From Mary Wallace comes a unique picture book. Through its simple text and rich illustrations, An Inuksuk Means Welcome provides a sense of the traditions and customs of Inuit life in the Arctic. Yet does it provide enough?
Built by the Inuit peoples, Inuksuk are stone piles, often in the shape of humans with outstretched arms. Why would the Inuit have built Inukskuk? For thousands of years, the Inuit didn’t built permanent settlements, but instead hunted and fished in the Canadian arctic. These sculptures served as their means of communication, to mark where to find food or shelter. The traditional meaning of the inukshuk is “Someone was here.” or “You are on the right path”.
As you can see then, the Inuskuk is a central image to the Inuit culture. In Wallace’s picture book, it frames her text as an acrostic. For each letter of Inuskuk, she presents an English word followed by the Inuktitut letters, along with a phonetic pronunciation guide for the second. Extra informational text features include an introductory note about the significance of Inuskuk in Inuit culture and a nonfiction page that profiles seven different types.
Alphabet books are a comfortable way to present information. In the case of An Inuksuk Means Welcome, they can serve a dual audience. For those within the Inuit culture, the warm landscape textures serve as a tribute to a traditional way of life. For those outside of the Inuit culture, Wallace engages readers with the text with her expansive paintings and by the inclusion of tiny inuksuit, which creates a hide-and-seek element, into the pages.
However, in contrast to other informational picture books such as those by Jerry Pallotta, An Inuksuk Means Welcome feels barren. A reviewer for Canadian Review of Materials contends that more text is needed to round out the overview of Arctic life and suggests, for example, that the descriptions of the seven types of inuksuit might have been more useful if they had been included with their explanations in the body of the text where appropriate. I side with the reviewer, leaving me to feel that An Inuksuk Means Welcome is best used only as a starting point. As such, it’s a text that adults might make better use of their young people. The latter I suspect will read An Inuksuk Means Welcome once, along with a multitute of other picture books, but will not store on their shelf of special stories.
The back flap of An Inuksuk Means Welcome says that Wallace has spent much time in the Arctic, particularly in Nunavet, learning firsthand about the impact of Inuksuk. She’s also an award-winning artists, who has spent almost twenty years teaching arts and crafts at the Haliburton School of Fine Arts. An Inuksuk Means Welcome demonstrates her love for the people and land of the Arctic. I just encourage you to seek out picture books with more substance, should you wish to understand the Inuit culture.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
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