Few American artists are more beloved than Tomie dePaola. Tomie and his work have been recognized with the Caldecott Honor Award (awarded annually to the most outstanding picture book for children), the Newbery Honor Award (awarded annually to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) and the New Hampshire Governor’s Arts Award of Living Treasure. And few elementary school picture books have been read by more students than dePaola’s Legend of the Bluebonnet and Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. dePaola’s simple drawings and the unique messages his books convey make them popular with teachers and parents, too.
De Paola wrote the Legend of the Bluebonnet twenty-eight years ago, but the story is as special now as when it was written. She-Who-Is-Alone is a Comanche Indian living in Texas many years ago. She is called She-Who-Is-Alone because everyone else in her family had died because of the drought.
In hope of breaking the drought, the tribe’s leaders said that the Great Spirit wanted tribe members to sacrifice their most prized possession. She-Who-Is-Alone only had one possession, a doll her grandmother had made from buffalo skin. The face was decorated with the juice of berries, and beautiful blue flowers were on her head. The doll was all she has left of her family.
|photo credit: ruthieonart|
In the night She-Who-Is-Alone slowly crept to the fire and threw her most prized possession into the flames. When the ashes grew cold She-Who-Is-Alone threw them into the wind. In the morning she could not believe what she was seeing. The hills were covered with beautiful blue flowers—the same color blue as the doll’s feathers.
Soon it started to rain and the drought was broken. The tribe members changed She-Who-Is-Alone’s name to One-Who-Dearly-Loves-Her-People, and every spring the bluebonnets bloom to remind us of the sacrifice of one special young girl.
Little Gopher is the central character in the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. Unlike the other boys, Little Gopher did not like to run, ride and play; his special talent was painting. When he went to the hills to contemplate becoming a man, Little Gopher had a dream. The vision told him to find a white buckskin and keep it. One day he would paint a picture “that is as pure as the colors in the evening sky.”
|photo credit: B Mully|
Although he found the buckskin, Little Gopher could not find the right colors. However, one night a voice told him to go on top of a hill the next day at sunset. The voice said, “Because you have been faithful to the People and to your true gift, you shall find the colors you are seeking.” The next evening, Little Gopher found paintbrushes the colors of the sunset all over the hill, and he painted his masterpiece. When he returned to his tribe, Little Gopher left the paintbrushes behind.
The next morning the paintbrushes were all over the hills and had turned into beautiful flowers. Little Gopher became known as “He-Who-Brought-the-Sunset-to-the-Earth.” Being true to yourself and using the talents you have been given are wonderful messages for children.
Hopefully, all Texas children will become familiar with The Legend of the Bluebonnet and The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush and want to learn more about the stories unique to our state. With a state as big as Texas, there is so much to learn, and a great place to begin is at HMNS’ new exhibit, Texas! the exhibition, open now.