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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Rabbits - Picture Book Review – Tops and Bottoms, by Janet Stevens and Mythological Humanoids #11 – Pookas

I'm going to continue using characters from SylFae Tree Saga, my work in progress for this picture book review, because I think it adds interest, it helps me explore my characters better and I enjoy it.

    “Hi, Caitlynn! What'd you got?” Lukas called to her as she came in his gate.
    She smiled and waved. “Hi, Lukas! I've brought your homework.”
    “What's in your hand?” Lucas pointed to the book she carried.
    “Oh this! It's one of my favorite picture books. I read it to some third graders today for hobby time.” Caitlynn crossed the grass to where Lucas was.

     “Did you practice ahead of time reading out loud in your yard?” Lukas asked with a grin.
     “Yeah... why?” Caitlynn paused and cocked her head.
     Lukas's grin widened. “Did you dream that the trees were talking about it?”
     She plopped down on the grass beside Lukas's wheelchair and demanded, “Has Jake told everybody in Frog Hollow that I dream about talking trees?” Caitlynn shook her head as she slid off her back pack.
      Lukas laughed, “Probably. Did you?”
      She dug out Lucas's homework. “You're right. He probably did,” she said as she handed over his work.
      “Did you dream about it?” Lukas insisted setting the work on his lap.
      Caitlynn sighed “Yes, but this time the dream was a little odd.”
      Lukas pretended to adjust invisible glasses and to take out an invisible notepad and pencil. He made his voice deeper and more serious, “Now tell me Caitlynn, when did you start having these dreams and what do you think is the meaning of the symbols in them? Tell me the whole dream from the beginning.” He stopped pretending and said, “But first, tell me the name of the book.”
      Caitlynn smiled, “I guess that would help, wouldn't it. It's called Tops and Bottoms and it's by Janet Stevens.”
      Lucas broke into a grin again. “I know that book! My dad read it to me when I was little. It's a great book!”
      Caitlynn smiled. “I know, isn't it?” Then she frowned, “But in my dream, the trees were a little uncomfortable with the farming.”
      Lucas looked at the tree they were sitting under and shrugged. “Oh, well, that sort of makes sense, I guess. Trees are plants after all. You wouldn't expect them to like animals eating plants. But that sure kills the fun of the book though, doesn't it. Pretty deep dream.”
      “No, no. The trees were actually fine with animals eating plants. And they liked the planting and watering seeds parts.” Caitlynn picked up a stick and poked it into the ground. “They just wanted the harvesting to be kinder and more respectful.”
      Lucas watched Caitlynn's stick. “Respectful farming. That's... I don't know...”
Caitlynn broke the stick in half. “Like I said, 'a little odd'.” Then she grinned up at Lucas. “But the trees loved all the colorful pictures of plants, the way the animals are humans-like but not and the expressions on the animal's faces! They loved all that! And I love how funny the story is! The third graders I read it to were laughing so hard the teacher had to quiet them down so I could keep reading.”
       Lucas chuckled. “I love the way Rabbit tricks Bear! It's a great book. That Bear character is so funny. Hey! Did you know that the characters are based a little on the Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear characters from African-American folktales in the south? My dad told me about those. I read a bunch of Brer Rabbit stories. They're great! And they're influenced by Native American legends, especially Cherokee stories. And I'm half Cherokee! I read some of those too. The trickster Rabbit is funny and deep too.”
       “Really? That's so cool! Do you have any of those books still? I'd love to read them. If they're half as funny as Tops and Bottoms they'll be great!”
       Lucas shrugged. “I don't own any, but there are a ton at the library. Just look up Brer Rabbit or Rabbit Cherokee Trickster. You'll see lots of good books.”
       “Thanks, Lucas. I'll stop by the library on my way home.”
        “And let me know if you get anymore dreams about the trees reading your books. Those sure are weird.”
        Caitlynn smiled. “Okay, right after I smack Jake for blabbing to everybody.”

Tree Review of Tops and Bottoms, Adapted and illustrated by Janet Stevens ISBN 0-15-292851-0

Mythological Humanoid #11 - Pooka – Other names include: puca, phouka, phouk or phooka, (Irish) [?from “poc” = “male goat” or “blow from a cudgel”, origins in the horse cult?], pwca or pwwka (Welsh), pouque (Brittany), pook or puki (Old Norse) [= nature spirit], pucel or puck (Frisian or English), bucca or bwca (Cornish), similar to the glashtyn (Manx) and the each uisce (Ireland).

A magical being popular in Ireland and other Celtic countries known for its cunning and wile as well as lies and deception. The pooka’s archetype is the trickster, so it can be good or bad. [In Cornwall it can be known as Bucka Gwidden (white) and Bucka Dhu (black) also called Bucka boo.] Some associate it with the devil saying it is blood thirsty and vampire-like, hunting down, killing and eating victims. Everyone agrees the pooka enjoys confusing and often terrifying humans, but it is considered by many to be benevolent, more mysterious than dangerous, provided it is treated with proper respect and due deference. Then it may actually be beneficial to those who encounter it. But even then a pooka is capricious and needs to be continually placated.

It is a shape shifter that can turn into a human as well as a beautiful horse, donkey, goat, bull, goblin, hobgoblin, bogeyman, dog, eagle with a huge wingspan, rabbit, (some connect it with the Easter bunny) and cat (by way of a poem inspiring the musical Cats).

Regardless of the shape a pooka takes some things are consistent about it. Its fur is usually thick, shiny and black. Its eyes usually glow yellow, green or red. It is usually young and sleek. And it has the power of speech.

A pooka might offer wild rides as a nightmare steed or advice, prophecies and warnings. It can leave people exhausted and stranded or lead them away from harm. (Some say the only man ever to ride the pooka was Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, by using a special bridle incorporating three hairs of the pooka's tail.) A pooka is often a harbinger of doom, predicting disaster then disappearing before it strikes.

These creatures are connected with fertility and have the power to create or destroy. Coastal communities and fishermen used to placate them by leaving portions of their catch at specific spots, since they could control winds or storms along coasts. Some say a pooka's voice carries on the wind. [That reminds me of Saruman's spell at the Pass of Caradhras.] Pookas are associated with tin mining, mountains and hills.

In rural communities they are associated with November and Samhain, or Goidelic, the harvest festival. November first is the pooka's day. The pookas demanded shares of the harvest or they would create havoc by destroying crops and causing illness among livestock. At the beginning of November, the pooka was known—in some locales—to either defecate or to spit on the wild fruits rendering them inedible and unsafe thenceforth. And anything remaining in the fields was considered "puka", or fairy-blasted, and hence inedible. In some locales, reapers left a small share of the crop, the "púca's share", to placate the hungry creature. In other places, people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill. If placated, Pooka's day was the one day of the year when they could be expected to behave civilly. They might do work for respectful people and are considered great chefs. They made predictions about upcoming events until November the next year.

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