All the Stars in the Sky

All the Stars in the Sky: Native Stories from the Heavens, by C.J. Taylor

Mohawk author and artist C. J. Taylor has written and illustrated a number of books retelling North American native myths and legends. One of these is All the Stars in the Sky. It contains seven stories from a variety of traditions (Ojibwa, Salish, Onondaga, Blackfoot, Inuit, Wasco, and Cherokee), all stories about the constellations or other heavenly bodies. Taylor’s prose style is spare and unornamented. The details of life at the time her retellings are set are presented simply, enabling quite young children to enter into the world of the story. These would be good stories for children reading novels on their own to explore, but as each is quite short, they would also work well individually for reading aloud. The simplicity is not overdone; teens and adults, too, will find them interesting and enjoyable.

Taylor works in acrylic and her paintings are both bright and brooding, full of life. They also have a dreamlike quality, many giving the viewer the feeling that something more is going on underneath or just beyond horizon – possibly something unsettling or dangerous. There’s a menace as well as a beauty to them, a reminder that these show not only the natural world with all its wonders and dangers, but the supernatural as well. One of my favourites among the paintings is “Shaman Visits Moon”, accompanying the story in which an Inuit hunter is invited to visit Moon and is tempted to stay with Moon’s sister, Sun. Shaman’s face as he gazes up at the sky is full of longing; he could be admiring the moon’s light before his adventure, or recalling it, afterwards, or both at once, given the dreamlike quality of the painting. Moon ushering him into the giant igloo past “the biggest of the dogs”, who towers over the human hunter, and Moon’s descent from the night sky with his dog-sled curve around the main figure.

With the nights growing longer, this is a good time for star-gazing, and this book of retold traditional stories would go well with that activity.