Monday, August 27, 2007


Some time back, I discussed Beverly Blacksheep's board books that include English and Dine (Navajo) language. Today, I draw your attention to Eugene Sekaquaptewa's Coyote and the Winnowing Birds: A Traditional Hopi Tale.

The story is presented in English, but also in the Hopi language. And the illustrators are twenty-two children of the Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School at Hopi.

It is based on a story told by Eugene Sekaquaptewa, translated and edited by Emory Sekaquaptewa and Barbara Pepper.

In addition to the inclusion of Hopi language, note the style of telling the story itself. The first page reads:

Yaw Orayve yeesiwa.
Everyone was living at Oraibi.

One line of text, providing basic information in a straightforward way. There is no "many moons ago" or "in the days of the ancient ones" in this book. There is no romantic, waxing prose found in too many retellings of Native stories.

From my read of the story, the straightforward text communicates that the Hopi people are a people of the present day. Not vanished, or exotic. Any child picking up this book will recognize the art as something he or she could have produced. It is child art. But it is child art done by Hopi children, which communicates (as does the text) that Hopi children are part of the present day.

Designed for children at the school, the book includes information about the Hopi alphabet, a Hopi to English Glossary, and an English to Hopi Glossary. Still, any child will enjoy Coyote and the Winnowing Birds, and the other book in the series, Coyote and Little Turtle. They will go a long way in countering the misperception that Native peoples no longer exist.

1 comment:

jean m said...

A comment on Coyote and the Winnowing Birds. I introduce it to my undergrad early childhood majors at any opportunity. It becomes their first exposure to the Hopi language and often they are surprised to know that Hopi can be written. The trend I've noticed is that my students love the illustrations and the exposure to Hopi, AND they like the story except the fact that Coyote dies in the end. They often emphasize the "message" in the story and feel that having Coyote die in the end makes for too heavy a consequence in proportion to his "wrongdoing", at least for child readers/listeners. Which makes me realize that for them the book is decontextualized -- if the students were familiar with more Coyote stories they might see that "death" isn't necessarily a permanent condition for Coyote, but rather something that happens from time to time. The students also enjoy the "companion volume", which also features children's illustrations.