Trickster Brings Native American Tales to Life

November 21, 2011, 12:32 pm

Trickster coverIt’s been a while since I’ve recommended a book as often as I’ve recommend Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. One part Aesop’s Fables and one part comic strip, this graphic novel is chock-full of beautiful imagery and its folklore is so well-written that you can almost hear the stories being told to you by the voice of a traditional Native American storyteller—with a fire crackling in the background.

Appealing to both critter-loving kids and imaginative adults, Trickster focuses on tales of crafty creatures—like coyotes, rabbits, raccoons, ravens and more—who use cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is its focus on creatures and their habitats. From tales of a lizard roaming the remote desert areas of the Southwest to a mink slinking through the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, and an alligator wallowing in a swampy Southeastern watering hole, the stories reflect a diversity of landscapes and showcase numerous Native American cultures.

The stories in Trickster also seek to explain aspects of the natural world, including why the rabbit has such a short tail, how the alligator got its brown, scaly skin, and why geese fly in a V-shaped formation.

What’s really amazing about Trickster is how it came together. Each of the more than 20 stories is written by a different Native American storyteller who worked closely with a selected illustrator, a combination that gives each tale a unique and powerful voice and identity. To ensure a proper fit between written stories and illustrations, editor Matt Dembicki asked storytellers to select an artist from a pool of contributing talents to render their stories. Additionally, the storytellers approved the storyboards, and approved any text changes. This creates stories that are fun to read but that also provide a true window into Native American stories. Perhaps Dembicki said it best in his editor’s note:

“The point wasn’t to Westernize the stories for general consumption, but rather to provide an opportunity to experience authentic Native American stories, even if it sometimes meant clashing with Western vernacular. I hope this book serves as a bridge for readers to learn more about the original people of this land and to foster a greater appreciation and understanding among all inhabitants.”

Along with compiling and editing the book, artist Matt Dembicki illustrated one of the featured trickster tales. Listen to an interview with Dembicki about how the book came together on npr.org.

Trickster was awarded the American Folklore Society’s 2011 Aesop Prize and continues to  garner attention for its unique perspective and subject matter. Keep up with more book news at the Trickster blog.

To purchase the book online, visit fulcrum-books.com. Or, to find it at an independent bookstore near you, visit indiebound.org.