Goble, Paul. 1991. Star Boy. New York: Aladdin. ISBN 9780687914993.
Plot Summary -
A young Blackfoot girl falls in love with Morning Star of the Sky World. His father is Sun and his mother is Moon. He marries the young Indian girl and takes her to live in Sky World where they have a son named Star Boy. The young girl is very happy in her new home but disobeys her mother-in-law and is banished back to earth. The baby Star Boy returns to earth with his mother with a scar on his face because of his mother's disobedience. The young girl is not happy on earth and dies returning to Sky World as Evening Star. Her son, Star Boy grows up on earth and falls in love with the chief's beautiful daughter, but he must complete a journey to win his bride. The journey takes him to the Sky World, and he brings back to earth the sacred knowledge of the Sun Dance.
Critical Analysis -
Star Boy by Paul Goble, a Native American tale from the Blackfoot people, is a captivating story which has depth of understanding through cultural representation and universal themes. The Blackfoot people are of the northern Great Plains, and this tale stays true in its representation of their culture in text and illustrations. The text explains in detail how and why the Blackfoot people celebrate the Sun Dance. While the customs are primarily focused on the Native American culture, some Christian influences crept into the Native American traditions. For example, the story of the young Indian girl who is told that she may dig anywhere but where the pink flowers are located is very reminiscent of the Biblical account of the Garden of Eden. In both stories, the girls are punished for their disobedient actions, and the punishment extends to others.
Also, cultural references are portrayed in the illustrations which are mostly in earth tone colors like dark red, shades of brown, dark blue, dark green, and plenty of gold. These colors are typically associated with Native American culture. Additionally, the illustrations are used to show the reader the different settings of the tale which are the earth below and Sky World. When the characters are in Sky World, the pages are bordered with the same designs that are generally painted on the Blackfoot tipis. Each tipi has a design painted on it to represent their vision of the Sky World. This motif not only reflects the cultural heritage of the tale but adds to the reader's understanding of the setting.
While in Native American Indian cultures chiefs are generally men, the societies are matriarchal in which property rights and chief selections are through the woman's lineage. As a result, women are frequently portrayed as strong characters. Goble stays true to this cultural aspect. Moon, Morning Star's mother, is a strong character in that she gives Evening Star the digging instructions to follow. Evening Star is strong in that she selects her husband and accepts her punishment for her disobedience. Likewise, the chief's daughter's strength is in her selecting her husband and then explaining to him what he must do to win her in marriage. In this tale, the woman are making the decisions and giving the instructions.
Besides cultural representation, Goble uses universal themes to add depth to this exceptional tale. The moral theme of obedience has previously been discussed, but the basic human nature of curiosity is also wrapped up in this theme. It is the young Indian girl's curiosity that led to her disobedience and disobedience ends in loneliness, sadness, and isolation. The illustration of the funeral scene dramatically displays this theme. In contrast to all of the other pages, the funeral scene is plain and dark with a desolate landscape. The only one attending her funeral is her son, Star Boy. He is the only one of his kind, half earth and half Sky World. Her sad longing to return to Sky World and his isolation due to his unique parentage is undeniable in this illustration.
Another universal theme is the journey or quest to secure the love of your future mate. Star Boy must travel to the place of the Sun and seek his grandfather's approval to marry the chief's daughter. He is poor and ugly before his journey, but after getting his grandfather's approval, he returns to earth handsome and rich as a sign of his approval. Interestingly, Sun tells his grandson that "a pure woman shall live a long time." Star Boy's mother did not live a long life on earth, so the message here is to live a pure life. This traditional tale by Paul Goble has many levels of understanding to explore. He expands the reader's knowledge of the Blackfoot culture by giving an accurate portrayal, and he invites all to enjoy with his use of universal themes.
Review Excerpts -
Booklist (Starred review) - "A considered, reverent, and eye-catching rendition of an important native American legend."
Publishers Weekly - "Illustrated by elegant, brilliantly colored pictures in the Caldecott Medalist's recognizable style, the pictures...recreate ancient days among the Blackfeet Indian."
*Other books by Paul Goble can be used to discuss his uniquely creative illustrations:
- The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses ISBN 9780689716966.
- Buffalo Woman ISBN 97806899711091.
- Dream Wolf ISBN 9780689815065.
- Her Seven Brothers ISBN 9780689717307.
*Use this tale to teach symbolism and/or personification.
*Two poems are listed at the end of the tale that relate to the story. Have older children find examples of poems that match other Native American traditional tales.