Old Meshikee and the Little Crabs: an Ojibwe Story

Michael Spooner and Lolita Taylor

illus. John Hart


Henry Holt and Company


32 pages

old meshikee and the little crabs

Big Old Meshikee the turtle loves to sit outside, sing, and bang on his drum. But every time he makes music, the noise carries across the pond to the village of the Shagizenz, or little crabs, and drowns out the sound of their own little drums.


The Shagizenz decide to put an end to Meshikee, once and for all. They capture him and threaten to roast him and to make soup from him, but Old Meshikee says he is afraid of nothing except the deep water of the pond. Of course, they decide to drown him. 

Those poor little crabs, drumming in celebration of Old Meshikee's demise, hear his big old drum joining their own once again. 


“This tale will certainly become a read-aloud favorite, with the satisfying drum sounds written into the text and the colloquial, comfortable voice in which Spooner (A Moon in Your Lunch Box, etc.) and Taylor tell it. Just as original and fresh are the slightly abstract watercolor and block-print illustrations by newcomer Hart.” –Kirkus

"This picture book presents a traditional tale told in a colorful way, with colloquial speech and great drumming opportunities for the teller. . . . An entertaining read-aloud that shows the lighter side of Native American folktales." –Booklist


This is an Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) story that came to me via the traditional oral cultural channels. Lolita Taylor was actually my cousin, but she felt like more of a surrogate grandmother, because she had been very much a mother to my dad. She called herself Grandma Lite to my children.


Grandma Lite learned this tale from her own grandfather in the early 1900s and had told it to my father in the 1930s. When I came along, she told it to me, and I later told it to my own kids (and to many others). 

There are quite a few traditions about Meshikee among the Anishinaabe. He's a friendly guy, even though sometimes he plays tricks on you. They say he also sometimes carries messages between this world and the world of the spirits. He is an important fellow.

Lite loved Old Meshikee. She used to tell me, in fact, that she always wished she had been born to the Turtle Clan instead of the Eagle Clan. She said Meshikee was so much more fun than Megizee, the eagle. Ha. Even so, when she was buried, everyone saw an eagle circling above her grave. 

When Grandma Lite told a traditional story, she would always end it like her grandfather did, by saying "And for supper, plenty meat!" Then she'd say, "And if you want any more, you can sing it yourself." Then she'd laugh and laugh. I loved that part of the tradition, too.

The book is illustrated with wonderful colors and woodcuts by John Hart. I never got to meet John in person, but we exchanged letters for awhile after the book was published, and I've seen other examples of his artwork. He's impressive.

So that's all I know about that. And if you want any more, you can sing it yourself.