Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest

Paperback | August 18, 2001

byGerald Mcdermott

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Raven, the trickster, wants to give people the gift of light. But can he find out where Sky Chief keeps it? And if he does, will he be able to escape without being discovered? His dream seems impossible, but if anyone can find a way to bring light to the world, wise and clever Raven can!

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From the Publisher

Raven, the trickster, wants to give people the gift of light. But can he find out where Sky Chief keeps it? And if he does, will he be able to escape without being discovered? His dream seems impossible, but if anyone can find a way to bring light to the world, wise and clever Raven can!

GERALD MCDERMOTT (1941-2012) was an internationally acclaimed author-illustrator and the creator of numerous award-winning books and animated films for children. Winner of the Caldecott Medal and two Caldecott Honors for his picture books, he was also a consultant to the Joseph Campbell Foundation on mythology in education. His acclaim...

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Format:PaperbackPublished:August 18, 2001Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0152024492

ISBN - 13:9780152024499

Appropriate for ages: 4

Customer Reviews of Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest

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Chapter OneA light sea breeze sped Raven out of the grimy haze that cloaked Dunsgow. With a croak of relief, she left the city's spewing chimneys behind, winging quickly above the broad river toward the immense cliff that marked the inland boundary of the low reach. Flattening her black wings, she soared effortlessly up and up the sheer drop, just outside the curtain of mist that billowed from the great crush of waterfall plunging into the pool at the bottom. Finally she topped the lip and could see the middle reach again after so many months. Long Lake stretched its sixteen blue leagues toward the mountains. Sails and steamboats dotted the water. Wavelets rolled in the breeze. With a joyful dip of her tail she turned a somersault and flew on. Soon the lake narrowed into the Big River. It was still several leagues wide at this point, but rugged hills crowded its banks. With her sharp eyes, Raven could see the upriver ridge lines growing wider and taller, till they vanished into the unseeable distance.Beyond them, she knew, stood another towering cliff, then the length of the upper reach, then the final cliff and the rugged high reach at the base of the mountains. A place where magic was strong, a very part of river and stone.She soared above the western ridge line and flew steadily onward. Raven felt strong herself, and full of life. The brisk, clear air was a joy to fly through, a gift to breathe. She'd been cooped up far too long in crowded, filthy Dunsgow. Cities are for pigeons, she thought. A raven needs country, mountains, big rivers, a bigger sky. Raven spotted Wyndefall ahead, where the ridge branched into a second valley and the Wynde River flowed into the Big.As she flew past, she heard the squabbling of a council of crows. She followed the racket and found them clustered around a half-eaten deer carcass in a little clearing. Just like the council of humans in Dunsgow, she thought scornfully. Since last fall Raven had played messenger for Paskovek, the council moderator, and she was sick of such pecking and posing. As far as she was concerned, anyone who wanted to be a councilor was the last person you could trust with the job: corrupt, power hungry, or simply self-centered. The worst of them treated her like an errand girl, with no more respect than they'd show to a homing pigeon. She had one last message to deliver, but never again! And afterward, who knew? She could follow the ridge line all the way to the highest peak on the high reach if it suited her fancy.Maybe there she could finally master her talent, and find some better work for a bird mage. Raven calmed the crows with just a few words of command and joined them. Yes, using her talent was easier here, just one reach higher than Dunsgow. Even the food was better: The first bite of raw venison tasted every bit as good as the fresh air. She ate her fill, flew to a nearby stream to drink, and sat a few minutes preening in the top of a budding ash tree before heading upriver again. Raven could fly fifty leagues in a day if she needed to. She was in no real hurry now, but she pressed on, sailing tirelessly on the currents of wind that swirled above the ridge. It branched again as she passed the junction of the Hurry River on the left, and again at the River Down on the right. Here the river was called the Stoney-Slow. It was still broad and steady, for all that it lacked the inflow from three of its five tributaries. Boats of all kinds carved its surface, heading upriver and down.At midday, she reached Broadmeet, an ugly burgh straddling the final branching of the ridge line, the great Y where the Stoney River and the River Slow came together. Traveling upstream was like flying backward through time, seeing the great river divide into