There are only a few books in print that include traditional Dena'ina sukdus (stories) and there were no single sukdu picture books until Barbara and Ethan Atwater began retelling the sukdus their elder and great Uncle Walter passed on to them. 'Although sukdus were told for entertainment... they also demonstrate through parables the Dena'ina behavioral code, which governs relationships between animals and humans...and the consequences of breaking that code. Sometimes characters act the way they would act in animal form, other times they do things only someone in human form could do.'
Retold in their own words, with a more modern than traditional time setting, Chia and The Fox Man accomplishes both. The story is engaging and entertaining but also addresses the importance of telling the truth and making amends for dishonest behavior.
Throughout the pages is the opportunity to learn about the Dena'ina way of life, its culture and history. The reader learns about the hardships of being an orphan, of having to work hard to survive, and of facing hunger and harsh weather conditions. The first-person narrative by Chia is told with the flow and cadence of a native speaker. And, the narrative is also enhanced with the use of eight Dena'ina words. Each word, pronunciation and definition is also shown at the bottom of the page in which it appears and at the end of the story.
In addition to the words, you can learn a lot about the Dena'ina culture through Mindy Dwyer's fanciful yet realistic portrayal of the environment, clothing, living conditions and subsistence activities in a traditional Dena'ina village. For example, you see the style and pattern of Chia's parka and mittens, the drinking tube around his neck, salmon drying on a rack, the use of bow and arrow to hunt rabbit and spruce hen. The illustration on each page reveals some interesting facet of the Dena'ina way of life. It reflects the attention to detail the illustrator gleaned from the descriptive narrative and the cooperative interactions between the authors and illustrator.
Many fables and fairy tales utilize the "rule of three". Chia and the Fox Man is no exception. Chia's chores include carrying firewood, hauling water, and feeding dogs. Three dogs howl at the night. Chia is asked to close the house door three times. He travels across a lake, through the forest and up a mountain before encountering the Fox Man who chops away at the glacier with a tink, tink, tink.
There is a suspenseful moment before Chia snatches the Foxman's duguli. And a somber but satisfying and positive ending when Chia acknowledges, 'Doing the right thing isn't always easy. But doing the right thing is always best.' Following the sukdu is information about Alaskan Dena'ina Stories, a Dena'ina Glossary and a list of books for further reading.
Chia and the Fox Man will entertain and engage readers of all ages as a self-read or read aloud. Readers and listeners will easily gain insight into the Alaskan Dena'ina culture and hopefully be inspired to learn more about the Dena'ina way of life and speak a few Dena'ina words.
"– "Roz Goodman, Retired School Librarian