Jim Thorpe: Super athlete, Olympic gold medalist, Native American
Pop Warner: Indomitable coach, football mastermind, Ivy League grad
Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in American football history. Called “the team that invented football,” they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team is an astonishing underdog sports story―and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. Expertly told by three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin, it’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination
Booklist starred (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 6-9. Though arguably best remembered as a supremely gifted track-and-field star, Native American Jim Thorpe was also a preternaturally gifted football player, as the award-winning Sheinkin demonstrates in this biography of the sports phenomenon. Sharing the stage is Pop Warner, the man who would ultimately become his coach at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The first part of the book is devoted to biographical material about Thorpe and Warner and colorful contextual information about Carlisle, its football team, and the state of the sport at the time (i.e., the early years of the twentieth century). With that established, the book hits its stride as Thorpe arrives at Carlisle and meets Warner. The result is history. Though never a good or willing student, Thorpe—between his prowess on the football field and his triumphs at the 1912 Olympics—became, as Sheinkin succinctly puts it, “the best athlete on the planet.” He evidences this with stirring accounts of Thorpe’s games, especially his white-knuckle coverage of a symbolically important 1912 matchup with Army. But even better are the psychological insights he offers into Thorpe’s character. Containing a generous collection of black-and-white period photographs, this is a model of research and documentation, as well as of stylish writing that tells an always absorbing story
Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2016)
Young readers of this biography may be surprised that Jim Thorpe, an athlete they may never have heard of, was once considered “the best athlete on the planet.” Most students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania were shocked by the treatment they received under superintendent Richard Henry Pratt, who believed white American culture was superior and to “help” his students meant to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” New students were given new names, new clothes, and haircuts and were allowed to speak English only. It was a harsh, alien world, and only a small percentage of students ever graduated. The child of a Sac and Fox/Irish father and Potawatomi/French-Canadian mother, Jim Thorpe grew up in a mix of white and Indian culture and was better prepared than many when he entered Carlisle at the age of 15. Sheinkin weaves complicated threads of history—the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the story of Carlisle, the early days of football, and the dual biographies of Thorpe and his coach Pop Warner—with the narrative skills of a gifted storyteller who never forgets the story in history. He is unflinchingly honest in pointing out the racism in white American culture at large and in football culture, including headlines in the newspapers (“INDIANS OUT TO SCALP THE CADETS”), preferential officiating, and war whoops from the stands. Sheinkin easily draws a parallel in the persisting racism in the names of current football teams, such as the Braves and Redskins, bringing the story directly to modern readers. Superb nonfiction that will entertain as it informs. (source notes, works cited, acknowledgments, photo credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10-16)
About the Author
A former textbook writer, Steve Sheinkin is now making amends by writing history books that kids and teens actually want to read. His award-winning, non-fiction thrillers include Bomb, The Port Chicago 50, Most Dangerous, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, and Lincoln’s Grave Robbers. His newest book, Undefeated, tells the story of the astonishing rise of Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School football team. Steve lives with his family in Saratoga Springs, NY.
His website is www.stevesheinkin.com
Indian Boarding Schools Resources
Around the Web
Undefeated on Amazon
Undefeated on JLG
Undefeated on Goodreads