________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 20 . . . . June 6, 2002

cover Maiden of the Mist: A Legend of Niagara Falls.

Veronika Martenova Charles.
Toronto, ON: Stoddart Kids, 2001.
32 pp., pbk. & cloth, $9.95 (pbk.), $17.75 (cl.).
ISBN 0-7737-6207-8 (pbk.), ISBN 0-7737-3297-7 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Seneca Indians-Folklore.
Niagara Falls (N.Y. and Ont.)-Folklore.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Carole Marion.

** /4

Lelawala, the Seneca chief's young daughter, is devastated when her mother is among the many people in her village to die from the summer sickness. Until then, the tribe had known peace and tranquility in their village upstream from a great waterfall."The river was alive with fish, the fields swelled with corn, and the meadows were covered with sweet berries. For as long as Lelawala could remember, life had been good."

     Life had been good because of the thunder god, Hinu, who lives behind the waterfall and calls upon rain, thunder and lightening to protect the people from huge, horned water snakes that threaten them. When sickness comes to the village, sacrificial canoes loaded with food and flowers are sent down the river and over the falls to appease the snakes. But day after day, the sickness continues to claim young and old alike. Lelawala decides to take matters into her own hands by sacrificing her life in an act of free will, courage and compassion. The battle between the brave warriors and the horned serpent, and the ensuing victory of good over evil result in shaping Niagara Falls as we know them today.

     Lavishly illustrated by the author, the story depends heavily upon the colour pencil illustrations to embellish the limited, and ultimately unsatisfying, text. Charles compresses the action into one or two sentences at the expense of drama, action and character development. The text is simplified for a younger audience, but not enough substance and drama remain to captivate the reader's imagination. What a shame, since the "Author's Note on the Origins of the Legend" at the end of the book depicts a story that is so full of promise. The legend, itself, is rich in content and drama, and with added substance, it could easily have been a storyteller's dream.

     How unfortunate that this picture book is a feast for the eyes, but provides so little music to the ears. Did Charles oversimplify the tale to make it appealing to a preschool audience? Consider this passage:

When the water cleared from Lelawala's eyes, she saw that she was inside a cave. A figure knelt beside her. "I am the son of Hinu," he said. "Stay and take me for your husband."

     Charles' other folklore-based books, The Crane Girl, Stretch, Swallow & Stare and Necklace of Stars, successfully blend text and illustrations in a satisfying way. Her "Easy-to-Read Spooky Tales" series are humourous paperbacks for beginning readers. Perhaps Charles will consider using the same illustrations with a revised script aimed at a slightly older audience and breathe some life into this promising Native legend.

Recommended with reservations.

Carole Marion is a Branch Librarian at Calgary Public Library's newest branch, Shawnessy Library. She has been working with youth and their caregivers for over eighteen years.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364