EARTH MAGIC, SKY MAGIC (Native American stories)

Native American stories

(Cambridge University Press 1991, 2nd edition 1999)

Selected by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups for National Tell a Story Week 1994

“these tales have memorable characters and are told by someone with a good ear for a story” -Sunday Telegraph

“gradually weaves a subtle, embracing charm...The mystical nature of these stories becomes quite magical and many images remain vividly in the mind” - The English and Media Magazine
“The language... is sparse but vivid, ideal for the story-teller” - Junior Education
“dignity and a grave eloquence… a valuable addition to the story-teller’s library, for the unfamiliarity of the material and the highly responsible way in which it has been selected
and presented.” - Junior Bookshelf

"I have had your book Earth Magic, Sky Magic for about fifteen years and used it so many times when teaching. It is really lovely... a book I always have near and dip into, children love the stories and they are profound and universal." - David, head teacher, Berkshire

Originally commissioned by CUP as a bit of an indulgence (“a lovely idea but it won’t sell”) this actually became a solid seller on both sides of the Atlantic. The first edition had a sophisticated ‘cross-over’ cover, which seems to have endeared it to adults as well as the children that it was aimed at. The second edition went into the Cambridge Reading series for schools, with a more child-friendly cover and updated notes.

It was a great privilege to research and write this book, as the Native American peoples of the USA and Canada (First Nations) tell some of the richest and most inspiring stories in the world. There are over a hundred different Native American nations, each with its own unique heritage of traditional stories. None are common to the whole continent, although some characters and themes are shared by several neighbouring peoples.

In general, the stories describe the intricate relationships between people, animals and the natural world. Many explain how natural or social phenomena originated, and reinforce correct rules of behaviour. They have a strong spiritual element and traditionally the people themselves have regarded their myths as sacred. Magic and the supernatural are constantly present, but within carefully defined limits and rules. They promote positive moral values such as individual responsibility, duty to the community, respect for the environment, steadfastness and loyalty.

The source book narratives tend to be in an eloquently simple style which belies the profundity of the stories, and I aimed to emulate this in my retellings.
The book is divided into four sections, each reflecting a different type of tale and including stories from a variety of Native American peoples. There are four myths about Spider Woman, a divine character also known as Grandmother Spider, who shape-shifts between her human and arachnid forms; and a set of tales about Coyote, one of the most important Native American tricksters. The other stories tell of fantastical quests, adventures and challenges.

There’s also an introduction with a brief notes about the Native American peoples, their traditional cultures and their sad history through the 15th - 20th centuries.


  • The Man who met the Sun (Blackfoot)
  • Moon-Woman and the Arrow-Chain Boy (Tlingit)
  • Star Sister, Star Brothers, (Cheyenne)
  • Flying with the Thunders (Iroquois)
  • The Big Snow (Slavey)

  • In the Beginning (Tewa)
  • The Monster (Hopi)
  • The Boy who was kidnapped by Eagles (Hopi)
  • She is Everywhere (Hopi)
  • Why Coyote looks so Dirty (Pima)
  • How Coyote got his Tail (Yurok)
  • Why Coyote howls at the Sky (Hopi)
  • How Coyote made Winter (Zuni)
  • Coyote and the Acorns (Yurok)
  • The Great Mystery Lake (Blackfoot)
  • The Great Rabbit Chase (Algonquin)
  • The Man who changed (Cheyenne)
  • The Secret world of the Ravens (Jicarilla Apache)

The Quillwork Girl had nimble fingers that seemed to be touched with magic. All day long she sat sewing exquisite patterns made from brightly dyed porcupine quills onto tipi-skins, quivers and robes. It was said that dreams flashed like sunlight before her eyes: she could decorate things more beautifully than anyone else in the world.
One day her mother came saying,
‘What are you making now, my daughter?’
The girl looked up. Her smile was soft and far, far away.
‘I am making seven shirts, Mother, to go with these seven pairs of leggings and seven pairs of moccasins.’
‘But who are they for, my daughter? Your father is dead. You have no brothers. Your uncles and your boy-cousins have wives and sisters of their own to sew their clothse. Can it be that there are seven young men courting you who need such gifts?'
The girl laughed.
‘I don’t know who they are for. But I have dreamed that I must make them. Perhaps I will know when they are finished.’
So she sewed and sewed for many days.
When the garments were ready, she told her mother, ‘my work is done and I am leaving now now to deliver my seven gifts.’
‘But where are you going, my daughter?’
‘Towards the North, towards the land of snow.’
‘And who will you give your gifts to, my daughter?’
‘To my lost brothers, far away, who are waiting.’

- from Star Sister, Star Brothers (Cheyenne)