its five parts; watching a tree return to its roots. Raven gave a wide berth to the pall of chimney smoke that hung above Broadmeet, and then she was over the River Slow.Baron Cutter's river. And he can have it, she thought. The widest and broadest of the five rivers, the Slow curved back and forth in great sweeping oxbows through swathes of pasture and hay field for Baron Cutter's herds of cattle. The wide valley was brown and bare now; hints of green showed only in the sunniest spots.The spring thaw was young here, and the swollen river sprawled muddy along the lower fields. Raven could admire the sweep of the valley, but it gave her no joy to return. She had run away from Baron Cutter four years ago. She'd been back only once, and forced to flee again, helping two friends escape. But she had promised one of them, Firebooy, that she would carry a message to his family.That meant flying through the heart of the valley right to Cutter's estate.She'd been a servant there, a bondservant, working to pay off a debt that was three generations old. Every hour of laborrrrr went toward paying that bond, but it never seemed to do any good. The wagehands actually saw a few coins; bondservants saw nothing but more debt. Not that it made much difference to Cutter. He cared more for his cattle than he did for any worker. ?Kah!" Raven clacked her beak. She hated the man, and hated her memories of this valley. She almost wished she hadn't promised. Except that her mother was there. Raven hadn't seen her mother in four years, and still wasn't sure she wanted to now. But there were questions she wanted answered, questions for her mother. If Raven could bring herself to ask them. She felt a burst of anger whenever she remembered her final night at the manor, the night she ran away. It was still that hard to think about. Raven flexed her wings and let herself stall. She fell a hundred feet, then twisted up and out in a hard backward roll, burning off uncertainty in a flurry of loops and dives. Feeling a little better, she leveled off and continued upriver. She spent the night on an island, where the river had cut an oxbow so deep that it met itself on the return loop. She flew over scores of farms and several villages. Men and women worked at the boat landings and in the fields and kitchen gardens. And everywhere there were cattle, in pastures, pens, and barns. Dull eyed and skinny after the long winter, the leftovers from last fall's slaughter, they chewed calmly at the stubble. ?Eat slowly," Raven called. ?The sooner you fatten, the sooner you die!" She dove at a placid steer. ?Stay stringy!Make the bloated Baron chew! And that goes for you and your auntie, too, Flat Face!" she added to a startled farmhand. The steer snorted indignantly, then went back to chewing. The farmhand gaped. Raven soared away, chortling. She reached Cutter's Landing in midafternoon. She spotted the meat house first, sprawling along the riverbank a league downstream of the manor house and farm. It was as big as some of the villages she'd passed, with its feed lots, smokehouses, pickling sheds, and lodgings. Swirling flocks of starlings, crows, and cowbirds gorged themselves at the offal pits behind a screen of trees inland. Raven hurried past, to the Landing proper, where a tree-lined road led from the wharf through plowed fields to the walled manor. The sight of the house brought an unexpected thickness to her throat. She had spent most of her life in the back wing of this gray, T-shaped stone mansion. From the air, it looked small and uninviting, but it had been home. She spotted a groom she knew in the shadow of the open stable, and recognized one of the three scullions turning a spit on the outside fire. And there in the side yard, where a cluster of dwarf cedars ringed a white gravel path and a circle of grass, was a woman seated on a stone bench. Raven faltered. The woman wore clothing that was much too rich for a bondservant, but she was grayfolk and small and held her head at a proud, familiar angle. Raven looped back and looked again. At that moment the woman turned toward the house. The sun flashed on bright eyes, a sharp nose, a pointed chin. It was her mother, Roxaine. Raven looked away, flew toward the farm. Then she hesitated, stalled, spiraled uncertainly. Finally she flapped heavily to one of the cedars and settled into the top branches. Her mother was watching the manor with an odd, expectant look. Her face was just the same, but she was so well dressed.Raven was afraid she knew why. Go down and ask her, Chicken Heart, she told herself. You'll never have a better chance. Right, she answered. Right. She dropped to the ground behind the trees. Showing up as a bird might not be the best way to start. Or was it? Raven agonized a moment, then decided against it. She closed her eyes and reversed the spell that made her a raven. In moments her sleek black feathers began to fuse into flesh, and she lengthened into a slender fifteen-year-old grayfolk girl with thick black hair and charcoal skin.Her eyes changed the least; girl or raven, they were black, bright, and very sharp. Raven shivered in her thin shift, glad to see it had changed properly. She had only just learned the skill of spelling clothes