Wednesday, November 08, 2006

James Rumford's Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing

[Note: This review is used by permission of its author. It may not be published used elsewhere without permission of the author.]


Rumford, James, Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing, illustrated by the author and translated by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby (Cherokee). Houghton Mifflin, 2004; unpaginated, color illustrations; grades 1-4.

On a family road trip to California to visit the redwood trees called Giant Sequoia, a father relates the story of the origins of the Cherokee syllabary and the perseverance of its creator, Sequoyah. Sequoyah is portrayed as an otherwise ordinary man, a metalworker, who undertook the daunting task of setting speech to paper so that the Cherokee language would not “fade away.” Neither ridicule nor harassment from his contemporaries—not even the destruction of his home by arson—could stop Sequoyah from creating the syllabary widely used in Cherokee writing today.

Rumford’s text, reminiscent of traditional storytelling, is concise and evocative. Each paragraph in English is followed by a parallel in Cherokee by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby. The book design, format and illustrations are a thing of beauty and perfectly complement this story within a story. The tall, slim format and mostly dark brown and forest green accents honor both the stately Giant Sequoia trees and the man, Sequoyah, whose name they bear. The bold-lined artwork—done with ink, watercolor, pastel and pencil on drawing paper adhered to a rough piece of wood, then “rubbed” with chalk and colored pencil—remind one of 19th-Century woodblock prints. The Cherokee writing serves both as an example of what Sequoyah accomplished, and as a beautiful design element that completes the wholeness of the book.—Beverly Slapin

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