An Inuit Tale of Warmth, Wonder and Wisdom

Ava Book

Ava and the Little Folk

Co-written by Neil Christopher and Alan Neal
Illustrated by Jonathan Wright
Published by Inhabit Media Inc.

REVIEWED BY JC SULZENKO

Let me declare myself from the outset: First, I am often asked to comment on what someone I know has written. I usually resist doing so. It just isn’t wise. Relationships can influence the experience.

Though I’m very familiar with Glebe resident Alan Neal’s radio voice and have met him once or twice, I do not know him or his co-author, Neil Christopher, personally, nor have I had the pleasure of meeting artist/illustrator Jonathan Wright. That’s why I agreed to review Ava and the Little Folk, their just-published 42-page, hardcover storybook for “young readers.”

Second, I have a serious case of legend envy after reading this book, which is the more important, up-front admission. Ava and the Little Folk brought home how many links to my forebears, their culture and legends I never will be able to pass along to my own children. As soon as I finished the book, I felt deep regret that I no longer could sit down with my mother and grandmother and hear them speak of the myths in the Austrian Tyrol where my mother grew up before the Nazis stole so much from them.

Inhabit Media Inc., the publisher of this and other beautiful books based on Inuit legends that have been passed from generation to generation, seeks to ensure that Inuit mythology does not suffer a similar, dead-end fate. As the “first independent publishing company in Nunavut, we hope to bring Arctic stories and wisdom to the world.” Cue the applause!

This is a tall order for Ava and the Little Folk! Does it deliver?

The story builds upon a traditional Inuit tale about a shunned orphan who finds a home with magical dwarves. From the cover of the book to the frontispiece and on the pages that follow, readers of Ava and the Little Folk are drawn into the landscape of the story by illustrations in muted, winter colours, except for the rosy cheeks. Orphan Ava’s hard life is captured by original, uncluttered, austere images that are memorable. His fear is given shape and is as palpable as his isolation. These illustrations by Jonathan Wright do more than complement the story – they set its tone and give it depth.

The pictures in this book, indeed, are worth the proverbial 1,000 words, which leads to my only quibble with Ava and the Little Folk. There is a lot of text. Though the dialogue and illustrations move the story forward at a good pace, the book will resonate best with older children and the “child within” adult readers.

Ava’s meetings with the little folk are described in a way that preserves the magic of these encounters, so it’s easy for southern readers to lose themselves in the possibilities the dwarves could offer Ava. In one sequence, Sakku, a little hunter, makes Ava a dwarf-sized iglu in which to sleep. We watch with Ava as Sakku shapes the structure and lines it with furs. When Ava worries he’s too big for it, Aru, a tiny woman with powers that amaze, shares a life lesson as true for southern readers as for Ava, when she says “Never say can’t or won’t.”

“Here we say ‘have not yet.’ What you are not able to do today might be something you can accomplish tomorrow.”

After he feels the strength of Aru’s touch, Ava finds he can fit inside the iglu and ultimately into his new life with the Inugarulligaarjuit (the supernatural race of little beings).

We all love the notion that magical creatures can bring us to a place of wonder, warmth and wisdom. What better gift to share this holiday season with people from away than a book that makes us want to suspend our jaded disbelief, at least for as long as it takes us to read Ava and the Little Folk.

Kaleidoscope Kids Books on Bank St. carries the book. For information on Inhabit Media, go to: www.inhabitmedia.com.

Glebe resident JC Sulzenko is a poet and author who writes for both young and mature readers and is an avid supporter of the arts.

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