A story beautifully told
Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story, illustrated by Sam Sandoval, University of Nebraska Press, hardbound, $14.95
At first glance, Beaver Steals Fire seems to be a children’s book. Indeed, the lively illustrations by Sam Sandoval would appeal to most young readers.
Mr. Sandoval draws well and has created animal characters with personality, no mean feat when you’re trying to give human expression to a bird. I would have preferred a bigger palette. Too many shades of brown and yellow for my taste. And, are Western Montana frogs brown?
The words of John Arlee, the author, have the pleasant rhythm and subtle repetition of all good storytellers. I could close my eyes and see a family cuddled up to keep warm on a dark winter’s night, listening to a favorite tale. “Grandpa, tell us about ... .”
This book retells the Salish version of the gift of fire. As in many other fire myths, fire comes from the sky, and fire is so valuable that it must be stolen. Coyote is voted in to brainstorm the expedition, but Beaver is the real hero.
To reach the heavenly fire, the animals fasten a rope to the top of the sky and climb. “Grizzly Bear climbed last. Because he was such a greedy person, he carried his lunch with him.”
Evidently, lunch for a grizzly was no small thing. The rope broke and Grizzly Bear fell back to earth. Fun, I thought. Kids will like this. I liked it, and I’m only an honorary kid.
But also included in this picture book is information on ancient Salish and Kootenai fire management. Before the white man, the tribe had a fire setter, evidently an honored and important person, who started controlled fires. This human intervention resulted in healthy forests and fields. Wildfires also burned without interference.
Another important cultural tidbit: This Coyote story and others like it should only be told in the dark of winter when the snow is on the ground. After early March, snakes will come get you, or it will snow in summer!
I doubt that anyone really believed that, but it was good for a delicious shiver. Winter is a season of deserved rest. With the coming of spring, it’s back to work.
Beaver Steals Fire is a gift for the whole family, beautifully produced, and very affordable at $14.99. Thanks to the University of Nebraska Press and the Salish and Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee.
Beaver Steals Fire. Illus. by Sam Sandoval. 2005 64p. Univ. of Nebraska, $14.95 (0-8032-4323-5). PreS-Gr. 2.
"A long, long time ago, the only animals who had fire lived in the land above, up in the sky. The animals on earth had no fire." It is very cold, and to keep warm, the Earth animals form a fire-raiding party and appoint Coyote as leader. The animals follow Coyote's instructions, and steal fire from the sky world, bringing it to Earth and passing it from camp to camp. Handsomely illustrated by Salish tribal artist Sandoval, this accessible story credited to confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, incorporates Salish words and is part of a larger fire-education project that focuses on native use of fire as well as principles of fire ecology. A note asks readers to respect the tradition that this story be told or discussed only during winter, when snow is on the ground. A brief guide to written Salish and International Phonetic Alphabet is appended.
The Mythology/Folklore Shelf
Beaver Steals Fire
Johnny Arlee & Sam Sandoval
University of Nebraska Press
233 North 8th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68588-0255www.nebraskapress.unl.edu
0803243235 $14.95 1-800-755-1105
Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story is a picturebook rendition of a story directly from the cultural tradition of the Salish people of Montana. Retold by Salish elder Johnny Arlee, and wonderfully illustrated in full color by tribal artist Sam Sandoval, Beaver Steals Fire recounts how the animals worked together to obtain fire and help prepare the world for inhabitation by human beings. Beaver Steals Fire is presented with the full support of The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Division of Fire; a note to the reader at the beginning asks those who use Beaver Steals Fire in the classroom or others who read it aloud to orally tell or discuss the story only in winter, when snow is on the ground, as this is a strongly ingrained part of tribal seasonal tradition. A beautifully presented legend, highly recommended.
BEAVER STEALS FIRE: A Salish Coyote Story, by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 64 pp., $14.95 pb.
Beaver Steals Fire is a beautifully illustrated retelling of a story of the Montana Salish People. Johnny Arlee, the storyteller, is a Salish Elder, and worked with illustrator Sam Sandoval to create a book suitable for both younger children and those wishing to learn more about Salish and Pend d'Oreille culture. Beaver Steals Fire describes how Coyote leads a team of animals to steal fire from the denizens of the sky world and bring it to the chilly residents of the Earth below. The introduction to the book asks those who would read it aloud to confine such readings to the winter months, which is when the story was traditionally told.
The story is suitable for young children, though older children will get more out of the discussion of the traditional use of fire by the Salish that follows the story. Arlee challenges the claim that North America was a "virgin landscape" before the coming of European immigrants, arguing from both tradition and archaeological evidence that the Salish (among many others) heavily modified the land with fire to expand the prairie and promote certain plant species. This forces readers to confront difficult questions about the nature of conservation, since Arlee argues for a return to the fire-managed landscape of his people rather than the relatively unmanaged ecosystem of today. Overall, Beaver Steals Fire makes both a fine children's tale and an interesting way to introduce students to the complexities of the relationship of Indian Peoples to the land.
Wednesday, November 30 - Book of the Month:
BeaverStealsFire: This tale from the Salish people explains how the animals brought fire from the sky to the earth. Like many Native stories, it can only be told in the cold winter months when snow is on the ground. The story shows how the animals helped prepare the world for human beings. It also touches on the ideas of teamwork, greed and deception. “Beaver Steals Fire,” is our November Book of the Month. Native America Calling airs live Monday-Friday 1pm EST, 10am PST.
"Readers of all ages will find much to delight over in this tale. . . . The watercolor illustrations that accompany the tale are rich with earthy patinas and skillfully add intelligence and dramatic action to the animal characters."—The Bloomsbury Review
"A gift for the whole family, beautifully produced, and very affordable."—Billings Gazette
"[A] beautifully illustrated retelling of a story of the Montana Salish People. . . . Beaver Steals Fire makes both a fine children's tale and an interesting way to introduce students to the complexities of the relationship of Indian Peoples to the land."—Journal of the West