November 13, 2020

Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer

Written by Suzie Napayok-Short
Illustrated by Tamara Campeau
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-274-1
32 pp.
Ages 7-11
September 2020

I know summer is over and it has definitely passed in the far north but learning about other cultures and ecosystems, life cycles and food chains, is never out of season, and certainly not in schools so Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer is undoubtedly a great read at any time of year.
From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Akuluk, who lives south of the Arctic and had been spending time in Nunavut with her grandparents, has just arrived in Saattut to visit with her aunt and uncle. Even though it is summer, she is dressed warmly in her atigi, a duffle parka, when the northern float plane delivers her and her stuffed polar bear, Piulua. Even driving from the dock, Akuluk can see new life on the tundra in the form of fox kits playing and at the house, there are seven month-old puppies born to their sled dog Blackie. 

The next day, Akuluk's Aunt Sulie and Uncle James, along with Uncle Tommy, take her out on the boat to check out their summer camp grounds, now inhabited by polar bears. With a wealth of food, that includes dried Arctic char, palaugaaq bannock and aqpiit (a glossary of Inuktitut words explains these and more at the conclusion of the story), they begin their foray on the Arctic Ocean.
From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Their sighting of a pod of creamy white beluga whales, including a grey calf, mesmerizes Akuluk, and even more so when they use a recording device to hear the mother's cooing, clicking, chattering and whistling sounds. Based on the Inuktitut word for small, mikilaaq, Akuluk names the baby Miki. But when another lone calf appears, they watch as the mother and the other whales check it out, perhaps to adopt the orphan.

From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Finally they arrive near their old camp and see the polar bear and her cubs who'd previously found their fishing nets filled with char and now return annually. The family willingly gave up "their traditional land to help these large animals survive." (pg. 21) They place themselves between the bears on land and the whales and watch the bears eat their catch of seal meat, as seagulls, hopeful of remnants, look on.  Akuluk learns that normally the Arctic foxes would be following the bears, eating any meat left behind, but in the summer they have their kits and stay away from the nanuit (sing. nanuq) who would prey on the very young.
"Everywhere we go, Inuit and animals, we all have a need to stay close, so we can help one another," she says, putting an arm around Akuluk. "The wildlife do what they can to help one another, in their own way, and we do what we can in ours. We have to share our earth with all the wildlife that live here. We need to look after our land, and the plants in it, too." (pg. 29)
Suzie Napayok-Short who was born in Frobisher Bay and has lived on Baffin Island and Nunavut takes delight in Akuluk's visiting and learning, perhaps because these were her own experiences. Not only does Akuluk get to spend time with family and witness animal wonders in the Arctic, she learns of the traditional ways, piusituqait, and their importance in maintaining ecosystems. Author Suzie Napayok-Short embeds her storytelling, perhaps recounting, with a respectful gravitas, recognizing Akuluk's visit as pivotal for the young girl. 
From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Illustrator Tamara Campeau who also illustrated The Muskox and the Caribou and In the Sky at Nighttime stays true to her artistic style of realism with a hint of the personal. She doesn't make her illustrations frivolous or silly; instead, the art depicts the true nature of the familial relationships and the wonder of the natural world. By blending the authentic with the deferential, Tamara Campeau dignifies Suzie Napayok-Short's story while giving it colour and shape.

Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer goes beyond summer and gives a picture of life in Nunavut for its people, its animals and the land, and it's a great place to visit through Suzie Napayok-Short and Tamara Campeau's work.

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