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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, by Robbie Robertson and illustrated by David Shannon. Abrams, 2015. ages 6 and up

"In an attempt to soothe me, the Peacemaker asked me to sit with him and the Cayuga Council. He looked deep into my eyes and he spoke to the people. "I do not see defeat," he said. "What I see is a passage - a passage to a new way of life. Join me, and together we can spread peace rather than war, love rather than hate, unity rather than fear."
Robbie Robertson dramatically retells in his own words, and David Shannon superbly illustrates the story of the creation of the Iroquois Confederacy by Hiawatha, leader of the Mohawk, and the legendary Great Peacemaker. Together, they unify the Five Nations - Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga and the Onondaga. 
It is a rich and emotional story, first heard by the author as a nine-year-old. Mr. Robertson is of Mohawk and Cayuga ancestry and the story was told to him by an elder. It triggered an immediate response and has impacted him throughout his life. At the time he told his mother he wanted to tell stories, which he had done brilliantly in a long, productive career.  
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker travel to each of the tribes to share their message of peace. They work diligently to overcome the many obstacles they face. The journey is as critical to Hiawatha
himself as he struggles to deal with the vengeance he feels over the death of his family and to find healing in the peaceful message they spread.  
Robbie Robertson has written his tale to put it in a cultural context that changes what Longfellow's  poem would have us believe. It shows that history can shape our place in the world and stories speak to our hearts. It is sad to think that it is still so relevant in today's society ... that we are still trying to find peaceful ways to live together on this earth.
David Shannon paints in oils to visually depict the emotions and uncertainties that lead to a journey of peace and order. His bold palette and carefully drawn settings bring attention to the journey and the people who are part of the talks that lead to forgiveness and a wish to live a different life. He often changes perspective to allow readers to feel all the drama of the story being shared.
Endnotes express the author's emotional connection to this story from his youth and the aboriginal oral tradition, and satisfies his need to share it.
"Some years later in school, we were studying Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem about Hiawatha. I think I was the only one in the class who knew that Longfellow got Hiawatha mixed up with another Indian. I knew his poem was not about the real Hiawatha, whom I had learned about years ago, that day in the longhouse. I didn't say anything. I kept the truth to myself ... till now."

An included CD is Mr. Robertson's musical version of the story.

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