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Fire Race: A Karuk Coyote Tale of How Fire Came to the People Paperback – January 1, 1997

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


--PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, April 19, 1993
In this gracefully narrated, arrestingly illustrated myth originating from the Karuk people of Northwest California, the animals have no fire to keep them warm. Wise old Coyote devises a plan to steal the fire that the miserly Yellow Jacket sisters guard in their mountaintop home. Using his renowned skill as trickster, Coyote manages to purloin a burning piece of oak. Though the evil sisters follow in pursuit, Coyote and the other animals execute a flawless relay, transporting the ember back to their home ground, where a willow tree swallows it. Clever Coyote once again solves the dilemma, showing how to get fire from the willow by rubbing two of its branches together. London's tale unravels seamlessly, subtly revealing the diverse personalities of the animals and the merits of working together. As in other books she has illustrated Long creates impressively realistic animal characters with an inventive measure of whimsy: Mountain Lion and Bear sport traditional Karuk necklaces and Coyote wears a woven cap and bearskin. This spirited Native American legend is in good hands. Ages 4-8.

--AMERICAN BOOKSELLER, Pick of the Lists, March 1993
It will take a lot of searching to find a more beautifully illustrated or carefully researched adaptation than this retelling of the Karuk tale of how fire came to the people. The tale itself suspensefully unfolds, as the animals steal the fire and claim it for themselves, but the detail of its artwork enliven it from cover to cover.

Long ago, the animal people had no fire. They were cold and miserable and ate their food uncooked. Then that wise old trickster, Coyote, got an idea. If they al1 worked together, they could steal fire from the Yellow Jacket sisters who guarded it jealously in their home on the snowy mountain at the end of the world. So begins this Native American story of the origin of firemaking, a tale that features cooperation (even the lowly Measuring Worm plays a pivotal role) and a hair-raising chase down the mountainside. Told in the fluid style of the oral tradition of Northern California's Karuk people it has sure fire appeal for even the wiggliest story hour listeners. Older readers, too, wil1 find much to interest them, as the concise prose delivers a great deal of cultural wisdom, tradition, and humor. The double-spread water-color illustrations burst with action, and are remarkably accurate to the natural world of California's upper Klamath River, home of the Karuk. Many details of traditional life are incorporated in the paintings, including Native plank houses, basketry, cooking methods, and jewelry. A fascinating cross-cultural comparison of trickster stories can be made with Gerald McDermot's
Raven. Culturally acuarate and artistcally excellent, Fire Race will enrich collections everywhere.

--KIRKUS REVIEWS, April 1, 1993
The Yellow Jackets are known to keep fire on top of their snowy mountain; boldly, Coyote offers to "make them pretty" if they close their eyes. With a coal, he marks them in black, then seizes a burning brand from them and dashes away. When the pursuing Yellow Jackets catch up, Coyote passes the fire to Eagle, who gives it to Mountain Lion, and so on until Frog, after hiding it in his mouth, spits it into a willow. It's not lost: Coyote shows the animals how to make fire by rubbing willow sticks together. Written with the help of Lanny Pinola, a Pomo/Miwok storyteller, London's relaxed version of this tale from northwest California has a pleasantly conversational style. Long's lively illustrations depict the animals and their habitat in intriguing detail; the text, lightly bordered with Native American motifs, is nicely integrated into the design. An attractive addition. Afterword by Julian Lang, a member of the Karuk tribe; bibliography.

--BOOKLIST, July 1993
"Long ago, the animal people had no flre.... In the winter they were so cold icicles hung from their fur. Oh, they were miserable!" Wise Coyote devises a trick to get fire from the Yellow Jacket sisters, who guard it high atop a snowy mountain. With the help of Eagle, Mountain Lion, Fox, Bear, Turtle, and Frog, he is successful in bringing fire to the people. Poet London's text is quick, controlled, and dramatically paced, and Long's watercolors are rich in detail and full of movement and energy. The pictorial anthropomorphism is understated, and the terrain in which the action takes place is realistic and evocative. London, who worked with Lanny Pinola, a Pomo/Miwok storyteller, states that this retelling is based on various versions of the Karuk Indian myth but does not give specific sources. An afterword by Julian Lang, a member of the Karuk tribe, discusses the importance of story telling and the idea of balance in the natural world, and a bibliography cites 10 sources of Karuk and other Native American tales. A beautiful combination of text and pictures, the book is suitable for reading aloud (especially to older picture book audiences) and for transitional readers moving out of vocabulary-controlled materials.

