Southwest Children's  Literature

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The Magic of Spider Woman

Book Review:

This story, retold from the Dinéh (Navajo) oral tradition, tells about Wandering Girl who became Weaving Woman and about the terrible thing that happened to her when she broke her promise to Spider Woman. When the story begins, the animals and insects, including Spider Woman who knows how to spin and weave, arrive in the Fourth World and are awed by its beauty. The red mesas, the valleys of wildflowers, and the forested mountains make the animals wish they could share this world. So the Great Spirit made the Dinéh and taught them how to hunt, grow crops, build hogans (their houses), and most importantly of all, taught them how to walk the Middle Way, to live a life in balance and in harmony with nature. As the story continues, Weaving Woman promises Spider Woman she will never to stay too long at her loom, but she breaks her promise and lets her pride pull her out of balance. That's when her spirit became woven into her blanket. Only Spider Woman could rescue her. By making the blanket less perfect and creating a pathway, Spider Woman freed Weaving Woman's spirit.

The story lends itself to reflection on the theme, which is the need for balance in life. Students who heard this story discussed the negative consequences of over-doing some of the things they enjoy, such as watching T.V., playing video games, and eating. The cultural features of the story support the study of the Dinéh people and their rich traditions and spiritual beliefs. Artifacts and other visual aids may benefit students who are unfamiliar with weaving or with this culture. (See the lesson plan for ideas.)

Dinéh artist Shonto Begay's illustrations capture the light and beauty of his cultural heritage and of the Four Corners area of Arizona. He weaves traditional blanket patterns into many of the images, and readers/viewers will be touched by the mystical quality of his artwork. To learn more about Mr. Begay and his paintings, you can visit his Web site at:

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