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Raquel Rivera's ARCTIC ADVENTURES: TALES FROM THE LIVES OF INUIT ARTISTS
[Note: This review used by permission of its author, Beverly Slapin, and may not be used elsewhere without her written permission.]
Rivera, Raquel, Arctic Adventures: Tales from the Lives of Inuit Artists, illustrated by Jirina Marton. Groundwood, (2007). 47 pages, color illustrations, grades 3-up.
“[H]umans are not a polar bear’s preferred meal,” Rivera writes. “They are too bony, not like a nice fat seal.” These four tales, related for a child audience, are based on stories told by Inuit artists Pudlo Pudlat, Kenojuak Ashevak, Jessie Oonark and Lazarusie Ishulutak. Following each tale is a photo of the artist, a brief biographical sketch, and an image of a painting, print or sculpture that represents the artist’s work. Even considering that both author and illustrator are cultural outsiders, the book has a lot to offer.
Rivera, who refers to herself as “Newbie-in-the-North,” renders the stories in a way that’s true to the way the artists see things; she respects the artists’ perceptions, even though those perceptions may not be her own. She has also resisted the temptation to portray each artist as an individual; rather, she places their lives and work in the context of the land, community and family from which they are inextricable.
There are questions about Rivera’s telling of “Kenojuak and the Goddess of the Sea.” Traditionally, would Talelayu have been seen as a “Goddess” or would she have been seen as the protector of the sea and its creatures and environment? Talelayu has the power to—and does—wreak havoc on a people who depend on hunting and fishing for sustenance, and the people understand that it is their behaviors toward the animals and the environment that will either anger or appease her.
Although Marton’s pastel illustrations lend continuity to the work, it would have been interesting to see each artist’s visual interpretation of the story, or at least of some of its elements. I would also have liked to see the text, or at least part of it, in Inuktitut as well as English.