Review: Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang (9781772272505)

Based on the story of the owl one of the author’s cared for as a child, this picture book offers a glimpse of life in the Arctic as an Inuit family. Tanna’s father came back from hunting with a baby owl. It was so ugly, it was somehow also cute. The owl had to be fed two or three times a day, so Tanna and her siblings caught lemmings to feed it. The owl, named Ukpik (or owl in Inuktut), lived in her father’s workshop. When the owl was hungry she would stomp her feet, sway back and forth, and chomp her beak. Soon Ukpik wanted even more to eat and everyone was tired of catching lemmings, so they started to feed her other types of meat, including caribou and fish. Her beak was very sharp, so now she had to be fed with gloves on. When summer ended, Tanna had to return to school in another community. She didn’t return home until the next summer. That’s when she found out that Ukpik had been set free. But maybe the large white owl that she saw around their home was Ukpik coming back to visit.

The authors clearly share both sides of caring for a wild animal. There is the initial joy of learning about the animal and starting to be able to understand their needs and ways of communication. Then there is the drudgery of the ongoing care. At the same time, there is a delight in being that close to a wild creature, of knowing it needs to learn to fly away someday, and knowing you are helping in some way. The book also shows modern Inuit life complete with an unusual way of attending school. 

The art is large and bold with the images fully filling both of the pages. Readers will get to see the transformation of the owl from small and gray to a graceful white bird. They will also get glimpses of the Inuit home and the wide-open setting of the Arctic.

An inspiring picture book for kids who dream of caring for wild animals themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Inhabit Media.

Review: On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher, illustrated by James Nelson (InfoSoup)

Based on a traditional Inuit folktale, this picture book shows what happens when a massive giant takes an interest in a small human. Inukpak was big even for a giant. When he walked across the land, he could easily step over rivers and wade the deepest lakes. He could cross the Arctic on foot in only a few days, fishing for whales along the coasts. Then one day he met a hunter, whom he mistook for a little child. Before the hunter knew what has happening, Inukpak had adoped him as a son and placed him on his shoulder. In just a few steps, they were so far from the hunter’s home that he didn’t know how to return. As Inukpak got them dinner in the form of a huge whale, he almost drowned the hunter just from the huge waves that splashed as he walked in the water. When a polar bear attacks the hunter, Inukpak just laughs and tosses it away. In time, the two became good friends, the giant and the hunter.

The stage is set very nicely for this story with an introduction that explains what stories the book is based on and how the author came to know so much about Arctic folklore. The pages after the story expand the topic of Arctic giants even further with explanations of different kinds of giants. The storyline is not as linear as European tales, allowing readers to get a sense of the giant and a different rhythm of storytelling at the same time. The huge and kind giant is full of appeal thanks to his huge sense of humor and the merry way he approaches life in the Arctic.

Nelson’s illustrations are playful and jolly as well. They show the various areas of the Arctic from the seashore to the more inland areas. The size difference between the giant and the human is kept fairly consistent throughout the book, This giant is much larger than most and that adds to the appeal as well. The natural landscapes of the book are thoughtfully done as are the various animals. The lifelike depictions of these elements make the giant all the more believable.

One huge giant and one little man create a great story together and one that can nicely be shared aloud. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk

sweetest kulu

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

Kulu has just been born and is being welcomed by the world.  Kulu is Inuit and as the world comes to welcome the baby, traditional Inuit beliefs are shown in the story.  It is the Arctic summer, so the first to welcome Kulu is Smiling Sun, who stays bright all through the night.  The Wind arrives and teaches Kulu the importance of listening closely.  Then the animals start arriving.  These are not your normal animals, but ones that are specifically from the Arctic and of importance to the Inuit.  With each animal comes a blessing:  the Snow Bunting reminds Kulu to always believe in himself, Fox tells Kulu to get out of bed as soon as you wake and to help anyone who needs it.  The entire book sings with a connection to nature, to this specific region of the earth, and for the love of a baby.

Kalluk, who is an Inuit throat singer, has beautifully captured the values of her people in this picture book.  It is done so organically and naturally that many will not realize that this is more than a sweet picture book.  The fact that it also weaves in traditions and values of the Inuit makes the book all the more special and noteworthy.  Kalluk writes very lyrically, creating moments for each of the animals that are unique to them which keeps the book from becoming repetitious.

The illustrations have a lovely cartoon quality to them, one can almost see them leaping to life from the page.  The large animals dwarf little Kulu by their bulk, but the tenderness they all feel for this tiny baby shines on the page.  There is a respect between human and animal that is warm and tangible too.

A gorgeous and meaningful book welcoming a baby to the world, this picture book is unique and special.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from ARC received from Inhabit and Myrick Marketing.

Fatty Legs

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Fatty Legs: a True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes

This is the story of an Inuit girl and her experiences in a residential school.  Margaret Pokiak decides at age 8 that she must learn to read.  And the only way that she will be able to learn to read is to attend the residential school that is many miles away from her home village in the arctic.  Her father and older sister, who have both attended the school, try to convince her to stay at home and learn the native way instead, but she insists.  At the school, she encounters the Raven, a nun who immediately takes a dislike to Margaret and her strong will and courage.  She begins to intimidate Margaret, putting her in red stockings unlike the rest of the girls and meting out harsher punishments to her.  But through it all, Margaret remains strong.  A sympathetic nun sticks up for her and eventually Margaret finds her way back to her family.

The book softens the story to a level that children will be able to handle, focusing more on the emotional and mental hardship than physical abuse.  The humiliation of Margaret by the Raven will resonate with children as will the harsh conditions and poor food.  Married to these in the book is the loss of culture and language, which is as horrible as the treatment. 

Margaret is an amazing girl with her self-possession, her courage and her faithfulness to herself and her culture.  She is brave beyond belief as she enters a foreign culture and comes away having shown them what being human is all about.  The book is simply written, allowing the story to carry through.  The illustrations are strong, depicting the harsher times at the school.  Historical photographs are worked into the book, tying it firmly to history and the true story it is based on.

This book is definitely worth having in a public library.  It offers a clear view of residential schools nicely paired with a young girl’s naive desire for education.  Large font, plenty of interspersed images, and a short length will have reluctant readers interested as well.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.