Details  ·  781 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
Winner of the 1931 Newbery Medal, this is an authentic novel about an eight-year-old Navaho boy's training as a medicine man. This deeply moving and accurate account of one young Navaho's childhood and spiritual journey is filled with wonder and respect for the natural world--a living record of the Navaho way of life before the influence of the white man.
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published October 12th 1993 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published 1931)
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Angie Lisle I wouldn't use this book. Most kids probably wouldn't pick up on the subtle racism toward Native Americans, but it falls under subliminal messaging…moreI wouldn't use this book. Most kids probably wouldn't pick up on the subtle racism toward Native Americans, but it falls under subliminal messaging and I don't want that crap passed down to future generations. Cultural appropriation could also be argued with this book.

Here are a couple links that might give you better reading suggestions on Native Americans:
The Giver by Lois LowryHoles by Louis SacharA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'EngleNumber the Stars by Lois LowryBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Most Deserving Newbery
90th out of 99 books — 2,474 voters
The Giver by Lois LowryA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'EngleHoles by Louis SacharNumber the Stars by Lois LowryBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Newbery Medal Winner Books
94th out of 96 books — 291 voters

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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 25, 2012 Crystal rated it did not like it
Shelves: newbery
1932 Newbery Award Winner

Really not great. I found it boring and the writing stilted. It seemed she was trying to write in "Indian speak" or something. I also found it covertly racist. It wasn't in your face, but that is almost worse because then people think that they are actually getting a true picture.

Here are some of the things that were a problem. You will see that white people are fantastic if you read this. Page 7, "Younger Brother thought he had never seen so kind a face and he knew rig
Benji Martin
Jun 25, 2014 Benji Martin rated it it was ok
If you're reading the Newbery Winners through from the beginning, not even a decade in you've already visited South America in Tales From SIlver Lands, China in Shen of the Sea, India in Gay Neck, Poland in Trumpeter of Krakow, Japan in The Cat Who Went to Heaven and now, in The Waterless Mountain, you're visiting the Navaho tribes in the Western U.S. Despite, the racism in many of the novels, it does seem like the librarians on the committees in the 20's and the 30's were being proactive about ...more
Jan 23, 2012 Matt rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, newbery, ya
I don't know. There's some interesting insight into Navajo life and culture. Two big problems, though:
1. The book is slow-moving. And, for me, not so much in a "pleasant journey" kind of way like Criss Cross or Walk Two Moons or even The Cat Who Went to Heaven. Just not that much happens.
2. Much bigger problem: The book, while in some ways sensitive to Navajo culture, really is fawning in its love of white culture. The two white characters (and one especially) are superior beings who grace the
Sep 09, 2008 Wendy rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery
I was prepared to hate this and find it dull, but I didn't really. This story of a Navajo boy learning to become a spiritual leader is fairly engaging, and I enjoyed the boy's character and his interactions with white people, which are usually pretty funny (and sometimes sad). It has the racial and cultural problems you might expect of a Navajo book written by a white person, but they aren't as bad as I anticipated. I can let some of those go as being "it was a different time"ish, but what I can ...more
Feb 18, 2016 Kristen rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery-winners
Newbery Medal Winner--1932

Another Newbery Medal Winner, another cultural piece. This one focuses on the Navajo people--specifically Younger Brother, who grows from a boy to a man throughout the book. Like many of the other early Newbery winners, this one doesn't really have a story's really just a "this happens, then this happens, then this happens" narrative. There are few exciting pieces and some interesting Native American stories woven in, but overall it just wasn't that appealing.
Mar 25, 2016 Kathi rated it really liked it
Shelves: newbery
This is a gentle coming-of-age book about the Navaho way of life in the 1930’s.

Although written by a Caucasian woman, Waterless Mountain was lauded by the tribe itself for her authentic portrait of and respect for the Navaho people, their heritage, and their beliefs. Laura Adams Armer’s affection is evident as she writes about Younger Brother and the path he chooses to become a medicine man for his tribe. We meet him when he is eight years old, and follow his insights and responses to his vocat
Miz Lizzie
As a recent transplant to Arizona and having studied the traditional oral histories of indigenous peoples of North America (though not the Navajo specifically), I was quite interested in reading Waterless Mountain. It is also one of the few Newbery books from these two decades that I had no memory of ever having read or had read to me.

It is the story of Younger Brother who is following the path of a medicine man of his people. Younger Brother is eight years old when the story starts and he ages
Jul 29, 2015 Nann rated it liked it
By Laura Adams Armer

Younger Brother is a Navajo boy who lives in the shadow of Waterless Mountain with his father, a silversmith, his mother, a weaver, Elder Brother, and Baby Sister. He knows from an early age that he will be a medicine man. His mentors and tutors are Uncle, himself a medicine man, and the Big Man, the Anglo proprietor of the trading post who dispenses remedies on occasion.

