88. Eagle Mask

Eagle Mask: A West Coast Indian Tale
written & illustrated by James Houston

Pages: 63
Ages: 7+
Finished: Apr. 30, 2009
First Published: 1966
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 8yo.

First sentence:

Skemsham awoke suddenly and listened.

Comments: This is the coming of age story of a young boy, the son of a the chief of the Eagle Clan of the Northwest Indians. The book follows the life of Skemsham and his village through its rituals, ceremonies, way of life and celebrations. They go salmon hunting, Skemsham and his friend go on a trip without food or tools to test their courage, their is the building of a new totem pole for the clan, a whale hunt and a potlatch. At the end Skemsham has turned from boy to man.

A well-written piece of Native literature. Written in 1966, there are no incidents that would concern one wondering about political correctness. The whole book takes place in a pre-white man setting and in fact, except in the title, I'm pretty sure the word "Indian" wasn't even used within the text. Houston both lived with the Northwest Indians and the Inuit for many years and wrote several wonderful children's books on the topic. Beautifully written and illustrated with haunting b/w illustrations. The story has no real plot except to follow Skemsham in his day-to-day life and the first portion of the book is slow moving, the tension mounts as the whale hunt is approached towards the end with the denouement of the potlatch celebration and all that it means for the chief who holds it. Just because it has a slow moving plot is no reason not to read the book, it is interesting and the character of Skemsham is fully realized. It had my son's full attention and he was full of questions during the reading of this book. (Shall we say to the point of irritation on my part, LOL) An illustrated short story with no chapter breaks this is the type of book they don't really publish any more and it really is a delight to read. Unfortunately, it's out of print. I wouldn't advise rushing out to get a copy but certainly keep your eyes open for it and don't pass up the opportunity if you find one. Or try your library's ILL system!


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