Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People
By Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger
Published by Annick Press
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)