________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006



Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon. Illustrated by László Gál.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1996/2005.
32 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55005-143-1.

Subject Heading:
Inuit-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4


At last they reached the great meeting place in the south where thousands of seals gather on ice to have their pups. When the moment arrived, Tulimak struggled and her pup was born - tiny, glistening and new.

"I'd like you to name her," Tulimak told Tiktala.

Tiktala looked at the baby, a ball of soft, white fur lying there, and remembered how snow falls to earth in ever-new patterns of beauty. "I'll call her Aputi - snow on the ground," she said.

For the first time Tiktala truly yearned to be a soapstone carver. That's what I'd carve, she thought wistfully, Tulimak and Aputi.


This timeless message of tolerance for living things and of finding one's own creative spirit will find a new audience of children with this paperback release of a book originally published 10 years ago. Beautifully illustrated by László Gál, the story reveals how a young Inuit girl gains the perspective she needs to be a true soapstone carver when she embarks on a spiritual quest and is temporarily transformed into a harp seal.

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     Tiktala wants to be a soapstone carver for the wrong reasons - fame and money - and readily undertakes the three-day journey for spiritual guidance. When a spirit voice asks what animal she most wishes to carve, she unthinkingly answers "harp seal" and is then horrified to discover she has been transformed into one and must continue the journey as a seal. Provided with another seal as a guide, Tiktala travels north for the summer and then south again to the seals' birthing ground. Although the other seal, Tulimak, finds it hard to accept this human in seal's clothing, she does save Tiktala's life from a hungry polar bear. Later, after Tulimak's pup is born, Tiktala instinctively places herself between the whitecoat and a seal harvester in the act of clubbing it. This selfless action completes her transformation not only back to her own body but also to one of a real soapstone carver. Her spiritual journey complete, Tiktala returns home and does indeed coax the figure of a harp seal from a piece of soapstone and thus fulfill her destiny and ensure the continuity of Inuit carvers.

     Well-known for his illustrations of folk-tales, Gál here recreates the cool northern landscape with warmth and sensitivity. His soft shadings have a dreamy, mystical quality that is evocative of a spiritual journey. The baby whitecoat is, of course, adorable, but Gál has also imbued the adult harp seals with sympathetic intelligence. The symbolism of Tiktala journeying towards the setting sun and returning towards the rising sun is reflected in the yellows and apricots of the immense sky while the quest, itself, is undertaken against a shimmery palette of watery blues and greens.

     Reviewers note: It might be worth noting that killing whitecoat harp seals is illegal in Canada and not practiced by licensed harvesters, especially as this spring's save-the-seals campaign has once again created media attention with celebrity endorsements.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is the Coordinator of the Centre for Instructional Services in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NF.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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