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STAR TALES: NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES ABOUT THE STARS, retold and illustrated by Gretchen Will Mayo (Walker: $11.95; 96 pp.; age 7-up).

May 24, 1987|KRISTIANA GREGORY

Gretchen Will Mayo says the 14 stories collected here "are offered with a sense of appreciation for what has been told before." They remind us of an important native tradition that has almost been lost to history: storytelling.

As it is with many cultures, American Indians invented myths, parables and allegories to help teach standards by which to live and explain behavior. Indians who practice traditional values believe that all creation is connected and that the more closely one observes environment, the easier it is to live in harmony. Although interpretations vary among tribes, their stories share the same interest in the cycles of land and sky.

In "Morning Star Takes a Wife," the Blackfeet personify the last star to fade before sunrise. It has extraordinary powers that teach an impulsive maiden humility and help her people chart the heavens. The Sioux warned against counting the stars: If you began but didn't finish, they believed you'd be doomed to an early death.

These tales are meant to be read aloud. They're brief, and each is prefaced with an explanation about origin and a tribal custom. Dozens of charcoal illustrations fill the pages, and all reflect genuine Indian motifs. The glossary is handy, but a star map could have enticed listeners to the great outdoors and enriched each story by many dimensions.

THEY DANCE IN THE SKY: NATIVE AMERICAN STAR MYTHS by Jean Guard Monroe and Ray A. Williamson; illustrations by Edgar Stewart (Houghton Mifflin: $12.95; 130 pp.; age 11-up). Chapters are divided regionally with details about tribes and their perceptions of the universe. California's Chumash, for instance, enjoyed such a mild climate they were able to devote more time to ceremony and storytelling, thus their keepers of star lore were greatly respected, even feared. Unfortunately, there's no map of the constellations and not one word about the artist who contributed superb pencil drawings and designs.

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