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North American Myths & Legends by Philip…
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North American Myths & Legends

by Philip Ardagh

Other authors: Olivia Rayner (Illustrator)

Series: World Book Myths & Legends Series (7)

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The fifth title in Philip Ardagh's World Book Myths & Legends Series that I have read - following upon Ancient Egyptian Myths & Legends, Ancient Greek Myths & Legends, Norse Myths & Legends, and Celtic Myths & Legends - this collection contains twelve tales taken from the Native American, Euro-American, and African-American traditions of North America. The selections include:

Tales of the Great Hare, described as a story "told by Algonquian-speaking people," relates the many adventures of Michabo, the Great Hare, from creating the world to devising a better means of fishing.

The Quest for Healing, an Iroquois tale in which a worthy human hunter, Nekumonta, finds a cure for the plague afflicting his people, with the help of the animals who know and respect him.

The Crying That Defeated a God, in which the mighty Algonquian trickster god Glooskap is defeated by the baby Wasis.

Black Bird, Bright Skies, which tells the tale of how Crow stole a bit of daylight for the Inuit people of the far north.

The Curse of the Snake's Meat, a brief Sioux tale concerning a group of hunters who (with one exception) eat the meat of a giant snake they have slain, and become snakes themselves.

The Giant of the Logging Camps, a Euro-American Tall Tale concerning the massive lumberjack Paul Bunyan, and his blue ox, Babe.

The Man Who Planted Trees, another Tall Tale, which sets out the legend of Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman.

King of the Wild Frontier, in which Tall Tale (and real life) hero Davy Crockett is outwitted by a sly raccoon.

Mama and the Hairy Man, an African-American folktale in which a young boy outwits a terrible creature, with the help of his mother.

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, an example of the "Brer" tales brought by enslaved Africans to the Americas, in which Brer Rabbit once again outwits Brer Fox.

When People Had Wings, which tells of a legend concerning slaves who sprouted wings and escaped their overseers.

And finally, Coyote and the Story of Death, a Maidu myth in which brother gods Kodoyanpe and Coyote represent good and evil.

Unfortunately, while I applaud Ardagh's inclusion of a diverse range of tales in this collection, I found the end-product rather uneven. I understand that a picture-book anthology such as this is inevitably going to feel somewhat random - after all, how can you begin to do justice to the folk traditions of a diverse continent in 64 pages? (36 if you leave off the introductions and appendices). The reader must accept that such an endeavor is going to be more of a sampling than an introduction. What is less acceptable is the omission of Mexico altogether (it's not part of North America?), and the inclusion of six Native American tales taken - according to Ardagh's own introductory remarks - from outdated 18th and 19th century ethnographic collections, rather than authentic contemporary sources. Given the frequency of misunderstanding and deliberate distortion in so many early European and Euro-American folkloric ventures into Native North America, their use as source-material in a compilation first published in 1997 is problematic for me.

Ardagh doesn't provide a list of his specific sources, so it's difficult to really speak to the authenticity of his tales, but his frequent use of the term "shaman" (a word with Siberian origins) rather than "medicine man" is a clue that he has little familiarity with his subject. When in doubt about a compilation of Native American folklore, I'd say go with a recognized storyteller. Joseph Bruchac's recent The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales is an excellent multi-nation Native collection. For a good collection of African-American folktales, I'd recommend Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, and for Euro-American Tall Tales, Mary Pope Osborne's American Tall Tales. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 10, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Ardaghprimary authorall editionscalculated
Rayner, OliviaIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 071662611X, Hardcover)

A collection of traditional tales from North America, reflecting the cultures of Native Americans, European settlers, and African Americans.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:32 -0400)

A collection of traditional tales from North America, reflecting the cultures of Native Americans, European settlers, and African Americans.

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