CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 2 . . . . September 20, 2002
In this version of the fable, Kumak's house is too small, and his family is unhappy. Kumak's wife, mother-in-law and children are all fed up with the crowded living conditions. So Kumak goes to an elder to ask for advice. Aana Lulu advises Kumak to invite Rabbit to live with him, and Kumak does. The rabbits are happy and think the house is "just right," but no one else is happy. When Kumak returns to the elder, she tells Kumak to invite the fox to live with him, and Kumak does. The foxes are also happy living in the small house, but Kumak's family is not. Kumak continues to follow the elder's advice, each time returning when his family is still not happy. The house seems to be getting smaller. Eventually rabbits, foxes, caribou, porcupines, otters, bears, and a Beluga whale join Kumak's family in their little house. Finally "'Just right,' said the Whale. 'TOO SMALL, THIS HOUSE!' bellowed Kumak all the way to Aana Lulu's house." Aana Lulu tells Kumak to get rid of this houseguests, and Kumak does. The family is finally happy; the house doesn't seem so crowded after all. The house is just right.
Author/illustrator Michael Bania does a terrific job with this arctic version of the common "too crowded" themed fable. Children in the north could certainly relate to Kumak's problem. There are many Inuit living in crowded houses due to the extreme housing shortage that is now being experienced here in the North. The sad fact in Nunavut is that sometimes two or three families are forced to live together in one small apartment or house. Bania's aurora borealis and purplish pink arctic sunsets give reader a glimpse of arctic beauty. The cover and story illustrations are very colourful, and all of Bania's characters show a great deal of expression. The illustrations in this book extend the storyline, and there is so much going on in each picture. Nonreaders will enjoy just looking at the pictures in order to "read" the story. The illustrator's depiction of life inside the house is hilarious, especially when the animals start to join the family. First, rabbits are in bed with the family; tucked peacefully under the covers, asleep on the pillows and snuggled up with the smallest child asleep in the parents' arms. Next come the foxes. Mealtime shows rabbits eating peanut butter straight from the jar, eating pancakes off the center of the table, sharing some carrots with the kids, and the foxes are sitting up to the table complete with colourful baby bibs waiting for breakfast. Then there are caribou that settle in nicely, tucked in bed at night and reading the newspaper in the living room. When the porcupines and otters finally arrive, the house appears to be bulging. With a baby doll tucked under her arm, the brown bear and her cubs curl up right in the center of the little house. They are happy to continue their contented sleep in the small house. Readers will not be able to stop laughing at the happy expressions on the animals' faces throughout the story. There are so many animals tucked into the little house that they are spilling out of the framed illustrations. When the Beluga whale arrives, he has to stick his head out one window and his tail out another. The two-page spread of the animals literally sailing out the front door of the house when Kumak finally gets rid of them is terrific. The tale ends with the family's happily enjoying a meal together. It is a nice touch that the elder in Kumak's House is depicted as sewing traditional clothing among other traditional activities throughout the story.
Although I really enjoyed this book, I would comment on the use of "Eskimo" in the author's note, publisher's description and wording on the back cover. It's not politically correct these days. From my experience living here in Nunavut, the arctic peoples prefer the word Inuit. The term Eskimo is considered an insult by many and is no longer used. I know that this book was not published specifically for the northern market, but, if I were to use this book in a southern setting, I would take the opportunity to point that fact out to the audience. I knew when I read this story it was not set in the eastern arctic. In the northeastern part of the arctic, we do not have willows, porcupines, or otters. Our foxes are white in the winter, the rabbits are called arctic hares, mukluks are called kammiks, and the only brown bears around are found in the very southern arctic communities.
Kumak's House is a lot of fun and is strongly recommended as a purchase for public and school libraries. The author's note at the back would be a good starting point to discuss arctic living with preschool children in class or library programs. Bania gives lots of information on traditional arctic clothing, tools and food. Apparently, this is just one of the many northern themed stories published by Alaska Northwest Books. I am unfamiliar with this publishing company, but now I intend to seek out their other children's books. I plan on giving Kumak's House to my nieces and nephews this Christmas.
As the result of an exciting move, Catherine Hoyt is now the Reference Librarian at the Nunavut Legislative Library in Iqaluit, Nunavut. However, she enjoys volunteering at the local public library in the newest capital in Canada.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.