Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: Black Rainbow

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Black Rainbow
Author: John Bierhorst
Date: 1976
Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux
ISBN: none (but click here for the Amazon page)
Length: 131 pages
Illustrations: black-and-white decorations by Jane Byers Bierhorst
Quote: “The oral literature of native Peru, strictly speaking, has not been well preserved.”
Here are twenty folktales from Peru, some spooky, some sad, some funny. On pages 16-19, John Bierhorst explains that he translated half of these stories from sixteenth-century Spanish documents. Others were collected later, some in the twentieth century.
Bierhorst has generally used Spanish phonetic spellings for names. This is, of course, only approximate, but it is consistent and familiar to reasonably educated readers. If it’s daunting to very young readers, possibly it needs to be. Although they’re short and simple, these stories were originally told by and to adults.
Pop music fans may be interested in the tragic, romantic tale of the original Yma Sumac (pages 61-65). Collectors of weather lore may be interested in the forecasting method on page 86. Those who didn’t get enough bird stories from Graeme Gibson’s collection will enjoy meeting the condor and parrot on pages 87-91. There’s another friendly condor on pages 94-104, and the moth, usually neglected by storytellers, gets its small share of attention on pages 109-110. Anyone interested in testing the healing technique on page 93 is invited to buy yarn from my stash.

Bierhorst’s simple words are suitable for students of English as a Foreign Language. This would be the most obvious audience for this book; students from Peru  and other Spanish-speaking countries might enjoy reading these stories and sharing stories they’ve heard. I’d recommend reading each story before sharing it with children. Sex and violence are narrated as briefly and impersonally as they are in TV news broadcasts, and should be no more traumatic for children to read or hear than TV is...but some of the stories will make better sense to children than others. Some of the stories end happily; most do not; none is comic.

According to John (William) Bierhorst (1936-) - Sidelights , Bierhorst is still alive, so Black Rainbow is a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it here, you'll pay $5 for the book + $5 for shipping (one shipping charge includes as many items as fit into one package), and Bierhorst or a charity of his choice will get $1. If you use that link to find more of Bierhorst's books and buy them as Fair Trade Books too, shipping will take longer, but Bierhorst or his charity will get $1 (or more) per book.