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The Education of Little Tree
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156 of 163 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
Unlike the reader from LA, I fail to see why the University of Mexico Press should feel obligated to "alert" the reader of Forrest Carter's ugly past. I think that removing the "True Story" subtitle was all that had to be done. After finding out about Carter's hideous background, I read the book backwards and was relieved to find no hidden racist manifestos or prayers to Satan. When reading the book frontwards what I discovered was a potentially life-changing, hilarious, sad and ultimately uplifting tale that left me convinced of the universal beauty of the human spirit. As far as racial and cultural issues go, this book - if anything - made me even more understanding of different cultures and more sensitive to the background of Native Americans. In fact, I was so inspired after I turned over the last page, that I hastily filled up all of the blank pages at the end with my own reflections. I remember exclaiming to a friend who walked by that I had just finished one of the best books I had ever read. Of course I felt somewhat betrayed when I first learned the truth behind the book's author (this morning). I was also very disappointed - and still am - that such a wonderfully inspiring plot and cast of characters never actually graced the often-uninspiring "real world" in which we live. But then I looked back at the notes I had written upon completing the book. My first thought had been "As a society we need to understand and tolerate our differences." The irony here - that a former KKK leader had inspired these notes - did not escape me. Rather, I discovered that I was still learning from "Little Tree." If even the most ugly and evil people can harbor inside them a potential to inspire strangers to understand and even "kin" each other despite our differences, then isn't there hope for the human race? Society today is sick with racism and disrespect for each other and for nature. We need to change that, and reading "Little Tree" is as good a first step as any. Many famous writers - while troubled or despicable as individuals - have still managed to pass down priceless bits of beauty or wisdom that have touched and will continue to touch the lives of millions of readers in generations to come. The University of Mexico Press could always change the publisher's note on the back cover to: "Former KKK leader lies about his past." Heck, they could even insert an author's picture of old Forest in a white hood burning a cross. They could. But all that would happen is less people would read "Little Tree" and, unfortunately, miss out on a great lesson in tolerance, love and understanding. "The Education of Little Tree" is masterpiece; you will laugh a lot, cry some, and leave it feeling like you have gained more wisdom than many people will gain in a lifetime.
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84 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2006
Format: Library Binding
My grandmother gave me this book years ago as a birthday present, and my copy shows definite signs have having been read and reread many times over. I never grow tired of reading it, and it makes me feel good every time I open it up.

I'll accept what other reviewers of Cherokee descent have stated here that this is not an accurate depiction of their way of life. Here's the kicker though...I did not read this book to learn about the Cherokee, so the fact that it is not a true portrayal is not a concern to me. The family could just as easily have been German, Chinese, Russian, or Arab, it wouldn't have made any difference.

I'll also accept that Forrest (Asa) Carter was a racist, segregationist, KKK member. Mr. Carter is gone, and I don't know, nor will anyone else ever know, what his true motivation behind writing this story was.

What is more important is the overall message that this book portrays, and it is NOT one of racism. It is an endearing account of a little boy's relationship with his grandparents and their lives together in the mountains during the Depression. The wonderful thing is that it is told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old. He is too young to understand much about the adult world around him, and it is interesting to see his interpretations of the various things he experiences. He has a child's innocence, and is still able to view even the simplest things with wonder and can derive enjoyment from them. Five year olds today need an explosive video game to be so entertained.

The characters are well developed, a bit oversimplified, but intensly human. The writing is incredibly descriptive, and provides the reader with a vivid mental picture of what is happening. It teaches the pleasure of slowing down and paying attention to the little things that are happening in the world, like watching a spider trying to build its web across a creek. It demonstrates the comfort and closeness derived when being separated from loved ones by looking at the same star or lighting a candle at the same time.

As for stereotypes, I didn't find it here. Some people have stated that the fact that Little Tree and his grandparents are uneducated reflects a negative Native American stereotype. I don't believe this to be the case in this book. They are uneducated, yes; but in that place and time in history, so were many people, of many races.

Overall, this is a rich story about the strength of love and family, hardships and overcoming them, and slowing down and finding wonder wherever you can. About looking at the world through the innocent eyes of a child.

