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A Walk on the Tundra by R. Hainnu & A. Ziegler

Hainnu, Rebecca and Anna Ziegler.  A Walk on the Tundra. Iqaluit:  Inhabit Media, 2011.  Print.

This volume is a cross between a picture book, a story and a field guide to edible plants.  Inuujaq is a little girl who wants to play with her friends, but they are still asleep.  Her grandmother, Silaaq, takes her out on the land to collect plants.  While Inuujaq is more concerned about her friends and snacks, her grandmother patiently passes on the traditional knowledge that her grandmother had taught her.  As Silaaq teaches the reader learns about the plants as well.  For example, when they pick qijuktaat, we are told that “Its long green fingers and white bell blossoms flutter in the wind.  Inuujaq touches the little branches.  They feel prickly on her palms.  And they smell fresh, like the summer wind when it comes from the hills.”

Authors, Rebecca Hainnu and Anna Ziegler, have worked on several educational publications. That background is apparent in this book.  There are eighteen Inuktitut words, including 6 plant names, introduced in the text.  They are explained and italicized when they are first introduced, for example “Nirilikkit – eat them”. The next time the word is used, it is assumed that the reader knows what it means. Because there are several Inuktitut words on each page, I was not able to remember them as I read and had to use the glossary or look back to the first use of the word, which is distracting.  However, as a tool for building vocabulary, or as a story book for students who have some familiarity with Inuktitut, this work would be excellent.

The pictures that accompany the story are cartoon-like with lots of bright colours.  Artist, Qin Leng, has given the land a lot of colour.  The ground is covered with green grass and bright flowers, reflecting the Arctic summer.  Silaaq and Inuujaq wear pinks and purples and blues with green boots and pink shoes.  The plant glossary, or field guide, is illustrated with photographs for accurate identification.

There are very few children’s books about Inuit plant use.  The content is valuable, but because of the incorporation of Inuktitut words, it is more challenging to read.   A Walk on the Tundra will find most of its readers at the upper elementary level rather than the age 6 to 8 group which is its defined audience.  Recommended for elementary school and public libraries.

Recommended: 3 out of 4 stars
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.