Showing posts with label Joseph Bruchac. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Bruchac. Show all posts

9.11.2012

The Great Ball Game: A Muskogee Story (1994)

Retold by Jospeh Bruchac

Illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Cut paper

("Cut paper?" you ask. "Is that really the best description you can give for the interior artwork? You can't even tell us what kind of paper?" Okay fine. According to the book: The illustrations are rendered in collage using paper collected from all over the world: red umbrella paper from Thailand, a cranberry colored envelope from Tibet, a blue from Japan, a dark green from Italy, and many other places. Several kinds of paper were handmade, including the mottled white of the rabbit, made by Sheila Swan Laufer, and the gray of the squirrel, marbled by the artist. So there.)

Dial Books

This is a fun book which, for me, went in a surprising direction. What would you have supposed the story to be about, judging from the title and from the cover? A great ball game? Indeed, but that's only the backdrop to the more pertinent tale of how it is that bats are considered mammals and not birds.

This story has apparently been told in Native American tribes all over, but Bruchac writes in the introduction that this particular version is based on a story told to him by an Oklahoma Muskogee elder, Louis Littlecoon Oliver, who died a few years before this book was published. Here is the argument which is central, which type of animal is better? Those with teeth or those with wings? The argument rises in intensity throughout the animal kingdom, until finally Bear and Crane decide to settle things through a friendly little bout of lacrosse.

This is apparently how real conflicts were resolved, quarreling tribes, rather than going to war, would instead play the game. Would that out present-day international conflicts could be decided as easily. We already have the perfect platform for it - the Olympics! If there is ever need to encourage public interest in the Olympics, why not say that in addition to watching athletes compete, actual foreign policy will be decided and rests on the outcome?

Anyway, the lines are drawn and the game is about to commence, when suddenly Bat swoops down, trying to determine which side he belongs on, for he has both teeth and wings. Grudgingly, the toothy-animals accept him on their team.

The game then commences, and takes place over the course of a full day. I really like the way Susan Roth is able to imitate darkness settling in using only her cut paper collages. And lest you think that there is some larger moral emergent, as the animals realize that both teeth and wings are equally important, not so. The story ends with clear winners and clear losers, and the repercussions help to explain some puzzling present-day animal behavior.

6.30.2011

Crazy Horse's Vision (2000)

Illustrated by S.D. Nelson

Acrylics on Wooden Panels
Text set in Amerigo


Crazy Horse is one of the most famous of all Native Americans. He is attributed with leading the Sioux in the Battle of Little Bighorn - also known as Custer's Last Stand - an event which had massive ramifications throughout the country. He was reviled, considered an enemy of the United States. The author of this book, Joseph Bruchac, makes no bones about how he feels about it:

"The irony of Custer's final defeat by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn in June, 1876, was that the battle began when Custer make a surprise attack on yet another village that wanted to be left alone."

The story begins with Crazy Horse's infancy, being carried around the village on his mother's back, studying the world "with serious eyes." From there, we follow him through adolescence, leading his friends on adventures. Nelson has a really stunning eye. In one spectacular scene, he is leading his friends up the side of a mountain where an eagle has made its nest.

The characters are designed in what Nelson calls, "The traditional ledger book style of my ancestors." This means they have a rather flat, two-dimensional yet highly stylized look about them. Yet what is so striking is that he paints the background swirling about them with much depth and texture.

We see this effect again later on, when the Lakota come upon an army fort. The foreground characters stand two-dimensionally with their blue horses, eyes and faces rendered with sharp angles, while all around them, the fort and its settlers are spread out with realistic perspective and design and coloration. Not only have two peoples met, but two distinct artistic styles as well.

The first battle, however, is drawn entirely in the ledger style, with both white and Native Americans flat and stylized, which gives an eeriness to the sight of the soldiers falling over with arrows in their chests, the Lakota lying lifeless.

It in not until after their terrible battle that we get to the true heart of the book. As Crazy Horse stands looking at the dead and dying, he is suddenly seized with the need to have a vision. He does not go the traditional sweat lodge route - instead he rides off into the mountains.

"Wakan Tanka! Great Mystery, even though I am small and pitiful, I want to help my people."

For three days and three nights, without food or water, he remains there. He sees, "no spirit, no bird, no animal, not even an insect. All he saw was the sky above and the earth of the pit."

His blue skin really blends in well with the rich blueness of the night surrounding him. Nelson writes, "I painted Crazy Horse blue because blue represents the sky and a connection with the spirit world."

At last, late on the third day, [Crazy Horse] climbed out of the pit. He was barely able to stand. He staggered downhill to where his pinto grazed near a cottonwood. Reaching the tree, he could stand no longer.

"Then," the text continues, "the vision came."

Click here for other Native American tales!

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