Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature
Book Review for Caribou Girl
By Claire Rudolf Murphy
Illustrated by Linda Russell
The author, Claire Rudolf Murphy, lived in Alaska for little over
twenty years and now lives in Spokan Washington. She is an author of
several books for children and young adults. She is well known for
A Child's Alaska, a book of many photographs of Alaskan
children with Charles Mason as a photographer. I couldn't find
anything about the illustrator, Linda Russell.
The author and illustrator thanked Jana Harcharek and Mary
Lockwood for verifying the cultural aspects of the story; Dr. David
Klein and Debbie Miller for their information on the caribou, and to
James Nageak for reviewing the story. This book was simultaneously
published both in English and in Inupiaq translation which was
translated by Jana Harcharek in 1998. Jana Harcharek also wrote a
forward for the book where she explained that the Inupiaq people
believe that the Moon Man (Tatqiq), who controls the game animals.
Also, not as well known is Pakimna, the mistress of the caribou.
Personally, I had heard about the Moon Man as a person you had to
appease so that he would release the animals; but I had not heard
about Pakimna. I wondered how the author came to know the story as
there were no credits given to any Inupiaq people.
Caribou Girl had a good story. There are many stories where
human beings transform into animals or vice versa. It was about a
girl who was able to run very fast. When her people started to
starve, she was given an amulet by her grandfather who explained that
it used to belong to her great grandmother, Pakimna, who was a shaman
before she died. She would seek Tatqiq to release the animals when
they became scarce. Caribou girl had the same qualities so the
grandfather encouraged Caribou girl to go see Tatqiq. Tatqiq did not
want to release the caribou unless she transformed herself to become
part of the herd first and live among them. She was able to dodge
from the wolves and migrated with the herd in search of food.
Finally, she went back to the place where her family lived. She told
them that in order to survive, the people must migrate like the
caribou. She was given the name Pakimna, as she had earned the name
to carry on with her great grandmother's gifts.
On the first page, the story talks about the people starving but
in the background of that picture, there are many hindquarters
hanging on the meat racks. The maklaks show no crimps on their soles.
About page 5 & 6, there are some white birds flying that look
like doves. There are no doves in the Arctic. Perhaps if they were
ptarmigans, it would have made more sense. The caribou look more like
southern deer. In fact in the back of the book, the author and
illustrator had their picture taken with a reindeer with some trees
in the back ground. They must have used those as examples.
The Inupiaq translation by Jana Harcharek was very good.
I would recommend that the book remain in the school libraries.
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.