--SMITHSONIAN, November 1993
A sprightly recital of trials overcome as the Animal People, headed by Coyote, wrest fire away from the guilible Yellow Jackets. Based on the story cycles of the Karuk, native to northwest California. Glowing antic watercolors from the illustrator of

About the Author

Jonathan London is the author of more than fifty books for children. He lives in Northern California with his family. Read more about the inspiration behind Jonathan's work.

Lanny Pinola is a Pomo/Miwok storyteller, who works as a park ranger in Northern California. In 1991, he was awarded the Secretary of the Interior Stewardship for his success in promoting ties between the National Park Service and the Native American commu

Sylvia Long is the illustrator of several books for children including the best sellers Ten Little Rabbits and Alejandro's Gift. Ms. Long's detailed paintings are inspired by her love of animals and the outdoors. She lives in Arizona. Read more about Sylvi

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Chronicle Books (January 1, 1997)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 40 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0811814882
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0811814881
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 3 - 13 years
  • Lexile measure ‏ : ‎ 710L
  • Grade level ‏ : ‎ Preschool - 7
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 6.3 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 8.8 x 0.1 x 9.9 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 20 ratings

About the author

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I was raised a Navy Brat and moved every two or three years when I was growing up. Now I live in one place and travel to lots of other places. I started writing poems in college, got a M.A. in History, performed in a modern dance company, traveled the world, got married, had two sons, and when I started telling my boys, Aaron and Sean, stories I realized that I could write for children. My first two books came out in the same week, in 1992, THIRTEEN MOONS ON TURTLE'S BACK and THE LION WHO HAD ASTHMA, soon followed by FROGGY GETS DRESSED. These books are still in print. FROGGY GETS DRESSED was the first of over twenty-eight Froggy books. The most recent one is FROGGY'S LEMONADE STAND (May 15, 2018) FROGGY

PICKS A PUMPKIN and FROGGY BUILDS A SNOWMAN will follow in 2019. Then FROGGY FOR PRESIDENT! will be published early in 2020.

My Froggy books are funny and kids love them. But I also write other kinds of books, including wildlife books: HIPPOS ARE HUGE! OTTERS LOVE TO PLAY! (river otters). And more recently: PUP THE SEA OTTER (illustrated by my son Sean London). PUP THE SEA OTTER won the 2017 NATIONAL OUTDOOR BOOK AWARD (NOBA), the 2017 National Science Teacher's Association Outstanding Children's Trade Book Award, and the 2018 ILA/CBC Children's Choice Award

My most recent wildlife book is LITTLE FOX IN THE SNOW (NOV. 13 2018), featured in

the Wall Street Journal Seasons Greetings children's book section.

I've also written a middle grade novel trilogy: Aaron's Wilderness Trilogy: DESOLATION CANYON, BELLA BELLA, and GRIZZLY PEAK, all illustrated by my son, Sean London, who is an animator.

I started a new picture book series with DUCK AND HIPPO IN THE RAINSTORM, followed

by DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND. DUCK AND HIPPO GIVE THANKS came out on 8/20/18, to be followed by DUCK AND HIPPO THE SECRET VALENTINE Dec. 18 2018. I've published over 120 books since 1992, but now I only write poems for myself. My sons and my wife, Maureen, are my constant inspirations. But I'm also inspired by young children, dogs, mountains, rivers, stars, trees, great cities, deserts, jungles, great food, dance, art, some sports, and the moon. And if anybody asks, Froggy c'est moi--but he's also Aaron and Sean, and every kid I've ever met. Flop flop flop!

For more information, see my website at

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