Nadia Sammurtok’s Siuluk: The Last Tuniq is based on traditional stories from the Chesterfield Inlet area of the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. Siuluk is a man of great strength, rumoured to be the last of the Tuniit, the friendly giants who once lived in the North. His quiet, solitary life draws heckling from the men in the nearby village, who also question his strength. To put an end to the hurtful teasing, Siuluk finds an enormous rock “weighted at least a ton” and challenges the men to lift it. They all fail. Siuluk then easily lifts the rock. He writes on it, “If you are as strong as I am, move this rock.” The men go home embarrassed and humble and tell the tale to their children, who repeat it through the generations.
This picture book is a quiet, affecting story of acceptance and kindness similar to the author’s first picture book, The Caterpillar Woman. In that story, based on another Inuit legend, a young woman runs away from her village when her kindness to a stranger magically transforms her into a caterpillar. Sammurtok, an Inuit educator and writer originally from Rankin Inlet, employs a simple style of storytelling relatable for young readers. (For those who wonder if there isn’t more to these legends, a good companion would be Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley’s Tuniit: Mysterious Folk of the Arctic.)
While the English-language Siuluk seems to call out for Inuktitut words to be weaved into the text – as many Indigenous picture books have begun to do – the publisher opted instead to release a separate, fully Inuktitut version of the story. Both editions are illustrated by Rob Nix – a Missourian artist specializing in comic art – who uses a muted palette to depict the landscape of the North and the traditional garb of the people. But he employs a subtle comic book style for the character of Siuluk, who has chiselled features and thick, Superman-like hair. Kids will surely be drawn to this sensitive, towering folklore superhero.
Books with Indigenous characters and traditional stories, such as Siuluk, are crucial additions to school libraries and this one is bound to engage the early elementary storytime audience. It provides an introduction to folklore and will help foster discussion of how we treat one another. Turns out, even giants aren’t immune to teasing.