Sleeping Bear Press is a wonderful publishing company. They have put together a number of books in their "Tales of the World" series. From ancient Japan to modern Mali in West Africa to an Afghan village to the Canadian north, Tales of the World introduces young and old alike to unusual and interesting cultures. All of these 9"x11" books are beautifully put together with hard-cover library bindings, full-color illustrations in a variety of mediums, and charming text in their 32 pages.
The Gift of the Inuksuk is another fascinating addition to this collection. It brings the ancient culture of the Canadian arctic home to young readers. Little Ukaliq is an Inuit girl who "many lives ago . . . dashed through a land of snow and stones and caribou and stars . . ." In the first few pages, and with the help of illustrations that capture the climate of the north, the reader quickly learns about Ukaliq's family and life in the Arctic. There is cotton grass and flowers in the summer--but no trees. There are fish, birds, whales, and bear, but mostly ice and stones surround Ukaliq . . . a lot of stones.
Ukaliq's name means "arctic hare," and she scampers around her wide, cold surroundings playing with her siblings, helping her mother gather the grass for lamp wicks, and building "friends" from the stones she finds everywhere. In this fictional story, these stone playmates--the Inuksuk--become a guiding landmark to lead her father and brothers' hunting party home during a great arctic storm.
To me, The Gift of the Inuksuk is more than a child's make-believe story. By reading the introduction, I learned about the stone statues created by the Inuit people long ago. "A few stones can form a greeting, a guidepost, or a warning. They can mark a tragedy or the scene of a great event." I knew nothing about these unusual stone structures and was fascinated by how people can take what they have and use it to help them in their lives.
I read the book to my five-year-old and seven-year-old grandchildren, and they seemed absorbed. The pictures really helped the five-year-old stay focused on a subject that is far outside her own experiences. I was also pleased to read things like "Ukaliq and her family were grateful to the Creator for the bounty of the land." Oftentimes, books on ancient cultures stress false gods, so this was a pleasant surprise.
The Gift of the Inuksuk would make a great addition to a unit study on the Arctic. Younger children can learn a great deal just by exploring this book, while older children can go deeper into the lives of the Inuit people (past and present) with further research.
An added bonus (and one of the reasons I love Sleeping Bear books) is the free pdf file available on the company's website: http://www.gale.cengage.com/pdf/TeachersGuides/TheGiftOfInuksuk.pdf
The guide is full of learning activities like a story "map," learning about caribou, making your own Inuksuk, and even recipes from the Arctic! A parent can get a lot of mileage from one book this way. I appreciate the extra effort from the publisher to make such a delightful "unit study" available to teachers and homeschooling parents.