CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac
Saskatoon (Sask.), Fifth House Publish­ers, 1991. 266pp, cloth, $22.95
ISBN 0-920079-88-1. CIP

Adult / Professional

Reviewed by Peter Croskery.

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

According to its press release, Keepers of the Animals

provides a complete program of study in the importance of wildlife ecology and environmental issues concerning animals. The activities ... involve children in creative arts, theatre, reading, writing, science, social studies, mathematics and sensory awareness. They engage a child's whole self, while emphasizing creative thinking and synthesis of knowledge and experience.

For the most part, these claims are a valid representation of the book.

Keepers of the Animals: Native Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children uses a native North American approach as its dominant theme. The authors believe that "Native North Americans empha­size a close relationship with nature versus control of the natural world." Through an understanding of the native North American's approach to wildlife, children can "learn to live in a healing relationship with the animals."

The book is divided into three parts. Parts I and II are included in Keepers of the Animals, while the third part is a separate teacher's guide to Keepers of the Animals (which was not reviewed).

Part I is a teaching guide to assist an adult to use this book effectively. A small part of the book (twenty-one pages), it contains a wealth of good advice including a guide to the layout of the material. One nice aspect of the book that appears throughout is the strong emphasis placed on teaching respect for all animals.

Part I also explains the native attitude to wildlife: "the cycle of giving and receiving - maintaining the circle of life - is fundamental to Native North American culture." Unlike the Europe­ans, who for most Canadians are our forefathers, native people lived responsively with wildlife. Their culture and traditions have a strong basis in the reality of wildlife. Much of their culture and tradition was passed from genera­tion to generation through legends or stories. Part II includes samples of these stories.

Within Part II, each chapter starts with one or two traditional native North American stories. These stories estab­lish the chapter's theme. Then follows an explanation of the story and its meaning and/or message. This opens the door for the biological study of the individual animal or group of animals "introduced" by the story.

Now that children (or adults) are equipped with the background, a series of activities are presented that help reinforce, demonstrate or "implant" the information.

The native North American stories are all very short, usually not longer than a page. (In Part I there is a brief section, "Telling the Stories," that reminds us how important the delivery of the story is to the impact on the audience.) The stories are great, but many are complex and will require some guidance in order to be under­stood by children. They are not the bedtime stories that parents would like to read to their children. However, in a teaching seeing they will make a child want to learn more.

The biological sections of the book are not well done. As I wandered through the book I found a number of inaccuracies and a lack of clarity in some of its content. These deficiencies do not short change the effectiveness of the book, but a better technical editing of the book would have greatly im­proved its overall quality. For example, phytoplankton are characterized as "these green plants," but not all phytoplankton are green plants. "Min­now" is referred to as a freshwater fish where in fact it is a group of fishes, Cyprinidae, that includes some of the other "species" listed. The explanation of growth rings, or annuli, on the scales of the fish is inaccurate, leaving the reader with the impression that a "ring" is deposited each summer, which is not the case. In explaining parasitism, the authors confuse social behaviour with parasitism. True parasitism involves a relationship whereby the parasite does little or no harm to its host, since its ultimate survival largely depends on the well-being of its host.

But a really nice feature of the book is having the technical/biological informa­tion included with the teaching material.

Many of the activities are great! All are good, simple and strong learning opportunities for children. A number of activities create the opportunity for children to exercise controlled imagina­tion. The native North American story "kick-starts" the child's imagination and the activity encourages the child to "go beyond" according to simple guidelines. "Circle of the Sea," an activity in the chapter "Salmon Boy," sits children on a seashore facing and listening to the water and asks them to think of a gift they have received from the sea. (This activity would work on any inland shoreline equally well.)

"Beauty in the Beast" asks children to rewrite an animal story depicting the animal in a more realistic way.

Keepers of the Animals is designed for educators. Included are an index of all the book's activities and a glossary of native North American terms. Al­though the book would be most effec­tive for educators working exclusively with native children, this should not be considered a limitation. The materials of this book will be effective with all children. We are simply using the experience of native North Americans to help children understand and respect our wildlife.

I highly recommend this book. I can foresee myself using some of these materials with adult groups wishing to learn more about the environment.

Peter Croskery, Grimsby, Ont.
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