cover image The Great Ball Game: A Muskogee Story

The Great Ball Game: A Muskogee Story

Joseph Bruchac. Dial Books, $17.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1539-4

This adaptation of a popular Native American story pits Animals against Birds in a contest to settle an all-too-human question: Who's better? Here, it's the teeth versus the wings in stickball, a lacrosse-style game in which the players hold a stick in each hand. When the contestants take their sides, the anomalous Bat, who sports both teeth and wings, is rejected by both teams. Finally, Bear shows sympathy, saying, ``You are not very big, but sometimes even the small ones can help.'' Bat is benched, however, until the Animals catch on to the Birds' obvious advantage: with ball in beak, the Birds fly high above the playing field. But as evening darkness descends, Bat flies into gear to win the game with his elusive, darting aerobatics. As the victor, Bat decrees that the Birds must leave for half the year. And, according to Muskogee legend, this resolution explains why bats are categorized as animals and why birds fly south for the winter. With clear, minimal language, Bruchac (see The Girl Who Married the Moon, reviewed below) wisely lets the myth carry itself. While the three-dimensional effect of Roth's (Fire Came to the Earth People) textured paper collages is striking and initially intriguing, the illustrations do not much embellish the sparely told story. But in its call for an athletic game to settle a dispute-and thereby avoid fighting-the book handily inverts the Greco-Roman tradition of sport as training for war. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)