Friday, June 08, 2007

Flying With the Eagle, Racing the Great Bear

Flying With the Eagle, Racing the Great Bear: Stories from Native North America, Joseph Bruchac.

"We learn about ourselves by understanding others. Our own traditions can be made stronger only when we pay attention to and respect the traditions of people who are different from ourselves. Hearing or reading the stories of the Native peoples of North America will not make any of us Native Americans, but it may help make all of us more human." (Introduction, p. x)

Flying with the Eagle, Racing the Great Bear is a wonderful collection of Native American tales, some true stories and some myths and legends, that highlight coming-of-age themes and rituals for young men. Each story comes from a different Native American tribe, and the stories are divided into the regions from which the tribes which told them originated. Bruchac introduces each section with short commentary on the unique themes and characteristics of the tales of the tribes of that region. The tales themselves are absolutely delightful. I'm more familiar with some of the Native American Coyote trickster tales and the lovely stories retold by the likes of Paul Goble (my review of some of his picture books here), so most of these coming-of-age stories were new to me.

Bruchac notes that in Native American cultures stories were often used as an indirect way to teach children how to behave, teaching reverence for nature, respect for elders, the importance of strength and integrity. In the tales in this collection, young men who listened to their elders and respected those around them were helped and rewarded, just as we'd expect. Those young men who disobeyed their parents by going where they were not allowed to go were often swept into adventures or into another world. But in the new world or adventure they were allowed to prove their strength or taught proper behavior rather than punished for their misbehavior, which allows them to see that even should they make mistakes or do the wrong thing, they can still grow into strong and responsible young men.

Some favorites: A Dine (Navajo) tale, "How the Hero Twins Found Their Father," in which sons of the Sun slay the monsters that threaten the survival of the people, but meet and come to understand the purpose of Hunger, Poverty, Cold Woman, and Old Age. "The Ghost Society," a Yuki story of a boy's rites of initiation. "Star Boy," a hero tale from the Cheyenne people which contained a tale we'd already read in one of Goble's picture books, how White Crow became black, and more of Star Boy's adventures as a champion of his people. "Tommy's Whale," which tells the true story of an Inupiaq boy's first whale hunt.

Dragonfly's Tale, Kristina Rodanas.

While I'm discussing traditional Native American stories, Dragonfly's Tale is another great library find, a beautifully illustrated picture book based on an ancient tale of the Zuni people, a Native tribe in the Southwest. It's a story of what happens to a tribe of people known as the Ashiwi, who offend the Corn Maidens by becoming ungrateful and wasteful in a time of prosperity. It's also a tale of how the dragonfly was brought into the world through the love of an older brother for his sister. The pictures are gorgeous and the story is beautiful and well-told. I hope to check this out again at the end of the summer after we've dried our cornstalks so that we can read the story and make our own cornstalk dragonflies.

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