Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Recommended! THE RELUCTANT STORYTELLER by Art Coulson; illustrated by Hvresse Christie Blair Tiger

There's a specialness to Art Coulson's The Reluctant Storyteller that is moving through my head and heart. You won't find it for sale in the usual places because it is published by Benchmark Education, who publishes "leveled readers" for classroom use. Some people don't like books like this because they don't have the slick production values that you find in books in bookstores.


Don't look away! Benchmark Education offers books that I know--without a doubt--that Native children will be happy to read! One of my favorite books--ever--is Where'd You Get Your Moccasins by Bernelda Wheeler. When I was teaching children's literature way back in grad school in the 1990s, it was on the required list of books I asked pre-service teachers to buy. Some would look at the stapled spine and think less of it without reading the words in the book that made, and makes, my heart soar! They had to learn to set aside elite notions of what a book should be like, and think about the content and what that content could do for readers in their classrooms.

I ask that same thing for The Reluctant Storyteller. The things I look for in a book are all here. It is set in the present day, it is tribally specific, it is written and illustrated by Native people, and it rings true! Coulson knows what he's talking about. The family at the heart of this story is filled with storytellers who adore being out and about, telling Native stories. They're from Oklahoma, but live in the Twin Cities. They do visit, a lot, and a trip is coming up. Chooch, the main character in Coulson's book doesn't want to go. He's rather stay in Minneapolis for the Lacrosse tournament.

Chooch doesn't tell stories and can't imagine himself as a storyteller. His dream? To be a chef. But, nobody knows that he wants to be a chef. He enjoys cooking with his mom and grandma, making up recipes. Things he makes are tasty!

On the way to their Oklahoma, Chooch's uncle tells him a story about a Tsula, a fox who wishes he had a coat of feathers, like Totsuhwa, the redbird that he sees flying about in the trees, so that he could fly, too. One day he runs and runs and runs, so fast, that his feet are off the ground. Day moves into night and, well, he started flying. He's no longer Tsula, the fox. Now, he's Tlameha, the bat. People who read AICL regularly know that I'm careful about traditional stories and how a writer works with them, uses them, bringing them into a book. This story is one that the Cherokee people tell. Coulson is Cherokee. I trust that he's sharing a story that can be shared. And--I love the way he brought it to Chooch.

They get to Oklahoma, and Chooch is drawn to the cooking area of a Native gathering. By the time we get to the final pages of The Reluctant Storyteller, Chooch understands himself in ways he did not before the trip. He's learned that there are many ways to be storytellers.

And, there are many ways to tell stories--to bring stories to children and teens! That's what I mean, up top, where I say there's a specialness to this book. There's layers of truth in it. Layers of Native life, too... 

So, don't turn away from leveled readers. If you open the Benchmark catalog, you'll see other writers there, too. Like Ibi Zoboi! And David Bowles! And Jane Yolen! Jerry Craft, and, Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve! These are names teachers and librarians are familiar with. Look at the catalog! You'll see others, too. 

I like The Reluctant Storyteller very much and recommend that you get it... but I think the books are hard to get. I got my copy from Art Coulson's website.

1 comment:

Val said...

I think what makes this one so successful, is that it manages not to lose the story. So often, leveled books seem to be more about the level, and not the story. No wonder no one wants to read them then.