Saturday, March 19, 2011

Where The Buffaloes Begin

By: Olaf Baker
Illustrations: Stephen Gammell

Buffaloes to an Indian is a domesticated, lazy and arguably the most important animal in India. It is used as a draft, meat and dairy animal. Although, the Tamil word for buffalo is used to call out a lazy person - a stampeding and fast moving buffalo is not something to be messed with. If one sees a buffalo thundering by in an Indian city or village, almost every one keeps out its way.

But, a buffalo mentioned in this book is wild and is probably known better as a American bison. It used to roam the wild and open prairies of North America and used to be numbered in tens of millions. They were so numerous that the prairies of America was called The Buffalo nation. Now, these majestic animals are numbered only in a few thousands - thanks to relentless hunting.

These buffaloes were part of folk-lore of native Americans. This wonderful book describes the legend of a native American boy, Little Wolf, and how his bravery and fearlessness made him a part of another long and enduring legend regarding buffaloes. The legend goes that the buffaloes had their beginnings from the depths of a lake. The legend makes a deep mark and boy goes to investigate it and see the buffaloes break out from the lake to run free through the wild nation. He sees the legend come true in front of his eyes and takes the help of the buffaloes to save his village from his people's enemies.

Olaf Baker scripts a book that is almost poetic. As his words pour out, the accompanying illustrations open up the mind. The combination conjures up images of wild and open grass lands with roaming buffaloes and a few native Americans living among them in harmony. The sky and the land compete with one another to show the vastness of the land. While the large and grey clouds roll over the skies, the seemingly gentle grasslands cover the land.

While Olaf Baker's script is great, the illustrations by Stephen Gammell overshadow the words. I had difficulty reading the words, as my eyes would roam over towards the illustrations half way through the sentence. The illustrations in black and white are so arresting that it took an extra effort to read the book. Some of the pencil drawings are double-paged and breathtaking. Stephen Gammell sketches an image that could equally traverse the chasm between realistic and abstract art. Stephen Gammell is more famous for his scary illustrations (see some of his magnificent art work here). But, I prefer this book.

My son did not enjoy the illustrations as much as I did - he found it a bit too abstract for his taste. If I am allowed to re-publish this book, I would definitely change the cover page. It does not do justice to the incredible artwork in the book.

One of the double-page spread shows a thundering mass of buffaloes rushing through with their horns burning bright from the light of moon. This image is the highlight of the book and it kept me glued to this double-page for many minutes. In spite of a lot of other interesting things(for eg., every chapter of the book is illustrated at the beginning with an artifact used by Native Americans) about this book, if there is one reason to read this book - it is this illustration of thundering buffaloes alone. If I can afford it, I would probably get the original illustration of this page, put it in my home and see it every day.

This is a book that describes an incredible native American legend and by doing that will probably become a legend in art and children's book world.


sandhya said...

Sounds like a wonderful book. I like the way you have described the great wilderness and vast expanse of the American Prairies in the review.
Where did you find this book? Would like to get my hands on it!

utbtkids said...

Satish, try Terrible Things by Eve Bunting. Also illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Very powerful illustrations.

sathish said...

This link has some amazing photos related to killing of american buffaloes.

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