along with her body. The light shift was all she could manage. As she looked down at it, she hesitated again.Did she want to show up for the first time in four years half naked? Better to shock Mam as a bird; much better in fact. Raven was proud of her mage talent, even if she hadn't fully mastered it. It was special. Rare. She was the only bird mage in the world, as far as she knew. She took a deep breath and made her raven spell. Her skin tingled as the feathers re-formed, engulfing skin and fabric both. Her joints ached for a few moments as the bones and muscles shifted and changed and shrank. Her eyesight sharpened; sounds displayed edges she could never hear as a human. Scent almost disappeared. She stretched her wings.Faster than it took to tell, she was a raven. Right! Now fly out there and face her. Still she hesitated. Then an older woman came out of the manor. Raven lowered her half-raised wings. Roxaine rose and took a step toward the newcomer, face shining with happiness.The woman held out something; her mother took it. A baby. Raven went numb.Roxaine cradled it in her arms, greeting it with childlike words. She brushed her hand over its soft hair, then sat, undid the front of her gown, and pressed the baby to her breast. It took the nipple with a hungry mew. ?Eat well, little daughter," Roxaine said. Daughter? But who was the father? Raven shied from the most likely answer. It was only a guess; she didn't know; she would wait, and ask, and not lose her temper until she knew for sure. Not even then, if she could help it. She would just leave, and that would be that. Raven swallowed a knot that suddenly threatened to choke her. She stared at the tiny girl at her mother's breast.The thought sank in: This was her sister. Half of her wanted to fly right over and touch the silky hair. The other half was so jealous, she wanted to curse. Raven fretted beneath the cedars while Roxaine fed the little girl, then carried her back into the manor. She watched through the windows until they reappeared in one of the rooms on the top floor. She lifted off then and flapped to the gable above the window.She could hear her mother humming. She recognized the lullaby and fought down another lump in her throat. The baby made a burbling sound, then sighed. Her mother hummed awhile longer, while Raven tried to crane her neck low enough to peek in. Finally, the humming stopped. ?Sleep well, Sarita," Roxaine whispered. There were footsteps. The door closed. Raven dropped to the windowsill and peered through the small, wavy panes.There was a high-sided bed in the far corner but no sign of people. Raven pushed her heavy beak between the window and the jamb. The sash swung inward a little, then stuck. Raven kept pushing, but the hinges were too stiff. Muttering a curse, she looked down. The parts of the yard she could see were empty.Balancing carefully, she reversed her spell. She began to change and almost tipped off the windowsill. She focused on her wings, scrabbling for a purchase as feathers shrank and fingers grew and she could finally grasp the sash. She teetered for a moment as the rest of her changed, then pushed the sash inward and tumbled into the room. ?Blazing mages!" she muttered, half wrapped in the drapes that had framed the window. The rod pulled loose, whacked her on the head, and clattered to the floor. She tripped and stumbled against the bed. The baby woke, stared at her an instant with unfocused eyes, and started to cry. ?Hush!" Raven hissed. She scurried to the head of the bed, waving her hands and whispering inanely. ?Come, chick, be quiet. Good girl. Good Sarita. It's me, see? Your big sister." She hummed a few notes of the lullaby. She tried making a sweet smile. The baby clenched the sheet with two tiny fists and let out another wail. Sweet sun on the River, Raven thought, did I sound like that? Desperate, she picked up the baby, sheet and all, and jiggled her against her chest. Fumbling a hand free, she shoved her pinky into the noisy mouth. The wailing stuttered to a halt. Raven and the baby sighed together in relief. Silent, her sister was a lot easier to take. Even pretty, Raven thought, as they studied each other. Prettier than me. She felt another twinge of jealousy, then smiled. The little girl was only a few months old; who knew what she'd look like grown up? At this age, all babies looked like grubs. Pretty grubs, maybe, but still? The door flew open and the older woman bustled into the room. She spotted Raven and froze, wide-eyed. The baby made a pleased little gurgle, and Raven felt her left hand go warm and wet. At that moment her mother stormed in. ?Louella! What is the matter with?" She stared at Raven. Feelings flashed rapidly across her face: recognition, shock, joy. ?Penelope!" she cried. Something like fear struck Raven in the chest. She couldn't say a single word, to ask or accuse. Her mother came forward, arms outstretched. Raven held up her sister like a shield between them. ?The baby," she croaked. ?She's wet." Louella snatched Sarita from Raven's grasp and hurried her over to a table on the far wall, crooning like a broody dove. Raven stepped back. Roxaine's smile stiffened. She dropped her arms, rubbed her hands. ?Well, Pigeon," she