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Waterless Mountain

3.34  ·  Rating Details ·  858 Ratings  ·  109 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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Katherine I don't feel like it has racial stereo types that are inappropriate, even for the time it was written which is the early 1930's. I thought it was a…moreI don't feel like it has racial stereo types that are inappropriate, even for the time it was written which is the early 1930's. I thought it was a beautifully written story that helped me understand Native American culture better. I feel like now I have a greater understanding for how they view the world around them, what they feel is sacred, and how they lived their lives. I think the only reason it would be hard for teenagers to read is that it is not very action packed and has a slow beginning. That being said, as far as appropriateness goes, I think it is very appropriate. (less)

Community Reviews

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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
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
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
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
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.
Part of the Newbery read/re-read. Though since we didn't own this one, I'm thinking it's not a re-read and I certainly don't remember it.

Reading an older book has its own difficulties. It's not clear what's true and what's made up. In this book of a young Navajo boy written by a non Navajo, it's especially not clear. It's interesting that it takes place after much impact of technology and western influence. So, it captures not some timeless point, but a specific point in time after cars and trai
Jan 03, 2017 Dove rated it liked it
Hi i'm a middle school kid. The parts of this book which I liked are the myths, which were pretty cool. I enjoyed reading about younger brother. It is true, there is some racism throughout the book. It helps explain why there was racism since it was written by a white person in the 1930's, but there also are non racist parts too.
Dec 28, 2016 Carol rated it liked it
Whirling Logs and customs
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
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
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
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
Shauna Thompson
Sep 15, 2016 Shauna Thompson rated it liked it
Learned about the Navajo Costumes
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
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
Juli Anna
May 02, 2016 Juli Anna rated it it was ok
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
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
I think I read this book at just about the perfect time. I visited Arizona a couple of times this summer, and spent time in the approximate area of this story, which made the setting a much more vivid and personal reading experience :)
I don't know that I think the book will stick with me over long, it hasn't joined the list of favorite Newbery reads, but it wasn't awful, and I enjoyed it for what it was. I don't know how accurate a portrayal it was-some it seemed a little... inaccurate or someth
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
Sandy D.
This is an older Newbery winner (published in 1931), but it wasn't as dated as you might expect (though the term "roadster" did leap out at me). It's very stream-of-consciousness, the coming of age story of a Navajo boy who feels drawn to the big questions in life, and is following in his uncle's footsteps, becoming a ceremonial singer ("medicine man"). I did a longish review of it over at the Newbery Project.

As I said in the review, I was surprised how much I liked it. I thought it was going to
Jun 29, 2012 Lorna rated it it was ok
1932 Newbery Medal

I thought this was okay, and definitely went in the better than "Shen of the Sea" and "The Dark Frigate" category. This is a collection of stories about Little Brother, a Navajo, as he comes of age and becomes acquainted with the skills needed to be a medicine man. Many chapters are him seeing something that reminds him of a legend or story that he's been told. I much preferred the adventures that he had personally (like dealing with horse thieves) than the legends themselves.
Ruth E.
Sep 11, 2013 Ruth E. rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery
1932 Newbery winner - Author/IllustratorLaura Adams Armer/ Sidney Armer & Laura Adams Armer - The book is about a young Navaho boy called Young Brother and his jouney to manhood and his life with the medicine man Uncle and the trading post man Big Man. The Navaho culture is very much a part of this book and one gains a better understanding of the Navaho culture through Young Brother. The illustrations are at the beginning of each chapter the first letter is done with Navaho art. The other il ...more
Kristie Stauffer
Jul 02, 2012 Kristie Stauffer rated it really liked it
I was told by a librarian that this book is out of print because it is very demeaning to the Navajo people. I did not find it demeaning at all – with the exception of one sentence when a white person called them savages. I found it beautiful and even spiritual as I shared the reverence and respect of all things that the Navajos believed. How sad that a book that simply explains the beliefs of a people, especially in such a beautiful way, is censored. I assume that it is because the legends and s ...more
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
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Children's Books: Winner & Honors from 1932 12 102 Aug 17, 2016 03:49PM  
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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.” 20 likes
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