Children’s books teach, entertain and inspire

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The First Fire: A Cherokee Story Brad Wagnon (author) Alex Stephenson (illustrator) Publisher: 7th Generation August 2020

Review by Deborah Locke

“The First Fire: a Cherokee Story” is a children’s picture book about the introduction of fire to the animals of the earth, thanks to a spunky female spider. The illustrations are cute, the plot moves to a fairly predictable end, and the moral of the story rings true: no matter who you are, how insignificant you may feel, you can do great things. You can think of imaginative solutions and act on them. You can be a hero to yourself, and to your people.

The story describes a time just after the sun began to shine in the sky when the animals of the world needed heat. Fire didn’t exist. Lightening finally produced a fire in a tree, and its heat was welcomed, but how could the animals capture a part of the fire and use it for themselves?

Author Brad Wagnon (Cherokee) explains the hard-fought solution to this dilemma in the picture book, all of which is nicely illustrated by Alex Stephenson, a counselor and artist. At first I couldn’t put my finger on the visual presentation, and then realized that the heavy use of outlining gives the pictures a coloring book feel. It works. Screech Owl looks appropriately frightened when his eyes turn bright red due to the flames. Hoot Owl and Horned Owl appear dismayed and determined to capture the fire. As for Racer Snake? Clearly overconfident.

Without reading too much into it, the story is a cute way to explain perseverance to a child. And it’s an effective way to show the importance of a group joining forces to find a solution. The book makes me wish I had a little kid to read to.

The Little Indian Runner, by Mark E. L. Woommavovah (author) and James Koenig (illustrator) Publisher: Mark Woommavovah, May 2019.

The author of “The Little Indian Runner” – Mark Woommavovah, is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel and member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. A track coach and member of the Road Warriors Running Club, Woommavovah has a long happy history with running, and that comes through in his children’s book. You can’t help but assume that all those years of military service also contributed to the discipline required to be a long-distance runner.

The book is aimed at very young children with few words per page and big colorful illustrations (by James Koenig). Oklahoma’s flatness is apparent in the pictures as the Little Runner races through his short life with a joyful smile. No plot unfolds, no problem is presented: it’s just a big happy romp by a little boy who says: “I run to eat. I run as a treat. You can run too, just use your two feet.”

Takoza: Walks with the Blue Moon Girl, by Tara Perron (author) and Alicia Schwab (illustrator). Publisher: Black Bears & Blueberries, 2020

“Takoza: Walks with the Blue Moon Girl” is the most literary of the three books. Written by Tara Perron (Dakota/Ojibwe), it’s the story of a little Dakota girl who loves her grandmother’s bedtime stories. Grandmother (Kunsi) makes sense of the world, explaining that children are like sacred seeds in a family garden.

“You were born into the world from the drum of your mother’s heartbeat,” Kunsi said softly.

“Made up of all the love and strength of the ancestors before you, like all young seeds you are carried by many hearts and drums.”

A glossary at the end translates the 12 Dakota words used in the story, from Takoza (grandchild) to Tate (wind.) This is a very sweet story of generational ties and love.

The illustrations by Alicia Schwab will hold a child’s interest as Takoza learns the importance of seeds, gifts from the Creator, and nurturing.