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Book Review

Meet Kaya, an American Girl by Janet Shaw has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “American Girl: Kaya” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Kaya is excited to meet up with the rest of the Nez Perce tribe at the riverbank. As her family will no longer be traveling for a few weeks, she will have time to better train her beautiful horse. Steps High is fast, but her father says she is too young to race. Kaya is told to watch over her younger brothers while her mother and older sister go on ahead. However, when two boys challenge her to a race, Kaya leaves her brothers in the care of her blind sister, Speaking Rain.

Steps High proves herself to be the fastest horse, but also the least tame — Kaya is nearly thrown and must walk the horse back toward the pasture to cool down. Fox Tail challenges her to a footrace to the river. Kaya again accepts, but gets lost in the woods. She hears what she believes are Stick People and remembers her brothers. She runs to find Speaking Rain, who could not control the twin boys and confesses she doesn’t know where they went.

The sisters search the woods and soon find the boys safe in a tree. Grateful that the boys are unhurt, Kaya’s aunt still insists on calling Whipwoman to punish Kaya for ignoring her duties. Whipwoman strikes all the children on the back of their legs, which is the custom. When one child disobeys, all the children are struck with a bundle of switches. Kaya is further humiliated when Whipwoman says her actions were less honorable than that of a thieving magpie. From that point forward, Kaya is saddled with the nickname Magpie.

In the following days, Kaya withers beneath the relentless teasing of her peers. Her grandmother comforts her in her distress by explaining she also had been given a cruel nickname as a girl, but that nickname reminded her never to make the same mistake and ultimately made her a better person. Kaya’s father comforts her, and he takes her to train Steps High.

Weeks pass, and soon the Nez Perce are ready to leave the riverbank. Grandmother has misplaced her knife and asks Kaya and Speaking Rain to take Steps High and look for it. While they are searching near the riverbank, Speaking Rain steps onto an unsecure ledge and tumbles into the rough water.

Kaya urges Steps High to run faster than the water in order to meet up with Speaking Rain. The girl and the horse seem to be of one mind and manage to pull Speaking Rain from the river. Kaya’s father and others of the tribe hear the splash and come to investigate. Now that they have seen her heroism and control over Steps High, Kaya has earned back the respect of her tribe.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

At dawn and over meals, the Nez Perce give thanks to Hun-ya-wat, the deity they believe created the world.

Though they pray over meals, the Nez Perce give thanks to the fish for offering themselves as food, rather than for the fish their god created and provided.

In addition to Hun-ya-wat, they believe in the Stick People, powerful woodland spirits who can lure children away from their families and must be treated with respect. When Kaya thinks she hears Stick People nearby, she leaves a gift of rosehips to appease them. Kaya is looking forward to her vision quest, where she will receive a wyakin, or guardian spirit, that she believes will bestow special powers on her. The people in the tribe believe Kaya’s twin brothers are extra troublesome and crafty because when they were born the sun and moon were both present in the sky.

Authority Roles

Kaya and the other children are expected to obey commands from their elders, whether parents, grandparents, aunts or older siblings. Whipwoman is the designated disciplinarian in the tribe. When one child is disobedient, every child is struck on the back of their legs with a bundle of switches.

Kaya is punished for disobeying her parents, but she is also punished because she was focused more on herself and her horse than on her brothers, and the Nez Perce believe in putting others before themselves.





Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Janet Shaw






Record Label



American Girl Publishing Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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