FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Ellie Tsosie, a young Navajo girl, makes an incredible find one windy day. From a favorite perch, Ellie watches a bird tossed about in the strong gusts. As the bird raises one wing to right herself, something falls to the ground. Ellie hurries to pick up a feather-bound book that soon reveals itself as The Mockingbird's Manual.
This begins the first book of a young-reader fantasy fiction story written by Flagstaff writer Seth Muller and illustrated by Navajo artist Bahe Whitethorne Jr. The Mockingbird's Manual is the first book of The Keepers of the Windclaw Chronicles.
The content of the Mockingbird's Manual allows Ellie to converse with different kinds of birds. As she questions a raven, a hummingbird and a hawk, she learns that birds are just as curious about humans. She also learns from the mockingbird owner of the manual another set of values. As Ellie meets more birds, she begins to recognize the interconnectedness of the natural world around her. Though she had enjoyed and appreciated the familiar landscape of her young life, she had not known about the interaction of each feature.
Finally Ellie finds the courage to speak to her grandmother about her new life. The conversation begins, as so many on the reservation do, in the kitchen while the two make bread together. Ellie is relieved that her grandmother is not angry about her activities. It is then that Ellie learns about a clan prophecy where a girl would learn to speak to the birds, and share new ways of thinking to improve the peoples' lives.
Now armed with the knowledge of her destiny, Ellie takes a long walk led by the raven she first met, and tired and thirsty, she is astonished by what the bird shows her. An amazing petroglyph reveals that ravens and humans communicated in the past during the hunts.
Ellie is to make another amazing discovery - the prophecy of the girl who would speak with birds was not only known by her clan - but by the birds as well. Together, they will have more adventures in a second and third book planned over the next year.
"We are excited to explore this popular genre with Navajo characters and themes," Eric Lockard said.
Lockard is the president of Salina Bookshelf, Inc. Lockard indicated a hope that the release of this book will inspire other authors to consider young-reader books with Native American characters and themes.
"This book is a first for Salina Bookshelf in its effort to promote children's literature through the use of juvenile paperback books," he said.
Salina Bookshelf has distinguished itself with its broad range of bilingual books with a range from baby books to college level language textbooks. Many titles have been recognized nationally by educational organization such as the National Education Association, the Children's Book Council and Reach Out and Read. The state of New Mexico adopted the textbook Dine Bizaad Binahoo'aah: Rediscovering the Navajo Language for use in high schools throughout the state.
"Young-reader fiction has reached a broad appeal with The Spiderwick Chronicles, the rediscovery of Chronicles of Narnia and A Series of Unfortunate Events," author Muller explained. "We hope this series will captivate audiences in the same way, while providing a deeper appreciation for Arizona and the rich beauty of the Navajo ... people."
Whitethorne's engaging illustrations bring the story of Ellie Tsosie to life, offering a view of the Navajo Nation landscape to readers, especially important to those who may never have had the opportunity to visit northern Arizona.
The story of Ellie Tsosie is quite interesting, and the message of interrelationship and learning ways to improve life for all on the planet is a timely one. The Mockingbird's Manual introduces these concepts to young readers-and their parents. With problems such as global warming, water scarcity and hunger - and most recently, the ability of a virus to travel throughout the world - in the news on a daily basis, stories like this one breaks these concepts down to a more easily understood level for young people. At the same time, learning about the prophecy of a young girl who is destined to make a difference offers a vision of hope for the future in a non-threatening context.
Muller tells a story from the point of view of a young girl that is believable and entertaining. Having spent a good deal of his life working among the Navajo people, and as the father of one daughter gives the story authenticity. People who have never visited the Navajo Nation will learn something about the culture and the setting.
Readers of many ages and many backgrounds would truly enjoy the tale of Ellie-the girl who can converse with the birds.