“Take courage from the story” is a Dakota proverb, written phonetically as Nee yeh chee yi yo. This was shared with me by my good friend, Joseph Bruchac, one of the country’s most prolific authors and storytellers in the Native American tradition. His own Abenaki heritage, and his close ties to the Native American clans of upstate New York (where we both live) and the whole United States, Canada and Mexico, have made him one of the premier interpreters of Native American and First Peoples stories in all of North America. His many many books for children, teens, and adults have brought us countless legends, creation myths, trickster tales and hero stories. Many of these stories are traditionally told with the explicit goal of modeling and inspiring courage.
So today, Lion’s Whiskers is happy to present a brief sampling of the Bruchac bookshelf.
begins with an introduction in which Bruchac says the following: “Many of the stories I’ve been given are tales designed not only to help the boy find his way to full manhood but also to help the man remember the boy within himself… One of the reasons I have devoted so much of my own life to the understanding and the respectful retelling of traditional Native stories is my strong belief that now, more than ever, these tales have much to teach us — whether we are of Native ancestry of not. Our own traditions can be made stronger only when we pay attention to and respect the traditions of people who are different from ourselves.” The stories in this collection are arranged geographically into four quadrants, giving us a chance to observe regional difference in the Native American experience as well as an opportunity to see the universal elements. They are all about boys and young men, but there’s no reason to think your daughter won’t enjoy them, too.
However, if she prefers stories featuring female protagonists, you might reach for The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales (Folktales of the World) (co-authored with James Bruchac, one of Joseph Bruchac’s sons). This collection divides the stories at an even finer geographic scale; each section begins with a one-page narrative introduction to the traditions of that region. The creation myths, trickster tales and hero tales show us all six types of courage at work, at both the heroic and everyday level – and some stories show the lack of courage at work, too. The vivid folk-art illustrations by Stefano Vitale have are beautiful and eye-catching. Many of the stories, in addition to the title story, feature girls and women in heroic roles.
Finally, for a series of books that combines storytelling with hands-on activities, many of which might qualify as courage challenges for you or your child, is the “Keepers of the Earth” series of books written by Joseph Bruchac with ecologist, environmentalist, and nature educator, Michael J. Caduto. These books are:
Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children (Keepers of the Earth)
Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children (Keepers of the Earth)
These fascinating collections combine storytelling with exploration activities, leading parents, children and teachers into a deeper interaction with the natural world. Physical courage, intellectual courage, moral courage, emotional courage, social courage and spiritual courage are all invoked, illustrated, and encouraged by these books. Highly recommended.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as far as Joseph Bruchac’s books are concerned. Take a walk past the folktales section of your public library; you will find the path along the Bruchac books a long one indeed. Stop and pick any of them for a message from the ancestors. You’ll find yourself inspired.