Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Wild Eggs: A Tale of Arctic Egg Collecting. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Wild Eggs: A Tale of Arctic Egg Collecting. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Recommended: Wild Eggs: A Tale of Arctic Egg Collecting

by Suzie Napayok-Short (Inuk). illustrated by Jonathan Wright
Publisher: Inhabit Media, 2015
Review by Jean Mendoza

Wild Eggs: A Tale of Arctic Egg Collecting opens with a little girl stepping off a bush plane, holding a stuffed polar bear. Akuluk and her mother have come from Yellowknife to a remote part of Nunavut. She is about to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. She’s apprehensive, and thinks she'd rather visit her cousin in Montreal. But her mother says that her grandparents have “much to show her” and that she will “learn lots of new things.” Indeed, Akuluk’s first days with her grandparents are packed with things that are new to her, and yet very old – traditions of her family’s people.

The book is apparently intended for children ages 5 – 8. It’s full of information, from Inuktitut words (pronunciation guide in the back of the book) to details like duck-skin mittens and traditional ways of egg-gathering on remote Arctic islands. It's all woven into Akuluk’s experience, as her mother and grandparents (mainly her grandfather) explain things to her during the course of their normal activities. The characters are more than just conduits for information, though – they are warm, kind, and attuned to each other. Suzie Napayok-Short is from the community she writes about, and it shows. She also spent many years as an Inuktitut translator and interpreter in Canada, and in a sense Wild Eggs interprets some traditions for both the protagonist and the child who hears or reads the book. 

Wild Eggs could be just right for a child in Akuluk’s situation, growing up away from her family’s home culture. I think any child can also learn from and appreciate Akuluk’s experiences. The only problem I can foresee is that the word count is higher than is typical for read-alouds for that age group. For an adult sharing the book, that might mean taking care to call attention to what’s in the illustrations. Or, with some of Napayok-Short’s descriptions, the adult might want to invite children to close their eyes and picture the scene, such as this one:

“Suddenly there were black and white and brown wings everywhere, birds cawing and crowing, almost filling the sky with their colors. Once in a while, Akuluk saw a king eider with its beautiful emerald green head and bright orange beak.”

The text is full of sensory details, and the illustrations do justice to the author’s descriptive language. Artist Jonathan Wright’s bio in the book is vague, so I looked him up. Turns out he’s married to Inuk documentary-maker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. He did artwork and animation for her film “Angry Inuk,” which looks at the ways Arctic indigenous people have been affected by protests against seal hunting. Wright doesn’t claim to be Indigenous. But his illustrations for Wild Eggs suggest that he’s deeply familiar with the people, landscape, weather, and creatures of the area where the story takes place. Some of the illustrations are playful, such as the 2-page spread (pp. 6-7) of Arctic hares scattering as a taxi speeds past them, throwing gravel, Akuluk’s amazed face pressed to the back window. Other pages express beauty– check out the spread on pp. 16-17. On one side, three silhouetted figures bounce across the tundra on a big ATV. Opposite them, a caribou watches, indistinct but commanding, while a large dark bird (crow or raven) flies overhead. Sorry about the poor photo quality, but I hope you get a sense of how it works:

The detail and use of color are striking throughout the book. (On his blog, Wright says he used Intuos to illustrate Wild Eggs but has since switched to another platform he much prefers.) 

I wanted to see and hear more of Anaana, Akuluk’s grandmother. Ataata, the grandfather, is a distinctive character, but the grandmother says little and her facial features are always partial, shadowed or blurred. Maybe the world needs another book about Akuluk – one about lessons from her Anaana.

Some extra-textual thoughts: The hunting practices of Indigenous communities in that region (including killing of marine mammals) have been the subject of protests by people concerned about the long-range survival of bird and animal species. Some might object to a book that portrays humans taking wild eggs for food, even though, as Ataata explains, traditional egg-collecting is done carefully with the survival of the bird species always in mind. Also, the traditional clothes Akuluk is given are made of animal skins – which may bother those with a particular perspective on the relationship between humans and animals.

Adults sharing the book should familiarize themselves with the issues involved. By that I mean not just the perspectives of middle-class folks in the lower 48 states who “hunt” in the supermarket aisles and (rightfully) object to maltreatment of livestock, or who cut out meat altogether. I mean also the perspectives of people who traditionally relied, and still rely, on wild foods, fur, and skins for survival. The palaugaaq, bannock bread, that Anaana serves on Akuluk’s first night has been “traditional” only since the introduction of flour after the European invasion of North America. But wild eggs helped sustain generation after generation of Arctic Indigenous peoples. So did the Arctic mammals, some of which face existential threat from decades of the greed and wastefulness of non-Indigenous commercial hunting. Plus habitat reduction and anthropogenic climate change. (I'm not neutral on this.) People wishing to protect threatened or endangered species have often tried to halt even the traditional practices that keep specific Indigenous cultures going, which has those Indigenous communities deeply troubled. They've been cast as the bad guys (and sometimes -- ridiculously -- as ignorant of their own impact!), hardly their role through the millennia in the fragile ecosystems they call home.

In other words, sharing Wild Eggs with children could lead to interesting discussions about Inuktitut words, about eggs, about grandparents and what they have to teach us. Or it could mean navigating emotionally-charged conversations about topics like food sovereignty, ethical practices in human relationships with other species, and the future of animals and Indigenous cultures and the planet on which all of us must somehow co-exist.

In any case, I recommend sharing it, thoughtfully, with children, be they in Nunavut, Nebraska, or New Mexico. There's lots to think about.