July 31, 2013

Caribou Song / Atihko Nikamon

by Tomson Highway
Illustrated by John Rombough
Fifth House Publishers
978-1-89725-261-1
32 pp.
Ages 4+
June, 2013

Joe and Cody are two brothers who travel with their parents by dog sled across the tundra all year round.  Joe plays the kitoochigan, an accordion, while his younger brother dances.  At one stop, a large rock in the middle of a meadow seems a fine spot for music and dance, especially when singing, "Ateek, ateek! Astum, astum!" ("Caribou, caribou! Come, come!"). Engrossed in their play, the two boys do not hear the rumbling of thousands of caribou heading their way, even though young Cody has fallen onto the caribou moss below.  While their parents fear for the boys' safety, the rapids of powerful beasts carry the boys along and the mystical voice of the herd invites them to know the caribou spirit.

Tomson Highway, award-winning Canadian and Cree playwright and author, originally offered this tantalizing story in 2001, illustrated by Brian Deines (HarperCollins, 2001). This new edition, illustrated by Chipewyan Dene artist John Rombough,  emphasizes the intensity of the story, specifically the emotional experience of the boys amidst the enormity of and the potentially fatal caribou run.  The bold and rich tones of blues and purples, strongly outlined in unrelenting black visually depict the fierce, almost violent nature of the landscape and the caribou in run.  The intermittent golden hues of the sky and other backgrounds lend a warm cushion that provides relief from the terror and hostility of the boys' circumstances.  

Presented in English and Cree, Caribou Song will take young readers to a world fast disappearing: one of a frozen landscape of snow and traditional hunting and life on the tundra.  For those readers who can appreciate the high Cree translation of Caribou Song, this new edition suggests that there are still valuable ways to retain their ancestral ways.

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