Speaking In Stones

When you have been chosen by an energetic Labrador puppy as a life partner and you live near lakes and state parks, lots of long walks are in your future.  Most days weather permitting will find you strolling along beaches and wading in the water.  If your dog loves to dive for rocks, bring them ashore and dig huge holes, you will probably join in the fun by renewing or starting a rock collecting hobby.

On these daily treks you will also notice the remains of other people's similar endeavors in the form of holes, partially washed away sandy architectural creations and stacked stone monuments of varying sizes.  In the Arctic for thousands of years people have left stone landmarks.  In her most recent book on this topic, An Inuksuk Means Welcome (Owlkids Books, September 15, 2015), Mary Wallace pays homage in her words and illustrations to this ancient art of communication.

"...A single marker is called an inuksuk.  It can mark where to find food or how to get home.  It can even be a way of saying, "Welcome."...

For the seven letters in inuksuk we learn the meaning of seven different words beginning with the same letter, the pronunciation of the word and how it is written in Inuktitut characters.  Inuktitut is one of the Inuit languages. Making perfect sense the first letter is assigned to the word inuksuk. This group of stones is said to be messengers.

To acquaint us with the animals of the region we learn the name for polar bear.  A different inuksuk is displayed in the accompanying image. (Throughout the book most of the large illustrations contain a new inuksuk.)  What does someone want us to know?

An oo-me-ak is the name given for the best kind of transportation on water used by a family during the summer months.  The word for a special boot made from seal and caribou skin is kamik.  Perhaps these are worn by the members of the family when riding in their boat or when traveling by dog sled when snow falls or the ice freezes.

Once the word for Arctic sea ice is pronounced it's easy to understand why this word identifies that particular area.  The muskoxen are called umimmat.  It is pronounced as it is spelled except for the u.
It is fitting that k also begins a word which provides a form of comfort.  It is a delicate kiss given to those people who are part of a family.  These glimpses into a way of life at the top of our world inform and inspire.

As each letter is showcased Mary Wallace begins a sentence with that letter followed by is for, the word and finally a short easy explanation.  With a page turn the pronunciation appears on the left with the Inuktitut word written for readers on the right.  The seven sentences may contain a few words reflecting on the significance or specific interpretation of the represented word.  Here is a sample.

is for nanuq,
the powerful polar
bear of the North.

From this we can infer the bear's size and its distinctive habitat and location.

The striking color palette on the matching dust jacket and book case immediately draw the reader's attention.  Having the bear and inuksuk extending into the front illustration from the page edges depicts a world in constant motion.  The family in their sea boat, paddles rowing, is gliding over the water.  To the left, on the back, the same inuksuk appears on the top of a small cliff jutting out over the background.  Above it, in the upper left-hand corner, is the letter, definition, Inuktitut writing and pronunciation for Inuksuk.  The opening and closing endpapers are in a deep, dark blue indicative of the climate and land forms of this region.

On the verso and introduction pages Wallace has placed an illustration which crosses the gutter to the left.  The publication information is in a panel.  This is the format of the layout throughout the book.

In a cream panel on the left most of the text appears.  To the right is a single picture on a crisp white background.  These two colors are separated by a thin gray line.  The word being defined is shown at the top and bottom of the narrative column with the specific letter underlined.

For each word stunning two-page paintings showcase the letter in a framed box in the left-hand corner with the pronunciation and Inuktitut word in a banner across the entire bottom.  These larger pictures place the word within the Arctic landscape and way of life giving the reader a greater understanding. A cadence is established with this repetitive design encouraging exploration.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the family in their sea boat.  They are surrounded by ice shapes, swirling waves and sea in shades of blue and turquoise.  They are riding on top of a particular wave.  Beneath them are three whales; one a narwhal.  The hues within the animals are mirrored in the clothing worn by the people and on their faces.  I believe the sun is shining.

Whether you are studying the region, the people or simply curious An Inuksuk Means Welcome written and illustrated by Mary Wallace is a beautiful presentation of a form of expression which has stood the test of time.  It's the type of nonfiction which tells you enough but invites you, almost entices you, to learn more.  On the final page seven thumbnail paintings show inuksuit which were placed in the larger illustrations.  We are given their Inuktitut writing, what the word is, the pronunciation and a definition.  Within the verso section is a selected bibliography.

At the publisher's website you can view the first double-page picture. More illustrations can be viewed in an illustrator gallery at 49th Shelf.  A three page author illustrator interview which can be enjoyed by all ages is provided by the publisher.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.

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