Not Just for Children

  • Pete Enzoe (Author), Mindy Willett (Author) and Tessa Macintosh (Illustrator)
    The Caribou Feed Our Soul. Fifth House Publishing
  • Ibi Kaslik (Author), Louise Flaherty (Editor) and Anthony Brennan (Illustrator)
    Tales from the Tundra: A Collection of Inuit Stories. Inhabit Media
  • Tomson Highway (Author) and Brian Deines (Illustrator)
    Fox on the Ice / Maageesees Maskwameek Kaapit. Fifth House Publishing
Reviewed by Dee Horne

The authors of Fox on the Ice, Tales from the Tundra, and The Caribou Feed Our Soul each take a different approach to celebrating the cultures represented in books the publishers have identified as children’s fiction. However, the best children’s books are not just for children, but are ageless stories.

Written in English and Cree, Fox on the Ice / Maageesees Maskwameek Kaapit describes a northern winter day when two brothers, Joe and Cody, go ice fishing with their parents. Here, as in Tomson Highway’s other plays and novels, a trickster shows up as a fox that shakes up what might otherwise have been a restful afternoon. After a picnic, while Papa and Cody are ice fishing, Mama cuddles Joe who is dozing off when the eight sled huskies spy the fox across the lake and give chase. Drawing on oral storytelling, Highway’s story is informative, humorous, and engaging. In addition to describing the food the family eats—bannock, whitefish, and tea—the story explains how to cut two holes far apart from one another in the ice and how to set the net and jigger. In the tradition of oral stories, a dilemma is presented: Papa has to choose whether to retrieve the jigger out of the hole or rescue the runaway sled. He chooses the latter, cursing the fox, but Ootsie the dog saves the day when he retrieves the net. Brian Deines’ oil paintings of northern Manitoba are beautiful and his depiction of Mama’s fright while holding on to a clearly delighted Joe on the runaway sled will bring a smile to parents and children alike.

Tales from the Tundra is a collection of five Inuit stories that are retold by Ibi Kaslik. The illustrations by Anthony Brennan are full of action. He draws on anime and Inuit art. His treatment of colours is often, but not always, hard edged and he uses perspective and other techniques to create the impression of a third dimension. Each story is preceded by a short summary in which Kaslik identifies the geographic locale for this version of the story. The first story tells of a siksik (squirrel) that outwits an owl that boasts too soon of trapping the squirrel for dinner. The following four stories each explain how and why animals came to be the way they are. Here, too, there are lessons to be learned but they are never didactic. For instance, “Origin of the Caribou” demonstrates the importance of community and of taking responsibility, while “The Raven and the Loon” is a humorous reminder to practice and cultivate patience.

Pete Enzoe and Mindy Willett’s The Caribou Feed Our Soul is the sixth book that Willett has co-authored in The Land is Our Storybook series. In the face of the caribou population decline, Enzoe shares traditional knowledge and contemporary practices to protect the caribou and open minds to “other ways of knowing.” He gives credit and thanks to all who have participated and contributed, and practices the respect for his elders and relations that he encourages in his nephews and nieces. He describes how he lives off the land: fishing, hunting, and trapping. Enzoe and Willett illustrate how the Densoline practice self-determination from a short history about the Indian Brotherhood to the more recent efforts to work with Parks Canada to protect the land from development by creating Thaidene Nene (The Land of Our Ancestors), a new park. Tessa Macintosh’s photographs convey the people and the beauty of the land. These Densoline, Inuit, and Cree stories will resonate with readers for years to come.

This review “Not Just for Children” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 214 (Autumn 2012): 163-64.

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