Ghost Hawk

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Ghost Hawk Book Poster Image
Gorgeous tale of Native American and colonist friendship.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Everyday life of the Pokanokets as well as early colonists is richly detailed:  How they survived off the land, what they did for fun, their dreams and aspirations, worship practices, family relationships, life's rich pageant. Also thoughtfully presented is the evolving, troubled relationship between the two peoples at a crucial moment in history. Differing attitudes toward each other, amongst both colonist and the native communities, are shown, providing a balance of good and bad on both sides.

Positive Messages

Great changes can be accomplished by one person doing one thing. Even though the actions of the characters don't change the tragedy that befell Native Americans, the changes they effect by holding to what they know is right reverberate through time, even to the present day. Life continues, thrives, and eventually brings joy again and again, even after unthinkable catastrophe.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both main characters, Little Hawk and John, model good, responsible behavior.  Little Hawk follows the rules and also makes good choices, like when he takes only half of an animal's winter food store even though he's starving himself. John also fulfills his obligations, and his greatest character strength is that he judges people by what they do and how they treat him. He defends Native Americans from colonists who view them as savages, and he refuses to bow to pressure from the Puritans to worship only in their way. Guiding adult figures aren't prominent, but Little Hawk's grandmother is a wise, gentle leader and teacher, and the family John is apprenticed to treats him well, eventually as one of their own.


Wilderness survival skills are depicted realistically, unflinchingly, and usually without minute detail. Little Hawk smashes a squirrel's head (for food) and kills a deer. Processing the deer's carcass and hide is described in detail. A bloody fight with a wolf is described, and there's some detail when Little Hawk slits its throat. John is whipped by Puritans as punishment, and the whipping is briefly described, along with his bloody back. Massacres and murder are mentioned at the outset of war between Native Americans and colonists. A beheading, including attaching heads to poles as warnings, and the burning alive of a whole community including women and children, are mentioned as horrific but not described.


Menstruation is referred to as "moontime bleeding" two or three times to explain why certain Pokanoket women are away from their home tents at certain times. John and eventual wife Huldah share one chaste kiss on the lips before they're married.


There's no swearing, but damnation to hell is mentioned a few times, and "piss" is used twice.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

After his rite of passage into manhood, Little Hawk smokes a pipe with his elders once. It makes him feel sick.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper, Newbery Award-winning author of the five-novel The Dark Is Rising fantasy seriesrealistically and unflinchingly depicts the harsh realities of wilderness survival and war-like conflict, none of it glorified, with beautiful prose that pulls the reader into the intimate moments of everyday life during a time of tremendous political and social upheaval. Sad things happen that are simply and gracefully told, including the deaths of major characters. Readers of all ages are likely to shed a tear or two throughout the story. There's no sex or swearing. Little Hawk and John are worthy men who become unforgettable heroes in different but praiseworthy ways.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 5, 9, and 10-year-old Written byHeather H. March 8, 2018

It's a little heavy

I read this book because my 5th grade daughter was reading it with her class at school. She said it was really good even though she was only part way through.... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byEnvironment May 6, 2015

Incredible to read!

I LOVED this book! The history, combined with the tale and writing, is amazing! I must admit, there were some disappointing parts, but overall... a must read.

What's the story?

Little Hawk is a member of the Pokanoket tribe at the time European colonists are first establishing a foothold in the Americas. When he returns to his village after the three months alone in the wilderness, he finds it deserted except for his grandmother. Everyone else has died from a plague believed to have been brought by the white settlers. As he struggles to rebuild his life, he meets and befriends a young white boy. The two don't see each other again for many years, but when they do both their lives are profoundly changed. Their friendship blossoms and endures during a time of tremendous upheaval, as each must make his way in his own world, forever shaped by the other.

Is it any good?

GHOST HAWK is so moving, and so eye-opening, it belongs on every bookshelf. It's a story that deserves the widest possible audience, touching as it does on the beginnings of our nation and the fate of the indigenous people at the hands of those seeking freedom themselves.

As expected from the Newbery-winning author of the five-novel The Dark Is Rising Sequence, the writing is simple, elegant, and flawlessly constructed. Susan Cooper creates the larger historical backdrop and keeps it understandable for young readers. But it's the straightforward, unabashed intimacy of life's small moments as they flow from one to the next that elevates this moving tale beyond genre into the ranks of great literature.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories set in the past. Why are they so popular? What can we learn from them, and from Ghost Hawk in particular?

  • Susan Cooper says in her Author's Note that Ghost Hawk is not historical fiction, but rather a fantasy in a historical setting. Do you agree? Why do you think she makes that distinction? Do you notice any fantasy elements to the story?

  • Why do we follow John's story through Little Hawk's point of view? What do we learn about him that we wouldn't if John himself were the narrator? Do you think we get a balanced view of both colonists and American Indians?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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