Groundwood Books, 2009.
Alego is an Inuit girl who lives in Cape Dorset, or Kinngait, on Baffin Island. In her town, modest homes with clotheslines and rain barrels are dotted on the stark shore. There are fishing boats and propane tanks outside nearly every home, and it is clear that these people know how to take care of themselves. It is in this spirit that Alego’s grandmother, or Anaanatsiaq, invites her young granddaughter to join her for an afternoon’s clam-digging.
Anaanatsiaq instructs Alego about how to find and dig up clams, then wanders off to fill her own bucket. Alego, left to her own devices, finds a few clams but can’t help noticing all the other treasures the tide-pools have to offer. She finds a stranded sculpin, some starfish, a creepy-crawly thing with many legs, and other exciting souvenirs that she proudly shares with her grandmother when she returns with a full bucket of delicious clams for supper.
The simple, colored pencil illustrations (which made the book a finalist for the Canada Council of the Arts Governor General’s Literary Awards) from noted Inuit artist Ningeokuluk Teevee reveal the innocence and joy of discovery that is unique to childhood. Alego, full of purpose, is clearly thrilled to be of use, and her loving grandmother appreciates Alego’s treasures as much as she does her effort. Everyone, including Grandfather/Ataatatsiaq appreciates the fresh, delicious clams that Anaanatsiaq serves up for supper.
This sweet story about a precious afternoon of discovery spent in the presence of a loving grandmother is from Ningeokuluk Teevee’s own memory. A native of Cape Dorset and one of its most celebrated artists, Teevee may have produced the first children’s book written in both the Inuktitut syllabary and in English. Transliterations in English for all of the treasures Alego finds are included in the text as well as in an illustrated glossary at the end of the book. The book also includes a map of Baffin Island, helping readers to put Alego’s cold and watery world into perspective. Alego is a delightful book about something both unusual—a childhood in an isolated and sparsely populated place—and universal—love, learning, and discovery. It is sure to be enjoyed by children from all backgrounds.