America has gained tremendous benefits from the contributions of its native people. Recently released picture books give a taste of what American Indians have handed down to us.
"Long Night Moon" tells the episodic story of how each month's moon got its own name. Written by Cynthia Rylant, the book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.95) is illustrated with dark brilliance by Mark Siegel.
Typesetting, art and words come together to cast light in the night. Rylant introduces such characters as the "Sap Moon," of March, while Siegel creates silver-tipped pine trees and the shadow of antlers. The fluid "Wendy" typeface makes the months seem to flow by.
American Indians called the moon of April the "Sprouting Grass Moon," and Rylant gently notes, "Baby birds love this moon. It lights their tiny heads." All the months offer some sort of discovery, and each picture pays tribute to the creatures of nature.
Subtlety is what makes the whole thing work so well. Rylant does wonders by using few words.
A Iroquois legend is the inspiration for the original story, "The Sun's Daughter," by Pat Sherman, with bold paintings by R. Gregory Christie (Clarion Books, $16). The illustrations, at once primitive and poetic, interface perfectly with the storyline, which is dramatic and touching.
A fully fleshed-out tale, "The Sun's Daughter" allows children to explore ideas. As an explanation of why seasons change, it offers both insight into the imagination and an appreciation of the earth's complexities. There is a feeling of satisfaction at the book's end; nature has shown us a side that isn't usually seen.
There is nothing fictional about the bravery behind "Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing" (Houghton Mifflin Co., $16). Written and illustrated by the talented James Rumford, the tale explains the determined efforts of a 19th-century man who created a syllabic system of notation for the Cherokee Nation's language.
The book also includes a translation of the story into Cherokee, which appears beneath the English text. It provides a remarkable experience for anyone who looks at the printed pages closely.
A seemingly ordinary metalworker, Sequoyah and his vision are presented eloquently. The multimedia illustrations capture the intensity of the words.
Opening and closing pages show pictures of the sequoia tree, whose name was patterned after a man that gave permanent voice to his people's treasure. As the text says, it's fitting that the trees are as tall and proud as that man.