November 26, 2015

Lesson for the Wolf

by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Illustrated by Alan Cook
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
May 2015

Any book that can teach self-acceptance in a succinct but non-preachy manner is a keeper.  But, coupled with an appreciation for the Arctic and its innate beauty, Lesson for the Wolf is all the more poignant.

The story begins with the wolf “who disliked all the things that wolves enjoy” like running and playing and hunting and hanging with other wolves.  He’s a bit of a loner, preferring to study other animals including the wolverine and the snowy owl.  So overwhelmed by the beauty of the Land and compelled to feel part of it, not be “just a wolf”, he gathers some fallen caribou antlers, some wolverine hair and a feather from an angry owl and sings to the Land until “his own life moved with the life of the Land.”  Imbued with power, he is transformed into a wolf with an antlered head, a feathered body and a bushy orange and black tail.

Problem is that the wolf is no longer a wolf and not even a caribou, a wolverine or a snowy owl.  He is embarrassed and starving, and runs from the other wolves.  But they are his salvation.  They help him recognize “the greatest beauty that a wolf can know” and return him to his former beautiful self.

The wolf of Lesson for the Wolf is truly a creature of the Land, so filled with love for its beauty and creatures.  But, like so many of us, he cannot see the beauty within, not realizing until it is too late what he has lost by coveting the attributes of the other animals.  Lesson for the Wolf provides an Arctic-themed story for the idiom of “The grass is always greener” and it works so well because of the partnership of Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley.  Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley speaks from one who knows the Arctic, born in a wilderness camp and being of Inuit ancestry. Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley comes at the story from the folklorist side.  Together they make Lesson for the Wolf a story resplendent in a valuable lesson about self-acceptance and in the beauty of the Arctic Land and Sky and its creatures.  Alan Cook, who studied animation at Sheridan College, uses subtle colour and line to evoke an Arctic of contrasts: delicate and bold, elusive and obvious, precarious and inviting.  An amazing accomplishment with a limited palette of whites, browns and turquoises (except for the single spread in which the wolf transforms).  Still, the wolf and the other creatures and the landscape in Lesson for the Wolf are truly characteristic of the tundra and complement Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley’s newest foray into wisdom-sharing stories.

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