It’s 1962 and Kitty has just turned eleven when Dad’s government job moves the family all the way across the country to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon. She knows how to be “the new kid,” but it’s a whole new kind of starting over this time.
Kitty is one of only two white kids in her class, and the Indian kids are keeping their distance. With time, Kitty becomes increasingly aware of the tensions and prejudices between Indians and whites, and of the past injustice and pain still very much alive on the reservation. Time also brings friendships and opportunities to make a difference. Map, author’s note, glossary, and pronunciation guide.
We’re intrigued — tell us how real life inspired your book!
It’s hard to think of my life as inspiration for historical fiction … but it’s true. This story is grounded in my childhood experiences living on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in the early 1960’s. Like Kitty’s dad, mine worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and we moved to Warm Springs from Virginia when I was in the second grade. I was born on the Colville Reservation and later graduated from high school on the Yakama Reservation, both in Washington state. We also lived across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., where my dad worked for the Department of the Interior. Kitty’s story of longing and belonging has quite a bit in common with my own.
What was it like growing up on Indian reservations?
That’s a central question that I’ve been asked by other non-Indians my whole life! And it’s one of the sparks for writing Something to Hold. Those years at Warm Springs were very formative for me, as the years between seven and eleven are for everyone. On the one hand, living there was like living in any small community. Here’s a photo of what was then called the Warm Springs Indian Agency, with my house (and Kitty’s) in the center, and my dad’s office (and hers) just to the right across the alley. A general store (which doubled as the post office, hardware store, and museum) was a block away to the right. And the grade school where Kitty and I went was not far beyond the left edges of the photo.
But, of course, there were many things unique for me about living at Warm Springs. My brothers and I were among 17 non-Indian students in the school of around 300. Until shortly after we moved there, the school was a boarding school — with a long and sometimes painful history similar to boarding and residential schools across the U.S. and Canada in which students were intentionally separated from their families, languages, and cultures. In 1961, the school opened its doors to all students who lived in the community, tribal members and non-Indians alike. Although the instruction and curriculum at the school today are culturally relevant, they definitely were not at the time I was a student. As a child, I didn’t fully appreciate what this meant, but I did know that some of my classmates and I experienced school in strikingly different ways. My evolving awareness of how my Warm Springs, Wasco, and Paiute classmates were sometimes treated as outsiders on their own land is at the heart of Kitty’s story in Something to Hold.
Kitty really struggles to make friends and fit in — did that also happen to you?
Struggle and conflict are the life blood of a good story. I had to make it hard for Kitty — but thank goodness that’s not what I experienced! I always felt welcomed and accepted, and I’ve been lucky to maintain ties with people I knew so long ago at Warm Springs. With very few exceptions, the characters and incidents in the book are entirely fictional, though heavily grounded in universal longings and needs we all share: to belong, to befriend, to be known.
Oh, please give us the scoop on what’s true and what’s fiction!
OK — a few examples, just between us. Don’t tell anybody!
My family all play cameo roles, as does my good friend from Warm Springs, Pinky. Meet her in the photo on the left! Pinky pretty much plays herself in the book — spunky, good-hearted, brave friend to Kitty and to me! Like Miss Anthony in the book, one of our teachers read the Bible to us every day. And like Kitty, I accidentally cut my desk with a razor blade during an art project and lived in fear that I’d be found out. Remembering my own discomfort being “the new kid” was really helpful in writing this book. But Kitty’s got a much stronger sense of justice than I did at her age — and she finds courage to speak out when I would have been too afraid.
My wish is that readers of all ages will connect with characters in this book who find ways to reach out to each other across their differences, and who help each other live with courage and hope.
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Winner announced tomorrow, December 6.
Katherine will climb on board the Mixed-Up Files Skype Tour bus this winter — watch for news of the departure date coming soon! Skype Tour FAQ here.
Katherine Schlick Noe teaches beginning and experienced teachers at Seattle University. She is webmaster of the Literature Circles Resource Center. Something to Hold is her debut novel. Visit her at http://katherineschlicknoe.com