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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I am Raven, written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Andy Everson. More Than Words Publishing, 2007. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"First, he met Wolf returning from a successful hunt. Wolf, it seemed, had more meat than he could possibly eat and was only too happy to gift the better half of a tasty young buck to his life-long friend. "I am happy to share this with you Great Chief. After all as well as being courageous and resourceful, do we not, you and I, protect our people and provide for them?"

David says that my totem is the Canada Goose. I am honored until I remember his is the raven and I wonder if he is tricking me. He hopes that his story will help you know what your totem is. If anyone should ask you, he gives you permission to share his grandmother's story.

"I am often asked how people come to know their totems. When I am, I answer by asking this question: "If at night, when you close your eyes to travel to your dream time, if then you picture one of our wild cousins to whom you might give thanks or ask guidance, what would it be?" More often than not, your totem will be there, right before your eyes. You do not have to get fancy, just close your eyes and let it come to you. Chances are it will. It did for me."

In his grandmother's story we learn about a great chief who is known for being 'kind and wise'. Many seek his advice; people and animals. Knowing that his death is imminent, he wants to have a totem pole constructed that will act as a memorial to him. He calls together his wild cousins asking for guidance in the carving. He assures them that while he has respect for all, it is impossible to include each of them. Of course, they each want pride of place.

Beaver begins the parade of gift givers and sets the tone for the rest of Grandmother's story. He brings a gift and an entreaty to be included:

"Chief, you know me. I am the builder. I do not waste my time playing or dreaming like many of the others. From dawn to dusk, I work hard. With persistence and determination I create, much as you do. Look at what you have built here. The village was poor and run down. Today it stands as an example of what can be. Your legacy will surely be that of the builder!"

The rest of the evening brings more of the same. Each visitor offers a gift and a reason to be included on the chief's totem. From Beaver to Thunderbird, and finally to Raven who is sitting quietly and has not yet visited the Chief, they each share good reasons. When asked why he has not honored the Chief, Raven uses his gift of words and cunning to show that his gift has been ongoing. The totem is built, the potlatch is held and the chief is sure to be remembered.

Andy Everson's images are stunning and unforgettable. Readers will gently run their hands over the embossed image of Raven on the front cover and be inspired to look closely at each of the double page spreads created to enhance and interpret David's words. Of the cover Andy Everson says:

"For First Nations along the Pacific Northwest, raven has often figured prominently in our storytelling. He is often seen as a trickster and a mischievous little fellow. He is also regarded as the bringer of the day—the one who released the sun from the confines of a box. In many ways, he is the embodiment of the story on the coast as he is the subject of and the teller of many stories. True to the character of raven, he is portrayed here tirelessly squawking to the moon telling his favourite stories."

This is a lovely book that should be in school and family libraries. There is much to learn from both text and illustrations, and we are all intrigued to think about and consider what our totem might be. In the pages following his story, David has included further information about the 'animal spirit guide' totems that he uses to tell his story. He apologizes for not being able to include each of the spirit guides and makes note of a few that he has had to leave out. He also offers a bit of advice:

"The totems I have included in my telling may or may not be you. There are so many. If you are to come to  know those who guide you and who can help you through certain stages of your life, you might have to keep looking, You should learn to call on any number of spirit guides. Learn to make several your own."

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