Winter’s not quite over yet where I live even though it’s March, so I thought I’d squeak in one more book about the cold! Arctic Stories by Michael Kusugak and illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka (Annick, 1998) is about life in the very far north. The stories feature an Inuit girl, Agatha, and her adventures way up in the environs of Repulse Bay. The three stories reflect the experience of author Kusugak as made clear in his afterword:
Agatha is a made-up girl. I have a friend named Agatha who lives in Repulse Bay, but she is not the girl in these stories; I just like her name. So I used it. But everything else, well, almost everything else, that happens in these stories is true.
And what does happen to Agatha? Well, for starters in “Agatha and the Ugly Black Thing,” Agatha encounters a black airship that terrifies the community. In the summer of 1958, the US Navy Air Development Centre launched a helium-filled airship filled with scientists to survey the Canadian North; little did they think of the people who lived in these territories and what their perceptions might be of this ominous flying object. In “Agatha and the Most Amazing Bird,” Agatha befriends a raven whom her grandmother has been feeding. And in “Agatha Goes to School,” Agatha experiences residential school in the south. Life at the school is hard although there are some bright moments as when Agatha learns how to ski and skate.
Arctic Stories are told from the loving perspective of a writer who has lived the realities of his character’s life. The details in this book, like the skating Father Fafard and the playing of Agatha’s father’s record player in their summer tent, give it richness and depth. And far from making one feel cold, Arctic Stories make one feel very warm, indeed!