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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Indigenous Folktales

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

Book Cover The Shadows That Rush Past

In The Shadows that Rush Past: A Collection of Frightening Inuit Folktales, storyteller Rachel A. Qitsualik writes, “It is amazing to think that an elder, ten or more centuries ago, would have felt a personal connection to these (thousand year old) tales.” Her introduction also explains that folktales empower the Inuit by linking them to their heritage. Sketches of characters in the endpapers set the tone for all four stories in this book. Using their smarts to defeat unsightly creatures, three of the protagonists are victorious, with one “hero” succumbing to his ego and perishing because of it. In true storytelling fashion, the author talks directly to the reader, as in this example when introducing a particular character:  “Later, I’ll tell you what is under her parka, though I don’t think you’ll like it.” (Grades 3 and up)


The Storm Wife, retold by Bob Barton, illustrated by Georgi Yudin, is about an old man and his three daughters. Kotura, the Wind Giant, is angry and creating a storm, so, to appease Kotura, the old man sends his daughters one by one to offer themselves up as wives. The daughters face a series of tests along the wa—a wounded bird, an injured woman asking for help. It is only the third and last daughter who acts out of kindness, and is so rewarded. Icy illustrations accompany this one. (Kindergarten and up)


Book Cover The Old Man and the Otter Medicine

Eneeko Nambe Ik'oo K'eezho, told by John Blondin, illustrated by Archie Beaverho, and translated by Mary Rose Sundberg, is a dual language text, in Dogrib (a Na-Dene language) and English. The book arose out of a need to record oral stories and is about a medicine man who helps his people understand why fewer and fewer fish are available. The people make him a drum which helps his spirit transform into an otter, allowing him to dive deep into the ocean to where the fish lie trapped by two jackfish. Sweet paintings accompany the tale and there’s an orthography and pronunciation guide at the back.


Book Cover Nanabosho Steals Fire

In Nanobosho Steals Fire, by Joseph McLellan, illustrated by Don Monkman, the trickster and shapeshifter, also known as Nanabush, is a spirit in Anishinaabe storytelling. A medicine man is keeping fire for himself and his daughters and so the young boy, Nanobosho, decides to take it. He changes himself into a rabbit and ingratiates himself to the daughters. Once inside their tent, a spark inevitably flies onto his fur, allowing him to escape with the flame. McLellan has written a multitude of Nanobosho stories, which might make for a fun comparison with other famous tricksters, such as Anansi, the spider. (Kindergarten and up)


Book Cover How Two Feather Was Saved From Loneliness

How Two Feather Was Saved from Loneliness: an Abenaki Legend, by CJ Taylor, combines three origin stories—fire, corn and communal life. Two Feather is a lone wanderer, gathering food wherever he can find it. A corn-like figure comes to him, asking her to follow him. She leads him to a meadow and teaches him to make fire by rubbing sticks together. Following her instruction, he burns a patch of meadow and drags her body along the soil, where corn eventually grows. This allows him to settle, marry and have children. (Kindergarten and up)


Book Cover How We Saw the World

How We Saw the World, by CJ Taylor, includes nine short stories. Taylor tells us, in the intro: “If you wish to understand any culture, look at its folklore.” Such mysteries of the world are explained: how Niagara Falls came to be, how butterflies were created (and why they are silent), how the world will end; and why rabbits and owls look the way they do (while the Great Creator was making rabbits he got interrupted by demanding Owl and so to punish him, the Great Creator gave him the opposite features he asked for). Several of the stories come from American tribes, but it includes some from the following Canadian peoples: Algonquians, BellaCoola, Micmac, and Blackfoot. (Kindergarten and up)


Book Cover Bones in the Basket

Bones in the Basket: Native Stories of the Origin of the People, also by CJ Taylor include Canadian Cree, Mohawk and Chuckchee tales. This one focuses on how the world and humans came to be, but all these books by Taylor include fantastic paintings to illustrate creation stories. (Kindergarten and up)


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

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