My younger two children and I just finished reading Walk the World’s Rim by Betty Baker this morning. This is my second time through the book, their first.
We really enjoy this book, which is a fictional account of a real-life event. A Spanish expedition sailed from Cuba to explore Florida in 1527. Of the 600 men with the expedition, only four survived and made it to Mexico. Baker gives some background of the fate of the other 596 men, and how the four survivors escaped. Then she starts her story.
The main characters are Esteban and Chakoh. Esteban is a larger-than-life black man, whom the Indians call “The Dark One.” Chakoh is a young Native American who attaches himself to Esteban, and thus to the Spanish men. He decides he wants to travel with these men to Mexico, because he doesn’t believe Esteban’s stories of the bull fights, horses, and most of all, all the food.
It’s a coming-of-age story and a friendship story. A story of perceived betrayal and coming to terms with truth. It’s a story of trying to find his own way in the world while figuring out the definition of freedom.
Did my seven-year-old and my eight-year-old understand all the themes weaving through this story? No, but they did understand the relationship between Esteban and Chakoh, and why, even though I knew the ending, I still found myself choking back my tears as I read the final two chapters of this book.
One word of caution: Chakoh goes to Mexico to learn more about the Spanish god, which Esteban claims is the same as the Spirit-of-Misfortune Chakoh’s tribe worships. For some, this is fine, for others, a problem. I find Baker’s description of Chakoh’s learning process fascinating – he never completely embraces the Spanish god even though he learns all the right prayers while in Mexico. It’s a great example of synchronism – combining different religions, which in this case, were his tribal beliefs and Catholic beliefs. When reading it to my 2nd & 3rd graders, I ignored the topic, but reading this book with junior high or high school students could lead to some great discussions.