CM December 22, 
1995. Vol. II, Number 10-11

image The Bear-Walker and Other Stories.

Basil H. Johnston. Illustrated by David A. Johnson.
Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1995. 64pp, cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 0-88854-415-4.

Subject Heading:
Ojibwa Indians-Folklore.

Grades 3 - 8 / Ages 8 - 13.
Review by Adele Case.


Nanabush immediately knew that he was being deceived by the old woman, so he spoke to her sharply: "If that's the way you want it, okay with me. When I arrived I was very hungry. I asked you to feed me, but you hid those loaves of bread because you are stingy. Fine. From now on you will be a woodpecker. You will have a hard time getting food too, living as you will from a tree."
It is said that in that instant the old woman became a woodpecker.

-- from "The Woodpecker"

image The Bear-Walker and Other Stories is a collection of nine stories known to members of the Ojibway people, who call themselves the Anishinaubaek. The book is a beautiful publication, elegantly illustrated with line drawings and evocative full-page coloured paintings by David A. Johnson. The artist incorporates masterful line drawings superimposed on backgrounds of the sky, mountains, or water. Often, creatures of the forest, birds, or fish are added to graphically enliven the story, and these may be literal representations or (in the case of the lynx) show a demon-like feline against a background of storm and lightning. The fine paper, gorgeous book jacket in mauve with an inset from the first story, as well as the generous margins and Johnson's flowing black-and-white illustrations should give the book wide appeal.


All the stories have the flavour of myth, and talk about hunters who must travel widely and suffer greatly in difficult times. A few, including "Bull Frog" and "Vision," seem to end inconclusively, or leave the interpretation to the readers. "The Great Lynx" suggests that all people fear the unknown, and realize that nature can unleash untold harm -- through storms, high winds, or earthquakes. Thus we long for spiritual guidance. Implicit in many of the tales is the idea that we must live in fellowship with other living creatures, and that we should care for other living things and all growth and life in our environment.


Both "The Bear-Walker" and "Woodpecker" have clear moral messages; the latter suggests that we will reap as we sow, for the stingy old woman who refused to share her baking with a hungry hunter is transformed into a foraging woodpecker.

This book is written in simple language, much suited to the younger reader. The excellent design and the sparkling illustrations, however, should influence many adult readers to add it to their library.


Adele Case is a high-school teacher who lives in West Vancouver.

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Copyright © 1995 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

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