Thursday, October 30, 2008

Native American Lit.: Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back

Bruchac, Joseph, and Jonathan London. 1992. Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons. Illus. by Thomas Locker. NY: Philomel Books. ISBN: 0399221417.

Author Joseph Bruchac and poet Jonathan London present a collection of poems that represent the legends of the year's thirteen different moons and the turtle that are powered by the turtle.

to begin the collection poems there is a brief narrative in which a grandfather explains to his grandson why there are always thirteen scales on a turtle's shell. Each of the thirteen poems are written in free verse and represent stories from different Native American tribes that comprise a lunar calendar. Each poem provides a story and normally an explanation to things in life like why the Potawatomi do not bother bears during the winter or why there is changes in the weather. A wonderful example of this is seen in the poem "Moon of Falling Leaves," which is the Tenth Moon and is a story from the Cherokee nation:

Long ago, the tress were told
they must say awake
seven days and nights,
but only the cedar,
the pine and the spruce
stayed awake until
that seventh night.
The reward they were given
was to always be green,
while all the other trees
must shed their leaves.

So, each autumn, the leaves
of the sleeping trees fall.
They cover the floor
of our woodlands with colors
as bright as the flowers
that come with the spring.
The leaves return the strength
of one more year's growth
to the earth.

This journey
the leaves are taking
is part of that great circle
which holds us all close to the earth (p. 21).

The large illustrations by painter Thomas Locker are beautiful and amazingly detailed The poems are truly enhanced by the magnificent colors and realism.

The cultural markers that are seen in the collection of thirteen poems is in the essence that each poem is taken from a different tribe: Northern Cheyenne, Potawatomi, Anishinabe, Cree, Huron, Seneca, Pomo, Menominee, Micmac, Cherokee, Winnebago, Lakota Sioux, and Abenaki. Within many poems Native words or names, for example, in the poem "Frog Moon," the animal character Little Frog is called "O-ma-ka-ki." Though the illustrations only show nature sceneries, there are several that include subtle images of the Peoples as well as some of their living quarters, such as seen in the illustrations for the poem "Moon of Popping Trees." To identify which tribe each poem's story originated from at the bottom of each numbers the moon and names the tribe.

At the very end of the book the authors provide "A Note About This Book," in which explains that even though many Native American people do use the turtle's back as a calendar are also many other Native people that mark the year by the changes in the seasons and the times of rain and the dry time. There is also the explanation that the names of the moons are sometimes have a different yet similar name.

Through the power of free verse poems and magnificent illustrations Bruchac, London and Locker have created a beautiful book that presents the various stories of the different times of the year from many different tribes that all relate to the moon and the turtle that carries them.

From a velvety moonlit wetland scene in ``Big Moon'' to the glory of a deciduous forest in the ``Moon of Falling Leaves,'' Locker once again proves himself a gifted landscape artist. In illustrating this Native American lunar calendar, he makes forays beyond the Hudson River valley to the lands of the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne, Cherokee and Huron, Abenaki, Cree, and more, catching the seasons in light, clouds, trees, and wildlife. As in his other books, human and animal figures are rather awkward intrusions, with some exceptions--notably a huge, four-square moose in ``Frog Moon.'' Folklorist Bruchac and poet London work together on brief, dignified retellings of Native American legends for the accompanying text, properly pointing out in an afterword that tribes in different areas see different seasonal patterns and hold different beliefs. (Poetry/Folklore. 7-9) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP

Kindergarten-Grade 4-- The book opens with an Abenaki storyteller explaining to his grandson that just as there are always 13 scales on ``Old Turtle's back,'' there are 13 moons in a year, each of which has a name and a story. The poetic tales and corresponding paintings that follow represent myths or legends of different Native American tribes. Although the language of these poems is not particularly memorable or childlike, it does evoke images and passes on some of the traditions of the native people and their closeness to the natural world. The cadence is that of an adult explaining things to a child. Both text and illustrations have a distancing effect on readers. Locker's large, dark paintings stand parallel to or in tandem with the poems but are not integral to them. They create a mood and capture portions of the text, encouraging viewers to look ``at'' rather than ``into'' these images. There is a sense of vastness in these paintings, and sometimes a harshness, but little of the lushness or the warmth of the land. Although the cover illustration of the turtle is inviting and the large format attractive, these are poems that will probably not entice most youngsters on their own. They can be appreciated, however, when presented by an adult and will be a welcome addition to units on Native American cultures. --Kay E. Vandergrift, School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 1992

Read more books by author Joseph Bruchac: Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places, The First Strawberries, The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet, How Chipmunk Got His Stripes, and Turtle's Race with Beaver.


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  2. Hello Anonymous,

    Thank you for visiting The Wielded Pen - Children's Corner and finding my review on Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London's. Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons.

    I hope you find the information useful for your school project. I do, however, request that you make sure to cite my review and not resort to plagiarism for you project. Visit my WP-CC FAQ page and scroll down to see to common ways to citing a blog: WP-CC FAQ page


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