The Day Sun Was Stolen.
Jamie Oliviero. Illustrated by Sharon Hitchcock.
Winnipeg: Hyperion Press, 1995. 32Pp, cloth, $19.95.
Haida Indians-Folklore-Juvenile literature.
Tales-British Columbia-Juvenile literature.
Preschool - grade 4 / Ages 4 - 9.
Review by Jennifer Johnson.
"When the world was new, Raven created all the animals."
So begins Oliviero's re-telling of a Haida folk-tale. In this tale
Raven is a creator rather than a trickster. He moulds clay to populate
the Earth, making a variety of creatures. The last is Bear, who sports a
coat "twice as thick and twice as furry as any other animal's."
Suffering from the heat of the Sun, Bear contrives to remove Sun from the
sky and imprison it in a cave. Through the intervention of a young boy
who tricks his way into Bear's cave and then shaves Bear, the Sun is
returned to the sky.
Using this Haida tale, Oliviero creates a story that explains life
processes such as hibernation and seasonal change. Into this is
interwoven a trickster tale that features a human who can change himself
into a fish. Raven is a creator here, but is powerless to remedy the loss
of the Sun. Instead he cries, his tears making the world "cold, gray and
rainy." It is left to Ts'ina dabju (Small Fish) to return the Sun
to the sky. This dual story makes the tale uneven. And in compressing of
the story to a picture-book format, some richness of repetition and
patterning is lost. The early, creation account feels rushed: although
there are two examples before Bear is moulded, the pattern is reduced to
"then he did the same things again."
The sudden appearance of humans into the story is unexpected and
unexplained, causing a shift in focus that may annoy or confuse young
listeners. The Day Sun Was Stolen might have been
clearer had it been written for a slightly older age group; the story
could have been expanded, and the mix of creation tale and magical
transformation worked in, rather than appearing as an afterword.
Haida artist Sharon Hitchcock uses gouache and acrylics to
illustrate this tale. A palette of slate grey, taupe, blues, and greens
within black outlines creates a flat, surreal world with minimal detail.
Her stylized designs reflect the tradition of Haida art, with totem poles
on end-papers and an expanded Raven figure bordering each double-page
illustration. Her animal and human characters have strong features. But
these would probably appeal more to an older child who is exploring
traditional folk-tales in picture-book format than to the pre-schooler.
Oliviero and Hitchcock have successfully created a re-telling based
on Haida folk-traditions, but a fuller text would have better served the
intermediate readers who enjoy the complexities of myth and legend.
The Day Sun Was Stolen is an optional purchase for
most general collections of folklore, but will be important to
specialized collections covering a full range of re-tellings and
pictorial interpretations, and of course, in West Coast collections for
Recommended with reservations.
Jennifer Johnson works in Ottawa as a children's librarian.
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association.
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