“When the Owner-Creator made the world, he made the mountains, the trees, and the animal people. Something was missing. The Earth was not complete. He decided it was time to make the human beings. He looked around for something to shape them with. There were the stones. He piled stones large and high, and breathing life into them, he stirred the spirits of the stones to wake. The stones rose, and began to move. They were large and string, and walked the Earth with terrible power. But they were hard and unfeeling. They did not care where they stepped. The Owner-Creator was not pleased. He shook the Earth until the Stone People were destroyed.
The Owner-Creator decided to try again. This time he chose to shape the people from the ash tree. These people of ash were growing and green, in harmony with their mother, the Earth. Their skins were soft, and breathed in all of life. They shared their breath with all living things. Their limbs were supple and strong, and they danced like leaves in the wind.”
Will Davis’ adaptation of Joseph Bruchac’s novel Dawn Land is a stark retelling, illustrated in black and grey ink drawings with little dialog. Set during a New England winter long ago, it is the story of Young Hunter’s quest to save his cousin Weasel Tail from possession and his people from the threat of the giant, man-eating Stone People.
Accompanied only by his four dogs, Young Warrior tracks his quarry across the land. Along the way, he must prove his worthiness to carry the Long Thrower (the only bow and arrow in their world) by hunting a deer barehanded, rescue a woman of the Long Lodge People, and evade a prehistoric panther.
I liked the small details of the culture that are there but mostly not explained. For example, the character first introduced as Weasel Tail later is known as Holds The Stone. The book doesn’t really explain why the name changes (a common tradition among many Native American tribes), it just does.
While the lyrical drawings complement the emptiness of the landscape, the paneling is not very dynamic; with each panel almost the same size as every other. It but serves well enough to tell the story but the artist could have gone farther. I do wish the book ended in a different place, but I freely admit that I like my endings all nicely tied up with a bow (“…and they all lived happily ever after.” ). It is not a bad ending, just not to my taste.
I recommend this for teens, not because of the images of the giants eating people, but because it is a subtle and nuanced book that is best appreciated by letting yourself sink into the pre-European conquest world of New England where the gods still close enough to speak to a young warrior and a bow and arrow is the most dangerous weapon imaginable.