Saturday, December 12, 2009

I is for Inuksuk

Mary Wallace is Canada's Queen of the Inuksuk, or at least one of its greatest supporters! Her latest book: I is for Inuksuk: An Arctic Celebration, follows her other books: The Inuksuk Book, Make Your Own Inuksuk, and Inuksuk Journey.

Although at first glance you might think I is for Inuksuk is an alphabet book, it is actually an acrostic poem, with each letter in the word INUKSUK serving as a way to introduce another Inuktitut word. For example, "N is or Nanuq, the powerful polar bear of the North." After the introductory set up, Wallace goes on to provide more information related to that word. With smaller illustrations and a line or two of text, we learn, for example, that polar bears are good swimmers, that they hunt seals and give birth to babies in winter dens. We also get a close look at a paw print, complete with ice-gripping claws.

Other pages explore transportation, clothing, wildlife, family life and more. Wallace includes the Inuktitut script for each word, which is useful to show children that the Latin Alphabet is not the only one going. (One of my favourite things to do at school visits is to show children my books that have been translated into Arabic or Chinese script. This inevitably launches in to a discussion about alphabets and scripts.)

Wallace is also the illustrator of this book and her vibrant, joyful (especially U is for Umiaq where we see a family paddling their umiaq - summer sea boat — through the rolling seas) are highly appealing and engaging. (One pet peeve — and Ms. Wallace is not alone with this — is the huge plume of water gushing out of the whale's blowhole. The biologist in me cringes when I see this. The blowhole is connected to the lung. A whale with this much water in its lungs would be dead. (Yes, whales can drown.) The water you see "spouting" from whales is condensation. Think of what your breath looks like on the cool day. There is also a bit of water on top of the blowhole, but there is never a plume like this. Okay, biology lesson over.) I can see her illustrations sparking some wonderful art classes with a creative teacher at the helm, much like one of my girl's teacher used Ted Harrison's art.)

Each spread in the book includes a different type of inuksuk and its meaning. Children will enjoy trying to find each one on the pages. (And it was a revelation to me to learn that there were different types.) There is also a helpful. Inuktitut pronunciation guide.

Here's the publisher's blurb and a review from Canadian Materials.


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