CM March 1, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 20

image The Day Sun Was Stolen.

Jamie Oliviero. Illustrated by Sharon Hitchcock.
Winnipeg: Hyperion Press, 1995. 32Pp, cloth, $19.95.
ISBN: 1-895340-08-X.

Subject Headings:
Haida Indians-Folklore-Juvenile literature.
Tales-British Columbia-Juvenile literature.

Preschool - grade 4 / Ages 4 - 9.
Review by Jennifer Johnson.


"When the world was new, Raven created all the animals."

So begins Oliviero's re-telling of a Haida folk-tale. In this tale Raven is a creator rather than a trickster. He moulds clay to populate the Earth, making a variety of creatures. The last is Bear, who sports a coat "twice as thick and twice as furry as any other animal's." Suffering from the heat of the Sun, Bear contrives to remove Sun from the sky and imprison it in a cave. Through the intervention of a young boy who tricks his way into Bear's cave and then shaves Bear, the Sun is returned to the sky.

Using this Haida tale, Oliviero creates a story that explains life processes such as hibernation and seasonal change. Into this is interwoven a trickster tale that features a human who can change himself into a fish. Raven is a creator here, but is powerless to remedy the loss of the Sun. Instead he cries, his tears making the world "cold, gray and rainy." It is left to Ts'ina dabju (Small Fish) to return the Sun to the sky. This dual story makes the tale uneven. And in compressing of the story to a picture-book format, some richness of repetition and patterning is lost. The early, creation account feels rushed: although there are two examples before Bear is moulded, the pattern is reduced to "then he did the same things again."

The sudden appearance of humans into the story is unexpected and unexplained, causing a shift in focus that may annoy or confuse young listeners. The Day Sun Was Stolen might have been clearer had it been written for a slightly older age group; the story could have been expanded, and the mix of creation tale and magical transformation worked in, rather than appearing as an afterword.


Haida artist Sharon Hitchcock uses gouache and acrylics to illustrate this tale. A palette of slate grey, taupe, blues, and greens within black outlines creates a flat, surreal world with minimal detail. Her stylized designs reflect the tradition of Haida art, with totem poles on end-papers and an expanded Raven figure bordering each double-page illustration. Her animal and human characters have strong features. But these would probably appeal more to an older child who is exploring traditional folk-tales in picture-book format than to the pre-schooler.

Oliviero and Hitchcock have successfully created a re-telling based on Haida folk-traditions, but a fuller text would have better served the intermediate readers who enjoy the complexities of myth and legend.

The Day Sun Was Stolen is an optional purchase for most general collections of folklore, but will be important to specialized collections covering a full range of re-tellings and pictorial interpretations, and of course, in West Coast collections for children.

Recommended with reservations.

Jennifer Johnson works in Ottawa as a children's librarian.

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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364