Last Child

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A mixed-race girl must grow up quickly when danger threatens her world

Rosalie’s biggest problem used to be her own divided feelings. The constant tug-of-war between her white half and her Native American half is hard. She even has two names: Rosalie when she’s at the fort with her father and Last Child when she’s in the village with her mother.

But now a steamboat has carried smallpox into Rosalie’s world—and...

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Last Child

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A mixed-race girl must grow up quickly when danger threatens her world

Rosalie’s biggest problem used to be her own divided feelings. The constant tug-of-war between her white half and her Native American half is hard. She even has two names: Rosalie when she’s at the fort with her father and Last Child when she’s in the village with her mother.

But now a steamboat has carried smallpox into Rosalie’s world—and the Mandans have no resistance to the disease. Suddenly the name Last Child is all too real.

Set during the smallpox epidemic of 1837, this is the powerful story of a mixed-race girl fighting her way into adulthood against all odds.

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Editorial Reviews

Set in the upper Missouri valley during the smallpox epidemic of 1837, this fast-paced adventure takes readers into the mind and heart of pre-adolescent Rosalie, aka "Last Child," who splits her life between her mothers' Mandan village and her white father's Fort Clark. As the novel opens, bookkeeper McCullough, outraged at the arrival of a boatload of sick whites lying among soiled Indian blankets, orders the blankets burned and the sailors quarantined. But his orders are ignored. As disease spreads, McCullough, taking two men and daughter Rosalie as clerk, leaves the fort to rescue a trader and his load of buffalo robes lost upriver. There they are ambushed and Rosalie kidnapped. Against all odds, Rosalie escapes, survives a forest fire, builds a buffalo-hide boat, saves the trader, and returns to a devastated village. Now almost literally "Last Child," she spends precious weeks with her failing Mandan grandmother who teaches Rosalie to accept herself and to straddle two cultures. The novel ends with an 1845 epilogue as Rosalie, after years away in her father's care, returns home to chronicle the tragedy. Action-packed prose; sharp, witty dialogue; and strong characterization make this novel an entertaining read. Spooner, himself related to Native Americans, does his best to accurately portray the time and the people. This book is wonderfully suited to examining issues of cultural conflict and mixed-race youth. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005, Henry Holt, 256p., Ages 11 to 18.
—Laura Woodruff
Children's Literature
Rosalie moves between two worlds. She spends half of her time at the fort with her white father and the other half at the village with her mother and the rest of her family, where her name is "Last Child." She prefers to think of herself as white, even though it causes problems with the people in the village. When a steamboat captain brings smallpox to the village, though, Rosalie's world will be forever changed. Kidnapped by a crazy white man and one of her own people, Rosalie must use all her resources to escape. Once she returns home, though, she finds that her challenges are just beginning. No longer a child, Rosalie must decide what type of person she wants to be. Rosalie's story alternates with journal entries from her father—a rather interesting storytelling tool. This accurate portrayal of the effect that smallpox had on Native Americans is very powerful. Rosalie's inner conflict about her own race is a problem many modern children face, and makes the story particularly relevant in today's world. 2005, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 10 up.
—Amie Rose Rotruck
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-It is 1837, and Rosalie (also known as Last Child) isn't sure who she is. Her father is a white bookkeeper inside Fort Clark (ND), while her mother lives in the nearby Mandan village. Rosalie calls both places home, yet belongs in neither. The Mandans war frequently with the Dakotas, making life uncertain. Then she is taken captive by a deranged steamboat captain whose boat brought smallpox to the area and must rely on her wits and Native skills to return home, where her father has turned to drink and her mother is dying. With the help of her grandmother, Muskat Woman, Rosalie must determine her identity and her future. Spooner has written a compelling story, historically accurate with a vivid setting, and yet colored with sparkling characters. Though the start is a little sluggish, and the ending is somewhat melodramatic and contrived, many readers will identify with Rosalie's struggle for acceptance and belonging.-Melissa Moore, Union University Library, Jackson, TN Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In the midst of wars and rumors of wars, pestilence and fire, young Rosalie must grow up quickly. The smallpox epidemic of 1837 has killed most of her Mandan village near Fort Clark, and if she survives at all, she fears it'll be as a society of one. Rosalie, the youngest in her family, has always been called Last Child, but now she may literally become that. Spooner uses alternating first-person voices-Rosalie's and her white father's-to vividly portray the lives of those caught in what seemed like the end of the world. Rosalie-part white, part Mandan-must navigate between both cultures, always feeling neither one nor the other, but she comes to realize she is the one who can document what has happened and appeal for aid for the survivors, only 150 of 2,000 villagers. The horrific effects of the "white man's disease" are effectively shown, and Rosalie's character and world are fully realized. A fine historical novel bringing an important chapter in American history to life for young readers. (timeline, notes on American history, bibliography, glossary, personal note) (Fiction. 11+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805077391
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 10/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Age range: 11 - 16 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Spooner writes both poetry and prose for children, and is the director of the Utah State University Press. He lives with his family in Logan, Utah.

