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Kaugjagjuk by M. Lewis

Lewis, Marion. Kaugjagjuk. Iqaluit: Inhabit Media, 2011. Print.

Kaugjagjuk is a re-telling of a traditional story about an orphan who is ill-treated by a village and then grows up to save them.  Variants of this story are told across the Arctic and are found in other cultures. In western cultures, this is the story that underpins the adage, “be kind to your office boy, he may come back as your supervisor”.   Often in other Arctic versions the story ends with the grown-up boy taking revenge for his mistreatment, however Iqualuit-born Marion Lewis specifically chose a version that is “a brave story - an inspirational story”. The lesson that Lewis wants us to learn from the story is that “even the smallest and most downtrodden of us – may overcome neglect and great difficulties”.

Illustrator Kim Smith has done an excellent job of capturing the moon-lit scenes of the Arctic winter nights.  However, her renditions of Inuit people make them look Asian.  The faces are very angular and the eyes have a pronounced upward slant.  Everyone in the book looks a little scary, even Kaugjagjuk’s benevolent and loving father.  Everyone else, including most images of the growing Kaugjagjuk look like “evil bad guys” from manga.  This is perhaps not surprising, given that this is Smith’s first children’s book and that she usually illustrates comics.

Apart from the orphan-who-survives theme which occurs in many different Inuit stories, this story also contains the legend of Taqqiq or “the Man in the Moon”, whose job it is to “watch over all who sleep” and to “reflect light onto all deeds and to record both the good and bad deeds of all those who sleep under the moon’s gaze”. Taqqiq takes human form and trains the young Kaugjagjuk as he becomes a man.  While this is undoubtedly a traditional story, the associated commentary about how “the moon does not emit its own light” is probably a modern knowledge addition to the traditional knowledge of the legend.

While presented as an illustrated children’s book, the text is at an upper senior high school reading level.  The story is intended to be shared by an adult with children, mirroring the way that it would have been told to a child by an elder.

This is a good first work that not only entertains, but also preserves the legend. Highly recommended for public and school libraries.

Highly Recommended:  4 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.