Paul Goble was born in England to a musical family: his mother was a professional musician and his father made harpsichords and other musical instruments. As a child, he loved nature and would wander through the garden and to the lake near his home, watching birds and searching for flowers to add to his pressed flower collection. He liked to draw as a child, and eventually studied at the Central School of Art in London, worked as an art teacher and, briefly, a furniture designer.
At a young age, he developed an interest in American Indians that was fostered by his mother. He read stories and histories, and as a young man he read famous accounts and histories of famous American Indians. This interest in American Indian culture and history would ultimately become the guiding force in his career and life. He published his first book, Red Hawk’s Account of Custer’s Last Battle, in 1969, and moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1977. He developed a close relationship with Chief Edgar Redcloud and was eventually adopted by Chief Redcloud into the Sioux and Yakima tribes with the name Wakinyan Chikala, or “Little Thunder.”
Goble discovered ledger book art, which is a term for Plains Indian narrative drawing or painting on cloth or paper, in 1964 and became completely was enamored, and tried to copy and capture the style in his first few books. His own style matured and found itself, but his illustrations are still clearly very informed and influenced by ledger art. In addition to this, he does extensive research, both in his personal library of resources, and elsewhere, to make sure he gets his details correct. Mistakes, he says, would be be rude to the American Indian people and to his readers.
Goble has illustrated over 30 books, mostly retellings of myths and legends of the Plains Indians. He has won many awards, including the Caldecott for his 1979 book, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses.
1. Love Flute
Goble, P. (1992). Love flute. New York: Bradbury Press.
Love Flute opens with background information on the tradition of the “love flute,” which was a courting flute used by men to play love songs to woo women. The story then tells of a young man who is shy and seems to have no luck with the beautiful girl that he loves, until two mysterious Elk Men bestow upon him a flute that will sound with all the harmonies of the birds and animals. When he blows it in the village, it speaks straight to the beloved girl’s heart, and she knows that he loves her.
The illustrations in this book provide narrative representations of the story, with accompanying drawings of traditional Indian flutes. The flute drawings are in uncolored pencil and sit vertically alongside the text block, which is always on white page, opposite or integrated into the visual scene. Each flute is different and is copied or inspired by actual flutes, the references for which are listed in the beginning of the book. The pictures are bright, using a broad spectrum of blue, yellow, red, orange, green, brown, purple, and black, all punctuated by ample white lines and space. There are a lot of horizontal visual elements, which provide both a sense of movement and of weight: a grounded vivacity.
My favorite thing about this book and a lot of his book is the way that he creates atmosphere with the sky. It can be white, to bring focus to figures and forms on the page, or blue and textured to create a sort of companion to the action, or black and starry, to suggest a vast expansiveness.
2. Mystic Horse
Goble, P. (2003). Mystic horse. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Mystic Horse is prefaced by a full-page explanation of how the story came about, including some contextual historical background on the Pawnee people. It is also prefaced by references for not only the story but the designs for the illustrations. It is important, as he a white man telling stories of a different culture, for him to be transparent about the origins and validity of his inspiration.
The story tells of a boy and his grandmother, very poor, with no horse, and often excluded from the rest of the tribe because of it. However, the boy finds a dying horse, which turns out to be a mystical horse. The horse helps the boy and his people triumph in battle, ultimately gaining him the title of Boy Chief. The mystic horse brings a whole herd of horses to the people, and the boy and his grandmother are never poor again.
The illustrations, in ink, watercolor, and gouache, are striking. The palette includes lots of browns and blues, which suggest a strong contrast/coupling of earth and sky. Goble illustrates the sky much more in this book than in some of his books, in which he utilizes suggestive white space. One spread in particular in this book is one of my favorites of all of his illustrations. It is a two-page spread of the boy sitting alone on a mountaintop beneath a pouring sky. The text sits right on the blue of the sky, which is an inky swirl of both light and deep dark hues. Rain clouds, full of white lightning, dominate the page, delivering a striking storm of diagonal lines, which meet the perpendicular stones of the mountain, and cover the small, still figure of the boy cloaked in brown. It is a stunning, powerful image, full of hard straight lines, erratic lightning, and swirling action – a perfect illustrative companion for the grief that the boy is feeling over his dead horse.
