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24 Mar, Friday
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Montreal Families

Canada's Northern culture

As Canadians, we love to celebrate the multicultural fabric of our nation and the diversity that various cultures bring to our world. We tend to forget, however, that the inhabitants of Canada’s far North represent a rich cultural tradition that has been here since the land itself took shape. While few of us will have the chance to visit Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Nunavik, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to learn about Inuit culture. Here are some books that will help your kids learn about these longtime inhabitants of our country.

l'Echo du nordL’écho du Nord (Les éditions du soleil de minuit, $8.95)
by Emily Novalinga – Ages 3 and up.

This French book may be a bit difficult to find but is worth the hunt as it is one of the few children’s books written by an author from Nunavik, Quebec’s Northern territory inhabited by the Inuit. The author is a poet who shares with young readers the belief that humans should have a peaceful and respectful relationship with nature. She also explores the philosophy that having a balanced life leads to a healthy existence. Her lyrical prose is enhanced by the illustrations of Claude Thivierge, who brings to life this part of the province that we know so little about.

The Inuksuk Book (photo above – Maple Tree Press, $14.95) by Mary Wallace – Ages 8 to 12.

The Inuksuk has become an iconic symbol of Canadian culture, but few people can say what this stone figure actually symbolizes. Now author Mary Wallace takes readers on a journey through the tundra, where Inuksuks dot the barren landscape. She explains the crucial role of these massive statues, from their use as markers of sacred places to indicators of migration routes for caribou. Wallace includes the Inuktitut spelling of several words throughout the book to show the beauty of this language constructed from shapes and symbols. Children will have a great time trying to decipher what looks like an ancient and enigmatic code, as well as following instructions for building their own Inuksuk.

The Inuit Thought of itThe Inuit Thought of It: Amazing Arctic Innovations (Annick Press, $9.95) by Alootook Ipellie – Ages 8 to 12.

The ability of the Inuit to survive in the frigid climate of the Arctic region shows a resilience and adaptability that is both fascinating and admirable. This book details the ingenuity behind dog sleds, kayaks and other tools the Inuit have invented to protect themselves against the elements. Readers will learn how the Inuit fabricated their own version of sun and snow visors long before the advent of manufactured goggles. The book also demonstrates how tools and objects from around the world have been influenced by Inuit inventions.

Stones, Bones and StitchesStones, Bones and Stitches: Storytelling Through Inuit Art (Tundra Books, $24.99) by Shelley Falconer and Shawna White – Ages 10 and up.

If you have wandered the cobbled streets of Old Montreal with your children, you have probably stopped in front of a few shop windows to look at the Inuit sculptures that depict polar bears in motion and owls about to take flight. Art plays a significant part of Inuit culture and holds precious meaning that is not obvious to the untrained eye. Thankfully, Shelley Falconer and Shawna White, both curators at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection near Toronto, introduce readers to the symbols, materials and various media practiced by several Inuit artists. Their book allows young people to grasp both the history and the beauty of art from these communities.

On Thin IceOn Thin Ice (River Deer Press, $14.95) by Jamie Bastedo – Ages 12 and up.

The Arctic is currently undergoing a fundamental transformation with climate changes dramatically re-shaping the landscape. This novel, which mixes mystery, legend and drama, explores the impact of these changes on a girl, Ashley, and her family. Ashley, part Inuit and part French-Canadian, has moved to the North and is adjusting to life there. As she learns about the ways of the past and confronts the realities of the present, she begins to dream about a legendary spirit bear who she feels is trying to tell her something. The story tackles many of the social and environmental issues that have encroached on modern Inuit life and threaten its very existence.

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