I was just mentioning Coyote stories a couple of months ago, in my Spring Quarterly round-up of short fiction.
But these illustrated coyote stories are inviting for both younger and older readers.
Two of the tales are illustrated by Johnny Wales, full-sized and full-colour (and mostly double-spread) illustrations, with an angular and comical coyote, which suits Coyote, who is a trickster.
And Coyote is also a storyteller. Here’s one of my favourite passages from “The One about Coyote Going West” in One Good Story, That One (1993).
“She sings like that. With that tail, wagging. With that smile. Sitting there.
Maybe I tell you the one about Eric The Lucky and the Vikings play hockey for the Oldtimers, find us Indians in Newfoundland, she says. Maybe I tell you the one about Christopher Cartier looking for something good to eat. Find us Indians in a restaurant in Montreal. Maybe I tell you the one about Jacques Columbus come along that river. Indians waiting for him. We all wave and say here we are, here we are.”
In Coyote’s New Suit (2004), Coyote is admiring his fine suit when Raven is bored and says that “tan isn’t a very exciting color”. Which doesn’t bother Coyote one bit because his suit is “golden, toasty brown”, not “tan”.
“Then Coyote had an idea. It wasn’t a good idea, but then most of Coyote’s ideas weren’t. ‘Perhaps,’ thought Coyote, ‘I should borrow this suit for a while. Then I can see whether classy or impressive suits me better.’”
When the other woodland animals take off their suits, to take a dip in the pond, Coyote decides to try on their suits, for size and for suitability. Eventually he assembles a substantial wardrobe. Things get complicated. Raven is not an innocent bystander. Coyote holds a yard sale. Then things get really complicated.
In Coyote Sings to the Moon (1998), the scenes play out by moonlight. Or, mostly. Until the moon changes her travel plans.
The animals are grateful to moon, who lights their way at night. Well, most of the animals.
Coyote isn’t necessarily grateful. And the other animals aren’t looking for Coyote to ally with them anyway.
“No! No! shout all the animals. ‘You have a terrible singing voice!”
“Yes,” says Old Woman. “Your voice could scare Moon away.”
“Hummph,” says Coyote, whose feelings are hurt. “Why would anyone want to sing to Moon, anyway?”
Negotiations with Moon are tricky. Negotiations which involve Coyote? Even trickier.
In A Coyote Columbus Tale (1992), the illustrations by William Kent Monkman are predominantly pink and orange coloured. Coyote wears shades and sports a pink heart-shaped nose (which falls off a lot) and runners.
The runners are essential because Coyote is all about playing ball in this story. Although she’s having trouble recruiting team members to play with her.
The other animals are more interested in floating in the pond nearby, and Coyote has an affinity for humans and enjoys assisting them (or interfering with them, depending on your perspective) but the humans don’t want to play with her either.
“That’s the rules, says Coyote. Let’s play some more. Maybe you will win next time. But they don’t.
You keep changing the rules, says those human beings.
No, no, no, no, says Coyote. You are mistaken. And then she changes the rules again.”
Besides, the humans had other plans. They arrived via the wider waterway and they were looking for India. Ahem. When they couldn’t find treasures in India, they started looking around for something else to sell.
They wanted to play games, but more profitable ones. And Coyote? She just wants to play ball.
In A Coyote Solstice Tale (2009), the illustrations by Gary Clement are like a fastidious middle-grade student’s art project, shapes outlined in black and brightly watercoloured.
Here, readers have another story about tradition and modernization, revolving around seasonal rituals.
Coyote is no longer interested in playing ball. But the little girl who arrives at Coyote’s door is wearing a red ball on her nose: she is dressed up as a reindeer and she arrives when he is expecting his animal friends for the holiday.
Things don’t go as planned.
“So this is what humans do, said Coyote.
And before anyone could stop him
Coyote was out on the floor
Loading every new thing in his basket
As he scampered and skipped through the store.”
A new edition titled Coyote Tales (2017), pictured at the top of this post, is designed to appeal to middle-grade readers.
It contains the narrative of Coyote’s New Suit (2004) and Coyote Sings to the Moon (1998) with ink illustrations by Byron Eggenschwiler.
For *ahem* serious readers, who might not want to ask for picture books, this new edition might be cloaked in the perfect new suit.
Thomas King is one of my MRE (Must Read Everything) Authors, and I have been steadily filling the gaps this year.
Next week? Talk of his Dreadfulwater mystery series (and the 2018 addition, Cold Skies). Where the coyotes are out of sight but hard at work.