________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 19 . . . . May 23, 2003


How the Eagle Got His White Head. (Birchbark Series #1).

Jane Chartrand. Illustrated by Zaawaazit Mkwa Tsun.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, 2002.
32 pp., cloth, $12.95.
ISBN 1-894717-08-2.

Subject Headings:
Algonquin Indians-Folklore.
Legends-Ottawa River Valley (Quebec and Ont.).

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**** /4


“The animals are running out of room and food.”

Eagle agreed that the birds were having the same problems, and they both decided that the Creator could solve this problem for them.

Eagle said that someone would need to go find the Creator.

Bear said, “It will have to be one of you, for we aren’t built for long journeys and would be to [sic] slow as we traveled up and down each mountain, but you can fly right up and over them.’

“You will be faster and more likely to succeed.”

Eagle agreed with Bear on this and said he would ask for some bird to volunteer to make this journey.


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This pourquoi tale employs the narrative device of a contemporary Algonquin grandmother telling her young grandson, Heyden, a story about how, as the title indicates, the eagle came to have its white head. Had Chartrand, the author, wished, she could have added “and how the hummingbird got its ruby throat” to the title for the story is almost more about the little bird than it is about the larger one. According to Nokomis, when the world was just new, the Creator chose the Eagle to be the leader of the birds and the Bear to be the in charge of all the land creatures. However, the world became overpopulated, and Bear suggested that Eagle visit the Creator to seek a solution. When Eagle tells the birds of his intention to visit the Creator and seeks their advice on what to say, all but Hummer [the hummingbird] offer very self-centered and selfish responses. Because Eagle is away on his arduous journey for many seasons, the birds, again with just the exception of the hummingbird, decide to select a new leader. However, Hummer takes a final flight to see if he can see Eagle and does finally spot him. The Creator takes all of the animals and birds to a new land, but before doing so, the Creator rewards Eagle for his suffering and not quitting by giving him the distinctive white head by which he is recognized today. And to Hummer, “for being faithful, loyal and brave,” the Creator “placed a shining ruby” on Hummer’s throat. As the traditional story is used as a teaching, Nokomis tells Heyden how he shares Hummer’s qualities. In addition to an Algonquin prayer, the book concludes with a statement of the symbolic role of both the eagle and the hummingbird to Native peoples. With the exception of the first two illustrations, the stylized art of Algonquin artist Tsun captures the nature aspect of the story. Although How the Eagle Got His White Head contains excellent content worthy of sharing during storytime, the book’s small size (16 cm x 16 cm) will make it difficult for the illustrations to be readily seen.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and adolescent literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

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

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