Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Sing Down the Moon is a fictionalized retelling of a little-known and shameful part of American history. Told in the first person through the character of Bright Morning, a Navaho girl on the verge of adulthood, the novel relates the crushing of the spirit of the Navaho people at the hands of white people. The Navahos had been settled for generations in Canyon de Chelly in what is now northeastern Arizona. There they raised corn, melons, and peaches and herded sheep. This life ended in 1864, when the U.S. Army ordered them off their land, burned their crops, and chopped down their trees. The Navahos were marched on a three hundred-mile trek to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. This forced migration, known as the Long Walk, brought death to the weakest and broke the spirit of even the strongest. Nevertheless, the Navahos survived.

Scott O’Dell’s novel revolves around two major disruptions in Bright Morning’s happy existence in the canyon occupied by her tribe. The first trauma occurs as she herds sheep in an isolated mountain pasture with two friends, Running Bird and White Deer. They are teasing her about Tall Boy, her future husband, when they are surprised by two Spaniards. The men are slavers who kidnap Bright Morning and Running Bird, take them to a distant town, and sell them as domestic workers to the wives of the soldiers stationed there. Bright Morning and her friend are able to escape through the help of Nehana, a member of the Nez Percé tribe who, having attempted escape once before, is more knowledgeable about their captors’ habits. As the three girls are about to be recaptured by the pursuing Spaniards, Tall Boy and two of his...

(The entire section is 679 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Sing Down the Moon takes place mainly in Arizona and New Mexico between 1863 and 1865. The story begins and ends in Canyon de Chelly,...

(The entire section is 186 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bright Morning tells her story in a straightforward first-person account. O'Dell uses the pattern of exile and return to express his theme of...

(The entire section is 293 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

O'Dell said that he was concerned with the way in which children grow up in American society and with the failures of different cultures to...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What does Bright Morning learn from her mistake of leaving the sheep in the snow storm?

2. Why can't Bright Morning live...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Tall Boy's loss of the use of his right arm may be seen as a symbol. Review what we learn about that arm, how it is hurt, what the loss...

(The entire section is 295 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

O'Dell did not write any other books about the characters in Sing Down the Moon, but The King's Fifth takes place in the same...

(The entire section is 61 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Estes, Glenn E. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 52. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. Contains a discussion of O'Dell's career with...

(The entire section is 124 words.)