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Read an Excerpt

Last Child


Fort Clark




"What do you mean, you think they're sick?" My father's voice cannonballed through the door of his tiny room.

I sat on the ground outside with Little Raven. He snapped at a fly twice, then circled on his three good legs and lay down with a grunt. His breath smelled like fish heads. A wind was coming up from the southeast, and I wondered if it would storm again like it did last night. A blessing for the corn from Old-Woman-Who-Never-Dies.

"Just keep your voice down, McCulloch," answered another man's voice. "All right, I know they're sick. It was a deckhand took fever and dry heaves somewhere after Westport. That don't mean nothin'. We didn't know for sure till he come out with the rash, but then it was Council Bluffs, and four other hands was fevered, too, plus an Arikara woman."

"I can't believe what you're saying, lad! A half dozen? And you brought that boat full of sickness to my landing!"

"Don't you talk down to me, bookkeeper. We done for them as good as any doctor—put 'em belowdecks and let 'em sweat it out. The first one feels fine now, and none of the others have died yet. So there's an end on it. I'm not a believer in quarantine, myself."

"Not a believer in ..." A heavy hand slapped the table. "I've never heard such a string of gold-medal idiocies."

"Don't press it, mister. I'm just here to get this boat up the Missouri, collect some pelts, and get back. If a few red-skins catch the smallpox in the process, that ain't my problem. Sickness thins the herd, I say."

"Damn you for a witless fool!" My father hardly ever swore. This was not going well.

"McCulloch"—the man's voice was threatening—"I've worked rivers and river towns since I was a pup. I been in more knife fights than I can count, and I've killed men for no more reason than calling me a fool like you just done."

"Yes, I imagine you hear that a good bit! And maybe you thought a dainty white uniform would make you a captain instead of an imbecile? Sorry, no, because a captain, sir, woulda quarantined the ship. Woulda dropped anchor and waited it out. A proper captain, me laddie, woulda known that our precious fur company can't do business of any kind up the Missouri if all our ruddy 'red-skins' die of smallpox!"

"McCull—" But the word ended with a loud grunt. Something slammed against the door. Something heavy.

"But, nay, not you! You lay the sick among the cargo—among the very trade blankets and the foodstuffs. Then you dock at my landing with not one but six live cases of smallpox! And you let the Indians run in and out the boat like children at a puppet show. Pray tell me, Captain—history will want to know—were you stone drunk the whole voyage, or does drooling, gibbering madness run in your family?"

Time for me and Little Raven to go. I stood up as the door opened and a wiry man in a dingy white suit stumbled out. He didn't look much like a captain, or like a dangerous man with a knife. His coat sleeves hung past his wrists. His trousers were cinched high around his middle and hung in rumpled bags around his knees. Three of his front teeth were gray and broken. Except for his coat, he looked like a typical Fort Clark man. But behind a greasy hank of yellow hair, his eyes fairly throbbed with anger.

"Bookkeeper!" he warned. "This ain't over. What Chardon does to you won't be the half of it. I never forget." He straightened his lapels roughly and squared his shoulders.

My father's voice answered pleasantly from within the small room. "I'll be here. And you'll find Mr. Chardon in the Little Village this evening with his 'redskin' wife and son. I hope you'll explain your plan to thin his herd, little captain. If you live to get out of my sight, that is."

Then my father, Angus McCulloch, filled the doorway beside me. In his thick right hand was a pistol. A ring of bright steel dangled from its base, and the walnut stockcurved smoothly in his fist. The barrel and the shiny lock plate near his thumb were engraved in fancy cuts and swirls. I had never seen his face so calm. The captain, still brushing his coat, looked up and froze as my father pulled the hammer back with two loud clicks and slowly raised the gun.

I screamed. I scrambled past Little Raven but fell against my father's leg as the gunshot roared. The ball buried itself in the dirt, and we two crashed against the wall and over a bench. When I looked up, the captain was gone.


19 June 1837


Last night a severe storm of wind and rain. Mr. Chardon sent the hunters out to look for buffalo this morning, for we had word of a small band across the river. Steamboat St. Peter's hove into sight about 3 P.M.—the men and the Mandans all a-frolicking on the riverbank. Unloaded the merchandises directly into the storehouse, and afterward raised a glass with Mr. Chardon and the steamboat's officers, while the Mandan women prepared a fine dance for tonight.

Later, the idiot captain just happened to mention that a deckhand had taken the smallpox and had lain among the blankets and other merchandises meant for the fort. Now 5 others on board have the heaves and shakes.

I admit I lost my head.

Copyright © 2005 by Michael Spooner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    history class

    wooooooh. history class project book thing. im stoked. this seems like a VERY good read.

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