Zeitlin, Steve illus. by Chris Raschka. Four Corners of the Sky: Creation Stories and Cosmologies from Around the World. Henry Holt, 2000. ISBN 978-0805048162 144 pp. $
Zeitlin fulfills his mission to compare the creation myths from many times and peoples, but he doesn’t do it in an exciting or engaging manner. While each story builds on the next, the retellings themselves are a bit bland, and could have used a more drama. In spite of an impressive list of acknowledgements and sources (including Joseph Bruchac and E.C. Krupp, Edith Hamilton and Carl Sagan, and a nod to Joseph Campbell), Zeitlin is not as accomplished a storyteller.
Chapter layout is consistent. Each chapter begins with “Imagine …” inviting the reader to slip into the culture and beliefs of the origins of the tale. A one-sentence abstract further sets the stage, and Zeitlin puts each tale into context before going on to relate the story. Each myth is given thoughtful consideration as to how it fits in with the others.
The illustrations by Chris Raschka are a bit disappointing. He made an effort to research each period and culture to render appropriate patterns and drawings, but like the text, the illustrations fall flat. Rectangles in shades of gray cover and confuse instead of illuminating. The graphics, many of which incorporate traditional patterns, might have made lovely borders instead of single-page pictures. Color might have made the illustrations less static.
Too scholarly for children, and of little appeal to teens, it is unclear for whom this book is intended. Zeitlin presents big ideas, big words, and some adult themes, but usually it is either younger children or college students who explore such folk tales and myths. The author is to be commended for promoting open-mindedness, and for his ability to portray many different belief systems with respect. Perhaps this will fit into curriculum frameworks, be a jumping off point for teachers, or be useful to storytellers.