A long time ago, when animals and human beings still talked to each other… So begins this delightful volume of ongoing adventures (and misadventures) of Coyote written by Thomas King, well-recognized author of native literature for children and adults.
Coyote is a trickster character common to many First Nations’ mythologies, stories used to teach the follies of selfishness, greed and impatience. King’s signature style, a combination of humour and wit, engages the reader and listener through events that reveal Coyote to be ridiculous, vain and short-sighted.
In the first story, “Coyote Sings to the Moon”, the animals join Old Woman in singing to the moon each night. When Coyote comes along and insists that his voice is needed, they quickly reply. “No! No!” shout all the animals. “You have a terrible singing voice!” Coyote’s subsequent grumbling about “that silly moon” is heard by Moon, who responds by hiding at the bottom of the pond. Even though he soon experiences the consequences of complete darkness caused by Moon’s absence, Coyote’s pride won’t allow him to admit his error. Old Woman and the animals devise a plan to use Coyote’s bad singing voice to restore Moon to her proper place. When Coyote begins to sing “YEEOO-EEEOOOWAAAAH- YOOOO-OOO!” Moon surfaces and soon retreats to her place in the sky, restoring order to the world. Coyote accepts the role of keeping an eye on Moon and singing when needed to keep her from sneaking back to the pond.
In “Coyote’s New Suit,” Coyote steals other animals’ clothing left on the shore as they bathe in the pond. First Bear, then Porcupine, Skunk, Raccoon, Beaver and Moose lose their suits to Coyote; only Raven knows what has happened. Meanwhile, Raven has them unwittingly steal clothing from the humans’ clotheslines. When Coyote complains that his closet is filled with ill-fitting suits, Raven suggests that he have a yard sale. Animals and humans show up. “And before Coyote could say anything, the animals and the human beings gathered up their suits and their clothes and stomped off.”
King adds a current-day perspective to traditional stories, providing alternatives that allow educators to respectfully introduce the concepts held within Indigenous myths to students in K-8 classrooms. Educators and students alike will enjoy the humour along with the beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations.
JoAnne Formanek Gustafson is a member of Rainy River Occasional Teacher Local.