Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE CROW'S TALE by Naomi Howarth

The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth came out last year (2015) from Frances Lincoln Children's Books. That's a publisher in London.

The complete title of Howarth's book is The Crow's Tale: A Lenni Lenape Native American Legend. 

In her "About the story" note, Howarth writes:
The Rainbow Crow -- a Pennsylvania Lenni Lenape Indian legend--is the perfect example of a story that was first told to explain the mysteries of the natural world. When I came across this beautiful tale, my imagination was immediately soaring with Rainbow Crow across wide winter skies and landscapes. The tale has been passed down through generations of Lenni Lenape Indians, mostly orally, and I have tried to remain true to the narrative, although I have visualized the Creator as the Sun, as I wanted to make the Sun a character in his own right.

On her website page for the book, I see this:
Inspired by a Lenape Native American myth, this beautiful debut picture book shows how courage and kindness are what really matter.

Yes, courage and kindness matter, but so do other things. Clearly Howarth felt that she was doing a good thing with this story.

I have several questions.

What is the source Howarth used for this story? She doesn't tell us, which means we can't tell if her source is legitimate, or, if it is amongst the too-many-made-up stories attributed to Native peoples. Without that information, teachers are in a bind. Can they use this book to teach students about Lenni Lenape people and culture?

Is Howarth's story a Lenni Lenape one if she changed a key part of it? She tells us that she visualized Creator as the sun. Could she (or anyone) do that--say--with the Christian God and still call that story a Christian one? Maybe, but I think most people would say that doing so would be tampering with a religion in ways that border on sacrilege. How do the Lenni Lenape people visualize Creator? Did she talk with them, to see if she could depict Creator as the sun?

By "them" I mean--did Howarth talk with someone who has the authority to work with her on this project? Increasingly, tribal nations are working to protect their stories by setting up protocol's researchers and writers should use if they're going to do anything related to their people, history, culture, etc.

As we might predict, Howarth's book is well-received in some places. This morning I read that this story is on the shortlist for a 2016 Waterstones Children's Book Prize. If you're in the UK, or if you know people in the UK who are on the committee, please ask them these questions. You could ask Howarth, if you know her, or her editor (I don't know who that is). Asking questions is what leads to change.

Published in 2015, The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth is not recommended.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen a copy of the book to see if some of your questions are addressed/

Debbie Reese said...

Yes, Anonymous, I do.

Debbie Reese said...

Beverly Slapin wrote to tell me that Nancy Van Laan's RAINBOW CROW, published in 1989 by Alfred A. Knopf is similar to Howarth's story. It is reviewed in A BROKEN FLUTE, edited by Seale and Slapin, on page 407, and is not recommended.

Ann Bennett said...

When they had the Highland Clearances in Scotland, the biggest tragedy is that most of knowledge of the kinship systems and how the tribes functioned were lost.

Good to hear that many tribes are recording their ideas. So much bad history and alternate history is found on the internet. I recently read one man's revisionist history of the origin of the folks in North Georgia. I was fooled. When it is put in print it is much worse.

Colonial influences began in the 1500's for the Eastern Seaboard. It troubles me that we could lose something so precious.