Children's Books

HERE COMES TRICKY RABBIT and BIG TROUBLE FOR TRICKY RABBIT; NATIVE AMERICAN TRICKSTER TALES, retold and illustrated by Gretchen Will Mayo, Walker and Company, 435 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, (800) AT-WALKER, (212) 307-1764 FAX; simultaneously in Canada, Thomas Allen and Son Ltd, Markham: Ontario; 38 pages, hardbound, color illustrations, anthro-explanatory post-note, bibliographical sourcenotes, $12.95; 0-8027-8273-6 (Here comes...); 0-80027-8275-2 (Big trouble for...)

Mayo, an elementary teacher and children's book illustrator-writer, has retold (combining and homogenizing) a number of Native trickster myths from different tribes for 2 trickster animal figures (in this series Rabbit, in another Coyote). Thw stories are written in the kind of simplified language with child-appealing sound effects a children's circle library reader might use, but a Native storyteller doe snot. Each of th tales is crditd to a particular tleller (often the Native informant credited by a particular anthro recording the tales). The illustrations are small cartoon-style pastels. The animals are not depicted as wearing clothing, but they are anthromorphized (as th tales require). I have very mixed feelings about all of Masyo's children's Native tales series. I don't like this kind of babytalk writing in any books for children. When you reduce a children's storyteller's stories to writing, they look crude and babyish, though this is not typically true of Native storytellers, who do not cater to limited wordcounts, short sentences and othr EZ READ devices, but build children's vocabularies and stretch their minds with complexities and ambiguities. All of that is missing from all of Mayo's retellings-for-children. OIn the positive side, the baby-talk literary style and sound effects are well suited to the white storyteller's mode, at least to the modes some of them follow (elementary teachers in particular) who have not much feel for literature of any kind and don't do much adult reading. Such people will oike Mayo's stories, presented in childish form. Generally, the actual Native sources (which she gives at the end of these books) will be found to embody the usual native complexities, integrations with living cultures and environments, and multiple levels of meanings which give them their appeal to all ages, not just young children, and which have all been filtered out here. Too, the combination of unrelated legends (except that Rabbit figures in them) from widely different tribes and times into one continuous story guarantees that everything which authenticates their tribal meanings is gone. Literarily, the tales are told in a condescending talk-down manner, with rather wooden prose and lots of onomatopoetics and exclamations -- this is th type of book occasionally given me as a child by some distant rlative that I really hated, cultural distortions entirly aside. A bad book. Pastel illustrations don't show any Native perception. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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

Last Updated: Friday, March 15, 1996 - 5:22:42 AM