May 22, 2013

Games of Survival: Traditional Inuit Games for Elementary Students

by Johnny Issaluk
Inhabit Media
60 pp.
Ages 7+

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I don't review a lot of non-fiction.  I won't repeat my reasons here, as I did in an earlier post; suffice it to say that, Johnny Issaluk's Games of Survival: Traditional Inuit Games for Elementary Students is so unique in its topic and bold presentation that I'm delighted to review it here on CanLit for LittleCanadians.

As teachers, we know that whether we're teaching math or English or geography, if we can connect our students' learning to something relevant to them, then it will engage them.  Games often don't need gimmicks to engage young people; they're just fun.  But what if the games were relevant to your survival, as well as fun?  Wouldn't most young people be intrigued?  By presenting these games as purposeful play, as well as fun, Johnny Issaluk, Arctic Winter Games champion, will grab the attention of young readers as well as their teachers and parents.

Games of Survival presents a series of traditional Inuit games that were used to support skills in agility, strength and endurance - all key capabilities for surviving as an Inuit in the Arctic.  For those of us who do not live within the Far North, we've only seen snippets of these games when reported on the news during the annual Arctic Winter Games, a circumpolar sports competition held every two years.  Without understanding the rationale, rules or methodology, I know that what I saw requires incredible athleticism.  Now, with Games of Survival, my understanding has increased substantially.

The agility games include several versions of the High Kick, in which a competitor kicks up at a target hanging from above.  Enhanced by photographs from Ed Maruyama from different angles and of different ages of competitors, the text explains what skills are practised and developed, as well as their role in the traditional Inuit lifestyle in the Arctic.  Similarly, Games of Survival includes games that match the strength of competitors as they pull against each other, and games of endurance that include the knuckle hop, that imitates the movement of a seal, and the muskox push in which shoulders are locked together.

Games of Survival works so well on so many levels.  Johnny Issaluk is thrifty with his text, explaining well the purpose and mechanics of the games, without drowning the information in pages of dense text (the failing of many books of children's non-fiction).  The photographs are bold and spatially intriguing (i.e., how do they do that?).  And any reader, young or older, will be captivated and maybe even challenged to try the games included here.  The subtitle, Traditional Inuit Games for Elementary Students, may suggest this book is a teacher resource but it's much more than that.  Think of it as a photographic history and how-to book that shares the stories and talents of a culture with which we should all be more familiar.

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