Howard Norman is an author I have enjoyed for some time. I knew his background in folklore but hadn’t really explored any of that part of his career. But what I stumbled upon The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese: And Other Tales of the Far North while on vacation this summer I knew that had to change. A beautifully illustrated book of folklore by one of my favorite authors? Yes, please.
Based on decades of research and extended collaboration with Inuit storytellers, award-winning author Howard Norman’s masterful retellings of ten Inuit tales invite readers on a unique story–journey from Siberia and Alaska to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Dramatic illustrations inspired by stonecut art of the Inuit people capture the beauty and mystery of these stories as they carry us–sometimes laughing, sometimes crying–from village to village over taiga, tundra, snow plains, and the iceberg-filled sea.
This book is exactly what I thought it would be when I stumbled upon it: wonderful, evocative stories from the Far North with gorgeous illustrations that make it that more fun to read.
What I enjoy about reading folklore is that it allows you to get a sense of a culture’s touch points; its geography, weather, agriculture, religious symbols, family structures, etc. And at the same time read timeless stories of human imagination and interaction. You see the dynamics of families and communities and the diverse personalities they include. You remember that human nature has no history; humans have been wrestling with the same questions and problems for as long as they have been on this planet.
Kirkus really captures my thoughts:
This collection is not only the handsomest gathering of Inuit folktales ever, but one that will bring readers as close to a living oral tradition as printed material can. After working with folklorists and Inuit storytellers, Norman recasts ten stories from every corner of this widespread culture. While versions of several stories appeared in his Northern Tales (1990), they will be new to young readers. Most have a humorous cast: A shaman enrages a rude visitor with a succession of hilarious, earthy insults; stubborn Uteritsoq ignores good advice and has his “stomach guts” stolen by a moon spirit; when the Ark becomes locked in Hudson Bay ice, a crabby Noah refuses to have anything to do with the local villagers, and so is forced to eat many of his animals–plus a woolly mammoth that comes on board. Between each tale’s two or three magical, formal, full-page paintings, the Dillons recapitulate events in a small black-and-white running frieze, composed of human and animal figures done in a style evocative of Inuit art. A pleasure to see, to hold, and to read–this is elegant bookmaking matched to entertaining, perceptive storytelling. Story notes appended.
Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in folklore or oral storytelling.