April 15, 2014

The Legend of Lightning and Thunder

by Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt
Illustrated by Jo Rioux
Inhabit Media
40 pp.
Ages 6-8

Taking a story that is typically told orally and transforming it into a text can be difficult but also disastrous.  The oral storytelling tradition relies heavily on the storyteller's craft: of rhythm, intonation, pacing and dramatic effects, all with the aim of interacting with the audience.  Attempting to harness those key features in text, without making that text cumbersome or awkward, and still retain the essence of the story, is a craft in itself.  Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt, whose bio indicates she is from Baker Lake, Nunavut, has obviously learned well from her grandmother and other elders in her community, but she has demonstrated a strong skill in putting her traditions to paper, penning a strong and accessible origin story with a twist here in The Legend of Lightning and Thunder.

During a festival when Inuit from far and wide come together to celebrate the beginning of spring, an orphaned brother and sister are turned away.  Secretly the two children steal some caribou meat and hide away to consume it.  When finished and still hungry, the two search through the belongings of visitors, looking for more food.  When they find no food, they try to distract themselves with play.  The sister finds a dry caribou skin which she waves in the air and bangs with her hand, while her younger brother uses a rock and a piece of flint found near a tent to create sparks and hopefully fire.  But when the night begins to fall, the children find a way to hide, convinced that they will be punished for their thefts.

Although the story explains how the two orphans ran away to hide in the sky and thus create thunder and lightning whenever they are bored or lonely and in need of play, the culminating message is far more broad.
"So, you see, because two orphaned children were neglected and ignored, we now have lightning and thunder in the world." (pg. 33)
I could hardly begin to understand the depth of the Inuit mythology which The Legend of Lightning and Thunder reveals but the clarity and richness of Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt's story easily and eloquently tells the legend.  Jo Rioux's illustrations, in blacks and grays, with the tints and shades of oranges and browns, and few inclusions of blue or red, match the desperation of the children's situation and the actions they choose to take.  Though generally an illustrator of graphic novels, Jo Rioux's drawings capture the spiritual and supernatural elements of the story well, and I look forward to enjoying her artwork in more youngCanLit.  In fact, pairing Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt and Jo Rioux again to bring more Inuit stories to book form would be a promising endeavour and an enriching one for all young readers.

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