Book Review: Turtle Island


Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People

By Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger

Published by Annick Press

120 pages

Publication Date: 12th September 2017

Age range: 12 + independently, could be used earlier as teaching aid


Summary (from Goodreads):

Unlike most books that chronicle the history of Native peoples beginning with the arrival of Europeans in 1492, this book goes back to the Ice Age to give young readers a glimpse of what life was like pre-contact. The title, Turtle Island, refers to a Native myth that explains how North and Central America were formed on the back of a turtle. Based on archeological finds and scientific research, we now have a clearer picture of how the Indigenous people lived. Using that knowledge, the authors take the reader back as far as 14,000 years ago to imagine moments in time. A wide variety of topics are featured, from the animals that came and disappeared over time, to what people ate, how they expressed themselves through art, and how they adapted to their surroundings. The importance of story-telling among the Native peoples is always present to shed light on how they explained their world. The end of the book takes us to modern times when the story of the Native peoples is both tragic and hopeful.

Even though thousands of years have gone by, we have ways of stepping back into the past…

This is beautifully-illustrated and could fit easily into the ‘faction’ category where you have a factual book, presented with illustrations you might expect in a fiction picture book. I really enjoyed learning more about some of the bits of history I already knew about, as well as finding out more. I particularly liked how multiple perspectives are provided and it is recognized that there was no unified ‘Native American’ or indigenous culture, despite common traits being a respect for the environment and nature.

The tone of the book changes substantially with the arrival of the Europeans and the subsequent decimation of the indigenous population thanks to smallpox, influenza and other illnesses. This is followed by a sickening list of the relentless discrimination that indigenous people faced from the massacre at the Battle of Wounded Knee to tribes being separated from their ancestral land.

Overall, a fascinating, informative read which will lead many bookworms into further investigation of the rich heritage and history of Turtle Island.

What I liked: The way archaeology, mythology and imagination were tied together to really engage the reader in multiple possible perspectives e.g. presenting some Scientific evidence, followed by a traditional story that is linked to it, then a piece of creative writing inviting children to imagine themselves in the shoes of someone who lived at that time. I also liked how the author talked about the loss of linguistic diversity and what that means for an orally-transmitted culture.

Even better if: It is clearly designed as a book to dip into, or be used as a textbook alongside a course of study so I did not find it the easiest to read from cover to cover. I would have liked even more photographs and drawings of people to allow readers to make stronger connections to the people being discussed.

How you could use it in your classroom: Pick out chapters that are relevant to what you are learning in the classroom in order to provide another perspective or make links with mythology and imagination.

(Thank you to Netgalley and Annick Press for my electronic review copy)

9 Comments Add yours

  1. This is a great combination of history, mythology, and historical fiction. Thanks for your terrific review and for sharing at the Multicultural Children’s Book Day linky!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Myth” ?? I am interested to know if you also would label Moses parting of the seas or noah’s ark. How about your God? Being nailed to cross-left to rot and die. He miraculously comes back to life. Hmm, Myths???? The ignorance in Euro-“canadian”/”american” society is famous. The inability to think independently- without the aid of Laws, Policies, Rules or words written in a book to teach the way . . . also famous. To us as the Original People of Mikinaak minis or Mikinaak Aki – Turtle Island is not a “myth”. Unlike the European immigrants to Turtle Island our Teachings are not made-up, such as the easter-bunny or Santa clause … even yet, the tooth fairy. The creation of Mikinaak Minis is as true as the Sun that greets us every morning or dbiki- giizis that guides us at night. For a person or society that has been fed everything through the written word in a book. More times than not the words written down are taken from yet another book or set of – often peppered with the authors own exaggerations and fabrications. The world view of the Original People have been created in real time, from actual life events. Also, in the form of gifts from the Creator.


    1. Thank you for reading my blog and I am sorry that you appear not to have read it very carefully.
      The word ‘myth’ is used once in the review and that is in the summary of the book copied from Goodreads, the summary that is provided and written by the publisher.

      The term ‘myth’ is used to mean a story which may or may not have some basis in fact; in some cases there is archaeological evidence and in some cases there is not. For example, the Greek Myth of Troy led to the city being discovered.

      The term’ Creation Myth’ is also commonly used to describe stories from around the world by which people describe the beginning as they see it.

      It seems that you have understood the publisher’s use of ‘myth’ in this context to be that of something that is untrue, a common but incorrect use of the word.

      You have also made an assumption about my religion, beliefs and background without any grounding and that is incorrect.

      Regardless of my beliefs, I do not think it is right to speak disrespectfully about what someone else believes in or accuse entire groups of people of ignorance. I believe that you should show the respect you wish to be given.

      Clearly, you are very passionate about indigenous rights and history. I think books such as these are important in sharing that perspective with others. For example, I read this book as I was interested to find out more about Native American and Canadian people, particularly in a book written by an indigenous person.

      I apologise if you have found the publisher and author’s description of their own book offensive in any way and I appreciate you taking the time to leave your view.


  3. This looks great! Thanks for your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely learned a lot reading it!


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