NEW YORK - Rafe Martin, in his debut novel, frames Seneca legends of long ago with an original narrative about Crow, a young boy, and his grandmother and their journey of survival. "The World Before This One" (Arthur A. Levine/ Scholastic) is an entertaining story that is stunningly complemented by cut-paper sculptures created by Calvin Nichols. The novel is timely in its exploration of universal themes and is a suspenseful and entertaining story for the young and young-at-heart. It also evokes the beauty of nature in verse and through Nichols' outstanding sculptures.
The author wrote, "Having lived for 30 years in Rochester, N.Y., at the traditional Western Door of the Great Longhouse of the Haudenosaunee - the Iroquois, the People of the Longhouse - I have had the good fortune to hike, canoe, camp, kayak and motorcycle through what was all, once, Seneca land. Ganandagan, the New York state historic and sacred Seneca site, has also generously given me the opportunity to tell stories in the context of the old ways - on a winter's night, before a fire, and within an actual longhouse. 'The World Before This One' reflects these experiences, even as its stories embody the unique life of this place. May it serve as a small offering toward the debt of gratitude we all owe the Seneca people, whose long tradition of generosity, political savvy, sophisticated ecological awareness, and spiritual wisdom form one of the great treasures, not just of New York state, and these United States, but of the world."
The wisdom of the novel lies in its ability to create awareness for our natural world and for the world as a family rather than as isolated strangers.
After the loss of most of their family, Crow and his grandmother flee their village to live in a secluded lodge near the forest. Some of the villagers suspect bad luck and sorcery and look upon them in disdain, and others believe they will not survive through the winter. Crow, in this coming-of-age tale, learns to hunt for himself and his grandmother. He finds new responsibility in his role as provider and protector of their family. Crow basks in the respect of his grandmother as he develops his newly-discovered prowess as a hunter. One day, Crow makes a wonderful discovery in the forest - a storytelling boulder. In exchange for gifts (his string of birds) Crow hears the great legends of his people. This discovery, along with his grandmother's suspicion of his long absences, forces her to ask for help from the village. Will the village agree to aid her in her quest to spy on her grandson? Will Crow learn all of the legends before he is found out so he can share them will others? Themes of isolation, survival, cooperation, creationism, the world as our family and the beauty of the natural world are explored throughout the original narrative and through the legends of the Seneca people.
Peter Jemison, Seneca elder, introduces the novel by writing, "In the past we communicated with animals and birds, understanding their languages. Today, it is so difficult for most of us to slow down, sit back, and listen to the bird and animal teachers; we don't hear their lessons. They now wonder why we are so deaf to their warnings and are hardly moved by the beauty of their songs. Human beings are rushing in automobiles to the next appointment, away from the woods and open fields. Isolated in front of a television or computer, we aren't the keen observers we once were. Children from the city fear the open woods; they are afraid of animals. The elders of our Six Nations remind us of our duties in the natural world. The storytellers remind us of the beauty all around us that the Creator has provided."
Martin has truly provided us with a story meant to be read quietly, together, by the warmth of the fire reminding us of the beauty of our world and the world before this one.
Martin's other works include "The Shark God," "The Rough-face Girl" and "Will's Mammoth." Nichols' cut-paper sculptures appear in many advertisements, art shows and private collections. He lives in Toronto.
For more information about Martin, visit www.scholastic.com, call (212) 343-6100 or write to Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012-3999.