by Celina Kalluk
Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
The baby addressed as Kulu–an Inuktitut term of endearment–is cradled as softly in the embrace of the Arctic's natural elements, floral and faunal, as the book cover above rests in the illustration of its green end papers. Gently, securely, safely, lovingly. And the words that are sung to the child from the lulling poetry of the text convey even more the expanse of caring and respect afforded the child in his/her Arctic milieu.
From the Sun bathing the child in "ribbons of warm light" to the Wind who "had learned your name, charming Kulu, and invited the world to meet you", Kulu is welcomed by a multitude of visitors that come to greet the child and gift Kulu with positive attributes of being loving, helpful, tender, creative, patient and more. Each gift bestowed becomes the song the world sings to Kulu "because you are true love."
I can imagine the words of Sweetest Kulu as a lullaby to reassure Kulu to accept the riches of the world and the goodness within to lull the child into the sweetest of slumbers. Author Celina Kalluk is an Inuit throat singer and the lyrical quality of Sweetest Kulu is evident in every verse. Her words are as beautiful as the sentiment with which they are infused.
and flowers for you to plant and grow with,
reminding you to always believe in yourself,
happy Kulu. (pg. 8)
I have never heard of artist Alexandria Neonakis, a Nova Scotian illustrator currently residing in California. Sweetest Kulu is only the second children's book she has illustrated but I suspect that the demand for her artwork will increase exponentially. Her use of colour and line to create a myriad of textures and feelings, all with an Arctic flavour, are so compelling that I'm convinced the child is perfectly safe at the head of a great muskox or snuggled by a polar bear beside her cub.
Sweet Sweetest Kulu has just been selected, justifiably so, for the USSBY 2015 Outstanding International Book List, representing the best of children's literature from other countries, only one of 42 books for younger readers from pre-K to Grade 12. Looks like others have welcomed Sweetest Kulu and the work of Celina Kalluk and Alexandria Neonakis as warmly as the story's child has been embraced.