The subtitle for this unique book reads “How a lonely orphan came to be accepted into a Tlingit clan.” Who is this orphan? A mouse!
First, a little background for non-Alaskan readers. The Tlingit Indians are indigenous people of Southeast Alaska. The Raven House of the book’s title is a clan house, used by the Indian community, in Haines, Alaska. You may have seen a photograph of the beautiful carving of a raven by renowned carver Nathan Jackson, which is attached to this building.
The story, a picture book, is told from the perspective of an orphaned mouse who stumbles into Raven House, attracted by the warmth emanating from a dryer vent as winter is setting in. Soon the little mouse observes the traditional dancing, drumming and singing practices that take place in the house, which is occupied by a man called “the caretaker.” Impressed by the dancers’ regalia, the mouse makes his own button-blanket, head band and drum from salvaged scraps. Soon he is practicing along with the Tlingit dance troupe, unobserved (he believes). Adventures and friendship ensue…
This interesting little story amuses and intrigues as much as it teaches. Tlingit cultural values are integral throughout, portrayed thoughtfully through the plot, characters, language, foreward, author’s note, glossary and art, rather than heavy-handed didacticism. Robert Davis, a Tlingit artist from the small village of Kake in Southeast Alaska, employs a traditional style of designs based on carving to represent all the characters, both people and animals.
Coupled with clean lines and plenty of white space, the overall effect is direct, unpretentious and engaging, the type of art that supports and enhances the story rather than overwhelming it with gorgeousness. This highly symbolic style of art, best known outside of Alaska in totem poles, is surprisingly effective, though it may require some interpretation for children unfamiliar with it. In terms of synthesizing the traditional and the modern, I especially enjoy the illustrations of the “dryer vent with glorious blast of steam,” the Christmas tree, and the caretaker, snoozing in his recliner amidst his regalia.Author Jan Steinbright dedicates Raven House Mouse to elder Austin Hammond (Daanawáak in Tlingit), who was the caretaker of Raven House for many years and “freely shared his wisdom and knowledge with all people.” He died in 1993. Steinbright explains in her author’s notes that inspiration for the story came from a little mouse that lived at Raven House with Mr. Hammond’s approval. This attitude of acceptance taught her a lesson about respect for all living things, which is reflected in this story.
Raven House Mouse includes a foreward, author’s notes, glossary, and three photos.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Kate Boyan, the amazing beading artist and author/illustrator of The Blue Bead (see my earlier post here), passed on to me THE STYLISH BLOG AWARD. As far as I can tell, this high honor comes with the obligation to tell the world Seven Things People Don’t Know About Me.
In my case, it will have to be Seven Things MOST People Don’t Know About Me. I couldn’t think of seven things absolutely no one knows.
#1. I’m moving to Homer, Alaska at the end of the month. It’s true. After 29 years of living in lovely Willow, Alaska my husband and I are moving. Why? I’ve been offered the wonderful opportunity to be the new director of Homer’s fabulous public library.
#2. In one of my former (pre-Alaska) lives, I was a tree planter. I planted thousands of trees, all good, in mountains across the Pacific Northwest and Colorado. I still have the hoedad and caulk boots to prove it.
#3. I didn’t have a television for somewhere around 25 years. By choice. I got a lot of reading in. Try it sometime! You’ll be amazed.
#4. I grow three kinds of kale every summer: Toscano, Russian Red, and Winterbor.
#5. I wanted to be a writer and a tugboat captain when I was a kid. Instead, I became a writer and a librarian. Go figure. Maybe in my old age I’ll write my memoirs while volunteering on a boatmobile. (They do exist.)
#6. Not counting my high school newspaper, my first published piece was a sci-fi book review for a short-lived Cascadian journal called Seriatim.
#7. My favorite sections of the library are Fiction and 398.2. Always have been.
That’s it! And now....TA-DA…I pass on The Stylish Blog Award to my friend and fellow librarian/writer, Linda Shoup of the Purple Glasses Club. Congratulations! (No need to thank me. Have fun! Can’t wait to learn more about you.)