Rereading: TREASURE MOUNTAIN by Evelyn Sibley Lampman

Hoxie and Irene are native American children whose parents have died, and they’ve been placed in a government-run school at Chemawa in Oregon, where they feel a bit like prisoners. An unexpected letter arrives inviting them to come and stay for the summer with a great aunt they’ve never met in Nehalem on the Oregon coast. Their Aunt Della Sisson doesn’t read or write, so the letter has been written by the Nehalem postmaster. The children are happy for a chance to escape school, and hitchhike their way to Nehalem, where the postmaster drives them to the remote cabin of their aunt. It’s a primitive shack on a hillside over the water’s edge, and their aunt turns out to be very old, and hard to communicate with, as she will not speak any English. At first the children are almost sorry they came, but gradually they and their aunt grow to like and understand each other, especially after Hoxie and Irene begin to remember the native language they were taught as young children. Soon they are helping Della in her basic survival existence, gathering blueberries and clams and weaving baskets to sell, catching fish to eat, and learning to find and prepare native herbs and plants from the nearby mountain that once belonged to Della’s tribe, of which she is now the lone survivor.

Hoxie and Irene make a few local friends, and soon learn that a pirate treasure is said to be buried somewhere on this part of the coast. Della has heard the stories, but wants no part of any such treasure. One of the children’s new friends is doing a large dig for it, but so far has had no luck, and Hoxie starts his own dig nearby. The children have always planned to return to their school at summer’s end, but then they learn the school has been closed, and realize they must make a new life with Della. Bad news arrives when the local tax collector tells them she owes seven years of back taxes on her property, and if she can’t pay it soon, the land will be sold. Will the children find a way to save their new home?

Lampman was a prolific writer of books for young readers, this is her second one. It’s skillfully done, and a pleasure to read. Native Americans often figure in her stories, handled with sensitivity and care. Recommended.

Treasure Mountain by Evelyn Sibley Lampman

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