Thursday, September 15, 2016

Native American Mythology, Some Middle-Grade Suggestions

In my last post, I presented the idea of mythology as a gateway to history. In the pursuit of mythology you don't have to look far. The J 398.2 section of your library groans under the weight of it all. Even in small libraries there is a surprising representation from around the world. Here, I'd like to focus on some perhaps lesser known Native American resources.

When researching California Indian mythology a few years ago, I came across Jane Louise Curry's delightful Back in the Beforetime.  Curry has also written several other collections, including: The Wonderful Sky Boat: And Other Native American Tales from the Southeast; Hold Up the Sky: And Other Tales From Texas and the Southern Plains; and Turtle Island: Tales of the Algonquian Nations. 

Another book that is fun and accessible for middle-grade readers is Navajo Folk Tales by Franc Johnson Newcomb. The cover here depicts one of my favorite tales of how Coyote stole fire from Fireman--note Fireman's arrows on the left and the torch Coyote used to steal fire burning on his tail. Now you know why, to this day, the tip of a coyote tail is black. The book also mentions that minor detail about how Coyote set a mountain on fire and nearly wiped out the People's homes in the process of helping them.

Another book of Navajo mythology that middle-grade should be able to tackle is The Pollen Path, by Margaret Schevill Link. The latter half of the book offers some additional information and analysis that will not be as relevant for your middle-grade readers, but teachers, librarians, and parents will enjoy the depth it offers.

Stories by Joseph Bruchac, one of the most prominent Native American children's authors of our time, should be available in any library. If not, be sure to recommend a purchase. The Girl Who Helped Thunder, and Other Native American Folktales is one suggestion among many.

Picture Books

I wanted to focus on larger collections of mythology in this post, but I can't leave it without mentioning the availability of some gorgeous picture books that are perfectly suited to any age. There are so many, I hardly know where to begin. But in tribute to Lois Duncan, the beloved children's author who recently passed away, I'd like to conclude with her picture book, The Magic of Spider Woman.

The Magic of Spider Woman

Illustrated by the gifted Navajo artist Shonto Begay, The Magic of Spider Woman is the story of a Navajo woman who loves weaving so much, she loses herself in her work--literally, she vanishes into the fabric. Spider Woman provides a way out of the weaver's self-made prison. The story shows that in the midst of our passions we must not forget one another. It's a great message for all. Thank you, Lois and Shonto!

November is Native American Heritage Month!

It's never too early to prepare for Native American Heritage month. I hope you find these suggestions helpful for stocking your home, classroom, or library. 

* As a note, some of these books may not be readily available, but in my research, I have found them worth the effort to acquire. I hope it will not stop you from pursuing them. Inter-library loan is a great resource in these cases. 

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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