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The Shadows that Rush Past by R. A. Qitsualik

Qitsualik, Rachael A.  The Shadows that Rush Past.  Iqaluit:  Inhabit Media, Inc., 2011.  Print.

Rachael Qitsualik is an Inuit who was “born into the traditional 1950’s culture of iglu-building and dog-sledding”.  She is now a renowned re-teller of Inuit folktales, as well as a translator, writer, scholar and aboriginal rights activist.  This book, which contains four tales of scary creatures, shows Quitsualik demonstrating her mastery of story telling.  In her introduction, she tells us that the stories “[defy] death and decay, they are songs of immortality.”  Her stories are full of wisdom.  For example in Nanurluk, she tells us “that even the oddest personality quirk can turn out to be a gift in the right situation”.

All the stories come from a time when there were many strange creatures in the Arctic world:  half-human, half-animal monsters who ate people, animals that spoke to humans and giant insects that could strip a body to a skeleton in a matter of hours.  It was the time when the world was forming.  “These were the days, you see, when human beings recognized the Land as one might a dear relative; and the Land, in turn, recognized humankind.”

In each of the stories, Qitsualik engages the reader through vivid detail.  For example in Nanurluk, the hunter, Nakasungnak rushes headlong into the mouth of the giant maurading polar bear.  “Nakasungnak fell forward, into the bear’s throat.  It was probably a good thing, since the bear’s response to having a person in its mouth was to snap its jaws closed, and if Nakasungnak’s legs had still been dangling outside the mouth when that had happened, well, a pair of boots might have fallen to the beach, feet still in them.” (26)

Qitsualik also engages readers by speaking directly to them.  In Amautalik”, she says, “I warned you that I would tell you what was under her parka.  Wriggling among the flaking folds of her skin were lice. The size of puppies.”

The stories are illustrated with 19 full page illustrations by Emily Fiegenschuh and Larry MacDougall.  Fiegenschuh has used full-colour illustrations to create realistic images of the mythical world.  The cover illustration of the amautalik, with her one blue eye and one brown eye, being driven mad by the snow bunting is Fiegenschuh’s work.  MacDougall illustrated two stories with bi-colour drawings, sepia tones for the creatures and humans and blue for the ice and snow.  Though quite different styles, both illustrators help to evoke the fear and wonder that the stories are meant to convey.  This is an excellent selection for upper elementary readers.

Highly recommended:  4 stars out of 4
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.