Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Put Kunu's Basket: A Story from Indian Island on your to-be-ordered list. Written by Lee DeCora Francis (she's Penobscot and HoChunk), it is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book about a young Penobscot boy named Kunu who is learning how to make the baskets that the men in his tribal nation have made for generations. A huge plus is that book is set in the present day.

The story opens with Kunu sitting at the table in his house, working with ash strips that he is trying to weave into a basket. Frustrated, he takes the ash strips with him outside and sits on a log. Muhmum (his grandfather) is sitting on his porch next door and goes over to Kunu.

Over the next pages, Muhmum helps Kunu make his basket. In that process, Kunu learns a bit of family and tribal history, and he learns about patience, too.

Susan Drucker's illustrations of Kunu, his family, their house, and the Maine landscape are a terrific compliment to the story. At her website, she's posted many of the illustrations.

I hope Lee DeDora Francis writes more books. She's got a knack for seamlessly presenting the story and the tribal information necessary without sounding didactic. She lets the narrative do some of that work for her. Some writers put the words into the mouth of the character and that doesn't work. It yanks the reader (me) out of the story. Here's an example. This is the conversation and text that follows the moment when Muhmum goes to Kunu, sitting on the log, frustrated:

"What's wrong, Grandson? Why the sad face?"

"Well, I just want to make baskets like you and my dad. I keep trying, but I can't do it."

Muhmum smiled. All the men in the family made baskets. It was something that they were known for on the island. He was glad to see Kunu with the ash strips in his hands.

See? You and I learn something that Kunu and Muhmum know. If the author had inserted that information into words spoken by Muhmum, it wouldn't work. Later, that information is in Muhmum's words, but the context is right for it. A step in the basket-making process is for Kunu to make a rim. It is hard to do, and Muhmum offers to help Kunu with that step:

Kunu thought for a few moments. He pointed to the pack basket in the corner and asked, "Did anyone help you with the rim on your basket?"

"Yes, my grandfather," replied Muhmum.

Kunu kept listening.

"Basket making is something that the sons in our family have learned from our fathers and grandfathers going back a long, long way. My grandfather taught me how to do the rim just as I'll show you."

See what I mean? This is exquisite writing, and I'd love to see more of it. Thanks, Lee DeCora Francis, Susan Drucker, and Tilbury House

No comments: