Monday, September 29, 2008


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Duncan, Barbara, The Origin of the Milky Way & Other Living Stories of the Cherokee, illustrated by Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee). University of North Carolina Press, 2008, grades 4-up

Duncan, education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, selected these stories from her earlier publication, Living Stories of the Cherokee (University of North Carolina Press, 1998). The 26 short, appealing stories are grouped by seven themes, a reflection of the sacred number: living with people, living with animals, living with plants and the earth, living with spirits, living with monsters, living with Cherokee language, and living with the past and future. The living stories—because they’re still being told, they remain alive—teach in a traditional way what’s important in Cherokee culture.

Told by Cherokee elders Davy Arch, Robert Bushyhead, Edna Chekelelee, Marie Junaluska, Kathi Littlejohn, and Freeman Owle, these stories are effectively put down in a style known as “ethnopoetics,” which reflects the words and speech pattern of the storyteller by breaking a line when a teller pauses. So, in reading the stories, one can almost “hear” the story being told.

The stories told here teach that everyone has something to contribute (even if you are a rattlesnake, a small clumsy child or a bird with big feet), that bragging and boasting will get you nowhere (except maybe a ratty-looking tail), that generosity can get rewarded in a number of ways (including being taught all the cures of the forest), and that the sight and smell of strawberries can remind us not to fight with those we love. All of the stories—which range from very funny to very sad to very scary—teach connection to land, culture and community.

Shan Goshorn’s luminous cover painting shows an elderly storyteller sitting on a porch, surrounded by Grandmother Spider bringing fire, two Little People, the Corn Woman Spirit, the dog who created the Milky Way, and the wolf whose clan was taught the medicine ways. Duncan’s introduction for young people, explaining past and present Cherokee life and the nature and purpose of Cherokee storytelling, avoids the overbearing tone that is all too common in collections compiled by people who lack a relationship with the community. Highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: This book is available from Oyate, a Native not-for-profit organization.]

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Cheryl said...

I'm so glad I found your blog! I've always been fascinated with Native American Indain culture. I've been on the lookout NA chldren's books for my boys but they're SO DIFFICULT to find. Now I have a great place to start!

Angela "Raven~ Hawk" said...

I am so frustrated trying to find really good and acurate literature for my son's reading (AR) program here in NC. None of the authors that I find at amazon or elsewhere or on his AR list. REading for points I really hate anyway--and I am trying to teach him more about his heritage. But it would be nice if he could read and get credit. Hes nine and in 4th grade.He is a very good reader. Thank you for this post and can you offer any advice? Or tell me of one fantastic author who MIGHT be in his schools approved reading list.
Thank you

Angela "Raven~ Hawk" said...

Oh and I was trying to add your blog to follow and it wouldnt let me. Hmmm...