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The Native American legend of how Bear gave Chipmunk his stripes
on January 5, 2006
There is an entire sub-genre of myth and folklore consisting of stories that explain the distinctive qualities of animals. "How Chipmunk Got His Stripes" is a Native American story told along the East Coast, and in the Author's Notes for this volume we learn that while there are Cherokee, Abenaki and Mohawk versions, the earliest written one to be found is of Iroquois origin. What the father and son team of Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac provide here is a longer and more detailed than what might be found elsewhere, the story having grown in the telling over the years.
The story begins with Bear out walking and bragging that he is the biggest, strongest, and loudest of the animals. Hearing his boasts, a little Brown Squirrel asks Bear is he can really do anything. Bear insists that he can, and so the little Brown Squirrel asks Bear to tell the sun not to rise tomorrow morning. Bear has never tried this before but is sure he can do it and tells the sun in the western sky not to come up tomorrow. The sun disappears behind the hills and Bear is sure that the sun if running away from him because it is afraid.
That night the Bear turned towards the east and instead of sleeping spent the night saying "The sun will not come up, hummph" over and over again. But as the night went on the little brown squirrel began to say "The sun is going to rise, oooh." This goes on and on all night long, and while the Bear and little Brown Squirrel keeping saying the same thing over and over again, the other animals gather around them to see who would be right. Now, whether you are a young reader or an older one, you might be able to figure out what is going to happen next and how that might end up with the chipmunk getting his stripes. Think about how you ancient storytellers could begin with the distinctive stripes of the chipmunk, come up with a perfectly logical reason for the look, and then have to invent a story that provides the motivation.
This charming story has colorful pictures by Jose Arugeo and Arianne Dewey ("Mushroom in the Rain," "We Hide You Seek") done with pen-and-ink and watercolor that was then scanner-separated and reproduced as red, blue, yellow and black halftones. I especially like their use of orange in the artwork, especially when it serves as a background to their pictures of Bear. As for the Bruchacs, they have also collaborated on "Native American Games" and a collection of Native American monster stories, "When the Chenoo Howls."