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World Folktales

North America - Native American

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North America – Native American (Versions of the tale are found in the folklore of the Cherokee, Abenaki, Mohawk, and Iroquois Nations).


Bruchac, Joseph and James. 2001. How chipmunk got his stripesA tale of bragging and teasing. Illustrations by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.


Rating: ♥♥♥♥1/2 (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture taken from


Summary: “When Bear and Brown Squirrel have a disagreement about whether Bear can stop the sun from rising, Brown Squirrel ends up with claw marks on his back and becomes Chipmunk, the striped one” (Bruchac, CIP page).


Type: pourqoui tale


Characters: The characters do not show any depth. Bear is an overconfident braggart with abundant pride and a bad temper. Brown Squirrel loves being “right,” and he engages in some foolish behavior. He challenges Bear, an animal many times his size. Next, he teases Bear when the sun does rise, leading to a wild chase and an injury. However, Brown Squirrel is smart enough to trick Bear.


Setting: The setting is not specified in the text. In the illustrations, one sees a forest and multicolored fall leaves. Readers learn that Brown Squirrel hibernates and comes out for spring. The setting seems to be the American East Coast with its four seasons. In fact, in the Authors’ Notes, Joseph Bruchac writes that “The story …is still widely told by Native American storytellers along the East Coast” (unpaged). The time frame is given in the opening sentence: “One autumn day, long ago, Bear was out walking” (unpaged).


Plot: This is a somewhat familiar plot with twists. There is a contest between two animals (or people), both with some undesirable personal qualities. The smaller animal wins, but he rubs it in through teasing. The larger animal seeks vengeance, and the smaller animal learns his lesson. The contest between the animals reminds me of Hogrogian’s Armenian tale, The Contest.


Themes: Bragging will lead to one’s downfall because no one can do (or be) everything.  Also, when one wins, it is unkind and unwise to tease the loser.


Rating Considerations: This book is enjoyable. The story has many oral elements such as repetition, sounds, and language, and the story “begs to be told” (SLJ, 2001).  In fact, on the title page, it says “As told by Joseph Bruchac & James Bruchac” rather than “by” the authors (unpaged). The illustrations are pleasant, but sometimes Bear’s “cartoonlike facial expressions seem slightly inappropriate for the story” (Booklist, 2001).


Illustrations: Rendered in a cartoon style, the illustrations are warm, colorful, and humorous. Oliff notes that “Aruego and Dewey’s vibrantly hued trademark watercolors add significantly to the humor” (SLJ, 2001). However, at times, Bear’s expression and buck teeth seem silly and distracting. One unforgettable two-page spread depicts small, fearful Brown Squirrel, now a chipmunk, hugging his grandmother while a large eye looks down their burrow.