Spirit of the Earth: Indian Voices On Nature, for Multicultural Children's Book Day

I was one of the participants in Multicultural Children's Book Day who was matched with World Wisdom, and I received two books to review. The first, Rock Maiden, by Natasha Yim, I reviewed earlier today.  The second is Spirit of the Earth: Indian Voices On Nature (May 2017), edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald and Joseph A.  Fitzgerald, with a foreword by Joseph Bruchac.  It is not a children's book, but it is one that middle grade and YA readers can certainly appreciate.

This book is a gathering of stunning images, both color pictures of places, and historic pictures of Native peoples  living within places, juxtaposed with quotations from Native speakers about persons (human and nonhuman) living within places, and the relationships that join people to the earth and sky.  It is not a book to rush through, but one to read meditatively and thoughtfully, listening to the words as one reads.  As Bruchac puts it in the introduction, " [T]he quotations....[are] so well chosen, so well paired with the images, and so beautifully centered on our appreciation, understanding and lasting reliance on that natural world, they do what our traditional stories have always done-engage and teach."

So it is a lovely book, with lovely pictures and words.

I did have two reservations though.  The first is one of temporality--Native peoples are still here, and yet with the exception of just two quotations at the very end, both the words and the images of Native persons are from the past, reinforcing the stereotype of vanished Indians.  I would have liked images of living people, and more contemporary quotations, to put a lie to that stereotype.  My second reservation is that the texts were drawn from previously published sources, mostly written by anthropologists and ethnographers years ago.  Some of the quotations are part of ceremonies, and I would have felt more comfortable if the Tribes whose words these are had given permission for them to be included here (I didn't see any acknowledgement that such permission was sought).  Without that permission, I couldn't accept the words as a gift freely given.   The fact that the foreword was written by Joseph Bruchac was some comfort, as he is a well-regarded Abenaki writer, and if he is comfortable with the book, that makes me feel better about it; also, his words are very much in the present tense, which gives some balance in that regard.

Despite my reservations, I'll say again that it is a lovely book, and one that offers riches to those who want to learn and who want to think about being in the world.

Thank you World Wisdom, and thanks to all the sponsors of WNDB and to the organizers and hosts for another tremendous event! Here's the link round-up for WNDB 2018; lots of great books!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful review. Having read it, the reservations you mention can be addressed with young readers. I appreciate that! The book sounds lovely, and I will definitely look for it.


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