Identified as a Pawnee Indian tale, the acknowledgments in the beginning explain that this is one of a number of ancient
boy-hero stories. It is the story of a boy too poor to own his own pony so he
creates one from river mud. Every day he cares for this pony but one day his
tribe breaks camp and leaves to search out buffalo.
All alone, the boy falls asleep and dreams that his pony comes to life reassuring him that he is not alone. “Mother
Earth has given me to you. I am a part of her” (Cohen). The pony guides him back to the tribe and into a fierce battle. Trembling
and afraid, the pony tells the boy to cover himself with earth because arrows cannot pierce the earth. After defeating the enemy and capturing more buffalo than the adult men, the boy grows into a powerful leader
guided by his magical pony. At last the pony must return to Mother Earth with
these words, “I am here, your Mother Earth. You are not alone” (Cohen).
The illustrator, Shonto Begay, is a member of the Navajo tribe. He says
he learned from his elders that Nature is life and gives and maintains life. Begay
says his “art is created from my heart and from the earth. It is my truth”
(Begay 1997). The artist used colored pencils and muted watercolors with a spatter technique
to create action and a mystical effect. Many details give the illustrations authenticity
including the native clothing, bear-claw necklaces and arm jewelry, feathers, tepees, blankets, Indian designs drawn onto
clothing and moccasins. Care is taken in representing the look of the Pawnee natives through facial features
and hairstyles. The scenes have a flat perspective and many illustrations
resemble the artwork found on walls or tepees.
With spare text, the author evokes the Pawnee belief that “no matter how lowly one’s origin, the path to
honor is open through adherence to virtues such as constancy and a humble spirit” (Cohen). The “symbolic use of Mother Earth is characteristic of this tribe who lived in dome-shaped earth
lodges” (SLJ). The author depicts tribal life using some native language
and descriptions of foods (soup and dried beef) and eating implements such as buffalo horn spoons. It is understood
through the illustrations and writing that the boy's family loves him and the tribe respects his wisdom. The
Mud Pony was a Reading Rainbow Selection.