Small book, powerful lesson

"Flight of the Hummingbird" - Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Greystone - 64 pages - $16

Now that students once again are back in school and seriously hitting the books, it may seem contrary for your book reviewer to discuss a book of manga this week. But hear me out: manga - the cartoon style that originated in Japan - has been embraced by people around the world and has become a respected art form as well as a forum for ideas.

Just look to the work of Vancouver, British Columbia, artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. As a member of the Haida Nation as well as a Canadian, Yahgulanaas has devised a felicitous new genre - Haida manga - that blends cultures and includes a powerful environmental ethic.

His beautiful new book "Flight of the Hummingbird" is an invitation to reflect, to learn and to act.

Published by Vancouver's Greystone Books, this slim volume contains a parable that derives from the Quechua people of South America but is illustrated in Yahgulanaas' Haida manga style.

Dukdukdiya is the Haida word for hummingbird and in this tale she and her fellow creatures live in the Great Forest. One day, a terrible fire starts to crackle through the trees and all of the animals must flee. At the edge of the forest they huddle together and bewail their misfortune.

All except one. Little dukdukdiya has been flying to and fro between the nearest stream and back to the forest fire. Each time, she carries a drop of water in her beak, which she then drops on the fire before returning to the stream to pick up another drop.

When the other animals finally look up from their commiseration to ask what she is doing, her reply is, "What I can."

Yahgulanaas has illustrated this tale with stylized and utterly enchanting images of creatures from squirrel and frog to wolf and owl - and of course, the diminutive but valiant dukdukdiya.

This little book has the support of some pretty powerful friends - Nobel Peace Prize winners Wangari Maathai and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In a cheerful, pragmatic foreword, Maathai insists that, "We can't wait for others to do it for us; we need to take action ourselves."

She speaks from firsthand experience - when she took action by planting seven trees nearly 30 years ago, she inspired the Green Belt movement that has resulted in the planting of 30 million trees across Kenya since then.

And in an afterword that is both urgent and optimistic in tone, the Dalai Lama stresses the importance of individual acts that can have a powerful cumulative effect when informed by a sense of universal responsibility.

Finally, Yahgulanaas points to a tradition in Haida stories where the tiniest creatures often are the ones to offer up the solution or critical gift. He counsels faith in the power of the small and he, too, encourages "acts that we as individuals are entirely capable of undertaking."

This is a wise and inspiring book. In this season of back-to-school, it contains a lesson for us all.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at

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