If you are looking for a fast paced action thriller, do not read this book. If you are looking to read a book that is a true and accurate portrayal of Native American life, this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for a nice, feel-good story, then don't pass this book up!

For those who are bent on picking apart and finding fault in this book, well I suppose one could find fault in anything if you look hard enough for it. There are some people who just spend their lives looking for the worst in everything, and as a result, miss out on life's simple pleasures, one of which is this book.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Yes, yes, yes, we all know that the author was a former racist, that his romantic childhood in the Appies was cooked-up, and that it isn't exactly an accurate portrayal of the Cherokee culture. The real question is, what do I, as a reader get out of this book? What do I feel is the message? If Forrest Carter's main objective was to assimilate Indian stereotypes and white supremist ideals into our minds, then he has failed. Judging by the vast array of reviews I have read, many people get a message of love, tolerance, and respect for nature, irregardless of certain errors in the book. If Forrest Carter's objective was to teach these morals, then he certainly succeeded.

Even Dee Brown, author of Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee saw the importance of the story. "It's the book that counts, not the author...what does it matter who the author is? Most nonfiction books are part fiction."

Regardless of the authors motives this novel remains an enduring piece of beauty, on the highest echelon that books can reach.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2000
Format: Library Binding
It's a strange, strange world. And while I'm stunned, and a little saddened, to learn of the background of the book and its author, my opinion of the book is changed, not one iota. It remains, to my mind, one of the most beautiful, beautifully written and meaningful stories I have ever read. So, how do I reconcile the apparent contradiction between author and story? I can't and don't really care. To me the book, and my experience of it, stands on its own, untainted by its background and associations. If I felt compelled to, I could rationalize the author's actions by depicting him as a man of a certain time and place as, say, George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, both of whom owned human beings as slaves, and yet did some good in their lives. As it is, I try to stand in judgement, especially of people I don't even know, as little as possible. I don't know if (Asa Earl) Forrest Carter was a good man or a bad man or how you even make a judgement like that from this place and time. But I do know that art, even while standing distinct and separate from the artist responsible for it, is almost always a reflection of some vital part of that artist. It may be only the tiniest facet of his self, it may not be the sum total, it may not even be understood by the artist himself, but it arises from within. So, I believe this: some facet of the author's spirit was inspired with a love and respect of truth and a deep understanding of human nature, and that that inspiration was responsible for a book of overwhelming beauty and humanity. I would still recommended it to my best friends as a rare, spirit-nourishing book. I view the contraversy surrounding its author as one of life's more bizarre lessons in self honesty, critical judgement and prejudice. To indict the book because of the sins of its author would be hypocritical, irrational and another form of prejudice - a case of judging something on other than its own merit. Ironic that. Read the book.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 1998
Format: Audio Cassette
For years, I've used Little Tree in my developmental reading classes with mostly black and hispanic men and women. Before I had heard of the controversy, I was impressed by the beauty of the book. I loved the way my slow, insecure readers could feel smarter than the narrator, as they realized they knew more than the small boy did. It was the most universally appreciated book I'd ever come across; people from all over the world, ages from 17 to 70 respond deeply to it. So what happened when I found out that Carter's a fake? I took a few years off, and then returned to it. What fascinating discussions we have about human nature, about deception, about what literature is and is not, when my students, totally entranced by the book, find out that it was written by a member of the KKK. Wow! Opportunities for this kind of deeply challenging discussion are too rare to pass up. Finally,is it possible Carter was a closet liberal who made money by writing stupid, silly speeches for stupid politicians, while his heart was in his novels? I don't know, but I love the karmic irony that his book makes my students of all backgrounds re-consider their prejudices, their materialism, their government's abuse of power, their treatment of animals and the environment. Sure, I'm troubled and confused by it all, but ultimately, I smile.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have read this book 5 times. It calls to me every year or so, and, wondering why, since it always leaves me in tears, I have decided that the simple, clear integrity of the lives of the characters in this book appeals to something deep inside of me. Raised a cultural christian, with all of the bible "training" and Sunday school attendance pins that go along with that background, I was always mildly troubled by the guilt and shame for just being human that orthodox Christianity attempted to cast over me. I realized, as an adult and after much study and soul searching, that we are a simple part of a complex universe, and, deserve to live in it fully, with all of the joys and sorrows encountered along the way, and, be able to question every single fascinating bauble that comes our way. I am also comfortable in the knowledge that my soul is part of something finite and larger than this life. I do not have to pay dues to a church or judgemental diety. Little tree was not raised to feel guilt or shame unless he did something to deserve it. Little Tree's simple life, religion and expectations, with a heritage of love, allowed him to live his life with crystal clear vision and peace. This book is written in a style that lets one's soul soar with expectation, if only for the short time that it takes to read it. God, please grant me the grace to raise my children like Little Tree.
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115 of 144 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 1997
Format: Paperback
Asa Earl Carter (Forrest was a pseudonym) was not just a Ku Klux Klan officer, he was also a speechwriter for Alabama governor George Wallace. He specialized in racist demogoguery. He wrote Wallace's inaugural speech "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!"

