Dorris, Michael. 1996. Sees Behind Trees. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0786802243.
B. Plot Summary
Sees Behind Trees is the name given to a young Indian boy when he passes the test for young men. He was given the name due to his not being able to see as well as the rest of his tribe. Sees Behind uses his heightened sense of hearing to help an elder member of the tribe to find a mysterious land of water, proving to himself that he is truly worthy of his new name and becoming a man.
C. Critical Analysis
No illustrations are provided for the novel so readers must use their own imaginations to draw the story. Sees Behind Trees is historical fiction, set in sixteenth century America, during a time when North America was being explored by Anglo explorers.
Author Michael Dorris adds a note at the beginning of the book recommending a work by Helen C. Rountree called The Powhatan Indians of Virginia (University of Oklahoma Press, 1989) for readers "...who wish to learn more about the people imagined in these pages."
From that note I would assume that the cultural markers used within the novel are as accurate and authentic as Mr. Dorris could write them along with some poetic license for the story's plot.
Moccasins are mentioned in the story along with a food called pemmican. A style of cooking is spoken of when the character's mother says to, "Imagine it is a corn cake, hot from the ashes...".
Walnut, who later is named Sees Behind Trees, is practicing with a bow and arrow, typical "Indian" elements, the character 'weorance' is introduced, as "Our most important person, the expert on hunting..." and a custom of serving an important person their food after the old ones is explained after Sees Behind Trees passes the ceremony to become a young man.
Sees Behind Trees is an interesting novel portraying life as an American Indian boy living in early America. Focus is on the main character and his thoughts and feelings about his vision handicap and how he overcomes this to prove his worth to his people and earn his young man's name. Modern students will be able to understand the need to prove oneself as a young adult.
D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly Dorris's eloquent, beautifully crafted coming-of-age tale centers on Walnut, a near-sighted Native American boy whose uncanny ability to use his other senses earns him the adult name Sees Behind Trees. Set in the distant, pre-colonial past, the story finds the boy moving hesitantly into adulthood, gradually gaining confidence in himself and his perceptions; learning humility when he prizes his talents too highly; earning the respect of his tribe when he escorts an elderly wise man on a dangerous journey. Both sharply and lyrically observed, fraught with emotion, the first-person narrative should connect strongly with a young audience, who will quickly learn that, no matter the century or the culture, the fundamentals of growing up remain very much the same. The authenticity of the characterizations and setting will ease readers toward acceptance of the quasi-mystical adventure that crowns the story. It's a thrilling read, with the pleasures compounding at every turn of the page.
Discuss with students their own families' "tests" that prove the student is a young adult. i.e. staying home alone with no baby sitter.