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Book Reviews

West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet

by Deborah Hodge; Karen Reczuch (illus.)

An Inuksuk Means Welcome

by Mary Wallace

Two gorgeous new picture books celebrate the beauty of Canadian landscapes and the fascinating creatures and people who inhabit them. In West Coast Wild, Deborah Hodge focuses on the birds, fish, and other animals that make their homes in Canada’s lush West Coast forests and waters. Humans appear at the beginning of the book – the text invites the reader in with the question, “Would you like to visit this special place?” – and briefly at the end, but the book belongs to the creatures.

West Coast Wild Deborah Hordge Karen ReczuchUnlike many alphabet books, this one does not rhyme, but uses alliteration to highlight the features of the subjects, repeating letters both internally and at the ends of words. The usual bears and whales appear, but some creatures – such as the Xiphister (a fish that breathes air) and the Velella velella (a jellyfish that looks like a sailboat) – provide delightful surprises.

Karen Reczuch’s glorious illustrations are reminiscent of Toni Onley and other West Coast artists in their evocation of mist and mountains, while at the same time presenting water scenes that seem close enough to touch and animal faces that are dignified and realistic. The book ends with a note about the Pacific coast and its amazing ecosystem.

An Inuksuk Means Welcome transports young readers to a different part of Canada – the North – and uses the Inuktitut language as a gateway to a greater appreciation of the region. The publisher calls the book “an acrostic introduction to life in the Arctic.” Wallace uses each letter of “inuksuk” to introduce an Inuktitut word, which is then spelled out phonetically in English and written in Inuktitut characters. The word is illustrated – first against a plain white background, then in a stunning double-page spread showing the full context in which it is used. For instance, the umiak is “the family’s summer sea boat.” The double-page illustration shows the family paddling through the deep blue Arctic sea in pursuit of whales and other aquatic creatures. There are animals (such as nanuk the polar bear, shown against the rippling fire of the northern lights), landscape features (like siku, Arctic sea ice), and objects made by humans (like the kamik, a warm sealskin boot).

An Inuksuck Means WelcomeEvery illustration also includes an example of one of seven different styles of inuksuk, each with its own specific meaning: one type points to the North Star, while another marks where meat is stored. Readers are invited to spot these structures in the pictures and identify what they mean. Wallace’s richly coloured paintings bring both the northern landscape and Inuit culture vividly to life, highlighting the interdependence of the people and the land, and the importance of close family ties.

These books skilfully combine instruction and delight, weaving together information and beautiful art. In each case the style of illustration perfectly reflects the world depicted. Reczuch’s watercolours evoke the mist-drenched coastal environment, while Wallace’s bold acrylics convey the strong contours of the North. Both books immerse the reader in different yet equally beautiful worlds.