Robertson, widely known for his work in the legendary group The Band, crafts a legend-based tale about the unification of warring tribes into what would become known as the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy.
As a boy, Robertson, of Mohawk and Cayuga heritage, heard an elder tell this story, which may date from the 14th century. It places Hiawatha, a Mohawk, into fresh cultural context and corrects Longfellow. After his family is killed in a raid by the dreaded Onodaga chief, Tadodaho, Hiawatha retreats in bereft solitude. A man in a glowing white stone canoe approaches. Stuttering softly, he shares his message of peace and reconciliation with Hiawatha, asking him to help carry and amplify this message during visits to warring tribes. The pair travels in succession to the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, and Onondaga tribes. With difficulty, they overcome resistance, laying groundwork for what would become, by 1722, the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. Hiawatha’s first-person narration reveals his own transformation, from grief-stricken vengeance to self-forgiveness, from hatred to joy. Shannon adopts a palette of deep browns, red-golds, and blue-grays, with hints of green. Figures are broad-backed, solemn, and heroically posed. Tadodaho, disfigured by evil, is depicted as a scaly wretch, snakes entwined in his hair. Hiawatha prepares a curative medicine for him; Shannon portrays his recovery and eventual transmogrification as an eagle.
Expressive, handsome, and well-documented. (historical note, acknowledgments, author’s note) (Picture book/folk tale. 5-10)