CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 15 . . . . December 9, 2011
Neil Christopher. Illustrated by Eva Widermann.
Iqualuit, Nunavut: Inhabit Media, 2011.
170 pp., hardcover, $24.95.
Giants-Arctic regions-Folklore-Juvenile literature.
Giants-Mythology-Arctic regions-Juvenile literature.
Inuit mythology-Juvenile literature.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
In the western Arctic, in the land of the Copper Inuit, lived a family of giants. Most of the names of these giants have passed beyond memory, however, one is remembered – Nahaingajaaq. Although not much is known of this cruel woman, Nahaingajaaq’s name can be found in accounts written by explorers from the turn of the century. Nahaingajaaq’s infamy is no doubt due to her power and cruelty, as this giantess terrorized the Arctic lands for many years. Her craving for human flesh drove her out onto the tundra to hunt for lone Inuit or groups of unsupervised children, whom she easily overwhelmed. She was said to have carried an adze and an ulu (Inuit woman’s knife), which she used to dispatch and carve up her victims.
Arctic Giants is not like the Disney fairy tales that most children read about or see in films these days. Neil Christopher, the author of this excellent collection of stories from the North, spent years gathering stories of these sometimes-terrible beings from elders and ethnographers. As the culture of the North and Northerners evolve, it becomes a valuable record. The manga-anime-type illustrations by Eva Widermann make the book appealing to contemporary youth, one they can enjoy on many levels.
The stories vary in length, with some being as short as several lines (as above) and others taking up several pages. They include tales of barbarism, revenge and cannibalism that will initially shock young readers who have never been exposed to this type of story. The endings are almost never happy. The pitched battles between rival giants are described vividly; the consequences of their encounters are considered explanations for anomalies in the landscape, lakes and even foggy weather.
Each story is accompanied by full-page black and white drawings and captions in stylized calligraphy. Widermann’s skilled drawings capture the natural unhappiness and fierce demeanour of the ogres and giants, the energy of their movements, the challenge of the barren landscape and the chill of the weather. Details include the skull necklaces worn as decoration and proof of the giants’ prowess, their physical deformities and their encompassing Arctic clothing.
Published by Inhabit Media, the first independent publishing company in Nunavut, this volume includes stories from regions across the North, from east to west, and advises that some of the accounts differ between families. Inhabit’s stated objective is “to promote and preserve the stories, knowledge and talent of northern Canada…in a way that is accessible to readers in both northern and southern Canada.” Arctic Giants will be a useful resource for classroom teaching. It’s also a great book that a child can curl up with - to learn about the culture of the North, to read the fascinating, scary stories and to appreciate the artistic representations that make this book one that will be looked at again and again.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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