I recently put out a call for recommendations of diverse books that I might be able to add to my school library collection, and this little beauty was recommended by a former professor who particularly ecstatic about it’s release early next year. This is my first picture book review, so please be gentle!
Title: Fish-Boy: An Inuit Folk Tale
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrator: Mike Blanc
Publisher: Vanita Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2018
Genre: Children’s Book, Folk Tale, Picture Book, Inuit Tales
Themes: Family, Friendship, Kindness, Origin Tales
My Rating: 4.5/ 5
The Arctic region of North America is a land of long days, icy cold, hardy people and peculiar creatures. The Inuit people there have made traditional use of remarkable folk tales to find truth and explain the mysteries of an astonishing world.
In Fish-Boy, An Inuit Folk Tale, Vanita Oelschlager retells a tale passed down by a wise old Inuit. It’s an origin story involving a little magic and a very odd boy with a large heart for friendship. On a journey with his new father, he must confront misfortune and the malice of cold hearted villagers. But he has a way.. and a lesson for all in the virtues of kindness and hospitality.
I so wanted to give Fish-Boy a five star review, and then my inner academic reared it’s ugly head. The voice of the writing is perfect for reading out load and the art is so insanely beautiful that I could just sit and stare at all day long. Seriously. It’s that gorgeous. And yet, I have some reservations about a millionaire American philanthropist retelling Inuit folktales. Research as I might on the acceptance of Oelschlager’s retellings of other folktales, I can find very little on how her process and sources and thus approach this tale with a grain of salt. I will take the stance that no-news is good news on this font (vis-a-vis cultural appropriation), but I definitely prefer to see folktales retold by those who live and breathe the cultures from which such tales stem.
But, nit-picky brain aside, I can’t wait for this book to print! I don’t care that I will be buying it new, and in hardback, but this baby is going into my school library collection as soon as possible because it is so dang good. It might seem a little text heavy to those who are used to picture books, but when it comes to folktales, the text embodies oral traditions while the illustrations spark the imagination and set the tone. I am absolutely in love with the story within a story, and also how Fish-Boy explores not only the origin of the ‘sea-parrots’ but also the origin of Fish-Boy’s family.
True to Oelschlager’s roots, Fish-Boy reflects themes surrounding growing up, conflict resolution, the treatment of others, difference, and adoptive families. The orality of the book makes it perfect for reading out loud, and as such, also serves as a wonderful medium through which to start these conversations with children either one-on-one or in a group setting. It is so hard to do oral stories justice in writing, and this Oelschlager’s retelling breathes in life, details, and action that are too often lost as folktales are translated to the page. This book is incredible and that the value of it’s lessons should not be overlooked. I was caught up in it’s magic, and I am sure that I will read it many, many more times in the years to come.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely! And as an added bonus it aligns with our elementary school curriculum in many Canadian provinces. Not only is it a beautifully written and illustrated book, but it would make an excellent teaching/ library resource as well. Whether you are buying this book for your family, your library, or your school – you won’t be disappointed.
Fellow book-lovers, I need you opinion! I would like to start reviewing some more children’s/ picture books but haven’t yet decided on how I want to integrate them into the blog. Would you prefer to see individual posts, or a monthly round-up with mini reviews? I’d love to see your thoughts!
Many thanks to Vanita Oelschlager and Vanita Books for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.