Quill and Quire

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Hidden Buffalo

by Rudy Wiebe, Michael Lonechild, illus.

Hidden Buffalo, based on a Cree buffalo legend, is another good read-aloud addition to the growing body of native literature for children. It takes place during the Moon of Changing Leaves (autumn), a time when Sky Running and his people are very hungry and watching desperately for a buffalo herd to arrive. Kind and caring, Sky is a boy approaching manhood. After finding a buffalo-shaped stone, he dreams vividly about where the buffalo are grazing. The chief and his people are reluctant to make the journey but they do and they succeed in finding the herd. For the first time, Sky is invited to join the hunters.

Rudy Wiebe, two-time recipient of a Governor General’s Award for adult fiction, approaches this story (his second children’s book for Red Deer Press) with respect. It’s a quiet tale focused more on historical and spiritual elements than action. The text recreates Cree life at the beginning of the 20th century and includes a buffalo creation tale linked to Alberta’s Sounding Lake, the story’s main location.

As a Cree painter from Saskatchewan, Michael Lonechild understands well that the native prairie people regarded buffalo as sacred animals and benevolent spirits. Anyone familiar with his art in David Bouchard’s picture book Qu’appelle will be struck once again by Lonechild’s affinity for nature’s expanses and ochre tones. His characters’ faces are more rugged than refined, and often more anonymous than distinctive. His depictions of clothing, jewellery, and regalia are supported by research. Challenge children to find all the buffalo in the book, and see how long it takes them to spot the spirit buffalo hovering in some of the paintings.