Children's Books

THE HUNTER AND THE WOODPECKER: AN INDIAN LEGEND; retold and illustrated by Christine Crowl, Tipi Press, St. Joseph's Indian School, Chamberlain, SD, 1990; 19 pages paperback oversize; 1-877976-09-1

On the title page, this book describs itself as part of "The American Heritage Series, A T.C. Artists creation, lovingly dedicated to our American youth." St. Joseph's is as its name suggests, a Catholic-run school, and their press has published some good books, written by (mostly) Lakota people, illustrated by (mostly) Lakota artists. The ones I've seen don't carry the possessive declaratory dedication. So I don't know what that "T.C. artists" is. It looks as if it's Christine Crowl, and she's really not a good artist, or wasn't at that period in her life. She's also obviously non-Indian and untalented as a writer (or re-writer).

This little book is cribbed from a story, but at least not a central, most important, sacred one. It's a toss-up whether it was from Lame Deer (The Sound of Flutes it's the lead story there), or Henry Crow Dog, American Indian Myths and Legends, where it's titled "The Legend of the Flute", and Lame Deer's own autobiography. It xplains th origin of th wooden flute, and the courtship tradition of men playing them at night, to attract women.

This, is a traditional story of which there are more versions than one. But it's been cleaned up, romanticized cleaned up, turned from an adult story into a kid story, with pretntious language. (Crowl or whoever the actual writer was just doesn't have a way with words. Grammar, spelling punctuation -- OK! but the heart is not there because of the style. The type of writing that tnds to get good marks from the nuns, while more creative types, shakier on the mechanics, get downchecked.

The illustrations are awkward, amateurish, but very expensively done. Every page is a 4- process colors page, all with at least 2 and some with 3 edge-bleeds, each of which adds to the per-page print cost.

This wasn't a startup effort for Tipi Press, which had already published at least a few I know of by Lakota people that are good from any viewpoint, plenty of talent, knowledge, etc. so I don't understand the lavish production given this amateurish effort. The general effect, because of the awkward quality of both the art and the writing, is of a high-school illustrated story student project. Such, of course, wouldn't normally be printed or sold (unless perhaps students of real talent, regardless of their youth and inexperience, had ben involved). This and a companion work which is even worse (because it desecrates a living religious myth) are publications which are truly puzzling.

--Paula Giese

File: ch65

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

Last Updated: Sunday, August 18, 1996 - 7:22:15 AM