Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

A slow-moving, lyrical story, Waterless Mountain follows a single character, Younger Brother, as he matures from a sensitive eight-year-old into a successful young farmer attending his first social dance. The book’s thirty-four chapters, most of which can stand alone, center on traditional ceremonies (“The Basket Ceremony,” “The Dance of the Maidens,” a healing ceremony, an initiation) and markers of the seasons, such as the “month of Short Corn.” Into these chapters Laura Adams Armer has woven many folktales of the “Navaho” (the spelling used throughout, rather than the spelling “Navajo” preferred by later scholars). These tales are retold by, and sometimes to, Younger Brother as he gradually learns more about his culture and becomes increasingly sensitive to the natural world around him.

From the opening chapters, Younger Brother is shown to be closely in tune with nature. Watching his sheep as they graze, he thinks about the grass “and how it grew after the rain,” picturing its underground roots: “He thought of seeds underground, waiting in the darkness for the rain to moisten them and swell them so they could burst into leaves and roots.” He communicates mystically with Pack Rat, Yellow Beak (the eagle), and Soft-footed Chief (the cougar). After seeing the dance of the Deer People, Younger Brother begins composing songs. This ability to see what others do not see, and to transform it into song, causes his uncle, a medicine man, to dub him Little Singer and begin training him in his craft, including a knowledge of the culture’s legends and of sand painting. During...

(The entire section is 661 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Waterless Mountain takes place in the 1920s, a time that coincides with the author's visits among Arizona's Navajo people. The Navajo,...

(The entire section is 227 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Waterless Mountain belongs to the universal literary tradition of the rites-of-passage story that traces an adolescent's acquisition...

(The entire section is 270 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Unlike many books about Native Americans, Waterless Mountain does not dwell on the social issues surrounding the conflicts between the...

(The entire section is 159 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Waterless Mountain contains insights into Navajo customs and traditions. Discuss the importance of one or two of these customs or...

(The entire section is 304 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Prepare a report about turquoise. Discuss where it is found in the United States, what colors it has, what the Navajo use the stone for,...

(The entire section is 321 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Like Waterless Mountain, Dark Circle of Branches focuses on a Navajo adolescent—Na Nai—as he matures, learns from his medicine man...

(The entire section is 116 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Amsden, Charles Avery. Navaho Weaving: Its Technique and History. Chicago: Rio Grande Press, 1964. This book provides interesting...

(The entire section is 179 words.)