December 07, 2017

Coyote Tales

Written by Thomas King
Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
Groundwood Books
60 pp.
Ages 6-9
October 2017

If anyone ever believes that the storytelling tradition of First Nations has disappeared, they need only read aloud the Coyote stories of Thomas King.  Undoubtedly told better in his own booming voice, these Coyote Tales are told with the mischief and wisdom to impart awe and lessons aplenty.

Coyote Tales is actually two previously published Coyote stories by Thomas King.  The first, Coyote Sings to the Moon (originally published in 1999), has that trickster Coyote interrupting the nightly song by Old Woman and the animals praising the Moon.  When Coyote offers to join them, they deny him a voice, knowing how poorly he sings.  Chastized, Coyote leaves in a huff, criticizing the Moon for its disturbing brightness.  Moon, not to take criticism, plunges itself into a pond to enjoy a game of chess with Sunfish.  While Old Woman and the animals search for Moon, Coyote struggles in the darkness, using a skunk as a pillow and falling off a cliff.  But clever Old Woman uses Coyote's horrible singing to force Moon to flee the pond and fating Coyote to a nightly song to keeps Moon from returning to the pond and a life of leisure.

The second story is Coyote's New Suit (originally published in 2004), a charming tale of vanity and envy.  Coyote is perfectly content with his suit of gold, toasty brown until Raven's comments convince Coyote to steal Bear's suit left on a pond's shore. When Bear returns to find his suit missing, Raven tells him that the humans hang clothes they no longer need on ropes and encourages him to help himself.  Coyote continues to steal the suits of Porcupine, Raccoon, Beaver and more animals who, in turn, help themselves to the human clothes hanging on the clothes line.  All orchestrated by Raven, the shenanigans come to a head when Coyote holds a yard sale to clean out his closet and humans and animals alike come in search of new suits.
From Coyote Tales 
by Thomas King 
illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
Thomas King's Coyote Tales recognizes the traditional Coyote stories of First Nations, taking readers to "a long time ago, before animals stopped talking to human beings" (pg. 11) when lessons were learned at the antics of a mischievous and oft humiliated Coyote and the clever playfulness of Raven and the natural world was honoured and celebrated. The legends are told here as comical allegory but are rich in lessons and advice.

Groundwood Books is doing something very clever in opening up previously published picture books to new audiences.  By re-releasing them as very short anthologies, perhaps only two or three stories, with new and fewer illustrations (here by Calgarian Byron Eggenschwiler), they are capturing the early reader and middle grade reader who might not want to be seen reading "babyish" picture books.  Margaret Atwood's A Trio of Tolerable Tales (Groundwood, 2017) was such a collection and I'm hoping that there are more in the offering from Groundwood, especially for Thomas King who still has more Coyote tales to share.

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