Saturday, December 12, 2009

I is for Inuksuk

Mary Wallace is Canada's Queen of the Inuksuk, or at least one of its greatest supporters! Her latest book: I is for Inuksuk: An Arctic Celebration, follows her other books: The Inuksuk Book, Make Your Own Inuksuk, and Inuksuk Journey.

Although at first glance you might think I is for Inuksuk is an alphabet book, it is actually an acrostic poem, with each letter in the word INUKSUK serving as a way to introduce another Inuktitut word. For example, "N is or Nanuq, the powerful polar bear of the North." After the introductory set up, Wallace goes on to provide more information related to that word. With smaller illustrations and a line or two of text, we learn, for example, that polar bears are good swimmers, that they hunt seals and give birth to babies in winter dens. We also get a close look at a paw print, complete with ice-gripping claws.

Other pages explore transportation, clothing, wildlife, family life and more. Wallace includes the Inuktitut script for each word, which is useful to show children that the Latin Alphabet is not the only one going. (One of my favourite things to do at school visits is to show children my books that have been translated into Arabic or Chinese script. This inevitably launches in to a discussion about alphabets and scripts.)

Wallace is also the illustrator of this book and her vibrant, joyful (especially U is for Umiaq where we see a family paddling their umiaq - summer sea boat — through the rolling seas) are highly appealing and engaging. (One pet peeve — and Ms. Wallace is not alone with this — is the huge plume of water gushing out of the whale's blowhole. The biologist in me cringes when I see this. The blowhole is connected to the lung. A whale with this much water in its lungs would be dead. (Yes, whales can drown.) The water you see "spouting" from whales is condensation. Think of what your breath looks like on the cool day. There is also a bit of water on top of the blowhole, but there is never a plume like this. Okay, biology lesson over.) I can see her illustrations sparking some wonderful art classes with a creative teacher at the helm, much like one of my girl's teacher used Ted Harrison's art.)

Each spread in the book includes a different type of inuksuk and its meaning. Children will enjoy trying to find each one on the pages. (And it was a revelation to me to learn that there were different types.) There is also a helpful. Inuktitut pronunciation guide.

Here's the publisher's blurb and a review from Canadian Materials.

You're Mean, Lily Jean (and many other books)

I'm back. I have a stack of books on my desk I've been meaning to blog about. (And a box under it, too. Sigh.) My own work and other writing projects have been taking my time, but these slower days (for the moment at least; comments from my editor are imminent) are giving me a bit of time to finally post. I hope you enjoy — or at least find useful — these updates and links. First up: You're Mean, Lily Jean by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.

Frieda was in Tough City earlier in the year so we had a chance to meet and have a cup of tea. It's always wonderful to meet other writers from across the country, so I'm glad she looked me up. I suspect there is not a child (probably female child) in the country, or an adult (probably female, too) who cannot relate to the scenario in You're Mean, Lily Jean. A new girl moves in next door — oh, joy! But it turns out that Lily Jean is a tad bossy and while she's happy to play with Sandy, she exerts her will and bossiness over Sandy's young sister, Carly. Whatever Lily Jean deems the girls shall play — house, cowgirls, king and queen — Carly is only permitted to play if she takes on a "lesser" role — baby, cow, dog. The dynamics of a trio of girls, which is already dredging up squirmy memories for me, is also at play in this book. Carly plays along, but only to a point. As you can expect, Lily Jean gets her comeuppance at the book's crescendo and all is resolved satisfactorily at the end, without any meanness. Kady MacDonald Denton's illustrations have always appealed to me, ever since I started reading 'Til All the Stars Have Fallen: Canadian Poems for Children with my own wee sprogs. (It's a fabulous book, by the way, and still in print almost 20 years later.) Her illustrations are bright and playful and the children's expressions, especially Carly when she is being relegated to the role of cow (complete with moos) cracks me up. Her art perfectly complements the characters well-envisioned by Wishinsky.

Others have a lot to say about this book, often along the lines of teaching about bullying and expressing ones feelings. Of course this is all very true, but above all it's a wonderful story, with spot-on illustrations, that I bet all children (old and not so) can relate to. What more could you want?

Here's the publisher's blurb and a review from Quill and Quire.