At times the story is rooted in the early 20th-century southwest: YB helps a whi
Jennifer Heise
Jan 13, 2014 Jennifer Heise rated it liked it
Let's start with what's wrong with this example of 1930s "multiculturalism." I would never share this book with a child, because the white characters and the white narrator are patronizing of Navajo culture, though they are a lot less patronizing of that culture than the vast majority of writing in the twentieth century. The idea that Indian traders and the white police were entirely benevolent in that time and place is another red flag. Patronizing comments like "all Indians should do this and ...more
Dec 31, 2013 Debbie added it
81 1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Longmans) #81

9/1/2013 212 pages

This is a story of a native American boy living in the Southwest. The time period is probably about the time of the book since the family lived in the old fashion, yet there are mentions of white men with cars and the use of a helicopter. The boy is perceptive and is trained to become a wise man of his people. The books relates many legends.

"Younger Brother still watched the Big Man's face and deep in his heart he
Carl Nelson
Feb 09, 2014 Carl Nelson rated it liked it
Shelves: newbery-winners
1932 Newbery Medal recipient.

The good: a look at Navajo life and culture, with emphasis on their respect for and harmony with the land around them. The insider's view that Ms. Armer gives is fascinating, and her characters are vital and interesting.

The bad: nothing much happens. The chapters could easily be read as separate folk tales, and the book lacks a compelling central conflict. (I really can't imagine many children reading this; while not tedious, neither is it exciting.) There's also a b
Oct 10, 2014 Caitlin rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery, 2014
A solid 2.5, so I settled on 2 because it doesn't deserve 3. I appreciate that Armer lived with the Navajo and clearly this book is intended to preserve their culture and history, especially the stories. She does a nice job of telling the story from the viewpoint of a young boy. I did not like, however, how it seems to "defer" to white people as the smarter, more capable, more competent too often. Obviously Armer has a great appreciation for the Navajo and their customs, but there was an underly ...more
Dec 09, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it
This book was named the Newberry Medal winning book in 1932! Younger Brother, a Navajo Indian living in Arizona in the 1920s, wishes to follow in the footsteps of his uncle and become a medicine man. To accomplish this task, he must undergo several arduous years of training, to learn all of the ancient songs and customs of his ancestors. This includes a journey to the Pacific Ocean in the far west, participating in traditional ceremonies, and climbing the nearby Waterless Mountain. Throughout hi ...more
Angie Lisle
Mar 16, 2016 Angie Lisle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book as part of my goal to read all the Newbery Medal and Honor books, a goal I started as a child, when the adults around me filtered my books. I'm not surprised that they didn't hand me this book to read. This book depicts the Navajo culture but subtle racism laces through the text. Example: "Being an Indian he found entertainment in just lying still and doing nothing."

Multiple studies suggest that negative stereotyping has negative impact on native children and may be an underlyi
"Seeking the Heart of Things”

This 1932 Newbery Award winner is somewhat of a sleeper--compared with most YA books which feature an active plotline. We follow the story of Younger Brother, a 7-year-old Navajo boy, until he becomes a teenaged youth. Set in the dry and desolate region of the American Southwest WATERLESS MOUNTAIN presents the culture clash of white civilization with the peaceable Navajo nation. Younger Brother (sometimes called Little Singer by a few close relatives) is awed by th
yay! Things are looking up in the Newbery world. This is the representative from 1932, and I've now read a couple in a row that I felt better than "meh" about :)

This one had a little of the "Tales from Silver Lands" feel, but had understandable mysticism, if you will, as opposed to myths and legends I couldn't even begin to wrap my brain around. It's still rather dated because of when it was written, but I wouldn't be afraid to let one of my nephews read it for fear I'd have to explain outright
Feb 05, 2011 Jen rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery, kids, 2009
In the forward of my copy of the book, which (incidentally) I bought used online for about $1 and which used to belong to the Northside Christian School Library, but now belongs to me and has a mean, red "DISCARD" stamp on the inside flyleaf beneath the date stamps proving that 6 people checked this book out between November 24, 1986 and November 8, 1989, Oliver LeFarge says Armer's paintings (she was an artist before an author) were viewed by the Navaho has having "an unusual insight and an exp ...more
Jane G Meyer
Sep 24, 2012 Jane G Meyer rated it really liked it
Shelves: middlegrade
Gentle. This book embodies that word. In its themes, the characters, the language and the pace--probably everything except the setting, which sits in Navajo country where the weather can bring surprises...

I loved this book, but know that a modern-day reader will struggle with the text. The pace is slow, there is little action, and the characters may be a bit idealized. I think a middle grade child, unless they are a deep thinker and feeler, would doze often while trying to get through the chapte
Thomas Bell
Oct 06, 2014 Thomas Bell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery-winners
For such an old book, this is quite respectful of the Navajo people. It is about a boy, known mostly as Younger Brother because saying people's names too much makes the names lose their power. There is one bad guy in the story, but it's not really about that. It's about a boy growing up and learning about his people, and at the same time the reader learns about his people. It is a sweet story, and it makes you think. It was fun to read.

