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Arctic Stories

by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, Vladyana Langer Krykorka, illus.

Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak and Vladyana Langer Krykorka, collaborators on A Promise Is a Promise, have created another colourful mixture of Northern legend and historical fact. Arctic Stories is based on Kusugak’s childhood experiences in the Northwest Territories. In three separate stories, he describes his schooling in Chesterfield Inlet, the yearly migration of northern birds, and the extraordinary events one summer day in 1958.

Kusugak does not idealize his upbringing. In “Agatha Goes to School” he contrasts the angelic voices of the Catholic missionary nuns with the strict discipline they enforced. “They were not angels,” he writes. “If you did not kneel just so and hold your hands just so in church, they would get mad and hit you on the knuckles.” In another story, he describes a historic encounter between the villagers of Recluse Bay and a giant, helium-filled airship in the summer of 1958: “And the people got really scared and started running away. They could not run west; there were hills there. They could not run east; there is a cliff there. And the sea lies to the east of the cliff. So they ran north, away from the thing.” Although based on a true event, “Agatha and the Ugly Black Thing” reads more like fireside folklore or family legend; throughout this collection, the storyteller’s embellishments make these stories sing.

Kusugak’s writing is uncomplicated, but engaging. The sentences are sparse, and words or phrases are often repeated. The effect is a pleasing rhythmical style that is a pleasure to read out loud. With the exception of the type (which is much too bold and clutters the page), the overall design of Arctic Stories is full and inviting. Decorative hand-crafted borders complement Krykorka’s bright watercolour and pencil illustrations. In some pictures, the colours are so vivid they are almost startling. With washes of blues, greens, and reds, Krykorka warms the Arctic setting, capturing the expanse and beauty of the Canadian North. Arctic Stories is the result of a perfect marriage between author and illustrator.