Title: Talking Leaves
Author: Joseph Bruchac. Read by the author
Publication Info: 2016, Random House Audio. Original 2016 by Dial Books, 256 pages
Source: Library digital resources
Thirteen-year-old Uwohali has not seen his father, Sequoyah, for many years. So when Sequoyah returns to the village, Uwohali is eager to reconnect. But Sequoyah’s new obsession with making strange markings causes friends and neighbors in their tribe to wonder whether he is crazy, or worse—practicing witchcraft. What they don’t know, and what Uwohali discovers, is that Sequoyah is a genius and his strange markings are actually an alphabet representing the sounds of the Cherokee language.
The story of one of the most important figures in Native American history is brought to life for middle grade readers.
This is both a story of a boy coming of age and learning to understand his father, and a story of something very important in Native American history. As with his Code Talker, Bruchac is the writer to tackle it.
The brilliance of the story in fact lies in telling it from the perspective of the estranged son, not that of Sequoyah himself. In this way we, like Uwohali, gradually come to understand the importance of what Sequoyah is doing. Even though the reader knows from the start (unlike Uwohali) that Sequoyah isn't crazy, but is making an alphabet for the Cherokee language, we share the boy's uncertainty as he tries to figure it out--and his excitement when he finally understands.
What took me a while to get was why Sequoyah needed to make a new alphabet, rather than using the sounds of the English alphabet to create the sounds of Cherokee. I think that listening to Bruchac reading, with the many Cherokee words in the book, helped me to see that the ABCs simply can't capture the sounds. For this reason, I would recommend the audio book.
There was one aspect of the writing that bothered me some, probably mostly in the audio as I'd be less likely to notice it in print: the slightly stilted diction of the narrator (Uwohali). It is the diction of someone for whom English isn't the native language, but at times I wondered if it wasn't a bit of a stereotype. I honestly don't know; it certainly wouldn't seem right to have him using idiomatic modern English, and the lack of contractions would, I think, be historically accurate. In any case, it was a small thing. The story is more than worth the read, or the listen.
Blended in with the story of the language is a great deal of history of the Cherokee people, some of it fairly painful. This, too, is important to know. But always I came back to appreciating a book about the importance of language.
Read it, or listen to it, and learn about an important bit of American history.
FTC Disclosure: I checked Talking Leaves out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."