April 28, 2023

The Woman and Her Bear Cub

Adapted and retold by Jaypeetee Arnakak
Illustrated by Dayna B. Griffiths
Inhabit Media
36 pp.
Ages 3-6
April 2023
Many children take it upon themselves to adopt animals they believe have been abandoned. They do it with the best of intentions, though sometimes without regard for the bigger picture. The Woman and Her Bear Cub is a traditional Inuit story of such a fostering but with the wisdom that comes with living in conjunction with the natural environment and not overriding it.
From The Woman and Her Bear Cub by Jaypeetee Arnakak, illus. by Dayna B. Griffiths
A child and her mother are out on the ice hunting when they discover a polar bear cub stranded behind some broken ice. The mother wisely looks for tracks and evidence that the mother bear is nearby but can find none, so they help the cub from its location and take it home.
From The Woman and Her Bear Cub by Jaypeetee Arnakak, illus. by Dayna B. Griffiths
The child calls the cub her baby brother and their bond is as strong as siblings. They spend time together, playing and such, with the bear becoming an integral part of their family, even bringing back seals and fish that he has caught for them.
From The Woman and Her Bear Cub by Jaypeetee Arnakak, illus. by Dayna B. Griffiths
But when the cub is no longer a baby bear, and he becomes so big that the others in the village are concerned, the mother prepares her child for the time he would have to leave them. Still, it isn't until her brother bear returns from hunting one day with his own mother that the mother and child are able to say goodbye.
From The Woman and Her Bear Cub by Jaypeetee Arnakak, illus. by Dayna B. Griffiths
Jaypeetee Arnakak is a multi-talented Inuit linguist, translator, educator, and writer who grew up in Clyde River on Baffin Island. He has edited a collection of traditional stories from oral recordings of Inuit Elders and adapted several into picture books. The Woman and Her Bear Cub is one such traditional story and one that tells of compassion for living things and letting go when the time is right. There is no willful removal of a wild animal to provide companionship or entertainment. Neither is there a selfishness to take and keep what does not belong to them. The mother and her child give sanctuary to a lost bear cub only until he is reunited with his mother. It's not about their needs but about his needs. 

That quietness of purpose and landscape is portrayed in the illustrations of The Woman and Her Bear Cub by artist and designer Dayna B. Griffiths of Toronto. By creating art that appears stark, with a restrained palette of blue, white, and grey-brown, Dayna B. Griffiths makes the Arctic landscape of blue sky and white snow dotted with an occasional qarmaq (dwelling) very powerful. As such, the interjection of a white bear and grey-brown-clad people, with the occasional dog of both grey and white, in that landscape makes them both an important and insignificant focus.

As with most traditional stories, even those that may take on fantastical proportions, there is a germ of truth, and I suspect this one is based in reality. Adopting a lost animal and caring for it until care is no longer necessary is a story for all times. Here, a polar bear and an Arctic landscape may make this story unique, but its premise is grounded in the authenticity of compassion for those in need and dictated only by the one most affected. It is a lesson in selflessness and benevolence and a true reflection of the graciousness of Inuit values.

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