Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature
Martha Stackhouse of Barrow
Book Review on Julie of the Wolves
By Jean Craighead George
Jean Craighead George lives in the eastern part of United States.
However, she has family who have lived in Barrow for many years.
Therefore she comes to Barrow at least once a year to visit. She
makes a point to visit her grandson's classrooms whenever she comes
in. Recently, I browsed through our middle school book fair and there
were a number of her books for sale. I couldn't help but noticed that
in one of her more recent books, the Inupiaq word for wolf (amaguq)
was still miss spelled as "amaroq."
The book Julie of the Wolves, was printed in 1972 and it
won a Newberry Award in 1973. It is often listed as one of the Battle
of the Books through out the nation. The book has the thirteen year
old Inupiaq girl, named Miyax, trekking from Barrow to Pt. Hope in
order to catch the ship called the "North Star." The Inupiaq alphabet
does not have the letter "x" so Miyax is definitely not an Inupiaq
name. I wondered why she bothered to walk to Pt. Hope to catch the
North Star when the ship also goes to Barrow. She had hopes of
catching a ride in the ship to San Francisco, where her pen pal
lived. She had grown up in Nunivak Island where she was forced to
leave her father in order to get educated. This was a prime example
of a forced education. She lived with her mean aunt while she was
being educated. In order to get away from her aunt, she married the
son of her father's friends, whom she later found out was simple
minded. She decided to leave Barrow and started walking to Pt. Hope,
roughly 400 to 450 miles away.
During this trek, Miyax began to starve. She ate lemmings, which
was very misleading, as Inupiaq people do not eat lemmings. However,
she feasted on eighty lemmings. She didn't start snaring birds until
she was quite close to Pt. Hope. She befriended the wolves who
eventually gave her their "cuds" like they give their young until
they are old enough to eat meat. She doesn't begin snaring ptarmigan
until the very end of her journey and never fishes in the numerous
lakes and rivers. Once she was able to take food away from the
wolverine with the use of antlers for protection. This is inaccurate
information, as wolverines are quite strong and will not permit any
animal, much less a young girl, from taking their food away. They are
known to hunt down animals much larger than themselves. Nevertheless,
Miyax was able to do it.
There are other misleading references through out the book. The
author talked about lemmings going crazy because of the built up of
the antifreeze in their systems. The lemmings committed a mass
suicide in the middle of December. I have never heard of mass
suicides in the middle of the winter. I have witnessed them coming
through Barrow once in the 1950's in the middle of summer. Summer is
the time when lemmings become numerous. They are almost never seen
during the winter, although they may be seen once in a while. There
may be anti freeze in their systems but I had never heard of it being
the cause of the mass suicide.
I especially did not appreciate the blending of the Yupik words
and culture, as she was talking about the Inupiaq region. The author
used the word "kuspuk" when we used "atikæuk" for the outer
covering of a parka. She also used "Gussak" which is also a Yupik
word for a white man, derived from the Russian "Cossacks." Our
Inupiaq name for white man is "Tanik." She talked about the bladder
festival. Again it is derived from a Yupik celebration, not Inupiaq.
The stereotype of an Inupiaq image was projected when Miyax
happened to look into the water to see her reflection. She was
starving and had become quite lean. She was overjoyed to see that her
face had become thin like those pictures she had seen in the
magazines and movies of the Gussak girls. I wondered what impact it
would have on our Inupiaq adolescent girls. Would they start to
dislike their healthy round faces? My hope is that they would respect
themselves enough to know they are beautiful, just the way they are.
Another misrepresentation occurred when Miyax got very close to
Pt. Hope. She started seeing willows that were close to the ground
level. She was very excited about seeing them once again, as Barrow
did not have willows. There have always been willows near Barrow for
as long as I have lived here. Elders have stories about using it as
traditional medicine. They also picked it and dipped it with seal
One more misconception was when the tundra makes geometric shapes.
The author points out that it is caused from freezing in the winter
and it "pops"; when in fact it is caused from constant freezing in
the winter and thawing in the summer, year after year. This is an
Arctic science that is studied by our school children. Another
misconception that was written was about the midnight sun. It was
described as being as bright as the noon sun. The noon sun is very
high but the midnight sun is red and orange like any other setting
sun. It starts to go down but it never quite goes below the horizon
and makes its way up again after midnight. There is a definite
difference between the noon and midnight sun.
The book is at a 5.8 reading level. There are not that many
illustrations but what was there, were pretty accurate. They looked
like pencil drawings.
With all due respect for Jean Craighead George, I humbly would not
recommend the book to be put on school shelves. I know it is hard
work to write books, but when misinformation about the Arctic are
numerous, one must say something about the book. When something is
written down, it is often believed to be true by their readers. It is
a book that is widely read by school children all over our country
and they believe many things that are written in there.
The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course
Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik
in the Spring of 2004.
The book reviews are written by the students and are a reflection of their
own analysis of the books and have not been altered in any way. The reviewers
have given permission to share the book reviews on the HAIL website.