Review: ‘Fish-Boy, an Inuit Folktale’ by Vanita Oelschlager

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‘Fish-Boy, an Inuit Folk Tale’ told by Vanita Oelschlager comes out May 1, 2018. We read this through Net Galley for review purposes.


My kids and I keep a world map on which we mark off books and stories we’ve read. Our goals is to visit as many different places as possible through books. I was very excited to come across this story available for review, as it goes along with our North America continent study for the day.

In summary:

The story starts with an Inuit boy traveling with a group of men to the little island their people call ‘Ignaluk’ to trade with a great hunter. Journeying through the water in their umiak, they see a large number of sea-parrots, or arctic puffins. The boy is astounded by the number of birds and asks the elder if there have always been so many of them. In answer to that question, the elder tells the boy the tale of Fish-boy.

Fish-boy is exactly what his name would suggest: half fish and half boy. He becomes the adopted son of a lame fisherman, helping him catch many fish to trade in the village. Their success brings them fame far and wide, and Fish-boy is asked to come to the aid of a village across the water. He is met with much hostility for his unusual and magical nature and must transform his people into puffins in order to escape pursuers and return home.

Of course there is more to that part of the story, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Review:

First of all, the artwork by Mike Blanc is beautiful. To be honest, my favorite part of children’s books is probably the art.

When it comes to what we look for in a picture book, my kids and I tend to steer away from large blocks of small print on the page. We prefer to have more pages with less words on them, than a book with lots of text on a single page. This story was on the wordier side. My six and a half year old lost interest immediately. But my 8 year old stayed through to the end.

The story paints a beautiful picture of life in the far north- their customs and means of survival. There were a lot of similar sounding names of people and places that could be a bit confusing, though. I understand that they were included to provide extra information for the reader to get an all around understanding, and from a homeschool mom perspective, I appreciate that. But from a casual reader perspective, some of that detail could have been easily omitted.

When we got to the end of the story there was a glossary of terms and list of teaching points. The homeschool mom side of me leaped for joy. When we came across the word umiak in the beginning of the story, we used the illustrations to help us understand this new thing we’d never heard of. To our delight, it was defined in the back! Some examples of the teaching topics are:

  • Differently-abled people and how they are viewed or treated
  • Killing for food and clothing
  • Environment
  • Telling stories that explain nature
  • Transmitting values generationally

There are more topics, but these are the ones that we actually paused to discuss or note during our reading and were happy to see included.

One last point to note: the publisher, Vanita Books, donates all net profits to charities where “people help people help themselves.’ Ten percent of this book’s net profits will be donated to the Oak Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis.

My kids and I love using literature to learn about the world, and this was a great story for that. Overall it I’d give it 3 stars out of 5. I would point out again though, it is a bit wordy, and a kid like my 6 year old who loses interest quickly may not enjoy it as much.

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