________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Arctic Adventures: Tales from the Lives of Inuit Artists.

Raquel Rivera. Illustrated by Jirina Marton.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2007.
48 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-714-2.

Subject Headings:
Inuit-Canada-Juvenile literature.
Inuit artists-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


One day Pudlo took his nephew Kapik out hunting for seals.

The sun stayed out longer and longer each day now. The weather was fine and the ice was breaking up. Kapik helped his uncle load up the kamotiq and harness the dog team. When summer came, Pudlo would use his kayak to hunt seal and walrus. But for now, he and Kapik needed the dogs to take them to the hunting grounds on the sea ice.

Together they set off. Like all hunters, Pudlo made different sounds to guide the dogs on their journey. One sound meant turn right, another turn left. Other sounds meant speed up or stop.

Dogs were always a big help in hunting. In winter, they could find the seals' breathing holes in the ice under the snow. But they had to keep back from the hole. They had to be kept quiet so the seals wouldn't know that a hunter was waiting above, harpoon ready.

But now hunting was easier. Seals liked to crawl out of the newly formed cracks in the sea ice and bask in the sun. If Pudlo and Kapik were lucky, they would shoot many seals.


My first introduction to Inuit art was via Pitseolak: Pictures Out of My Life (Pitseolak, 1971). Arctic Adventures contains four true tales, told in much the same manner, from the lives of Inuit artists. All of the stories, honed down to their essence, have characteristics of legends as they are fairly brief - only a few pages long. The accompanying illustrations, with the softly smudged qualities of oil pastels, often emphasize an other-worldly attribute. This aspect is further reinforced by the reference to Kenojuak's grandfather, who was a shaman, and to Talelayu, goddess of the sea.

     Details of the vanishing traditional way of life are abundant. The inclusion of Inuit words, such as ulu and kamotiq, reinforce this quality. The Inuit ties to their land, the animals, and the severe conditions are well documented: making an igloo; gathering sea bird eggs; the sounds of the ice floes breaking apart and sudden blinding snow storms that could bring death; and the hunting of such animals as seals, walruses and whales. The uses these animals were put to, such as for food, clothing, and shelter, are also detailed.

     In “Pudlo and Kapik Go Hunting,” the unexpected breaking off of a piece from the main floe leaves them trying to dash to safety by jumping from small ice floe to ice floe. Pudlo makes it, but the dogs, sled, and boy don't as the tide carries the pieces of ice further from shore. Only the incoming tide and the Kapik's resourcefulness save them.

     The mercurial nature of Talelayu is portrayed in the second story, “Kenojuak and the Goddess of the Sea.” She ruled the sea animals and "would release the animals, so that they could swim to the surface of the water. Then the Inuit could catch them for food and clothing and heat" (p. 18). However, when the sea goddess "became angry, bad things happened. She might send a storm or keep the animals with her at the bottom of the ocean, where no hunter would be able to find them" (p. 21). When the hunters came across her while on a duck hunt, discretion was the only possible option. "They turned the dogs around and headed for camp at full speed" (p. 22).

     “Oonark's Arctic Adventure,” the third story, details the duties of an Inuit wife as she prepares skins for sewing. "Oonark sewed mittens, trousers, parkas, amauti and the kamit that kept their feet warm and dry. But she didn't just sew clothes. She also made tents, kayak skins, leads for the dog team - things she and her family needed to live on the land" (p. 27).

     When her hunter husband dies, she and her children face uncertainty: "While it is true that a hunter is only as good as the clothes his wife makes, it is equally true that a wife without a hunter is in deep trouble" (p. 28). The fragile link between nomadic people, the land, and the animals is broken. Their only option is to travel to a settlement where they would be helped. Even then, the journey is fraught with danger.      

A chance encounter with one of the most dangerous animals in the Arctic is told in the last story, “Lazarusie and the Polar Bear.” "Lazarusie was not hunting bear that day, and Nanuq was not especially hunting man. They crossed paths by accident" (p. 37). Despite Lazarusie’s knowledge of this unpredictable menace, or perhaps because of his respect for it, a satisfactory solution is found.

     At the end of each story is a feature layout of the artist at work with a short piece of information about them, a representative piece of their work, and some details about their art. In addition, at the end of the book, there is an Author's Note giving background information on each story, maps showing the location of the story settings, a glossary of Inuktitut terms, a list of books for further reading, the Author's Acknowledgments, and Picture Credits.

     This book beautifully balances stories that document a vanishing way of life, aboriginal art, and information about the Arctic. Children will thoroughly enjoy the stories, and teachers will relish this contribution to the all-too-scarce resources for the curriculum about Canada's North. It is a little gem.

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005.

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

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