Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army

Written by: Art Coulson

Illustrated by: Nick Hardcastle

For ages: 6-10 years

Language: English 

Topics Covered: Indigenous Voices, Boarding Schools, Historical Events, Historical Figures, Sports, Courage, Bravery. 

Summary: This book opens at a boarding school in Lawrence Kansas, where a young boy meets his hero football team.  This boy has two names- his Sauk name is Wa-tho-huk which means Bright Path, and his English boarding school name is Jim Thorpe.  He wants more than anything to play on this football team, but right now he’s skinny and only 12.  Jim did’t like the Haskell boarding school he went to, and often ran away.  Finally when he was 16, his father sent him to the Carlisle Industrial School where he hoped Jim would learn a job trade and settle down.

The board schools that native children were forced to attend wanted to assimilate them into Euro-American culture, often burning their traditional clothes and forcing them to speak English.  Their hair was cut short and they would be beaten for breaking the rules.

While at Carlisle, Jim had a job at a nearby farm to earn extra money.  He was walking back to school from the farm one day when he saw the track team practicing high jump and asked to join trying to make it over the bar.  The team laughed at him, but Jim made it over!  He didn’t think anything of it, and continued on his way.  Later that day, Jim was called to the office and told he just broke the school record for high jump, and was handed a uniform.  He was on the team now! He practiced and practiced, and begged the coach to put him on the varsity football team.  Jim played for two seasons before leaving school to play baseball and help take care of his siblings.  The coach convinced Jim to come back so he could help him train for the 1912 Olympics, where he became the first Native American to win several events and gold medals, until someone stole his shoes (presumably to keep him from continuing to win).  He found a pair of mismatched ones in the trash and won another gold medal!  The Carlisle team continued to travel and play football games, and went into West Point for the game against the Army undefeated.  The Carlisle team played some new plays, and managed to beat the Army team 27-6!

This book contains a huge amount of information, not just about that exciting football game!  It chronicles most of Jim Thorpe’s life, and there is extra biographical information  in the back, along with other players’ information that were also on the team at the time of the football game against the Army, including what tribes they were from, which we consider incredibly important!  Reading level required for a child to read by themselves is elementary, there are lots of pages and a lot of information on each page.

Reflection Questions:

  • Which famous football players have you heard of?
  • Why do you think some children were forced to go to boarding schools?
  • How do you think they felt when they weren’t allowed to retain any of their home culture at school?
  • Would you like to ever be a famous athlete, or go to the Olympics?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn more about the Carlisle team as a whole.  Who else went on to become a famous athlete like Jim?  Find any books that you can, or some videos that go into more detail about boarding school football teams around that time.
  • Design your own football team!  Draw uniforms, a mascot, and a logo.  Where does your team play?  What makes your football team members special?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

art4webArt Coulson is a Navy brat, born in Honolulu, where he lived for his first 7 months. Art and his family moved often, sometimes more than once a year. Art attended 14 different schools on three continents before he graduated high school.

Art’s first children’s book, The Creator’s Game, a story about a young lacrosse player, was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2013. His most recent book, Unstoppable, a story about the great American Indian athlete Jim Thorpe, was published by Capstone in August 2018.

Before writing children’s books, Art was a writer and editor at magazines and newspapers all over the United States. After his journalism career, Art served as the first executive director of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Now, Art lives in Minneapolis with his family, but still plays traditional Cherokee stickball, an original version of lacrosse, when he is visiting friends and relatives in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma several times a year.

Nick-hardcastle-Portrait-300x211Nick Hardcastle is the illustrator. Since studying illustration and graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1981, he has worked continuously as an artist and illustrator. Clients are diverse and they span many fields including Advertising, Design, Publishing, Exhibition Displays and Editorial.

The medium he primarily uses is pen and ink and watercolour. This enables him to deliver a high level of detail and realism to any commission. Nick is adaptable to all your illustration requirements-whether it’s for a portrait, brochure, book, historical scene, or as part of an editorial.

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