November 28, 2017

Those Who Run in the Sky

Written by Aviaq Johnston
Illustrated by Toma Feizo Gas
Inhabit Media
200 pp.
Ages 10+
April 2017
The young hunter knew that the sky above danced in joy with northern lights.  Since it was rare at this time of year, it meant that this day was going to go well, and that the spirits were on the side of the living, allowing them to carry on with their lives. (pg. 1)

Piturniq, or Pitu as he is often called, is the young hunter, a boy of sixteen who is becoming known as the Great Hunter.  This is his coming-of-age story.

From Those Who Run in the Sky 
by Aviaq Johnston 
illus. by Toma Feizo Gas
As a young man, Piturniq is already acknowledged as a good hunter, helping to provide for his mother, brothers and sister as well as sharing with the family of Saima to whom he wishes to become betrothed. But he senses a disquiet in himself and others towards him, particularly from his mother.  He grapples with his pride, jealousy, annoyance and anger, and the meaning of his nightly dreams of a fox and an old man on an island.  Though he wishes he might be as great as his father, Piturniq is surprised when Tagaaq, the camp leader and son of a shaman mother, suggests Pitu might be the village's next leader.  In fact, Tagaaq tells Pitu that the spirits have whispered to him and told him that Pitu is to become a shaman, though there is much darkness in his future.

Tagaaq takes Pitu under his wing, teaching him through his stories, including those of his shaman mother and a great shaman who disappeared from the world after the deaths of his beautiful wife and children.  Though both Pitu and Saima are eager to wed, the boy is instructed to wait until he completes his lessons.  But all must wait after a winter hunting trip leaves Pitu alone in the harsh environment and entering the spirit world.  Here Pitu struggles to survive, seeking shelter and food, and then combating supernatural demons, wolves, qallupilluq and more.  But it is also here where Pitu meets the fox, Tiri, who is Pitu's tuurngaq (a shaman's spirit guide), and the old man, an angry and brittle shaman named Taktuq, who will help the boy grow into the shaman he is destined to become.
From Those Who Run in the Sky 
by Aviaq Johnston 
illus. by Toma Feizo Gas

Though Those Who Run in the Sky is Piturniq's journey of becoming a man with the courage and faith to serve his family and his community, as well as attend to the spirit world, it is also a story of an Inuit lifestyle of long ago.  The details provided by Aviaq Johnston, a young Nunavut writer, deal with hunting practices, family and adoption, summer and winter camps, relationships with other communities, and the creatures of the supernatural world, and they become the rich fabric of Piturniq's story.  The traditions of this Inuit culture wrap Pitu' story in a reality that needs to be shared with all youth, Indigenous and otherwise.  It's a glimpse into a time that might once have been shared through the storytelling tradition.  Thankfully Those Who Run in the Sky, which refers to the spirits chasing after a walrus head and thus producing the northern lights, can now share the stories in a text for all to read.

The black and white illustrations by Ottawa animator and digital artist Toma Feizo Gas that dot the text of Those Who Run in the Sky deepen the surreal nature of Pitu's journey, adding to the story without taking over.  With text as lavish in historical and emotive detail as is provided by Aviaq Johnston, Those Who Run in the Sky did not need more.

With the publication of Those Who Run in the Sky, which was recently nominated for the 2017 Governor General's Award for Young People's Literature (Text), the northern lights must be dancing with joy.

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