In this original creation myth, first-time children's author and North Dakota native Kessler imagines how the Great Spirit formed his beloved home state (and its neighbor to the south). When the Great Spirit, Wakantanka, comes to the "final empty space" on the edge of the earth, Dakotas medicine man Woksape is waiting for him. Woksape is eager to secure a special land for his people. But when Woksape requests the various features the land should have, Wakantanka informs him that all the desirable mountains, forests, lakes, streams and temperate climes have already been spoken for. At last, Woksape says that he will be happy with anything Wakantanka chooses to fashion. Pleased by the man's unselfish response, Wakantanka creates the prairie land that is known today. Kessler's inspirational tale pays homage to the territory's history as home to a strong Native American nation; "Wakan tanka" appears in much Native American mythology (though he is more closely associated with the Lakota Sioux than the Dakotas, a sister branch of the Great Sioux Nation). And although they are likened to each other, Wakan tanka is not the same as the Christian image of God, as this book's title suggests. Additionally, the story straddles a fine line between sounding like a defense of what the Dakotas, as a people, had to settle for and an appreciation of what the Dakotas were given. Morin's (The Orphan Boy) acrylics, saturated with color, convey a sense of awe and gravitas that will surely open readers' eyes to many of nature's treasures. Ages 5-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kessler's original creation story is told with legendary cadence. When Great Spirit Wakantanka comes to make a land for the Dakotas, Woksape, the medicine man, has many ideas about what he would like for his people. Unfortunately by the time the Great Spirit has reached him, there is little left from the other tribes to give. Instead of great mountains he has only hills; instead of forests filled with animals he has only cottonwoods and grasses. All the great rivers and inland seas are gone, as are the beauties of the desert. All that is left is a "smile to the sunset," sacred clouds, a sea of grass, and the special animal, the buffalo, in a vast land with the mighty geese flying above. There the people will always hear the voice of the Great Spirit. "And it was good." Morin's full-page textured acrylic paintings portray first the landscapes given to the other tribes, and then the visual promises made to the Dakotas. There is a suitable grandeur to these illustrations. Equally impressive are the portraits of the two spiritual ancestors as they negotiate the future homeland of Woksape's people. The artist's vision includes the ceremonial costumes and blanket, adding to the reverential emotional impact. 2006, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Ages 5 to 9.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Kessler devised this creation story "to convey his own love for the Dakotas," where he works as a seasonal park ranger. However, his choice to incorporate Lakota phrases and symbols seems misguided. Wakantanka arrives in the land of the Dakotas after he has created the rest of the world. When the medicine man, Woksape, asks him to make imposing mountains, dense forests, vast lakes, or broad deserts as the Great Spirit has done for other Native peoples, Wakantanka turns him down again and again; all those natural wonders have been given away. How Woksape could know the names of the other peoples and the landscapes in which they live is never explained. From the remnants in his bag, Wakantanka creates tall prairie grasses; he turns his bag into Tatanka, the buffalo; and blows on his pipe to create "sacred clouds." Curiously, Kessler never mentions the presence of the most important and sacred site for the Lakota: the Black Hills. Morin's landscapes are striking. However, he provides no information on sources for the clothing, beads, paint, or other attributes of the main characters. Nor does Kessler supply notes on sources or suggested readings. The representation of Wakantanka as a human is problematic in itself, and the inclusion of the buffalo, sacred pipe, and miscellaneous Lakota words increases the potential confusion. The final pronouncement, "And it was good," echoes the Judeo-Christian creation story and further distances the tale from Native American legend. What may have been intended as an homage ultimately seems ill-conceived and disrespectful.-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In an attempt to mimic a Native-American folktale, the author creates a story to explain the origin of the Dakota lands. Wakantanka, the Great Spirit, comes with his medicine bag and empties it of all he has left to create the land for the Dakotas. Woksape, the Medicine Man, has asked for great stone mountains, great boreal forests or a land of many lakes, but Wakantanka has given those away to other lands. When Woksape trustingly says he should just give whatever he has left, Wakantanka makes the most of it. It will be a land of many seasons, but will have "the most colorful sunset of anywhere on the earth." While there will not be lakes, there will be tall prairie grasses that move like the sea. And so on. The text minimizes the rich oral language present in authentic tales from the Native-American culture, a clear imitation that will mislead young readers. Morin's rich and expressive acrylic paintings on canvas deserve a more worthy text. (Picture book. 4-8)