Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Jeanette Armstrong's DANCING WITH THE CRANES

[Note: This review is used with permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without written permission of the author. Dancing with the Cranes is available from Oyate, a non-profit organization.]

Armstrong, Jeannette (Okanagan), Dancing with the Cranes, illustrated by Ron Hall (Okanagan/Thompson). Theytus Books, 2005, unpaginated, color paintings, grades 2-up.

Last year, Chi’ and her Temma had come to the lake to watch the birds, and the geese had come so close that they could almost touch her. But now Temma is gone, Chi’s momma is expecting a baby, and none of the birds pay any attention to her. And the sound of a loon especially makes Chi’ feel like crying. The cranes come back in their season, but Temma is never coming back. 

As Momma helps her see the continuity of birth, life and death, Chi’ begins to understand that the cranes that come back every year may not all be the same individual cranes, and like the song of the cranes, “her Temma would always be inside of her." 

Hall’s stylized acrylic paintings are a stunning complement to this gentle, but deep, little story. Full-color pictures in shades of blue, brown and green with red and yellow highlights alternate with text pages on solid colors that complement those in the illustrations. And a “cutout” on each of the text pages further lend continuity to the illustrations. Like the traditional faceless Indian dolls, the artwork allows the young reader to imagine the characters’ facial expressions. In three pictures, a small design on the front of Momma’s dress draws the reader’s eye to where the beginning of a baby is growing. And the picture of Temma dancing with the cranes is awesome in its simplicity and beauty.

—Beverly Slapin

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