Children's Books

All of Paul Goble's books are highly recommended, especially the Iktomi stories, which perfectly convey the lessons and spirit of trickster stories. Goble flawlessly captures the flavor of Indian humor and the easy blend of cultures so common in contemporary Indian America, and so lacking in the works of other authors. Reviewed by: Lisa Mitten and Naomi Caldwell-Wood

Second Look: This is one of a continued series by Goble, published by Orchard, on Iktomi, the Lakota trickster, who sometimes manifests as a spider. In general, Iktomi (also Unktomi for Woodland Dakota) is a bad guy, representing human qualities of greed, deceit, treachery. He often outsmarts himself or is outsmarted. In this case, he tricks some ducks into dancing with closed eyes, so he can kill and cook them. But while he's sleeping as the ducks bake in clay in the ashes, Coyote comes along and eats them. The legend is also found in an Ojibwe form, where it explains why some ducks have red eyes (escaped by seeing what happened, eyes reddened by smoke).

All of Goble's many children's books (almost all of them Lakota, a few Cheyenne or Blackfoot stories) are color-illustrated by his elaborate, beautiful Native-style pictures and small black and white designs, that are influenced by southwestern hunting charms and Lakota year-count glyphs . Goble travelled in Indian country for many years (sometimes with Richard Erdoes) after he became interested in Native history -- mostly of Lakota people -- and wrote some children's history books in the late 1960's based on his wife's research.

Many of his dozens of Plains legends in small books for children are based partly on research but partly on stories he was told. In the Iktomi stories, he adopts a storytller's manner of involving the audience by asking them questions. These are in the form of italicized asides sprinkled throughout the text, to be asked by someone reading aloud, or for the young read to ask herself. The style works especially well in read-aloud csmall circles of Indian kids -- the reader asks the question, then passes the book to one of the other kids who answers it. Parents or aunties can use the same tactic to pass the book back and forth between themselves and a child or children.

Lakota Iktomi (and Dakota Unktomi) stories are all charactgerized by a noteworthy failure of the trickster's tricks to succeed, almost always. He is not a mythic figure like Raven or Coyote (for other culture groups) but rather a representation of all human bad qualities, from laziness and greed to cowardice and treachery. The stories are really cautionary tales, which traditionally educated children with amusing fables that had a serious hidden message: don't be greedy, tricky, treachrous, lazy, rash, cowardly, like Iktomi, because his tricks are generally defeated anyway.

Though Goble is not Indian, he has been closely involved with Native people (mostly Lakotas) and supportive of Native causes for more than a quarter-century. His books are thoroughly grounded in the cultures of Plains peoples, and have been considered culturally preservative and used in Lakota reservation schools for many years. Recently a Dakota (Eastern Woodland) elder and culture teacher told me he considered these books excellent for Dakota cultural education children's classes too, though the eastern Woodland Dakota did not have most of the lifestyles and habits of the western division out on the plains. Reviews of Goble's history books for older Middle school and teenagers will be found in the Middle School section. Reviewed by Paula Giese

File: ch1

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Monday, March 11, 1996 - 11:37:17 AM