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Pickle Me This

January 15, 2016

Way Back Then, by Neil Christopher and Germaine Anarktauyok

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Our whole family really likes Way Back Then, by Neil Christopher and illustrated by Germaine Anarktauyok, a cozy northern story that takes place at night in a warm iglu as two children ask their father, Kudlu, to tell them stories of long ago. And not of so recently long ago either, stories of Kudlu’s boyhood, but instead tales of those times “when the mountains were giants and there was lots of magic in the world.”

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And so Kudlu proceeds to sketch out the legends he knows about why we have night and day, about how animals used to be able to remove their fur and feather like we take off our clothes, and also about how the caribou arrived when the land spirit cut a hole in the earth—but then the whole was accidentally left open and many caribou escaped and that’s why the North is filled with caribou.

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Illustrator Arnaktauyok is well-known for her paintings and prints that incorporate elements of traditional Inuit narratives. In the image above, the land is giving birth to babies in order for the Inuit to grow in number. “These babies were found and adopted by people travelling across the tundra. When these babies grew up to be adults, they looked the same as you and I, but they were children of the land.”

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We are avid fans of fairy tales, and enthusiastically making our way through the Narnia series at the moment, which meant that these stories of tiny hunters and giants, talking animals and magic did not feel so otherworldly. The format of the stories too is engaging, the father telling these in the cozy night, children tucked up in their bed—perfect for when mine are just about to be so, even if we don’t live in an iglu ourselves. I also like the twist at the end—that Kudlu is relieved when the children finally go to sleep because he doesn’t know the endings of most of his stories, because he was always asleep himself by the time his grandparents got to those parts.

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Inhabit Media is the only Inuit-owned publishing company in Canada’s north and they’ve become well established as makers of beautiful award-winning books that also serve to preserve Inuit culture. Written in both English and Inuktitut, the book also includes an Inuktitut pronunciation guide for terms that appear in the former—ataata (“a-ta-ta”) for Father; kuluit (“koo-loo-eet”), a term of endearment meaning “dear ones.”

And check out the caribou endpapers—this is a great book from start to finish.

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