James Cloyd Bowman was a man of many talents; poet, mentor, professor and folklorist. The Northern State Teacher's College (now Northern Michigan University) professor from 1921 to 1939 left his mark on children's literature with tales based on American folk heroes. His works changed the type of materials that were offered to children. The importance of these works to the publishers is indicated by the quality illustrators chosen to work with Bowman.
In 1938 he received a Newbery Honor Award for Pecos Bill: the Greatest Cowboy of All Time. Bowman felt that American children should be exposed to folk legends from their continent rather than the folk tales that originated in Europe or Asia. After publication of his first book, The Knight of the Chinese Dragon published in 1913, he hit on the key to his later success with The Adventures of Paul Bunyan published in 1927. Paul Bunyan recounted the tales of the legendary lumberjack with stories with which American children could identify.
Bowman returned legends of far away in Tales From a Finnish Tupa . For this work he joined forces with Margery Bianco and Aili Kolehmainen to present over 270 stories, fairly tales, hero tales and fables originating in Finland. He worked on this book while at NMU, and must have been inspired by the Finns living in the UP. The book also includes a complete glossary of Finnish words and an appendix relating to Finish folklore written by Bowman. Mary Gould Davis, storyteller from the New York Public Library, said, "It is the sort of book that will mean a good deal to storytellers everywhere. It is authentic folklore."
Illustrator Laura Bannon was used for "Pecos Bill" and "Tales from a Finnish Tupa." Bannon was born in Acme, Michigan and studied at Michigan State Normal School (Western Michigan University). She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and also served as a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute. She wrote and/or illustrated over 20 children's books. The Laura Bannon Collection of Illustrations is the property of the Newberry Library in Chicago.
Bowman wrote poetry, textbooks and several fiction works, but Mystery Mountain is his only fiction work for children. The novel is reminiscent of "Dandelion Cottage" by Carroll Watson Rankin and the early Nancy Drew mysteries. Written in 1940, and inspired by his daughter Jeanne and some of her friends, this book captures the history, lifestyle and essence of Marquette in the 1930s. The story centers on a Dr. William Brown and his 12-year-old daughter Rosemary. Rosemary is sent by train to Marquette, Michigan to stay with her cousin Betty, Aunt Polly and Uncle Hiram. The story centers on a mystery involving an abandoned hotel overlooking the city. Bowman's daughter died in 1936, so this volume was a tribute to her memory.
In 1941, Winabojo: Master of Life was published. Bowman's goal in publishing this work about American Indians was to present Native Americans not as "a remote creature from a distant past, but as a human being." Winabojo was the Messenger on Earth of the Great Spirit, also called Manitou. Winabojo woks to bring peace and prosperity to the five Great Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The book was illustrated by Armstrong Sperry the author and illustrator of "Call it Courage," a Newbery Medal in 1940.
John Henry: The Rambling Black Ulysses was published in 1942. The illustrations in this work were done by black artist Roy LaGrone. LaGrone served as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II and later became known for his inspirational illustrations of the Tuskegee Airman and United States Air Force. While this book has its merits and was groundbreaking in the 1940s, in today's context it seems dated and stereotypical.
The King of the Mississippi River was Mike Fink, a legendary character similar to Paul Bunyan. "Mike Fink: Snapping Turtle of the Ohio, Snag of the Massasip," was quiet in appearance but explosive in action. Mike singlehandedly straightened out the rip roaring Mississippi valley. Returning to the tales he heard as a boy in Ohio, Bowman delights with these stories published in 1957.
Marquette should be proud to claim former resident James Cloyd Bowman as a man who made his mark on American folklore and children's literature.
- Pam Christensen