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Native Am. Lit #1

Multicultural Literature for Youth

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Bruchac, Joseph. 1993. The First Strawberries: A Cherokee story.  Illustrations by Anna Vojtech. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-8037-1332-0.


Using a spare, well-written text, Bruchac retells this timeless Cherokee creation tale of kindness and friendship. Long ago, the first man and woman, both Native Americans, live in harmony and contentment. One day the man speaks angry words to the woman, and she goes away. The man is sorry, but he cannot catch up to the woman. The sun intervenes, producing a variety of berries meant to dazzle the woman. She passes all the berries until the sun creates strawberries. Amazed by their beauty, she stops to taste one and wants to share the sweetness with her husband.  He catches up to her, asks forgiveness, and the couple reconciles. Bruchac ends the tale by saying, “To this day, when the Cherokee people eat strawberries, they are reminded to always be kind to each other; to remember that friendship and respect are as sweet as the taste of ripe, red berries” (unpaged).


The gentle story flows well, and the plot and words are simple enough to be enjoyed by a wide age range, from preschool to early elementary. Readers are reminded that anger often leads to regrets, that forgiveness is a positive act, and that people find joy in sharing nature’s wonder with loved ones. Vojtech’s soft watercolor and color pencil art work is stunning, and it both complements and expands the text. Her palette is dominated by earth colors: luscious greens, mild browns and tans, and sparkling yellows. Readers are treated to many double spreads that include few or no words. One reviewer writes, “Quietly luminous watercolors capture details of dress, dwelling, implements, flora, and fauna against an open landscape of rolling hills…Complete harmony of text and pictures: altogether lovely” (Kirkus Reviews, 1993).


Most of the cultural markers are captured in the illustrations rather than the text. However, Bruchac’s last sentence (quoted above) mirrors Cherokee philosophy. Cultural markers included in the illustrations are hair styles, facial features, skin color, dress, housing, food, cooking implements, weapons, general lifestyle, and harmony with nature. Bruchac and Vojtech do not address dialect, music, or religion. Both the man and woman have long hair; distinct, Native American facial features; and light brown skin with red tones.  Their home is a simple round dwelling, and one sees two canoes sitting by the dwelling. At night, the couple sits by a fire while he makes an arrowhead necklace and she prepares corn and other foods. At the end, we see a small group of Native Americans picking strawberries against a larger backdrop of green grass and rolling hills; the illustration symbolizes the group’s harmony with nature. 


This reviewer is so impressed with this lyrical picture book that she ordered it for her school library. This book is highly recommended for ages 4 and up.