It's hard to know where to start in naming the ways I admire Seth Mueller's Keepers of the Wind Claw Chronicles. The second book in his fantasy series for young adults just came out. The Day of Storms. In the first book, Ellie Tsosie, a young Navajo girl, fulfills an ancient prophesy. She discovers The Mockingbird's Manual, which holds the key to understanding the language of birds. The birds tell her she has been chosen for a difficult mission: She must try to bring humans into harmony with the animal kingdom.
In The Day of Storms, Ellie teams up with an older girl, Rachel Whitehorse, a member of the Hopi tribe. The book opens with Rachel on a dangerous mission to rescue butterflies from a live exhibit. Rachel has a way with insects. Bees protect her; spiders don't bite her.
In good fantasy, extraordinary characters win us because they are so very human. Seth Mueller creates such characters and their stories play out on wondrous landscapes: In ancient ruins in Navajo National Monument; or in a cave guarded by scorpions on Antelope Mesa. Mueller draws landscape beautifully. We smell the sage after rain; we feel the rush of muddy torrents in a summer flash flood.
The books are deceptively simple, just right for the middle-school reader. While the story captivates, the details illustrate vast differences among the species of our world. We see the pack behavior of coyotes tricking their prey; bees swarm; hummingbirds dive and soar and talk at super speed. "How's it going, huh, huh, huh. Whatcha doing, huh, huh, huh?"
Mueller seamlessly blends Navajo and Hopi phrasing into the English text. He interweaves details about traditional Hopi and Navajo ways. And he shows a range of differences among his human characters. Confident and cunning, Rachel wears leather, listens to Reggae, and drives a fast car, while Ellie, raised under the wing of her old school grandmother, hikes almost everywhere, and is watchful, brave, and smart.
Illustrator, Bahe Whitehorne, Jr.'s pen and ink drawings bring life to each page with simple and compelling elegance.
The best fantasies don't seem fantastic. They play out in the realm of possibility, where fear is magnified but hope is, too. Seth Mueller's Wind Claw Chronicles is a wonderful, original series, and the latest release, The Day of Storms, has left me hungry for the next.