3 out of 4 stars
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It isn't too often that new, modern fairy tales come along, let alone in comic/visual novel form. Nighthawk and Little Elk is a present-day tale of two indigenous children who were taken away from their loving community to be forcibly adopted. She shares the name of a mythical evil woman who would steal and eat children - Thoxweya - and is very similar to the wicked stepmother from Cinderella in that she forces them to do chores and doesn't love them at all.
One day the children decide to escape, so they wait for Thoxweya to go to sleep and run away. She wakes up in the middle of the night and gets angry that she won't get government benefits if the children are gone. In her anger she ends up unwittingly cursing all the water within 66,600 paces. Brother (the two children aren't named and are referred to as Brother and Sister) unknowingly goes to get a drink but Sister is able to hear the water itself warn her about drinking it, so she stops him. This happens two more times, but the third time she's unable to stop him and he turns into an elk! What will become of the children? Will Brother ever become human again, and will the siblings ever find happiness and peace?
The story of Nighthawk and Little Elk is a little tough to follow at times. The story bounces back and forth between characters, and sometimes I was confused by the fact that Thoxweya "came from a long line of female cousins, every one of whom was named Thoxweya as well". So when Thoxweya's daughter is introduced, it seemed like she shared the same name, and mentioning the two of them separately became a bit misleading. It was also a bit iffy on some of the events; the entire PDF I reviewed was only 39 pages and the story was only 29, so there isn't a lot of space for all of the events to happen, yet it's jam packed with things that happen!
Where the story is a bit weak, almost everything else is superb. While this is a graphic novel, the images are all photographs, and it wasn't until I came to the end of the story that I learned all the characters in the book were what she calls "avatars" - 12 inch figures that were "hand-crafted by the author/illustrator, created with the aid of a 3D printer, action figure bodies, alpaca hair, miniature clothing, custom fabrics, tiny accessories" and more. Because I reviewed a PDF of the book I wasn't able to zoom in like a typical Kindle file or bring the paperback closer to my face (I did bring my laptop to my face as it's the biggest device I own but even then it was a bit difficult to make out details). As such, I assumed the images were just touched up to look more artistic; I never in a million years would've guessed the author - eelonqa K harris, using their own specific capitalization via Amazon - created very lifelike figures and posed them so well in each shot, as well as crafting numerous backdrops for them!
I also loved the way eelonga combined various things to create this story. Eelonga combines an ancient folk tale called "Brüderchen and Schwesterchen" by the Grimm brothers, legends about Thoxweya, her own original ideas and an event referred to as The Sixties Scoop. Eelonga wrote that "You should google it!" so I did and it's remarkable; essentially Canadians forcibly removed indigenous children from their communities and let people adopt them, much like what happened to Brother and Sister. It's definitely something worth googling, and it was a terrific lesson to pick up from the book. Like many shameful historical events, this was far more recent than I would've guessed, happening from the late 1950s to even the 1980s!
Finally, it was great to see indigenous peoples shown in a natural way. Typically they're shown as violent savages or crazy mystics, but giving us a window into their societies and beliefs was terrific. Eelonga even mentions seven separate communities within the Coast Salish nations that were "actively involved in the making of this book". At the end of the book she lists "the cast" of people she used as models in the images, many of which are clearly indigenous people themselves. Reaching out to these communities and letting them be a genuine part of it is terrific, and eelonga did an amazing job with it.
With all of this taken into consideration, I'm giving Nighthawk and Little Elk 3 out of 4 stars. While I certainly recommend it for those interested in indigenous peoples, I'm having a very hard time recommending it for any particular age group. The main characters are young children and it's a graphic novel, so it would make sense that children around 6-12 would be a perfect audience, but the book was a bit confusing at times even as an adult. Meanwhile the story moves a bit too fast for adults; the pace and length are much more fitting for younger children. Perhaps if an adult read it a few times to get a good grasp on what's happening and then read it to their children it would be a balance between the two. Either way, I love the conversations the book brings about, and in all of my time reading books i've never seen anything quite like this.
Nighthawk and Little Elk
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