When Laura Adams Armer wrote Waterless Mountain, she clearly intended it to portray its subject in a positive light to a reading public that knew nothing about it. In 1931, the novel was progressive in most respects. Its subject matter, fidelity to its material, and luminous prose brought excellent reviews and two awards: the Longman’s Juvenile Fiction Prize and the Newbery Medal. As a Newbery-winning book, Waterless Mountain has remained available and is mentioned in most accounts of the development of juvenile literature in the United States; however, it has never been a favorite of young readers, and both Armer and her book have lapsed into relative obscurity. Following the success of Waterless Mountain, Armer portrayed another Navajo adolescent, Na Nai, in Dark Circle of Branches (1933). Several other books by the author about the Southwest were designed for young readers, such as The Trader’s Children (1937) and Farthest West (1939). Her picture book about a Mexican boy, The Forest Pool, received a Caldecott Honor Book designation; otherwise, Armer’s later works attracted little attention. In the year before her death, Armer described her time among the Navajos in the autobiographical book In Navaho Land (1963).
The relationship between Navajos and white people in Waterless Mountain is problematical. Unlike many authors dealing with this subject matter, Armer does...
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