I could see how some people would call this book racist, but
May 12, 2009 Susan rated it liked it
I think this book would be difficult for the average school child to enjoy. The language is simple enough, chapters plenty short, but the action is quite slow. Far too slow to engage today's youth who've been suckled on stories steeped in terror, horror, and/or fear. The book is a rather impressive glimpse into a culture on the verge of death or at least assimilation. Armer writes about a small Navaho community just after the turn of the last century. She has an anthropologist's interest in the ...more
Juli Anna Herndon
Ugh, how many different ways can I say "this Newbery is racist"? I feel like a broken record over here. I know things will look up eventually, but these early years are rough. I understand these Newbery committees were trying to be culturally diverse by including stories about non-white children--but diversity does not make up for insensitivity in having them written by white people. Although this one is not as rife with the usual slurs and stereotypes, it still reads as a fantasy story written ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it
Timelessly written historical fiction that weaves Navaho legends throughout the coming-of-age story of "Little Brother." The author, Laura Armer, a white woman, is said in the forward to have come "as close to painting a true picture as anyone save a medicine man can do." Regardless, it makes for an intriguing peak into the life and customs of a Navaho boy and tribe. Would make a great read-a-loud during a Native American/Westward Expansion-type unit or just because...
Sep 10, 2014 Melinda rated it liked it
This was new territory for me, a gentle, sympathetic look inside Navajo society of almost a century ago, with a bit of contrast with white man's points of view. I liked that it was interesting and sympathetic to Navajo beliefs, especially spiritualism. I did not understand nor agree with all of it, and of course no group or individual lives their beliefs perfectly. But I can see some value in it.
Mar 08, 2014 Jessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery
Quiet, meditative story, heavy on setting and character but very light on plot. I found it a peaceful, pleasant read, if I switched my cultural appropriation filter off. Yes, there are a thousand ways one can criticize this book, but for 1931, it was quite advanced.

Would I recommend it to a modern youth? No! Did I personally enjoy the descriptions of the West? Absolutely.
1932 Newbery Medal Winner

This is an interesting book about a Navaho Native American boy. I could not find a lot of information about its cultural accuracy.

The boy in the story is known as "Younger Brother." After his older brother marries and he comes down with a severe illness, he decides to go on a quest to see the Pacific Ocean and to become a shaman like his uncle.
Mary Rank
Feb 12, 2014 Mary Rank rated it liked it
Shelves: newbery-winners
This was the 1932 Newbery Winner. Like many older Newbery winners this book is episodic in it's delivery. It is the slice of life stories about Younger Brother a coming of age Navaho medicine man back in the early 1900's. I felt that the writing style was a bit too flowery and dreamlike and didn't have enough grit to make it realistic. But I do appreciate a window into other cultures and this might inspire me to read an adult novel on the same topic.
Sandi Banks
Jan 29, 2014 Sandi Banks rated it liked it
This was a Newbery award winning book from 1932. It gave a good description of Navaho traditional tribal life through the coming of age a Navaho boy. Written 80 years ago it was dated in its depiction of native American's culture. It moved slowly through the first half of the book and later the pace quickened when " Younger son" left home on his journey of self discovery.

Mar 17, 2012 Ensiform rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, newbery
This Newbery winner is an episodic novel of the Navajo people. A boy called Younger Brother, party inspired by his Uncle, a shaman, leaves his family and goes west, following the Turquoise Woman who went west to marry the sun. Along the way, he rescues a white boy, routs some horse thieves, and flies in a plane with “Grandfather,” the white trader who knows and loves the Navajo.

It’s all told in a very muted style, almost entirely from the Navajo point of view, with poetic phrases like “my heart
Well, that wasn't half bad!

The story of Younger Son was woven nicely with traditional tales of the Navajo. As a child, he learns that he has a special affinity with nature. His Uncle is a Medicine Man, and begins to train him as a future medicine man for their people.

I'm not an expert, but based on the fact that the author spent real time with the Navajo, painting their celebrations and learning their tales, I'm thinking it was a fairly accurate representation.

The writing style was simple, yet
A fine book about the Dine (Navajo). I read it in middle age, found it slow-moving by the standards of the 1990s, but remember it was written 60 years earlier. Newberry Book collectors will want to read this for its picture of the Dine early in the last century. The first years of Newberry awards seemed to put a premium on books that showed different countries and cultures and were not rattling good reads.
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Children's Books: Winner & Honors from 1932 5 68 Dec 20, 2013 07:33AM  
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  • Tales From Silver Lands
  • Daniel Boone
  • Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon
  • Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children
  • The White Stag
  • The Dark Frigate
  • The Story of Mankind
  • ...And Now Miguel
  • Miss Hickory
  • A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers
  • Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze
  • Secret of the Andes
  • Roller Skates
  • M.C. Higgins, the Great
  • Shadow Of A Bull
  • Smoky the Cow Horse
  • Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women

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“He could tell by the way animals walked that they were keeping time to some kind of music. Maybe it was the song in their own hearts that they walked to.” 16 likes
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