Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this hollow retelling of an Inuit myth, a boy meets a mysterious eagle-man who offers him the hope of finding his lost brothers, if he accepts a challenge: "Will you learn the gift of joy?" In fact, it's an ultimatum: if he turns Eagle down, he can never return to his people. Hence, the boy, Marten is whisked off to Eagle's mountain home, where he is taken under the command of the infirm Mother Eagle. Her first directive is to build a feast hall ("For there to be joy people must learn to join together"). Next, the boy must learn to dance, sing and tell stories ("Let your drum beat. Let your words soar... Link moments together into tales and know joy"). Martin's (The Rough-Face Girl) wooden dialogue and narration report but never show the process by which the boy comes to each of the Eagle's gifts. Nor, in perhaps the book's greatest disappointment, does Martenupon completion of his endless tasksget to see his brothers. The book's strength is Kiuchi's (The Lotus Seed) painterly Arctic landscapes in ocean blues, teals and lavender that offer panoramic views of caribou running and whales leaping (when the text gives him license to break away from the dark interiors). For all its discussion of joy, there's very little to be found here. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Carolyn Mott Ford
The gift young Marten receives in this retelling of an Eskimo tale is joy. Marten's parents are fearful for his safety because his older brothers disappeared while hunting. Eventually Marten insists he be allowed to go his own way and his father agrees. One day, while roaming far from home, Marten is approached by an eagle man who convinces him to follow and learn. The eagle promises Marten his brothers will be returned and he will be given a wonderful gift to bring to his people. The eagle and the eagle mother first teach Marten to build a hall where people can gather. They then encourage him to learn to dance, sing and tell tales of deeds and dreams. Marten finds that the joy of dancing with gladness, singing with a voice full of life and telling stories of the past and the future with soaring words, is a wonderful gift. Perhaps joy, even in the face of difficulties, is the greatest gift of all.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-6In this Eskimo myth that explains the origin of community celebration, a boy is transported by an Eagle-man to a mountain top where frail Eagle Mother charges Marten with completing four tasks in order to learn the meaning of joy and teach it to his people. He must build a feast hall where people can learn the joy of community, learn to dance, and learn to sing and, finally, learn to tell stories. As Marten completes each task, Eagle Mother grows stronger until she is restored. Marten's quest completed, she commands him to return to his people. Through him, they learn the joy of friendship, singing, dancing, and storytelling. When the first celebration ends, the guests are transformed into Arctic animals to spread joy throughout the world. The tale is solemnized by the simple but elegant language of a polished storyteller. The formal style lets readers know instantly that they are in mythic territory. An author's note attributes the tale to the recognized authority Knud Rasmussen. Kiuchi's neo-impressionist paintings range from the cold sweep of an Arctic landscape to the earthy interior of a feast hall filled with the moving shadows of dancers, singers, and drummers. This ancient myth has origins in a harsh world where life is endless toil; it also has relevance to modern culture where striving and lack of community make the gift of joy elusive. Storytellers and readers looking for stories with inspirational currency will wish to purchase this eloquent retelling.Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT
Martin (Mysterious Tales of Japan, also illustrated by Kiuchi, 1996, etc.) went to an out-of-print collection gathered by Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen for the source of this wordy retelling of an Alaskan tale about the spread of the gift of joy.
In the long-ago Alaskan wilderness, a man wearing a cape of eagle feathers appears with a message for Marten, who is uncomprehending: "What is sing? What is dance? What is story and delight? What is joy?" He goes with the eagle-man to a house atop a mountain, where an old mother instructs him to build a feast hall, learn to dance, and tell stories to the beat of a drum. "Put your memories and thoughts into words that can move to the beat of your drum. This is the path of joy." Marten accomplishes his three tasks effortlessly, without challenge or suspense. An unexplained premise, sketchy details regarding the fate of Marten's brothers, confusing animal transformations, and a didactic author's note strain this tale; the flat, formal telling does not convey a sense of the joy it preaches. Kiuchi's richly textured spreads compensate somewhat for the emotion missing in the story, lifting it up to depict laughter, dancing, and feathers flying to the beat of the drum.