July 14, 2015

Painted Skies

by Carolyn Mallory
Illustrated by Amei Zhao
Inhabit Media
36 pp.
Ages 5-7
June 2015

In different parts of our country right now, Canadians are enduring record high temperatures and repressive fires, but Painted Skies will easily transport them to the cold of an Arctic October during which a new girl, Leslie, learns first-hand the wonder of the northern lights from her Inuit friend, Oolipika.

When the two girls go out to play in the evening snow, they bear witness to the wonder of colours dancing across the sky.  Oolipika teaches Leslie of the Inuit legend in which the lights are anirniit or spirits of those who've passed and now play a running game, chasing a ball of a walrus skull.  Moreover, Oolipika instructs Leslie how to safely keep the spirits away with noisy finger play.

Immersing her characters in the true Arctic experience, making their actions analogous to those of the caribou, ptarmigan, raven and snowy owl, Carolyn Mallory similarly embeds the reader in the cold and clear night of a snow-packed landscape and the consuming quiet of a northern evening.  Her text may recount how a seasoned Arctic resident shares the marvel of her world with a newcomer, including the telling of an Inuit tale, but her descriptions of the dancing lights bring the curiosity of the skyscape to life.
Sometimes green, sometimes red,
the night sky dances.
Stars peek through satin pink with
a wink and a flicker.
A wisp of yellow gauze
as the sky
breathes with light
Splashes of purple and silver-grey,
a sail, a sheet, a streak–
with one great gust, gone.
(pg. 31)
I don't know much about artist Amei Zhao except that she works in visual development and production design for animation but Painted Skies demonstrates to me that she has a future in emotive illustration.  While the northern lights are a visually evocative inspiration no matter what the medium, Ameo Zhao finds it within herself to enrich that brilliance and meld it with the innocence of the girls and complement Carolyn Mallory's text so splendidly.  Painted Skies not only finds a way to demonstrate the richness of the northern lights but also convey the Inuit tale of its origins while tagging it all with an addendum about the science behind them.  It is a story worthy of ancient storytellers of the north and proudly of Inhabit Media.

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