by Jean Craighead George, published 1972
“Miyax pushed back the hood of her sealskin parka and looked at the Arctic sun. It was a yellow disk in a lime-green sky; the colors of six o’clock in the evening and the time when the wolves awoke.”
Thus begins an extraordinary children’s book that takes us to the heart of the old life of the Eskimo, a life which by the end of the book we realize will never be the same because of the white people who arrive. This authentic and bittersweet story allows a glimpse into a world where people were still able to become part of nature. Miyax survives the harsh Arctic winter because she can communicate with the wolves, and there is no doubt during the reading of this story that people for millennium had done so. There is also no doubt by the time we reach the end of this children’s book that something very precious has been lost with the eradication of the “old ways.”
I selected this book because I knew it was often read by the fifth grade class at the Waldorf school where I teach. However, it is actually a common part of many classroom curriculum, and has several classroom study guides available. This children’s book offers so many topics for discussion. Survival in the wild is just one of them. Other topics include care for the environment, the contrast between indigenous and modern cultures, the ability to move from one culture to another, and on and on. This book is so rich and vibrant. The story is based on some real people that the author encountered during her own stays in the Arctic circle.
In the interest of full disclosure, there was an unsettling moment, that lasted for about 3 sentences, when the 13-year-old child husband of this child bride, angrily attempts “to mate.” While it is startling, younger readers will not make any sense of it, and older children will be able to handle it, as the incident is short, not graphic, and propels the young girl to take care of herself and leave. However, parents should know this tiny episode exists in the book.
A Newbery prize winner, this children’s book is authentic, fascinating, riveting, and a little sad at the end.