There are too few collections of the mythology of North American Indians for young or adult readers, so this collection represents a genuine desire to probe the rich imaginations of the Eskimoes, MicMacs, Ojibwas, Cherokee, and other major tribes.
Anthropologist and museum curator Marion Wood has done a scholarly job, though there are some oversights. The Great Manitou, for example, is the subject of many stories in the Midwest, though Wood says not. Still, much of the material is fresh and written in a straightforward, often conversational fashion which makes the 26 stories informative.
John Sibbick's full-color paintings and black and white ''totem'' drawings are similarly filled with rich, authentic detail, conveying the magnitude of vast deserts and raging seas. His fanciful animals that talk and people who fly lure the reader into tales spun on lonely nights when winds howled across frozen waters and stars twinkled above teepees in wooded glens.
Then, these early inhabitants sought to explain through myths the mysteries of the sky, earth, animals, fish, and each other. They told of creation (raven as creator, man bursting forth from a peapod) and the Milky Way (a dog dragging a sack of flour which spilled on the way).
In many stories, the jealousy, arrogance, vanity, and cruelty of humankind are punished. The violence as well as beauty in nature are detailed. Humor is ever-present (yes, a devious hare acts like a forefather of Bugs Bunny).
Two more in the World Mythologies Series, both illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, are: ''Gods, Men & Monsters from the Greek Myths'' by Michael Gibson; ''Gods & Heroes from Viking Mythology'' by Brian Branston.