3. Dream Wolf
Goble, P. (1990). Dream wolf. New York: Bradbury Press.
As with most of Paul Goble’s books, Dream Wolf is prefaced with a brief statement explaining the inspiration behind the book. In this book, it addresses the close relationship that Indian people have had with dogs and wolves, and how that relationship does not exist in North America now. We have driven wolves into fearful hiding, and their absence in the greater scene of Creation is missed.
In this story, two children get lost on the hillside, and have to shelter in a cave. They are protected by a wolf, who helps them find their way home. In return he is honored the children’s people, and a close relationship between People and Wolf is established.
The illustrations in this book contain lots of greens, browns, and yellows, but are punctuated with blacks and blues and reds. Most of the pictures are scenes of nature, with seamlessly integrated human and animal figures. However, the first full page is a scene of blankets, humans, and tipis, which is less common in Paul Goble’s books. Most often, he focuses on the harmonious coexistence of humans, animals, and Earth. It is almost a treat to have a page focused on the more human designs of blankets and tipis and clothing. There is also a spread that is essentially all humans. This is also not as common, and is again, a busy visual treat to see a vast array of clothing designs and patterns. There is also a lot of diagonal visual movement, suggesting not just a physical or narrative forward motion, but some kind of urgent action.
Goble’s use of color to transition from day to night is effective and lovely: greens turn to browns, which then turn to blacks and grays and midnight blues, which give way to complete blackness. Inside this blackness, just a few sparse white and gray lines reveal the presence of a wolf. The wolf and the darkness essentially being one formless presence is another example of how Goble creates an overall interconnectedness between people, animals, and nature.
4. The Gift of the Sacred Dog
Goble, P. (1980). The gift of the sacred dog. New York: Simon & Schuster.
The Gift of the Sacred Dog is a story telling of how one boy ventured into the mountains to ask the Great Spirit to send his people help in finding buffalo. The Great Spirit in turn sends the boy and his people a great herd of Sacred Dogs, or horses, that will be able to carry their things farther and for longer, enabling them to travel easier and catch up with the buffalo herds. It tells of how horses and people came to be like relatives.
The illustrations use lots of blues, oranges, and browns, and are drawn in a style that is reminiscent of traditional Indian ledger art and American Indian styles, while being unique to Paul Goble. There is always a sense of movement on the page, and often things will be drawn in clumps or lines, but are always connected to each other to create a cohesive, lively scene. One of my favorite things about this book is the smattering of different kinds of leaves across the pages, that are always connected – a trail of leaves to create a natural web on the page.
5. Storm Maker’s Tipi
Goble, P. (2001). Storm maker’s tipi. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Storm Maker’s Tipi is a beautiful book about a father, Sacred Otter, who gets stranded with his son, Morning Plume, in a blizzard. Sheltered by the skin of a freshly killed buffalo, Sacred Otter has a dream or a vision, in which he visits Storm Maker, Bringer of Blizzards, in a huge and elaborately painted tipi. Storm Maker tells Sacred Otter that if he paints a tipi just like the one they are in, he will be protected forever from storms, and that if he also hangs horsehair by his door, he will be rich in horses. Sacred Otter does so, and the predictions (or promises) come true.
This book, as stated in the front, is based on a Blackfoot legend, and includes both a narrative story, as well as technical lines drawings showing the anatomy of a tipi and a step-by-step guide for how to set one up. Additionally, there is a photocopyable page in the back with cutouts to build your own model tipi.
The illustrations in this book, which are done first in pencil, then in watercolor and gouache, are more fully expansive on the page than in some of his books. While he generally creates full spread illustrations, these have less white space and seem to more fully fill the pages. The art is truly stunning. The illustrations are intricate and full-bodied and are wonderful depictions of the narrative. The visual lines are both symmetrical and full of movement, while the triangles of the tipis give a rooted feeling. My favorite thing in the book is the opening at the top of the great tipi, which is shaped both like a swaddled baby and a coffin (pictured immediately below).