THE LEGEND OF THE SPIRIT SERPENT

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Natari lives in pre-colonial Dominica, in Snake Cou village, seemingly based on the real-life Kalinago settlement of Sineku. Plucky and adventurous, she loves to swim, fish, hunt, and more, activities other girls deem unladylike. Natari also loves hearing stories about the mysterious Spirit Serpent, who lives in a sea cave filled with treasure and protects her people from “hurricanes, famine, and invaders.” Only tribal leaders can safely enter his cave to have their wishes granted, and after Natari performs an act of bravery that earns her the respect and admiration of her tribe, she thinks, “why can’t I be a leader?” She secretly visits the serpent only to discover he has a wish of his own—to have a human friend—and when he transforms into a kindly boy, a magical night on the beach ensues. Based on the ancient legend of Bakwa, a giant snake that emerged from the Atlantic Ocean and proclaimed itself guardian of Dominica’s Indigenous people, this transporting picture book is engrossing, with atmospheric language. Daley’s cinematic, color-drenched illustrations revitalize Kalinago artifacts and symbols and are the stuff of animated blockbuster movies. Electrifying are moonlight scenes of Natari ascending a natural staircase resembling L’Escalier Tête Chie, a real-life landform said to have been formed when Bakwa climbed a cliff, and facing the majestic snake in its glittering domain. All characters are brown skinned. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

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