The Trees Stand Shining Essay - Critical Context

Hettie Jones, editor

Critical Context

Before 1971, few specialized collections of American Indian poetry were available for juveniles and young adults. Consequently, The Trees Stand Shining, collected by Hettie Jones and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, has a rightful place in the canon of juvenile and young adult fiction. When there is no written document of a culture’s history, the oral one must be preserved for the children of that culture to learn about their heritage. Young people can come to know, understand, and respect peoples of American Indian cultures through the prayers, short stories, lullabies, and war chants that constitute The Trees Stand Shining.

This collection assumes its place in the canon for other reasons as well. The unfortunate practice of lumping together all native people is avoided by including selections from sixteen different groups. There is neither an implied nor a stated reference to “them” or “us.” The unity among the peoples, nature, and animals is evident throughout the book. Each of the people portrayed in Parker’s illustrations is a unique individual, with different facial characteristics, and it is easy to imagine their feelings from their vivid expressions.

This book informs its readers accurately. This is no small feat when one considers how much misinformation circulates about any given culture or group at any given time. The questions that it inspires can serve as a springboard to continuing inquiry about American Indians. The elegance of the text, matched only by the beauty of the illustrations, sets a standard for quality that may be difficult to surpass.