Thursday, November 26, 2020

Recommended: In My Anaana's Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok

In My Anaana's Amautik
Written by Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Lenny Lischenko
Available in English and Inuktitut
Published by Inhabit Media
Publication Year 2019
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

A while back, Victoria J Coe tweeted that Teresa Peterson's Grasshopper Girl is a "huggable book." What a great descriptor -- some books are just that! And we need those, in these strange times when hugging people we love can actually be dangerous. 

Another example of a book you might want to hug is In My Anaana's Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok (Inuit). It offers peaceful illustrations of an adorable baby in snuggly situations, with loving word-images about the comfort and joy of being carried and cared for. What's more huggable than that? 

The book begins with a two-page illustration of a child's hand reaching toward a large sun that shines brightly over an Arctic landscape (by Lenny Lischenko, not Native) and these words:
In my anaana's amautik, I feel warm. The warmth of her skin feels like sunshine, keeping me safe from the cold. I love being in my anaana's amautik.
"Amautik", pronouced "a-MOW-tick," is defined in the brief glossary as "a pouch in the back of a woman's parka where a baby can be carried".

Every page of text begins with the words "in my Anaana's amautik," followed by sensory images of something the child loves to do, and ends with "my Anaana's amautik." That repetition makes it easy for toddlers or preschoolers to chime in when their adult pauses there in reading, once they're familiar with the book.

Some of the imagery is rooted in a specific environment: "Her breathing feels like ocean waves gently rolling in and out." But many images have a more universal feel, and are always linked to the natural world: "Her scent reminds me of flowers in the summertime."  It's a love poem, really, about caregivers and their little ones. 

In My Anaana's Amautik shows us how a baby's fundamental and lasting sense of security and well-being is woven from sensory experiences large and small. Family members, like the mother in the book, often provide such comforts without even thinking about it. (I'm smiling right now, remembering that one of our "grands" says they would sometimes "forget" their favorite blanket at our place, so we would mail it back to them. When they open the package, "It smells like Grandma's house.")

But worries can keep parents and caregivers from being "in the moment" with little ones: "Am I doing enough? Am I doing something wrong? Am I giving my baby a chance at a good future?" 

Where do we find our own sense of security as adults, as people with responsibility for generations to come? The mother in In My Anaana's Amautik is right there in the same experiences the baby is having, though from a different perspective. To me, this says that as adults, we can find and accept the comfort available in what the earth offers us: warm sunlight, rolling waves, lovely sounds, objects soft to the touch, a tender new life. We often overlook such things, take them for granted. But when we allow ourselves to be in the moment with them, maybe we can touch that sense of security, of being gently hugged and cradled in an amautik.     

In her 2016 review of  We Sang You Home (by Richard Van Camp), Debbie wrote of "feeling loved by words" or "loved by a book." For so long, there were no books that showed Indigenous children receiving such loving care.  In My Anaana's Amautik joins We Sang You Home and other titles like Grasshopper Girl and My Heart Fills with Happiness in putting unconditional familial love at the center. (And Inhabit Media makes it available in Inuktitut as well as English -- more love for Indigenous languages, and Indigenous kids.)

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