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Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Book Review for Whale snow
By Martha Stackhouse
By Debby Dahl Edwardson
Illustrated by Annie Patterson

The book, Whale Snow, by Debby Dahl Edwardson, was printed in 2003. Debby has lived in Barrow for nearly 30 years, where her children grew up. She had dedicated her book to them and she lists them using their Inupiaq names. The author is originally from Minnesota, a Norwegian line in her blood. She is married to an Inupiaq person from Barrow. She has always been involved in the community as a radio reporter, a free lance journalist, a public relations specialist and a North Slope Borough School District Board member.

The book, Whale Snow, has a glossary in the front of the book, defining the Inupiaq words that are used through out the book. It also includes how it is pronounced from the English person's perspective. On the same page, there is a short explaination about the Inupiaq language. It says that Inupiaq language was traditionally an oral language and only recently became a written language as well. English language was introduced in the 1800's when the commercial whalers made their way up north. When school was introduced, the students were punished for speaking their Inupiaq language. Now it is the schools that are helping to preserve the language that is being threatened to extinction. She also notes that if one wanted the Inupiaq version of the book, one may look for it at: www.charlesbridge.com

The illustrations are done in watercolor. It shows the contemporary houses that depict the Arctic environment by their stilts. Most houses are built that way so that the heat from the house does not melt the permafrost underneath. If that were to happen, the house would start tilting to uneven proportions. There are snow machines and trucks. However, there are still many traditional objects through out the village. There are skins and traditional boats, the umiaqs, drying outside some houses. The people are dressed warmly in their parkas and maklaks; some store bought boots are in the background.

The book centers around the little boy who is just learning what the spirit of the whale is. His name is Amiqqaq, named after one of her sons. He sees fluffy white feathery snow falling down and his Aaka, grandmother, tells him that it signifies whale snow; a time when someone is about ready to catch a whale. Soon, his father comes in carrying a flag which means that their crew caught a whale. They make preparations to go back on the ice. There he meets his mother who talks about the spirit of the whale and whale happiness. The scene is a typical whale camp , people hugging each other, canvas tent, sled, umiaq, and snow machine. Amiqqaq is put on top of the whale which is typical for kids to do as grown ups cheer and take pictures. The maktak and whale meat is taken back to the village and the whole community comes in to eat. Again, Amiqqaq has a talk with his Aapa, his grandfather, about the spirit of the whale and the happiness it leaves.

The book talks about the whale giving itself to the people, which is a common belief of the Inupiat people. The maktak and the whale meat is like a parka that is taken off when it is butchered. The spirit of the whale goes back into the ocean and another whale takes its place.

At the end of the book, the author talks about the moratorium on the whale hunts in the late 1970's, that was imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The scientists believed that the whale population had depleted. The Inupiat people formed the Alaska Whaling Commission (AEWC) to counter the IWC actions and regulations. The AEWC had to prove to the world that the whale populations were indeed healthy. After years of study, both by the Inupiat people and the scientists, and compliance with the IWC, the Inupiat whalers were allowed to hunt once again for subsistence use.

I highly recommend Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson, to be read to children in schools. It is a book that is well written with actual facts. It proves that when people such as Debby, live with the Indigenous people of Alaska, the books written, are more accurate to the actual lives of the people they are writing about.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last modified August 14, 2006