In this Muskogee Indian tale the animals and the birds argue about who is better.
The animals believe they have the advantage because of their teeth and the birds are certain that they are better due
to their wings. The leaders of both sides come up with an idea to have a ball
game (similar to lacrosse) to determine the winner of the argument. First
side to score a goal wins the argument and must accept whatever penalty is rendered by the winners.
When the stick ball game starts neither side claims
Bat because he has both teeth and wings. Finally, the animals show sympathy towards
Bat and allow him to play on their side. Bat scores the winning point for
the animals when night falls and he has the advantage due to his night vision. Bat
declares that the birds must leave the land for half of each year and this, according to the story, is why birds
fly south every winter.
In the forward, Bruchac clarifies that there
are many renditions of this tale among various native cultures and offers an explanation of ball games as an integral part
of Native American history. He says that sometimes a ball game settled a dispute
and helped avoid going to war. He credits his version of this Muskogee tale to Louis Littlecorn Oliver,
an Oklahoma Muskogee elder.
The colorful collage art embellishes this picture
book story using paper collected all over the world including Thailand, Japan, Tibet, and Italy. The illustrator conveys action using bright and subtle colored papers, cleverly overlaid. Where the animals and birds are seen in silhouette, the art is reminiscent of Indian cave painting.
In an interview Bruchac says he tries to honor
Native American cultures through storytelling. The best stories have lessons
and “tell people how they should act toward the earth and toward each other” (Meet Joseph Bruchac).