Susan Jeffers is the illustrator of such distinguished picture books as Three Jovial Huntsmen, a Caldecott Honor book; Rachel Field's Hitty; and the ABBY Award-winning Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, which was also a New York Times besteller. She lives in New York.
With Native American themes currently in vogue, and environmental awareness a hot issue, this timely picture book scores perfect marks in both arenas. The story is an adaptation of a speech delivered by Chief Seattle at treaty negotiations in the 1850s. Like other great speeches that have stood the test of time, his remarkably relevant message has endured because it comes from the heart and is imbued with passion--here, passion born of love for the land--``This we know: All things are connected like the blood that unites us. / We did not weave the web of life, / We are merely a strand in it. / Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.'' Jeffers has paired Seattle's eloquence with her dreamy, meticulous illustrations and the resulting images are haunting. First, readers see Native Americans living in harmony with nature, but gradually the images grow bleaker--ugly swaths of land stripped of their timber. The story comes full circle as a Caucasian family plants new trees on the barren land in a gesture that signifies hope and renewal. Together, Seattle's words and Jeffers's images create a powerful message; this thoughtful book deserves to be pondered and cherished by all. All ages. (Sept.)
Gr 1-5-- Chief Sealth (called ``Seattle'' by Jeffers) may not, in fact, be the historical source of the speech commonly attributed to him, and abridged and adapted here. But the message it conveys has never been more pointed, poignant, and powerful. Jeffers's popular pen-and-color style means that the illustrations are romantic and attractive. Alas, her entire stock of characters appears to have come from Sioux Central Casting, complete with Plains ponies and tipis (and one incongruous birchbark canoe lifted from the Algonquians). The beautiful and important words of the text (``The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth. . . All things are connected like the blood that unites us.'') are not well served by images that ignore the rich diversity of Amerindian cultures (even Sealth's own Northwest people) in favor of cigar-store redskins in feathers and fringe. Where Jeffers's book is used, it should be supplemented with others more sensitive to Native American heritage. --Patricia Dooley, University of Washington, Seattle