This was exposed by Indian people when the University of New Mexico fraud began to become a top-seller-- finally even Time magazine got into the act, and in 1990 interviewed Asa Carter's widow. Gee, she told them, I thought everyone knew Asa had written it, and it's fiction, not autobiography. The thoroughly-documented fake has even made it into the recent "Encyclopedia of North American Indians" (Houghton-Mifflin, 1996, ed. F. Hoxie).

The infamous fake has even become part of popular Indian lit. In "Indian Killer," Spokan writer Sherman Alexie's latest best-seller, Spokan activist Marie confronts the white college prof in her Intro to Native Lit class:

"'Excuse me, Dr. Mather,' Marie said. 'You've got that Little Tree book on your list. Don't you know it's a total fraud?'

" 'I'm aware that the origins of the book have been called into question' said Mather. ' But I hardly believe that matters. The Education of Little Tree is a beautiful and touching book. If those rumors about Forrest Carter are true, perhaps we can learn there are beautiful things inside of everybody.'

"'Yeah, well whatever was inside that man, it wasn't Cherokee blood.' Marie's voice grew louder. 'And there are only three Indians on this list, and their books were really written by white guys. '"

Asa Earl Carter wrote Little Tree (and a less well known objectionable potboiler about Geronimo and a western potboiler, "The Outlaw Josey Wales") using the pseudonym Forrest (because as Asa Earl his racist activities were generally well known in the '60's and '70's) for the money. Little Tree purports to be an autobiography of his own life, and is enitrely false. Carter wasn't Cherokee, didn't grow up in misty hills with old-timey Indian grandparents, etc. etc.

When the book came out in 1979 (Delacorte) it was a flop, soon forgotten. How it got to the University of New Mexico Press -- it's not the sort of thing *any* University press publishes -- remains a mystery. Perhaps some light is cast on that mystery by the fact that the preface is written by Rennard Strickland, law school dean at Southern Illinois University.

Strickland praises it in rather odd terms, "Students of Native American life discovered the book was as accurate as it was mystical and romantic." Well, no we didn't. We thought it was a fake, said so, wrote so, etc. In Native Lit courses taught by *Indian* profs, Little Tree is a case study in attempts to figure out why American book buyers prefer fake trash by white men to real literature, real art, or history, or autobiography or real anything by actual Indian writers.

In my opinion the biggest question is just who is associated with the dummy or front corporation (Cherokees Carter Corp) that got the rights after Asa Earl Carter's death and marketed the book to UNM Press, who (at UNM Press) bought those rights, and what the terms of sale are. I'd also like to know exactly who, individuals and institutions, has made how much money off it, over the years. I particularly would like to know dean Strickland's involvement with "Cherokees Carter Corporation."

Many Indian scholars have said the significant question about "Little Tree" is why do white people *want this fake* so much that a respected University press, knowing for more than a decade now that the book is a known and proven fake, continues to reprint it as a "true autobiographical story." This is a fraud perpetrated on undiscerning buyers and ignorant readers. Well, scholars, why the UNM press does it is for the money, of course. It's a big seller. It's gone through 12 printings since UNM first issued it in 1986; mighty unusual for stolid scholarly works typical of most university press pubs.

