CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 29 . . . . April 7, 2017
Set long ago, Orca Chief is the story of four men who leave their village in a canoe to harvest food from the ocean. At the end of the day, the men are tired and careless. They toss their heavy rock anchor into the sea without thought of where it might land. As it happens, it lands on the roof of the chief of all the orca whales. Orca Chief sends his helper, Ratfish, to investigate, but one of the men grabs him and pulls off his fins. When Ratfish returns and tells Orca Chief about the humans, Orca Chief becomes angry and sends two orcas to bring the men to his house:
Orca Chief then questions the men:
The men become frightened but also ask for forgiveness and a chance to learn to be more respectful. As Orca Chief is kind, he allows his best hunters to guide the men to help them better understand the beauty and rhythms of the ocean and to respect its resources. As the men learn about and watch other creatures in the undersea world, they also think about their own families waiting back in their village. Eventually, the men are returned to the surface, and they travel home with a fuller appreciation of life in the ocean. Along the way, as they gather seafood to take to their families, they are rewarded by full nets of sockeye for their village.
Orca Chief was co-authored by acclaimed artist Roy Henry Vickers and historian Robert Budd and is another title in their successful "Northwest Coast Legends" series of books that include Raven Brings the Light, Cloudwalker (2014), and Peace Dancer. As Vickers explains in his "Author's Note", the book is based on a story from the northwest coast of British Columbia and passed down through his grandmother's side of the family for generations. Orca Chief is a powerful retelling of this story, notable for its lively pacing and vivid word choices. Vickers, who is a gifted printmaker, created almost entirely new illustrations for the book which further elevate the solid text:
In most cases, each spread consists of short text on the left hand page with a full-page illustration on the right hand side. There is one spread that only includes text, but this effectively sets the reader up for what the four men are about to discover on their journey through the undersea world, and the full colour spread that follows allows the reader to pause and savour the intriguing shapes and sizes of all the marvelous creatures found in the ocean.
Vickers does not shy away from using a variety of colours in his silkscreen prints that draw from his mixed heritage and experience and interpretation of Pacific Northwest First Nations art. Throughout the book, his choices vary from bright and bold to more subdued palettes, depending on the tone of the text. Yet each page is created intentionally, and the end result is a vibrant book that will appeal to a wide age range. A younger audience may simply enjoy the book for its bold images and exciting storyline while older readers can delve deeper into both the artwork and the story's implications of sustainability and environmental stewardship. Orca Chief also includes lovely design elements, such as colourful endpages and a few glossy spot illustrations featuring orcas that further add to the enjoyment of this book.
Awards and Honours:
Anita Miettunen is a writer based in Vancouver, BC. She is completing a Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia.
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