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James Houston
Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1992.150pp, cloth, $16. 99
ISBN 0-7710-4283-3. CIP.

Grades 7 and up/Ages 12 and up

Reviewed by Patricia Fry.

Volume 21 Number 3
1993 May

As James Houston explains in the preface, this novel is based on the true events that unfolded when very young Inuit children were rushed from their arctic homes and parents to southern hospitals so that they could be treated for tuberculosis. Tragically, in the resulting confusion, the identity papers of some of these children were misplaced. More than a decade later, several of these Inuit teenagers returned to the Arctic to find their families, their names and even their own language. Some succeeded.

Drifting Snow focuses on one such Inuit teenager, named Elizabeth Queen by her white guardians. Her search takes her to Nesak Island, where she decides to stay with an Inuit family that includes Uvila, a girl about her own age, and Poota, a somewhat older boy. The Inuit soften her name to Elizapee and she quickly begins to learn their language and customs.

Life is harsh for this nomadic tribe and so Elizapee is put to the test many times. Her life with the Inuit family is in stark contrast to her previous life at the boarding school. It is as different as hunting in the wild is from shopping at a supermarket. Because this tribe lives in the "old ways," the reader learns about nomadic patterns and their reliance on the seasons. The concept of itinerant teachers is also covered. It is ironic that when Elizapee does eventually find her biological parents, they are more rooted to the "white" way of life as lived in the Arctic than to the nomadic way that Elizapee has chosen for herself.

James Houston, the author and illustrator, spent twelve years living in the Arctic. He was a prime force in the development of Inuit art, for which he received several awards. Houston's own drawings, engravings and sculpture are represented in museums around the world. He is the author and illustrator of sixteen books for children, many of which have won international book awards. He has also published several best-selling adult and juvenile novels.

This is a readable and informative novel about life in the Arctic as lived today. Without being judgemental, it explores some of the philosophies of a more traditional way of life as opposed to one that relies on modern technology.


Patricia Fry is a teacher-librarian with the Peel Board of Education in Mississauga, Ontario.
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