Archive | June 2016

Bewildered for Three Days, As to Why Daniel Boone Never Wore His Coonskin Cap, by Andrew Glass

Bewildered for Three Days, As to Why Daniel Boone Never Wore His Coonskin Cap, by Andrew Glass

What do Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, and Johnny Appleseed have in common? They’ve all appeared in children’s books by Andrew Glass. But in 2000, Glass turned his attention to Daniel Boone, the famous Kentucky frontiersman. Glass starts with a true piece of history – that Daniel Boone never actually wore a coonskin cap – then invents a tall tale that explains why!

Writing about Indians is a delicate subject, but Glass finds a way to have it both ways. A young Daniel Boone farms a “hardscrabble” field with his brothers, they’re suddenly surprised by a tribe of Cherokees. Glass writes their “warriors burst through the trees, shrieking and waving hatchets.” But it turns out they’re friendly Indians, who have come to protect them from a more hostile tribe. “It was only a terrifying misunderstanding,” explains Daniel Boone’s mother.

Glass’s illustrations are almost impressionistic, with bright colors, almost like an American Gauguin. It seems oddly appropriate for a story set in the mid-1700s. Glass mixes some real history into his tale, and soon the Indian’s son is telling Daniel Boon about a fertile farming land that waits beyond the dark mountains. And Glass drew a funny illustration of Boone waking in the woods, only to discover a hairy bear standing over him.

It’s difficult to be both the illustrator and the author, and Glass sometimes offers too many details. He devotes a whole page to Boone’s thought process, explaining why he decided to chase the bear who had stolen his coonskin cap. But Glass seems determined to present a sympathetic explanation for the Indians’ hostility. (“The Delaware [Indians] live in the forest and love the savage wilderness as their mother. When we ask them to honor our fences, it is an unreasonable thing we ask.”)

There’s some exciting scenes, like when young Daniel Boone jumps off a 60-foot cliff to escape an attacking tribe of Indians. (The Indians gawk as Boone lands in a tall tree, while the text explains the rest of Boone’s escape.) Boone ends up hiding in a hollow log – all night – while the tribe of braves camps for the night, never realizing how close he is. Boone intrudes on a family of raccoons, and to thank them for his hide-out, he promises, “sure and solemn: I will never again wear any of your kin on my head.”

In an author’s note at the end of the book, Andrew Glass admits that Boone probably just preferred wearing a wide-brimmed hat. But he thought a promise to raccoons would be more dramatic!

Shenandoah Noah, by Jim Aylesworth

Shenandoah Noah, by Jim Aylesworth

Shenandoah Noah doesn’t like farming, like the rest of his kinfolk in the valley. Because farming means driving a plow in the hot sun behind a mule. “[A]nd work is something that Shenandoah Noah doesn’t care for.” He just wants to sit in the shade with his hounds up in the mountains.

His troubles start when he catches a case of the fleas…

Glen Rounds delivers some wonderful two-color sketches – clear black lines with an old-time yellow tint. So Shenandoah Noah appears as a shaded yellow mass with pointy edges for his boots and fingers. He’s got an irritated look on his face as he scratches – and he’s also surrounded by two scratching hound dogs. Shenandoah Noah doesn’t like washing himself – because that means chopping wood to boil water.  And chopping wood is work – “and working is something Noah doesn’t care for.”

The illustrations are cute, and they work nicely with the story. Soon Shenandoah Noah has chopped a large pile of firewood logs – and Noah’s axe is poised over head, like he’s splitting one more. Then he’s hauling buckets of water to a pot on his fire – and the illustration shows spikey flames and long twirling swirls of smoke. Standing behind the pot, Noah dunks all his clothes with a stick. He’s wearing nothing but a scowl – and it does look like a lot of work. The next page finally shows his long flannel underwear dripping on a tree.

The character of Noah comes to life, both because of the text about his dislike of work – and the sketches which actually show it. Soon this man who hates work is doing work – and even his kinfolk in the valley can see the smoke from his fire. This seems suspicious, since chopping firewood is work, and “[E]verybody knew that work is something Noah doesn’t care for.” So Noah’s nephew heads up to investigate – with a shotgun.  

And unfortunately, chilly Noah is warming himself under a bearskin rug.  And he’s too embarrassed to let his kinfolk see him without any clothes on. The startled nephew mistakes the rug for a real bear, and Noah shouts out “Don’t shoot! It’s me!” But the frightened nephew runs away, and tells everyone in the valley that Noah has turned into a talking bear.

Which is fine with Noah – since he likes being left alone. Under his tree, the overworked mountain man draws a conclusion from all of this trouble.

“It just proved he shouldn’t do much else but sit in the shade…”