Harriet Peck Taylor's Coyote and the Laughing Butterflies
Book review by Monica Friedman
The Trickster Tricked: A Coyote Story of the Pueblo Indians
Take a magical, rollicking journey across the desert landscape of New Mexico with Coyote, the beloved Native American world-maker and trickster figure, along with the other animals of his territory, including a pack of colorful and mischievous butterflies who make a fool of this fun-loving and occasionally sleepy creature.
This new version of an old Tewa tribe tale is illustrated with bold, colorful drawings that create a realistic sense of place and movement with a batik style just perfect for a children’s book.
Mountains beyond mountains create a dazzling perspective of depth and height, and the creatures moving through this scenery seem to almost pop off the page. With friendly faces and sympathetic expressions, these animals evoke that mythical time when four-legs and two-legs had much more in common than they seem to today.
Coyote and the Laughing Butterflies
Coyote’s home is a long walk from the salt lake where “animals came from all around to dig up salt to use for cooking,” so when Coyote’s wife sends him there to fetch her some of the precious mineral for cooking, he feels pretty tired upon arriving at his destination and entitled to a nice nap. Sadly for Coyote, the butterflies who live in the nearby meadow take every opportunity to have a little fun with the sleeping animal.
Three times Coyote takes that long, tiring journey from his home to the salty lake, and three times the butterflies, “flew down, and each took hold of a hair in Coyote’s fur…to lift him off the ground,” and fly him back home, where he awakens, puzzled. On the first two trips, Coyote returns home without the salt, and is berated by his wife for his laziness, while the butterflies laugh madly, so hysterical that they’re unable to fly straight. Finally, on the last unconscious voyage, the butterflies take pity on Coyote and bring his bag of salt along for the ride.
In the end, Coyote’s wife is happy with the salt and makes a feast for all the animals of the desert. This book does a wonderful job of showing all the creatures of Coyote’s territory: “Lizard lounging lazily on a rock,” “his friend Beaver” who helps him across the lake, and, of course, the butterflies, who “flew in crazy patterns in the sky, laughing all the way back to the meadow.” Coyote’s wife’s party is also well-attended by these animals, as well as other desert natives: Badger, Bobcat, Roadrunner, and Rabbit.
Like many Coyote stories, Coyote and the Laughing Butterflies is a mythology that explains the origin of some element of the natural world, in this case, the reason that butterflies fly in zigzags, rather than in straight lines like other flying creatures. The story ends with the explanation, “Even today butterflies remember the trick that was played on Coyote. They flutter high and low, to and fro, laughing too hard to fly straight, all day long in the yellow sunshine.”
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