Children's Books

TJATJAKIY-MATCHAN (COYOTE): A LEGEND FROM CARMEL VALLEY, written and illustrated by Alex Ramirez; Oyate, 2702 Mathews Street, Berkeley, CA 94702; 510-848-6700, FAX 510-848-4815; , 1995, 17 pages, paperback, . $6. 0-9625175-3-4

Say CHA-cha-ky-uh-MAH-chan when you order this recommended book from Oyate. Ramirez tracs his ancestry to his many-tims great grandfather, Amadro Yeuschorom, one of the first California Ohlone to be baptized by Fr. Junipero Sirra in 1774. After meeting Linda Yamane, who was working on reconstructing old stories from notes in Spanish left by a 1930's anthropologist, he was interested in recalling what he could of his own grandfather, Juan Onesimo, one of the storytellers who was recorded.

This charming children's tale is a result. Coyote, a tricksetr, first tricks the proud Fox into helping hold up a cliff. Fox doesn't believe it's falling until he sees the moving clouds (which Coyote tells him are actually the cliff moving away from the clouds, the way it really does look sometimes). Later, there's a different-ending variant on the Aesop tale of the Fox who tricks a dog into jumping in a well to retrieve the moon's reflection. In this story, Coyote tells Fox the reflection in the lake is a cheese he's been guarding for Fox to make up for his trick about the cliff. Fox jumps in and dives, and is soon joined by many other animals, jumping, diving, splashing around. "Coyote stood far off, listening to all the animals having so much fun, and Fox was right in the middle of all the excitement....If only he had not played that last trick on Fox, he would also have someone to play with, but instead he was here all alone." So he howls the eerie night howl of the lonesome coyote, heard by little Alex and his grandfather after dinner one night long ago, and Manuel Onesimo tells Alex -- now himself a grandpa with a whie mustasche quite like Manuel had in the 1930's -- this story about why Coyote is lonely.

The little book is illustrated with Ramirez's pencil sketches. Unfortunately, these will not appeal to children. If they had been scanned into Photoshop, the contrast could have been increased to make them stand out better, as printed, they are light grey and blurry-looking. The story is interesting , and should hold pre-reader children's attention if told or read aloud without the elaborate illustrations that have come to characterize all children's books as an art form (and reliable source of income for many artists). Unfortunately, children's literature is not the place to display amateur art just because a Native person (with no particular artistic talent) created it; children themselves can be severe critics.

One of the biggest attractions of the bedtime story (as opposed to TV) is the little child's intellectual excitement as he or she discovers actions in the illustrations that have just been heard in the story. Pointing, exclaiming and obvious satisfaction and delight are manifest. It's an important pre-reading learning activity (as well as making story-reading fun for the adult, up to maybe the 50th time the same story is demanded). The illustrations here are not the sort of pictures to elicit that discovery activity.

Parents or teachers will find it interesting to ask children to compare this story with the "Little Red Hen" (sky is falling), and the Aesop's fable about the moon's reflection and Fox tricking Dog. Before or after the story is read, on a windy day with low clouds scurrying across the sky, have the child stand near a building or very tall vertical wall perpendicular to the wind direction and see if it dosn't seem that the wall is falling forward or backward, as Fox believed, when Coyote told him. You might also compare this perceptual phenomenon to the feeling we sometimes have riding in the front seat of a smoothly fast-moving car: that the car is standing still while the scenery is rushing towards us. Point out some reflections of light on still water (would the round moon still be visible when all the animals were splashing about in the lake?) If this storybook is used in a class, teacher could ask the children to discuss "have you ever been fooled by anyone about something? Or seen something -- maybe at night -- you thought was something else?" Little children often describe things seen at night that scared them, which in the morning turned out to be some common object. What if Coyote came in your room and told you it really was a ghost? Reviewed by Paula Giese

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

Last Updated: Thursday, April 25, 1996 - 10:24:03 AM