Ghost Hawk

Title: Ghost Hawk

Author: Susan Cooper. She is the Newbery Award-winning author of several books for children, including The Dark is Rising series.

Genre: Middle-Grade, Historical Fiction

Readers: Stay-at-home moms Kristi, Shawna and Sarah L., librarian Zoe and professor JoLee.

Summary: On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father traded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.

John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

Our Take: We all love the subject matter, it’s a fascinating look at an often overlooked period of American History. You may want to read it before your kids, or save it for middle-schoolers. A great adventure story, but loses some steam in the 2nd half.


When I heard about Ghost Hawk I was very intrigued. I love Historical Fiction, and I was excited for one that dealt directly with early American History. I grew up in Canada and consequently didn’t learn as much American History. This sounded like it would be my kind of book.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book. I found Little Hawk an intriguing character. I love learning more about the Native American traditions and really enjoyed the portrayal in this story. It was interesting to see both sides of the story. Most books portray the Pilgrims and what they find when they arrive. I liked seeing things from the other side as well. It is amazing how much and how fast life changed for the Native Americans. I felt that Susan Cooper showed this well.

I didn’t enjoy the second half of the book as much. The transition from Little Hawk’s story to John Wakely’s was very abrupt and almost jarring. Overall, I liked the main characters, and I feel that I understand what was going on in that time period better.

Grade: B



Ghost Hawk is the story of a young man during his time of coming of age as an Indian in the early years of the English “invasion” into their world. About halfway through the book, the story takes a dramatic turn and the focus turns to young John Wakely who was the lone witness to a terrible act by his elder townsfolk. Bullied into keeping the secret, John is sent from home to apprentice to a cooper in a different town. The story then follows John’s life as he grows from young boy to a man driven to change the way white people treat the natives.

My favorite part of this story was “watching” the interactions between John and Little Hawk. I loved the way that John is so determined to help the natives and do what he thought was best. I am hoping to have my own kids read this book as they start studying Colonial England in school.

I had a hard time with the historical aspects of this book. I know it is a historical fiction, but at times the author seems to dive into the history lesson a little too deeply, drying the story out a bit. This story showed an interesting perspective on an all to easily forgotten time in our history.

Grade: B+


Sarah L.

Ghost Hawk is a great read. In today’s culture of self-indulgence and entitlement, it’s easy to forget that less than half a century ago, children matured far more quickly than we allow them to in our time. As an 11-year-old boy, Little Hawk and three other boys his age are sent into the woods (separately) in winter to survive on their own for three months with only a tomahawk and a bow and quiver of arrows. The book is worth reading for this first section alone, which is reminiscent of Hatchet, and would be fairly captivating for any early-teenage boy or girl. The remainder of the book tells the story of Little Hawk’s unlikely friendship with a white settler, John Wakeley. It, too, is compelling as it portrays the increasingly volatile relationships between the white settlers and the Native Americans, ultimately leading to King Philip’s War.

The quality of the writing, which is really accessible to the target audience of young adults, and the depth of the storytelling are good. The questions raised by the issues explored in the book are age-old. Racism, tolerance, freedom of religious worship, and our relationship with the earth (or lack thereof, in the case of the white settlers) are only a few of the issues that will be brought to the minds of any reader.

Grade: A



While I tend to stick with a few favorite genres for adult lit;, the sky is the limit for children’s and YA books, so I jumped at the chance to read some good historical fiction from a renowned author. While I enjoyed the book, my feelings about it are mixed.

I had originally hoped to read the book with my 9 yr old son, who is in 4th grade, but as I received the book later than expected, I had to read it solo. That actually turned out to be a good thing.

While I don’t shield my son from the bad things that happen in this world, I would not have felt comfortable reading Ghost Hawk with him. The book started out promising, with Little Hawk’s journey into the winter wilderness. What 9 yr old boy wouldn’t be captivated by the notion of spending the winter alone with a tomahawk and a knife? Cooper’s writing carried me along with Little Hawk as I rooted for his survival. But once Little Hawk headed home, and faced death, heartbreak and hatred, I felt relieved my son was not reading along with me, as he would’ve soon been equal parts horrified and saddened by what happened. But it would have led to some interesting discussions about the history of the United States. However, once the story switched to the world of the colonists, I believe he would’ve become easily bored as the book extensively discussed religion and politics, but not in a way that would be easily understood by young readers. While this was fascinating for me, it also disappointed me as I feel the book didn’t retain the sense of adventure that is so enticing and interesting to readers like my son. It felt like a book of two halves that could stand alone, but don’t go well together, despite Little Hawk being present throughout the story.

Grade: A for Part One, B for the rest of the book.



Many years ago I read and loved Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence, and, when I saw she had a new book coming out, I knew I wanted to check it out. Ghost Hawk is the story of Little Hawk and John Wakely. The two are boys when the Pilgrims arrive in what is now Massachusetts. The two play a part in the great changes that occur as a result of the European settlement.

Reading Ghost Hawk was a somewhat strange experience for me. You see, a few months ago my book group read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower. Philbrick’s book focuses on the Pilgrim’s relations with the native peoples, and reading Susan Cooper’s Ghost Hawk was rather like reading a fictionalized account of Philbrick’s history. In the Author’s Note at the end of the novel, Susan Cooper writes that Philbrick’s Mayflower is her “favorite overall portrait” of this period in history. I’m not sure if my knowledge of Philbrick’s Mayflower and Cooper’s close reading of his history enhanced or lessened my reading experience. It was nice to know the history, but I think it did remove some of the novel’s suspense.

I felt that Cooper handled the subject matter with grace. This period in American History does not get a lot of attention. We tend to skip from the early settlements to the Revolutionary War, but there is so much history in between those two big events of 1620 and 1776. Cooper’s book illustrates how much can change in just one person’s lifetime. Cooper’s book is historical fiction, and, as with all historical fiction (and really all fiction), the real strength lies in the novel’s ability to allow us get to know characters who lived in different circumstances. I have read some reviews that take Cooper to task for what they perceive as historical inaccuracies in the book. From my limited experience with this time period, the novel struck me as historically sound; however, I am sure that Cooper took creative licenses. Regardless, I believe there is truth in fiction, and this novel can open up readers, especially the young readers for whom this book was written, to a historical moment that certainly deserves a story.

Grade: B+

Read Also: The Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick


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