said. ?I had given up hoping you'd . . . But I suppose you heard about your sister and came to see for yourself." She tried a fresh smile.?I've missed you." Raven crossed her arms. ?Who?" she asked. Her throat was too dry. Don't be such a coward! she chided herself. Ask!She swallowed and tried again. ?Who is the father?" Roxaine turned quickly and went to shut the door. When she turned back, her face was composed, but she studied Raven with guarded eyes. Something glimmered behind them: sadness? anger? Maybe it was just fatigue. Up close, she looked disheveled, despite the fine embroidered dress. Her eyes were red and puffy, as though she'd been rubbing them. The silence stretched. Raven felt more and more awkward, more and more angry.?Well?" she demanded. ?Darvin," Roxaine said. ?Darvin is her father." ?Darvin?" Raven asked, though she knew she'd heard the name before. ?Cutter," Roxaine said impatiently.?Yes, him, the Baron." ?Darvin Cutter?" Raven couldn't quite believe the Baron had a first name. As if he were a person, someone you could like. Roxaine raised her head and brushed back her hair. ?That's right, my daughter's father is Baron Cutter. Is that so hard to believe? Am I so ugly?" ?Of course not!" Raven snapped.?You're? Blazing mages, he's the Baron!The bondholder! The man we ran away from!" Raven tried to control her voice.She glared, and was surprised to find she was actually looking down a little to meet her mother's eyes. ?The man I ran away from," she said. ?I guess you decided you had a better reason to stay." Her mother frowned back. ?It's not that simple, Pigeon." Her voice was stilted, as though Raven were still just a child. Raven gritted her teeth. ?What's not simple? Being whipped for sneaking a biscuit? Locked up for tearing a sheet?Having Steward steal a month's worth of bond wage just because you dropped the lady's chamber pot?" ?It's not like that anymore!" Roxaine said. ?You can say whatever you like about that brute Steward, but Darvin has changed. He's raised wages, including the bond wage. He's told the foremen to stop using the whip. He's become a different man, Darvin. He's been very good to me. And he'll be good to you, too, if you give him half a chance." ?What chance? I'm . . . I was a bondservant. You still are." Roxaine smiled. ?Not any longer. Darvin wrote off my bond." ?In exchange for what?" Raven demanded.?An heir?" ?In exchange for my love." ?So you're his mistress." Roxaine's smile chilled. ?I just said we're in love. I am his fiancée." ?But not his wife?" Now she looked troubled. ?Not yet.There have been . . . complications." ?He doesn't like children after all?" Roxaine frowned. ?Darvin is sick," she said. ?It came on so suddenly." Raven nodded, sure she understood.?He's dying, isn't he? You didn't force the question soon enough." Now Roxaine glared. ?He proposed months ago," she snapped. ?Without any prompting from me. I tell you, we are in love. And that has changed him. Both of us." ?I can just see you two," Raven said.?Regular birds of a feather, cooing together while he orders the help around. I bet you really like it when he tells you to wash his breeches." Roxaine's eyes flared. The words sounded cruel to her own ears, but Raven couldn't stop herself. ?Oh, yes, I forgot: Darvin wrote off your bond, didn't he? Now you can order everyone around yourself. And all it cost was one daughter." Roxaine slapped her. Raven fought for control, dumbfounded.Her mother had never hit her before. She blinked violently, refusing her own tears. She clenched her fists at her side so she wouldn't hit back. Words?she could always strike back with words.Only none came. The door jerked opened, cutting through the shock. A tall, bulky man strode in, blond, ruddy, pale eyed. Raven knew him immediately: Jan Steward, Cutter's right-hand man. ?What is going on here, Roxaine?" he demanded. ?We can hear you all over the house!" ?This is none of your business, Steward," Roxaine snapped. ?Cutter's health is my business," he said. ?You of all people should know how ill he is. If you can't find a quieter way to manage your nurse, at least do it in the?" Roxaine turned on him. ?I know exactly how ill he is! Who spends every night sitting by his bed while you're snoring?" But Steward was staring at Raven. He glanced quickly to her mother's face and back. His eyes narrowed. ?The other daughter," he murmured. ?The little runaway." ?Get that look off your face! I told you this was none?" ?Loyal!" he shouted, head half turned toward the open door. ?Bring the shackles!" He grabbed for Raven's arm. She spun and ran to the window, then realized how high it was. She could never change in time. He followed her.She kicked. He grunted and bent double.The baby's cry rose to a shrill wail.Raven ducked under Steward's groping hand and fled.Copyright © 2007 by Dean Whitlock.Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin Company.

Editorial Reviews

star 'Amusing and well-conceived.'- School Library Journal (starred review)star 'Elegant? masterfully executed.'- Publishers Weekly (starred review)'Mr. McDermott is not only a picture-book artist of the first rank, but also one of our most gifted retellers of myth and folk tale.'- The New York Times Book Review