The World Before This One by Rafe Martin

As long time readers will know, I have tried to redirect my book addiction toward library sales and Half Price Books discount sections; with children’s books being a particular favorite. This keeps me from going broke (or slows the process down at least) and means my kid’s bookshelves grow not my own.

It quite often also leads to stumbling on interesting stories, authors and illustrators.  The World Before This One is one such example.

Crow is a Seneca boy, coming of age in a time of war, in a time before stories. Cast out of the Seneca tribe, Crow and his grandmother struggle merely to find enough food to make it through the harsh winter. Then Crow finds a boulder in the woods that startles him by speaking. The Storytelling Stone tells Crow the great legends of the Seneca–tales of the Long Ago Time, when the Sky Women trod the Above World and a child could alter the ways of a people. Crow comes to realize his own power to effect change and his destiny as a Seneca man. But can the Stone be trusted?

Longtime readers will also not be shocked by my interest in this book. Traditional folklore and storytelling wrapped up in a beautifully illustrated volume? My kind of book. And for a dollar!

I picked this up on a recent outing and decided to read it right away as I was feeling blah about the other books I was reading at the moment.  It turned out to be a well done and creative take on Seneca folklore and mythology.

One unique element to this novel is that it is a story about stories. And Martin’s creative and well done story of a boy and his grandmother struggling to survive and find their way back into the good graces of the village serves as an effective way to introduce and retell traditional Seneca stories.

Mink-Calvin-Nicholls-Childrens-Book There are creation myths and stories about how the actions of ancient characters shaped the world we know today.  There are also traditional fables that emphasize character and virtue; from friendship and family to care for the environment.  And lastly the over-arching story acts as a creation story for storytelling itself. The stone presents these stories in the classic voice of the storyteller and myth-maker   And old “grandfather” soon has readers, like Crow and his companions, entranced.

The book also has some beautiful illustrations by Calvin Nichols.  Each chapter includes a painstakingly detailed white paper sculpture of a character (often an animal) from one of the stories.

Overall, an enjoyable read and good introduction to Seneca folklore and mythology. If you like Native American folklore and mythology, or just folktales in general, you will enjoy this one.  It would also make a good source for bedtime stories. So if you see it in the discount pile it is worth picking up. Or if you are looking for something different to read this summer check it out from the local library and enjoy some storytelling with your friends and family.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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