Lise Erdich's Bears Make Rock Soup
Illustrated by Lisa Fifield
Children's book review by Suzanne Edison.
A look at animals through Native American eyes
The bears are coming, the bears are coming! They’ll help you find food in the winter, they’ll even add their rocks to your soup. (Remember the Eastern European story of Stone Soup?) They’ll help you find lost children. They need to eat lots before winter and sometimes you have to tell them to go back to sleep if they think winter is over and start leaving their dens.
The stories in Bears Make Rock Soup (and Other Stories) told by Lise Erdrich are fun and also give a flavor (ha-ha) of how indigenous peoples interacted with all kinds of animals, not just bears.
But it’s the watercolor paintings of Lisa Fifield that really attracted me. I flipped through the whole book mesmerized by the illustrations before I went back and read the stories.
Lush colors of evergreens or clothing bleed into the grey and black tones of bears in winter. She pays detailed attention to the natural world.
Lisa’s paintings demonstrate how humans can take on animal spirits and how they often imitate their movements as part of dances in ceremonies. I particularly love her Loon Clan Women, personified as birds, dipping, flying, preening and leading predators away from their young.
The earnestness in many of these stories is relieved from time to time. The tired and friendly bears in Black Bear Sleeping in a Tree are bothersome to Crow, it seems they are asleep in his tree. The native peoples, (all the humans and animals in this book represent those who once, or still do, inhabit the Upper Midwest Plains) climb on the backs of other bears to prod the sleeping ones down.
Each story illuminates an aspect of the cycles of life and personal character. They talk about how to deal with war and death and they show how the natural world can instruct us or soothe our pain. It is always to be respected. The final story brings us full circle to birth and caring for new life, whether human or animal.
Lisa and Lise are mixed race women, part Native peoples from the Oneida and Ojibway tribes respectively. They tell the stories in Bears Make Rock Soup (And Other Stories) with verve, humor and love.
Read more of Suzanne's reviews.
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