The Boy and His Mud Horses and other stories from the Tipi
Written and Illustrated by Paul Goble
At first glance, this lovely story collection is a bunch of random myths and legends that have nothing in common. On closer inspection, magic is the common theme. The foreword and introduction written by a tribal leader, Albert White Hat, and the author, Paul Goble, talk about the role that storytelling played for Native Americans. White Hat emphasizes how stories teach about life, both the good and the bad. Goble talks about how stories teach in a symbolic way that is meaningful in different ways during different times of a listener or reader’s life. Goble urges readers to allow time to let the stories take hold in the imagination. At the heart of all the stories, there is a mystical happening, an ever-present knowledge that there is more than what we humans can see.
In the title story, “The Boy and His Mud Horses,” a poor boy is led by supernatural forces to find horses, creatures that greatly improved the lives of the Pawnees. Other tales relate mysterious beings helping tribal members find food in the form of attracting buffalo or growing corn. Sometimes men or women are tricked and led away from the group like “The Girl and the Wild Horses” or “The Star Children” which ultimately benefit the tribe in some way. For these Native American storytellers, the line between humans and the magical is very thin. The deeper lesson is a bit more difficult, requiring the meditation that Goble referred to, but the stories stay with the reader often because of this mystery.
These stories have a lyrical quality that is reminiscent of the oral tradition from which they come so they are an ideal read aloud. The distinctive Goble illustrations evoke Native American art. After reading these stories, as a reading activity, students could write an essay or make up a story about becoming an animal of their choice and what lesson they learned from that animal. Young readers themselves are fascinated with stories of magic so these gentle stories of mysticism could inspire them even more to dream.
There is an interesting slideshow of Paul Goble’s book All Our Relatives on the publisher’s website which gives background information on Indian beliefs that could help readers get more from The Boy and His Mud Horse: (http://www.worldwisdom.com/public/slideshows/view.aspx?SlideShowID=24)