I Am Regina
by Sally M. Keehn. Novel. 240 pages. Grades 5-9.
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This novel is based on the life of the real Regina Leininger, a child of early Pennsylvania. In 1755 as the French and Indian War begins, 10 year old Regina is captured by the Indians after they killed her father and brother.
She remained with the Indians for eight years, at first chafing at and later adapting to her new life. During her capture and arduous trip north with the Indians, Regina repeats the phrase, "I am Regina," justifiably fearing a loss of identity ahead. Later, when the captives are brought back for reclaiming by their original families, it is her Indian name she repeats and she has trouble remembering her earlier name.
At the beginning of the book, she is afraid of the Indians, a fear she shares with most of the other settlers. After her life with the Indians, it is the attack of the white settlers she fears. Thus Keehn gives us a chance to see both sides of the coin through the eyes of one character.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- The phrase "I am Regina" is interesting to watch as it is used in the book. It becomes almost a mantra as Regina repeats it over and over to herself as she is taken from her family. It reminds her that she has an identity when she is being treated as a subhuman. When it is said near the end of the book it is with wonder and becomes almost a question and it is her Indian name that gives her identity.
- Readers might like to compare her knowledge and her attitudes toward both the white settlers and the Indians before and after her capture.
- Other things discussed in the book make good comparisons with then and now, the Indians use of sweat lodges, for instance. How are they like saunas? Are they used for the same reasons?
- Regina has trouble keeping her own identity. Children might like to explore what they consider their own identity. Who are they? What touchstones, pastimes, keepsakes, routines, hobbies, friends and family do they use to keep that feeling of who they are?
- In some cases, both in fiction and in non-fiction sources, the captives make a different choice than the one Regina makes. In Carolyn Cooney's book The Ransom of Mercy Carter (Delacorte, 2001 ISBN 0385326157. Order Info.), the story of many captives taken from Deerfield, Massachusetts, some of the captives choose to remain with their kidnappers. What factors would make the choice difficult? What are they giving up? What are they receiving? What would make the choice difficult or easier for you?
- Students might like to find out about other Indian captives. Such books as James E. Seaver’s A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (Syracuse University Press, 1990 ISBN 0-8156-2491-3,) and works of fiction such as: Conrad Richter’s A Light in the Forest (Knopf, 1966 ISBN 0-394-43314-9,) Mary Smith’s Boy Captive of Old Deerfield (River City Press, originally printed in 1904 but still in print ISBN 0-89190-961-3) and Elizabeth Speare’s Calico Captive (Houghton, 1957 ISBN 0-395-07112-7) might be useful. Since these books were written earlier, it might be interesting to contrast their views of the Indian captors with those of Keehn’s.
- You and the kids will want to know more about the French and Indian Wars of which "Regina" is a victim. Although it's not an easy book, Albert Marrin's Struggle for a Continent: The French and Indian Wars 1690-1760 (Atheneum, 1987 ISBN 0-689-31313-6. Order Info.) is an excellent source book for the period. Most kids can't and won't sit still for a reading of it, but you can excerpt some of the information in its beginning chapters which deal with the vastly different lifestyles and goals of the three major groups in conflict at the time: the Indian, British Colonist and French Colonist and the last chapters about the mandated return of Indian captives is particularly relevant to the reading of I Am Regina.
- Students might like to find out about other Indian captives. See how many they can list and find out about. Such books as James E. Seaver's A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (Syracuse University Press, 1990 ISBN 0-8156-2491-3. Order Info.) and works of fiction such as: Conrad Richter's A Light in the Forest (Knopf, 1966 ISBN 0-394-43314-9,) Mary Smith's Boy Captive of Old Deerfield (River City Press, originally printed in 1904 but still in print ISBN 0-89190-961-3) and Elizabeth Speare's Calico Captive (Houghton, 1957 ISBN 0-395-07112-7) might be useful. Since these books were written earlier, it might be interesting to contrast their views of the Indian captors with those of Keehn's.
- Regina's feeling of isolation and homelessness can lead to a look at other books about current homeless people such as Fly Away Home - by Eve Bunting.
Related Areas Within Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Web Site
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- Indian Captives of Early American Pioneers (http://www.rootsweb.com/~indian/index.htm) is a searchable index of people taken prisoner by Indians during the Colonial Years. The stories of their capture and their lives after that are included for many.
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