They should at least be honest about it -- instead of "ATRUE STORY" banner on the front cover, and "a tender reimiscence of the author's boyhood" by a deceived reviewer across the back, and that soggy preface by the law dean, who may have had something to do with selling the book, UNM Press should banner it : "This book is a fake by a non-Indian professional racist Ku Klux Klan speechwriter who did it for the money, and so are we! And boy, have we scored big, there's so many sucker-buyers for this phoney trash."

Then all those white people who babble it changed their life and such, would at least know what did it. Why do theyprefer fake to real, when it's about Indian people/history/phoney mysticism, etc?

Here's 2 real ones, both by real Cherokees who are real writers, too. (Carter is quite a wooden prosodist, except when doing flaming speeches about burning niggers and such.)

Try these instead (both are on amazon.com) They'reprobably not in all the libraries the way "Little Tree" is. They're probably not required reading in lots of h.s. and jr. hi courses supposedly about Minorities -- native Americans" that use Little Tree as a textbook:

1. Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears, by Diane Glancy.

2. Mountain Windsong: A Novel of the Trail of Tears, by Robert J. Conley

Good stories both, although kind of . . .tragic. Because they're based on history, not mysticism, reality, not romance (though Windsong is about the eventual triumph of a romance). Perhaps in time, with suitable literary Rx medicinal dosages, you could learn to like reality in literature at least as well as fakery. Maybe even better, who knows.

Reviewed by paula Giese, Editor Native American Books website, [...]
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
When I read this book, I was touched. I laughed out loud at the description of slimy politicians. The chapter called "The Way" gave such a convincing portrayal of Cherokee religion, I used it for a comparative paper in my Zen class at university. The love shown between grandparents and grandson and the uncluttered life in the Blue Ridge mountains made me truly love this book.
Then my professor told me the book was a hoax. Forrest Carter didn't grow up with his grandparents in the mountains. Forrest Carter was a racist bigot. His given name was actually Asa Earl Carter and he did start a Klu Klux Klan branch and possibly wrote speeches for George Wallace. In doing a bit of research, these facts seem to be true--for the beginning of his life. Nothing can tell us what he was thinking now that he is dead, but it appears that he had a change of heart in his later years. His racist views seemed to disappear.
But whatever the truth, separate the author from the work. Take the book as fiction. Enjoy this entertaining and thoughtful work for the art that it is.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 1997
Format: Unknown Binding
In THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE, Forrest Carter spins a semi-autographical story of a child who "lived a lifetime" in a matter of few years. The story deals with values held close to the hearts of Native American, India Indian families, as well as those of any culture who would read it with an open heart. Carter, using all the emotions universally known (such as joy, love, sadness, compassion, to mention a few), manages to make the reader sympathize and, at times, empathize with the main characters. Using a young boy's Point of View, Carter makes the reader laugh, cry, and experience prejudice brought about by well-meaning people, who are ignorant of others' ways. I, being from India, was able to understand the story because of its universal qualities.

Little Tree's is the perfect voice to use to speak of values taught him, of ancient cultures and of the history of his people; he is also the one to account, in a realistic manner, for modern practices, which are incomprehensible to him, to his grandparents and to Little John. He narrates each of their reactions to the various happenings around them, without rancor or hatred toward anyone.

The story ends on an upbeat note that we must LIVE life to the fullest, no matter what happens. As all the adults in the book, Little John, the Grandfather, and the Grandmother said at some time or another, "Next time it will be better..." The grandmother lovingly added, "We will wait for you, Little Tree..."

The story is worth reading more than once. This is one that should be in every library. Peter Coyote does a good reading of the story in Audio Books.

Although Carter is criticised by many for his alleged activities in adulthood, he did write books that had meaning for our times. His story of Geronimo, WATCH FOR ME ON THE MOUNTAIN, is said to be as historically correct as a novel can be, by none other than Angie DeBois.

Thank you for your time. You will not regret buying any of his books, but THE EDUCATION...should be a must in your personal library.

Nirmala Varmha
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Education of Little Tree is presented as the autobiography of the author, but it is a fictional story of a 5-year-old orphan boy named Little Tree who is raised by his full Cherokee Grandma and his half Cherokee Grandpa in their small mountain home during the depression.

