Today's story required a bit of detective work. At the risk of giving away the ending . . .
That Hairy Woodpecker on the right is my bet for the bird in the story, but it could also be the Downy Woodpecker who's a bit smaller and a tiny bit of difference. Had no idea there was such diversity among woodpeckers, but those two are more likely to search the living trees and find sap than other woodpeckers who stick to dead trees. Go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site called All About Birds for all manner of bird information, including those feathered, but barely red-headed percussionists, the Woodpeckers.
This interest, and the indirect moral teaching of many of the stories included in this volume, give them a point of departure over and above that held by the modern story.I believe it was probably the Lenape, often called the Delaware, whose story inspired today's tale. No other version I could find comes close, but even Native American sources refer to it as an "Unknown Legend." I will say a bit more following Bailey's tale, which goes into maple sugaring, my own inspiration for today's article.
Bailey wrote and anthologized over a long productive 86 years. She began publishing her work at age 19. She also believed in combining instruction and entertainment in her many works for children. (Can you tell she was homeschooled?) Soon it will be time for librarians to bring out her 1945 picture book of The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings. She kept writing with a book called Flickertail about "The trials, tribulations, joys, and fun experienced by a family of gray squirrels, especially Flickertail!" coming out in 1962, the year after her death. There's more information and stories from her here on this blog, but go to this link for a bit more about Carolyn Sherwin Bailey , including listing her many books. Many are now in Public Domain, but there are still so many like Little Rabbit... waiting. I hope you won't wait to discover this talented author.
To show how a Native American tale inspired her, I'm unable to copy or hotlink it, but you may go to
First People is a child friendly site about Native Americans and members of the First Nations. 1400+ legends, 400+ agreements and treaties, 10,000+ pictures, clipart, Native American Books, Seed Bead Earrings, Native American Jewelry, Possible Bags and more.
Once you are there, go to the top of the page and click on Legends and scroll down to Legends T-U and among Unknown Legends you will find "The Sugar Maple (Axsinaminshi)." Bailey's version omits the part about the maple tree's intense itching. For anybody with winter dry skin or another reason to want to scratch, you will appreciate the way this "Unknown Legend" talks about it. The story does end by saying "It was from the Woodpecker, that our Lenape'wak learned that trees give sap and can be tapped."
There are many Native American legends about maple syrup. Maybe next year I'll give the Anishinaabe tale about how the laziness of people led to the difficulty in maple syrup being harvested. That maple syrup you buy doesn't give you a clue about what is involved!