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Children's author realizes a boyhood dream. Paul Goble deftly crafts monuments, in words and drawings, to the life of the American Indian

By Hattie ClarkStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 27, 1987


The boy is in his early teens. He sits with a book amid a garden grown wild. Around him the English countryside fans into a quilt of greens, and his home is tucked beneath a thatched roof. Indoors, his father, a harpsichord maker, listens while his mother plays the piano.

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But for the moment, the boy isn't part of this setting. His book of George Catlin art prints transports him to the tepees of the Crow. To the buffalo hunts of the Sioux. To the games of the Choctaw.

This British lad is happily lost in the world of the American Indian.

That was back in the early 1950s.

Today Paul Goble has left England far behind. He now lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where Indian reservations are an easy drive away. He has published 10 children's books with Indian themes, and three more are on the docket.

His books have been translated into eight languages. Mr. Goble has reaped 10 awards, including the coveted Caldecott Medal, bestowed in 1979 for that year's most distinguished children's picture book.

How's that for turning a dream into reality?

The artist-author shares the Black Hills home with his second wife, Janet, and their six-year-old son, Robert. As he sits with his cup of afternoon tea, Goble admits that back in those teen-age days, he was an ``incurable romantic.'' Then he confesses quietly, ``Still am.''

``I pick out, in a sense, what I want to pick out. Oh, I see the Coca-Cola cans littering [on the reservations] and the drinking that goes on,'' he says, ``but I also see other things that reflect something finer.''

It's this finer side that shows up in his books, which generally spring from native American myths or historical happenings. And you can bet the Indians are always the good guys.

Goble works with ink and watercolor in a flat, two-dimensional style that's a throwback to early Indian hide and ledger drawings. Ledger artwork evolved when native Americans were first introduced to pencils and the paper of traders' ledger books.

In these drawings, there's no shading and no perspective. But Goble, a former industrial designer, instinctively creates depth with his overall page designs. And he uses artwork, as well as story line, to make the pace of his books pulsate. Illustrations black with thunderclouds break into a romp of butterflies and flowers on the following page. He creates his books for the five- to 10-year-old set.

For Goble, life rarely runs on pragmatic wheels to predictable tunes.

Take the time in '59 on his first visit to the United States. Stumped on how to get from Nebraska to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, he hailed a taxi. Then he traveled from reservation to reservation via train, toting suitcase and tent.

Or take the day he first encountered his wife-to-be in a small-town store. He forgot to ask her name. How did he get it? By asking the local police, of course.

Or the time he wandered for miles on back roads and lanes ``into the nowhere of Canada,'' seeking a circle of painted tepees. And he found them - the only white to do so.

Or now, when bullets fly in the hills, he argues with the gunmen, hoping to save a marmot, a coyote, raccoons, and the like. And he keeps no dogs or cats so that wild creatures who've gnawed themselves free from traps won't be frightened away.