Children's Books

THE BOY WHO LIVED WITH THE SEALS by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 200 Madison Ave., N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 847-5515. For ages 4-8. Illustrated. 32 pp., $14.95 cloth. 0-399-22556-0

In this Chinook legend, a small boy disappears from his tribe, with no trace. With heavy hearts, the tribe is forced to abandon the search and move to their spring camp. When the tribe encounters another clan, an elder tells them of an island where seals lie on the rocks. A boy was seen with them. Several tribal members set out in their canoes and bring him back, to the delight of his parents. He must relearn how to live as a human. As he learns how to eat and walk, he shows proficiency at carving canoes and making bows and arrows. When the family goes fishing, however, the seals swim up and call to the boy, who finally jumps into the water and`swims off. Saddened, his parents throw him the box containing his carving tools. Every year after the parting, the parents find a new and beautiful canoe waiting for them. The somber and shadowy watercolor illustrations bolster this powerful, painful, but reassuring, story. Adapted for children from Jarold Ramsey's "Coyote Was Going There," the book is highly recommended. Reviewed by Steve Brock

A second Look: This legend is popular all along the west coast of Alaska. The most elaborate and ongst version was recorded in 1977 from Paul John, Yupik of Nelson Island, told it to a group of Yupiit students in the village of Toksook Bay. The 3 times-filtered children's story omits the role of the angalkuq power contest, the fact that the parnts want thir son to become a good hunter through intervention of the most powerful one, the complexities of th peoplle's relationship to th seals, the instructions the seal-people give the boy to improve the hunters' relationship with them in particular great care in cleaning the ice holes, and the fact that when the boy (having died and become a seal and gone through bding killed by his people) returns undr the ice to the seal people, he is a seal hunt instructor or mentor for the community thereafter. Most of the culture -- cosmology and belifs of the people -- has vanished in the conversion of this important myth to a children's story. A careful (Native-speaker's) translation may b found in Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America, ed. Brian Swan, Random House, 1994. -- Paula Giese

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

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