February 12, 2020

Tanna's Owl

Written by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
January 2020

In "A Greeting from Rachel" as the preface to the book, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley recounts how all animals were important and considered family. When her father brings home an orphaned baby snowy owl, she learns an important lesson about caring and ownership.
I don't think you can really own an animal. Or a piece of Land. Or anything, actually. You can only bring things together. Learn to help. To care.
The little grey and brown owl with the big eyes that Tanna thought to be ugly at first needs lots of care. They house the little bird whom they called Ukpik (Inuktut for owl) in her father's workshop. It needs to eat several times a day and that means Tanna and her siblings must go out to catch lemmings. When Ukpik does not get her food right away, she stomps and sways and chomps in her demanding way.
From Tanna's Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
As Ukpik grows, becoming both bigger, less cute and more dangerous with her sharp beak, Tanna continues to feed her, now giving her any kind of meat or fish. When Tanna takes her outside, Ukpik looks interested in flying, flapping her wings, but she is too young to fly yet. After Tanna goes away to school and returns the following summer, she learns that Ukpik is gone.
"It was grown," Father told her. "The owl didn't belong to us. It had to fly free."
From Tanna's Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
Though the child had felt burdened taking care of the little owl, she missed Ukpik. So when she spots a fully grown snowy owl, Tanna hopes that maybe it was the owl she'd cared for.

From Tanna's Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illus. by Yong Ling Kang
Though many a child will bring home an animal for which to care, Tanna's Owl is a unique tale of the far north and embedded in a culture and heritage that respects its animals as part of the Land or Water or Sky. Tanna's father is very matter-of-fact about her need to care for the orphaned bird but also for its need to leave when ready. Staying as a family pet was not respectable nor natural. Tanna knows this in her heart but she obviously comes to care for the animal who may not have seen the little girl as more than a food source. Fortunately, her father's wisdom is subtly shared with the child about what she needs to do, positive or sad.

Nunavut's Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley's stories always bring readers to an Inuit world of place, people and experience. I've reviewed a variety of their tales from origin stories in How Things Came To Be: Inuit Stories of Creation (Inhabit Media, 2016) to history in Tuniit: Mysterious Folk of the Arctic (Inhabit Media, 2015) or picture books like Lesson for the Wolf (Inhabit Media, 2015). They provide a real glimpse into life in the Arctic for the Inuit people and a reminder that they reside in a natural world that is vast and complex. With their stories, we learn more each time. Accompanied by the simple and informative illustrations by Toronto's Yong Ling Kang, children will see what a baby owl and a full-grown snowy look like as well as how an Inuit family may live. The art depicts a modesty of life with a practicality of wisdom and pleasures while still representing familial and natural connections.

Inviting us in to learn the story of Tanna's Owl, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley with Yong Ling Kang have taught us more bout compassion, responsibility and respect, as well as cultural experience, than any school lesson might.
From Tanna's Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illus. by Yong Ling Kang

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