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Kunu’s Basket

A story from Indian Island

Kunu’s Basket

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In KUNU’S BASKET, by Lee DeCora Francis, young Kunu wants to make a pack basket on his own. He’s watched his dad and his grandfather make baskets on Indian Island, but now that he’s trying to make one for himself, it’s not as easy as he thought it would be. Kunu isn’t a quitter, but he gets so frustrated that he has to go outside to cool off. When his grandfather asks Kunu to help him with some basket-making tasks, Kunu comes to understand that it is the tradition in his family for one generation to help the next. He also learns that it might take several tries before he gets it right. Can he be patient enough to try again and again? His grandfather shows him the way, and at last Kunu’s first basket is something to celebrate.

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In KUNU’S BASKET, by Lee DeCora Francis, young Kunu wants to make a pack basket on his own. He’s watched his dad and his grandfather make baskets on Indian Island, but now that he’s trying to make one for himself, it’s not as easy as he thought it would be. Kunu isn’t a quitter, but he gets so frustrated that he has to go outside to cool off. When his grandfather asks Kunu to help him with some basket-making tasks, Kunu comes to understand that it is the tradition in his family for one generation to help the next. He also learns that it might take several tries before he gets it right. Can he be patient enough to try again and again? His grandfather shows him the way, and at last Kunu’s first basket is something to celebrate. There aren’t many picture books about contemporary Native American children. Lee Francis has shaped a story that gives Native children a mirror that reflects their modern life but also explores themes common to all children: difficulty attempting a new task; wanting to do something ‘by myself’; and having to be patient to try again and again before getting it right. Susan Drucker’s gentle illustrations pair beautifully with this family story set on Indian Island.

Reviews:

“Put Kunu’s Basket: A Story from Indian Island on your to-be-ordered list. Written by Lee DeCora Francis (she’s Penobscot and HoChunk), it is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book about a young Penobscot boy named Kunu who is learning how to make the baskets that the men in his tribal nation have made for generations. A huge plus is that book is set in the present day. The story opens with Kunu sitting at the table in his house, working with ash strips that he is trying to weave into a basket. Frustrated, he takes the ash strips with him outside and sits on a log. Muhmum (his grandfather) is sitting on his porch next door and goes over to Kunu. Over the next pages, Muhmum helps Kunu make his basket. In that process, Kunu learns a bit of family and tribal history, and he learns about patience, too. Susan Drucker’s illustrations of Kunu, his family, their house, and the Maine landscape are a terrific compliment to the story. . . . I hope Lee DeCora Francis writes some more books. She’s got a knack for seamlessly presenting the story and the tribal information necessary without sounding didactic. She lets the narrative do some of that work for her. . . . This is exquisite writing, and I’d love to see more of it. Thanks, Lee DeCora Francis, Susan Drucker, and Tilbury House!” -Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children’s Literature

“Kunu’s Basket is a delightful new addition to Tilbury House’s growing list of titles by Native New Englanders that depict modern American Indian lives. This simple story of a contemporary Penobscot boy being encouraged to make his first basket is told and illustrated with accuracy, clarity, and intelligence. It truly should delight not only young children, but people of all ages. It’s not just about the enduring nature of traditional crafts; it also demonstrates the values of patience, family, and perseverance. It is the sort of book I’d like to see in the hands of every New England grandparent and in the holdings of every public library.” -Joseph Bruchac, author of Our Stories Remember

“The men of Indian Island, Maine, make baskets but young Kunu wants to do it right now by himself. Kunu finds that basket-weaving is not so easy as it looks, but he rejects his father’s offers of help. His grandfather, Muhmum, who lives next door, finds ways of gently walking Kunu through the steps, one at a time. Muhmum reminds Kunu that his own first basket took seven tries, as Kunu becomes increasingly frustrated. But slowly he learns how to pound the ash into strips, weave the bottom around a block of wood, work the strips and finish the rim. Muhmum puts cloth straps from his own basket on Kunu’s first effort so he can carry his first pack basket himself. The softly colored and soft-edged pictures display many things about Kunu s home and family: maps of Maine on the wall, a couple of cats, his mother, father and younger brother, his grandfather’s wall of tools. In each corner of many of the double-page spreads are smaller insert images of types of woven baskets. On the left-hand page, there’s a basket in a stand of fiddlehead ferns, on a clam flat or in a strawberry patch; on the facing page, the basket is full to the brim, often with a local creature like a sandpiper or a fox gazing appreciatively at the bounty. A few Penobscot words are used in the text, and their meanings are fairly clear in context. Gentle and only slightly didactic, it makes not only an attractive intergenerational story but shows how much work and patience go into one of those beautiful baskets, a number of which are illustrated on the last page.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Kunu and his family live on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Maine. When Kunu attempts to make a traditional Penobscot basket from ash strips, he is frustrated that it doesn’t come easily to him. But with his grandfather’s gentle encouragement (‘Can you guess how many tries it took for me to get the bottom just right?…. Seven tries! Take your time, gwos, and try again’), Kunu slowly develops confidence. Joining Kunu’s lesson in basket-weaving is one about his family’s history: basket-making has been passed down from grandfathers and fathers in the tribe throughout the decades. First-time author Francis emphasizes the value of cultural heritage in a straightforward tone that is earnest without becoming pedantic. Also making her debut, Drucker offers naturalistic images of Kunu and his family bathed in soft, golden light. Details of Kunu’s family’s suburban home (Kunu’s basket gets filled with toys, and he wears a pair of purple Crocs) are gracefully juxtaposed with images of baskets from eras past holding fish, berries, potatoes, ferns, and more, suggesting that longstanding cultural traditions can be readily integrated into a contemporary lifestyle.” -Publisher’s Weekly

Honors and Awards:

Reading Is Fundamental’s 2012 / 2013 Multicultural Collection

Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices

About the Authors/Illustrator:

Lee DeCora Francis (Penobscot/HoChunk) comes from both the Penobscot Indian Nation in Maine and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. She is a teacher at the tribal elementary school located at the Penobscot Nation. She lives on Indian Island in Maine with her husband, two beautiful sons, and their cat.

Susan Drucker is an artist and illustrator who lives with her husband in Bowdoinham, Maine. She has two grown children.

Additional Information

Weight1 lbs
Dimensions9 x 10.00 x 1.016 in
Pages

32

Illustrator

Susan Drucker

ISBN

978-0-88448-330-4

Format

Paperback

Author

Lee DeCora Francis

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