Title: Clever Rabbit Steals the Fire
Author/Illustrator: Geetika Jain and Aranya Jain
Publisher: Pratham Books
Age group: 4-8 years
Of all the elements that have fascinated human kind, nothing has invited as much conjecture and fantasy as fire. It warms you, it harms you. It gives you sustenance, it could also destroy all you own.Mythology from every civilization is full of tales of the discovery of fire and one of the most interesting stories comes from the Native Americans who live along the Mississippi river.
Retold by mother-daughter pair, Geetika and Aranya Jain, this is one tale that bears repeating and only grows more fun with each repetition. Emphasising the symbiotic relationship between man and animal, it talks of a time when men and the creatures of the forest depended on each other. Come winter humans would give the animals some of the food they had stored away. The animals' fur would grow thicker to keep them warm but the humans suffered the harsh weather without any respite. Sad that their friends were in discomfort, the animals decided to steal fire from the demons up in the hills.
The rest of the story goes on to talk about how the animals plotted and planned and finally the rabbit decided that he was the best person to carry out the task. Wearing a headband of feathers held together by wax, he headed off to the hills. His plan worked and he fled back with the fire carefully lit on his headdress. The rest of the forest creatures help out, each one risking something as they pass the baton on, so to speak.
It's a lovely story about friendship, about the bond between man and animal, about the importance of helping others and about sacrificing something at times to be there for a friend. Told in the most un-preachy way, it also gives you little tidbits on how a turkey has no feathers around his head because they were burnt off by the flame and how the raven was charred black by it, among others. The interesting part is that the animals named are those that inhabit the area, an easy way to learn something more than just a myth.
Particularly interesting because it introduces children to yet another culture and way of thinking, this one was a lucky discovery. The illustrations done in water colour and crayon are impressive when you realise that Aranya was only 13 when she did them.