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Coyote Speaks: Wonders of the Native American World

Coyote Speaks: Wonders of the Native American World

by Ari Berk, Carolyn Dunn

A one-of-a-kind compilation of beliefs, stories, and cultural artifacts from Native American tribes.

Coyote Speaks explains how to look at and appreciate Native American culture. For thousands of years, tribal ways and wisdom have been passed down in story, song, dance, and art from elder to child, from tribe to tribe, and from Native peoples to the


A one-of-a-kind compilation of beliefs, stories, and cultural artifacts from Native American tribes.

Coyote Speaks explains how to look at and appreciate Native American culture. For thousands of years, tribal ways and wisdom have been passed down in story, song, dance, and art from elder to child, from tribe to tribe, and from Native peoples to the world at large. This book gathers many of these beliefs and traditions, enabling the outsider to appreciate the vast and diverse world of the First People. Among the subjects addressed are: the meanings of certain animals and symbols, what shamans and medicine people do, and how the natural world, the animal world, and the spirit world interact. Of the more than five hundred known tribes, nearly fifty are represented, from all regions of North America.

The book is profusely illustrated with paintings, artifacts, and photographs and includes a glossary of tribes and an index.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Jenny Ingram
Tribal member Dunn and academic Berk collect traditional Native American stories in selected categories as the foundation of this book. Working around themes such as creation, hunters, and tricksters, they provide introductions and interpretations for the stories that are further enhanced by illustrations and photos of artifacts. Their purpose is to show how Native American culture is preserved through traditional stories and to demonstrate the uniqueness of each tribe by including materials from an assortment of them. Berk and Dunn are careful to respect oral traditions by using stories already in print, and they present both traditional and contemporary aspects of American Indian culture, concluding with a photo of a decorated satellite dish and an essay about the Los Angeles River to demonstrate how cultures have evolved. The layout of the book is engaging and encourages browsing, and the photos clearly assist in helping the reader to understand the concepts presented in each chapter. The explanatory segments are clear and thorough but also succinct. The authors thoughtfully select a collection of well-rounded subjects with the introductory concept that "everything fits together" in mind. This book will serve as a nice reference for libraries, but the stories will also attract pleasure readers. Reviewer: Jenny Ingram
VOYA - Daniel Antell
The pictures and facts in the book are colorful and descriptive, and they represent many tribes. The layout draws the reader into the introductions of the engaging stories. The diversity of the tribes presented projects a broad picture of Native America. This book is easy to follow because of its organization and its visual appeal. It also offers a lot of information that would appeal to people interested in Native American culture, and it is a good reference for educational purposes. Reviewer: Daniel Antell, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
This generously sized and exquisitely presented mix of original poetry, retold traditional stories and linking commentary is an answer from within Native America to two centuries of decontextualized appropriation of story. Of the more than 500 tribes of North America, nearly 50 find expression in this meticulously crafted collection that opens windows onto indigenous traditions while avoiding the pitfalls of essentialism. The stories are contained within chapters focused on medicine people, word magic, creation, the magic of art and artifacts, hero figures, guardians of wild places, trickster and related animal characters, and stories from tribal memories. A final chapter looks forward, addressing mythmaking in the 21st century. Within each content area, however, the lines between story and commentary are gently blurred, so that form and content both reflect societies with story at their heart. Even the introduction begins with brief text that erases distinctions between what we think of as real and imaginary, then moves through a Cherokee ballgame story and concludes with this reminder: "When we walk the lands of these stories in our imaginations, it is vital to understand that we are guests and need to tread softly." The retellings are simple, vital, fluid and direct, each in a style fitting to the story. Some like the transformation tales are short and pointed. Others like "The Daughter of Sun" span vast periods of mythic time, so we can feel the sweep of the storyteller's prose. Still others such as "Song of the World" (Pima) employ both prose and song. Here the tale moves from its launching in primordial time, through the journey of the first man, and then in a swift one-twoconclusion, arrives right into the reader's here and now: "He picked up the sun and placed it in the sky, and it is still there, just as he made it." Parchment-effect pages showcase the rendering by Berk of selected petroglyphs. The book is additionally enriched by the incorporation of a range of artwork from photographs of southwestern kachinas and bone artifacts from the Arctic, to stunning contemporary art such as Hazel Merritt's iconic painting of a satellite dish with a Navajo wedding basket design on it. As an example of how text and form are perfectly married, the facing page carries a poem titled "Beautyway" that evokes both the Dine ceremony and the troubled ecology and history of the Four Corners region. Back matter contains a list of tribes and nations mentioned in the book, a select bibliography, a note on sources, extensive illustration credits and an index. In all, Coyote Speaks is a gift offered up with a delicate and caring touch, inviting both young readers and adults to explore its pages again and again. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up

A general overview of the myths, beliefs, and traditions of Native Americans as viewed through the art, artifacts, and stories of more than 40 tribes and nations. Using a literary approach, each chapter begins with a poem by Dunn and includes retellings of traditional stories from various tribes. The layout and photographs are truly stunning, but have more of an adult coffee-table book look than a kid-friendly style, and the text of the actual stories is small and hard to read. The content is alternately scholarly and whimsical, so that the audience and purpose are unclear. Unclear also is what, exactly, members of each tribe still believe and practice, and what was believed or practiced in a generalized past. While outstanding for its art and artifact pictures, and useful to pique interest in the mystical/literary aspects of Native American beliefs, this volume will not serve well as a research/report tool despite its full index, annotated list of tribes mentioned, credits, and bibliography.-Riva Pollard, Prospect Sierra Middle School, El Cerrito, CA

Kirkus Reviews
Arresting in its presentation, with sharp reproductions of artifacts from many centuries and contemporary artworks pictured on beige parchment-like pages, this book is a delight for the eyes, but difficult to comprehend. The text is a rich mixture of Dunn's poetry and folk tales and myths from almost 50 North American tribal groups, accompanied by scholarly explanations of these stories and the traditions that engendered them. It is fascinating, yet too dense for the intended child audience. The authors-Berk an academic folklorist and Dunn a Cherokee/Muskogee/Seminole poet, journalist and musician-tell readers repeatedly that the many peoples of Native America must be respected for their knowledge, their care of the earth, their many ancient traditions and their ability to fuse their heritage with the challenges of living in an often hostile environment. The stories themselves are retold with a fine sense of oral language, but librarians, teachers and parents will need to assist young readers in finding the nuggets of gold in this rich but sometimes arid compendium. (list of tribes and nations mentioned, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11-adult)

Product Details

Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Ari Berk is a professor of literature at Central Michigan University, where he teaches in the fields of myth, folklore, and Native American literature. He is the author of scholarly studies as well as popular titles for children and adults, most notably The Runes of Elfland and Goblins! (with Brian Froud). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Carolyn Dunn (Cherokee/Muskogee/Seminole) is a poet, journalist, playwright, musician, and Irvine Fellow in American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She lives in Los Angeles.

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