The Education of Little Tree was originally published by Delacorte Press in 1977 and reprinted in 1986 by the University of New Mexico Press. The author, Asa Carter, adopted the pseudonym, Bedford Forest Carter, when he started his career as a writer in 1970 at the age of 45.

Carter is an engaging storyteller who draws his themes of courage, honor, kinship, and blood feud from his knowledge of the Civil War and his Cherokee heritage. Because Carter falsely claimed his book was an autobiography, the reader may wonder what else in the book is false. For example, how do we know if he wrote accurately about the Cherokee's history or life style?

Most of Little Tree's education takes place at his grandparent's small farm, where his Grandma (Bonnie Lee) and Grandpa (Wales) not only teach Little Tree that they love him, they teach him "The Way" of the Cherokee. His Grandpa explains one aspect of "The Way" by saying, "Take only what ye need. When ye take the deer, do not take the best. Take the smaller and the slower and then the deer will grow stronger and always give you meat." Quote from page 9.

His half-Scottish Grandpa also teaches Little Tree how to run a whiskey still, a trade his Grandpa's Scottish ancestors practiced for over 100 years. His Grandpa believes that Little Tree needs to learn a trade and whiskey making is the only trade his Grandpa can teach him. Their still is their only source of cash, since the European settlers have forcibly taken almost all of the land the Cherokee once occupied in seven southern states.
Little Tree's Grandpa believes it is important for him to know the history of the Cherokee. He tells him about the 18,000 members of the tribe who were forced by the US government in 1838 to abandon their family farms and walk the 900 mile "Trail of Tears" from Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to the "Cherokee Nation" in Oklahoma. They were forced to walk during the four coldest months of the year and at least one fifth died of starvation and exposure.

The tribal members at the time of the "Trail of Tears" were not nomadic savages but a people who built roads, schools and churches, had a system of representational government, and were farmers and cattle ranchers. Many Cherokee, like Little Tree's great Grandma, had intermarried with European settlers.

The 18,000 who were forced to walk the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma were part of the 100,000 Indians forced to give up their homes and lands to European settlers and move west of the Mississippi. Of course the "Cherokee Nation" the US government promised the Cherokee was only briefly established in Oklahoma before white land hunters broke it up.
Little Tree's ancestors didn't trust the US government, so they were among the one thousand Cherokee who hid out in the Smokey Mountains while the Cherokee were being gathered up to walk to Oklahoma. Little Tree's Grandpa frequently reminds him to never trust a politician.

When Little Tree's grandparents teach him how to outwit government bureaucrats, Christian Missionaries, and big city mobsters, the humor is slapstick comedy. When they read and discuss the classics of Western Literature around their fire at night, their comments are insightful and amusing.

The beautiful descriptions of the "Cherokee Hills" illustrate their tremendous love, reverence, and respect for their land. The following, from page 131, is Little Tree's description of one morning when he was on the top of a mountain.
"There is not anything like dawn from the top of the high mountain. The sky was a light gray, and the birds getting up for the new day made fuss and twitter in the trees. Away across a hundred miles, the mountaintops humped like islands in the fog that floated below us. Above the rim of the farthest mountain, on the end of the world, a pink streak whipped across, a paintbrush swept a million miles across the sky. The mountain rim looked like it had caught fire; then the sun cleared the trees. It turned the fog into a pink ocean, heaving and moving down below."

The author, Asa Earl Carter was born in Alabama in 1925. Carter did not become an orphan at age five, nor did his grandparents raise him, but Carter did grow up in the same area and during the same time period as the hero of his story, Little Tree. The story Carter wrote about Little Tree is clearly not Carter's autobiography, but he writes with love, understanding and compassion about the Cherokee. Carter description of Little Tree's life with his grandparents made me wonder how many of the readers of the book wish they could have had such loving grandparents.

Although Carter's book is fiction, The Education of Little Tree describes in detail the incredible strength, tender compassion, high intelligence, fearless courage and delightful humor Little Tree's grandparents exhibit as they work hard to survive under difficult circumstances. I wonder if Carter wants his readers to accept his description of Little Tree's grandparents as a description of the Cherokee as a tribe. If so, he has paid the Cherokee a tremendous compliment.
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