In our current issue of PaperTigers, which focuses on Canadian Aboriginal Children’s Literature, we feature the reprint of an article by Nadine C. Fabbi, Associate Director of the Canadian Studies Center in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, in which she has put together a set of picture books to introduce children to Inuit culture and Northern/Nunavut history:
Elementary school teachers and librarians can successfully introduce children to Inuit culture and Northern/Nunavut history by having them read the ten selected books in this article and then enhancing these stories with additional curriculum and lesson plans. Children’s literature from the North is relatively recent with all but one of the suggested books being published in the 1990s or since 2000. All of the books are excellent in terms of quality (several are awards winners) and engaging for the young reader with beautiful illustrations. Each book also serves as an introduction to Inuit mythology, the history of the Northwest Passage and missionary schools, the importance of the inukshuk, and the vital place of the polar bear in Inuit culture. The entire “selection” makes for an excellent library of the Canadian North for children.
You can read the whole article here. The set includes our current selection for The Tiger’s Bookshelf, Arctic Stories by Michael Kusugak and illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka (Annick, 1998); and I was particularly struck by what Nadine writes about the importance of the polar bear in Inuit culture:
Another key part of Inuit life is the role of the polar bear both for survival and in terms of the special attributes given to the animal. Children love to learn about animals and the polar bear is one of the most interesting animals, since it is unique to Northern cultures, to study. Polar bears are the largest of all bears – males can weigh up to 1,600 pounds – but cubs only weigh 1 to 2 pounds or less than that of a human baby. Teaching about the polar bear is also a good way to introduce children to the effects of global warming. The polar bear is one of the most threatened of all species today due to the sensitive northern environment and the melting of the ice floes. Today’s polar bears are a full 15% lighter in weight than they were 20 years ago. There are two beautifully written books that give a wonderful sense of the importance of the polar bear to the Inuit people: The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale (Sandpiper, 1997) by Lydia Dabcovich and The Polar Bear’s Gift (Red Deer Press, 2000) by Jeanne Bushey.
In The Polar Bear Son an elderly Inuk woman finds and raises a polar bear cub who becomes a close companion. When the bear matures he hunts and brings her food but it doesn’t take long for the men of the village to take a hunter’s interest in the bear. To protect her “son,” the woman chases the bear away but every so often will stand on the edge of the village and clap for him to come back and visit her. This is an incredibly touching story, retold from a popular oral tale, and beautifully illustrated by the author. It tells of the sensitive relationship between animal and human and illustrates the respect for the Inuit have for the bears.
The Polar Bear’s Gift is about a young girl, Pani, who, like the boys, wants to prove herself by hunting her first bear. When she finds a wounded young polar bear named Nanook, she has to decide whether to wait until he dies and then claim she made her first kill, or save the cub and return him to his mother. Though Pani wants to be recognized as a hunter, she decides to nurse Nanook back to health and is rewarded by the mother bear with a magical bag containing a small piece of fur. When Pani takes the bag home, the fur grows into a thick rug that covers the entire igloo floor. This story teaches not only about the relationship between the Inuit and polar bears, but is also a moral tale about the power of honesty, caring and giving.
We will be looking out for The Polar Bear’s Gift – we already know and love The Polar Bear Son, which always makes me think too of the photographs travelling the world recently of a polar bear and a husky making friends – in case you haven’t seen them yet (or even if you have), here’s a video: