Books by John Bierhorst

IS MY FRIEND AT HOME? by John Bierhorst
Released: Sept. 12, 2001

This delightful and unusual collection of trickster tales was originally told in the Hopi pueblos of Arizona in the wintertime, "especially after dark when the Sun was traveling under the earth." Watson's light-hearted illustrations, many dusted with snow, capture both the moods and the settings of the tales, a world unexpectedly reminiscent of Wind in the Willows, with its cozy animal friendships, intrigues, and small adventures. Framed with traditional beginnings ("Shall I begin? YES") and endings ("Now that's the story"), seven short, interconnected stories tell of the friendships between Coyote, Badger, Mouse, Beetle, Mole, Snake, Dove, and Bee. Many are pourquoi stories, but the emphasis is on the animal characters and their relationships. In "Why a Mouse Walks Softly," for example, Coyote and Beetle, tired of Mouse's chatter and boasting, decide to "tangle" their friend up with a song that lets her know how noisy she has been. "From then on Mouse walked softly. And she is still doing it." In "Beetle's New Life," Badger and Mole save Beetle—Badger with his medicine and Mole by building up his fire. With their lively dialogue, colorful expressions ("breath of friendship," "white dawn," "sound of healing") and understated humor, these tales will be wonderful to read aloud and to discuss. A detailed note on sources is included. (Picture book folklore. 4+)Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1998

Bierhorst (The Dancing Fox, 1997, etc.) has gathered 22 tales from the First Peoples of America, from the Inuit to the Maya, Cherokee, Zuni, Seneca, and Lenape, among others, focusing on the little people. Children who have loved tales of gnomes and dwarves from European folklore will find a bit of treasure here. Bierhorst describes the stories as midway between hearsay and the true folktale: These short, unpolished tales celebrate "the idea that the powerless can be made powerful." Little people reward both kindness and generosity; they sometimes marry regular folk; and they often provide food and more, e.g., in "How the Dark Dance Began," a Seneca boy named Snow is taken by stealth to the little people, who serve him strawberry soup and teach him the songs and ceremony of the Dark Dance to bring back to his people. In addition to offering sources and lists of stories by theme, Bierhorst imbues the tellings with a sense of the immediacy: Their raw charm shines through. (b&w illustrations, not seen; bibliography, notes) (Folklore. 10-12) Read full book review >
THE DANCING FOX by John Bierhorst
Released: April 1, 1997

A scholarly collection of traditional stories from the Inuit cultures of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, expertly edited by Bierhorst (The Way of the Earth, 1994, etc.), who includes an extensive introduction to the Inuit, as well as thoroughly annotated notes on each story and a listing of references. Taken one at a time, especially in the context of a unit on the Inuit, the stories have the inherent interest of genuine artifacts; as a resource for booktalking and for classroom use, this volume is authentic and invaluable. Few children will want to read it cover to cover on their own; the stories, if diverting, are unembellished, and readers raised on the tidy endings of European folktales and the pithy morals of Aesop may find these selections brusque. (b&w illustrations, notes, bibliography) (Folklore. 10+) Read full book review >
THE WAY OF THE EARTH by John Bierhorst
Released: May 1, 1994

From a master historian, folklorist, and anthropologist, a lucid, densely fact-filled argument for Native Americans' theories and practices of preserving the environment. To prove that they have a sophisticated system of ecology (rather than an expedient new gospel in aid of acquiring government funds), Bierhorst offers examples from both North and South American cultures and a sparkling array of parables and proverbs whose importance, he says, has been largely ignored. Chapters on personality, kinship, restraint, death, and renewal are broken into sections such as ``The Earth as Mother''; a rich stew of citations from a dozen or more tribal sources illumines each. The entwined lives of plants, animals, and humans are presented as dependent relationships with mythic overtones guiding the use of resources. A very fine book, but difficult: of most interest to adults. Forty pages of notes and bibliography. Index. (Nonfiction. 12+) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1994

How gratifying to have one of Bierhorst's peerless anthologies in picture-book format: 50-odd lullabies, night songs, and prayers of peoples from the Arctic to Paraguay, arranged in thematic groups showing how various cultures have celebrated the beauty and mystery of sunset, the heavenly bodies, night creatures, and the sacred darkness in which the Creator moves. Decorations, calligraphy, and mixed-media illustrations are in a variety of styles, some apparently inspired by Native American art; most arresting are a dramatically shadowed jacket illustration of a fox, the beavers encircling the title page, and a deep blue painting of a baby peacefully asleep on the back of a giant tortoise swimming through the stars. A book to place with The Trees Stand Shining (edited by Hettie Jones, 1993) in poetry and Native American collections. Kudos for the list of sources, noted in very abbreviated form but commendably legible. List of tribes and cultures. (Folklore/Picture book. 6+) Read full book review >
Released: March 16, 1993

From a distinguished editor and translator of Native American lore (most recently, Lightning Inside You, 1992), a simple but dramatically retold creation myth. Pushed by her jealous husband, a sky woman falls from the heavens to the watery void below, where she creates the earth, sun, and stars. When her two children, Sapling and Flint, are born, they create, respectively, the world's gentle and fearsome things, then rise into the heavens trailing the bifurcated Milky Way, ``showing that there are two minds in the universe''—benevolent and harsh. Parker's gouache paintings employ a remarkable range of tones from watery pastels to deep, intense shades; his frontispiece, a closeup of the flowering tree that illuminates the heavens, is dazzling. Most satisfying to look at, to read aloud, or to hear. (Folklore/Picture book. 5+) Read full book review >
Released: May 19, 1992

Incredible as it is, Native American riddles have never before been gathered together in a book; there's even been some scholarly doubt that native riddling traditions exist on this side of the Atlantic. Bierhorst puts such questions to rest with a harvest from dozens of North, South, and Central American peoples, sandwiched between an analytical introduction and a list of published sources (mostly journal articles). Like other translated riddles, many here seem alien or fragmentary (``You grab it, I grab it'': ``air''—Maya), though in several the humor is close to home (``Why does a dog have a curl in its tail?'' ``So fleas can loop the loop''—Cherokee). Answers at the bottom of each page allow for guessing; Brierley's small, stylized b&w illustrations add occasional clues. Unique. (Folklore. 8+) Read full book review >