Children's Books

FIRE RACE: A KARUK COYOTE TALE, retold by Jonathan London, i llustrated by Sylvia Long. Chronicle Books, 275 Fifth St., San Francisco, CA 94103. Children's story for all ages. Illustrated, bibliography, afterword. 40 pp., $13.95 cloth. 0-8118-0241

The literature says that this book is for ages 4-8, but I am putting it in the "all ages" category because this book just knocks me out! A long time ago, only the three Yellow Jacket sisters had fire. Even though other animals froze, the fire was kept from them. Wise Old Coyote, however, devises a plan to steal the fire, and enlists the other animals to help. Coyote diverts the yellow jackets, seizes a burning stick, and runs away. As the yellow jackets chase him, he hands it off to Eagle, who hands it to Mountain Lion. Several hand-offs later, Frog hides a hot coal in his mouth on a river bottom, and the yellow jackets give up. When Frog spits the coal out, Willow Tree swallows it, and Coyote shows the animals how to extract it: by rubbing two sticks together over dry moss. Now that the animals have fire, each night they gather in a circle while the elders tell stories. An meaningful tale which stresses the importance of the natural world and our need to live cooperatively with it. Splendidly detailed watercolors embellish this fascinating tale. This is one of the best children's books of 1993. Reviewed by: Steve Brock

Compare this retold version reviewed by Brock with two earlier versions that the author used in creating the retold story:

How Coyote Stole Fire: A California Karok tale, typed as retold in Virginia Haviland's North American Indian Legends, 1916. This is a rather stilted, quaint version of a tale often retold by authors of children's lit. See Book review of Fire Race: A Karuk Coyote Tale and How Squire Coyote Brought Fire to the Cahrocs: John Vance Cheyney -- an older version of the Karuk story as a poem, closer to the way it was probably told -- as a song. Century Magazine, 1885.

File: ch25

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

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