Arctic adventure tale showcases Inuit culture to children

Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, a writer and anthropologist from Baker Lake, says she wrote Akilak's Adventure because 'there aren't a lot of books for Inuit children about life in Nunavut.'

'It hopefully reflects the way Inuk kids are and some Inuit beliefs,' says author Deborah Kigjugalik Webster

'I hope that adults and children alike will like this book and get a little glimpse into childhood in another part of the world,' says Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, the author of Akilak's Adventure. (Inhabit Media)

Akilak's Adventure is a simple story of a young girl's journey, but for the book's author it means far more.

Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, a researcher and anthropologist from Baker Lake, says she was inspired to write her first children's book because "there aren't a lot of books for Inuit children about life in Nunavut."

When her daughters were growing up, Webster says they always looked forward to evening story time, when they'd read books and weave their own original stories.

"Instead of winding the kids down before bed, story time and reading would wind them up and we would stay up past our bed time," said Webster.

"[Akilak's Adventure] was inspired by my daughters' imagination and excitement and wonderment."

Deborah Kigjugalik Webster signs a copy of Akilak's Adventure for a young fan during a book launch in Ottawa on Sunday. (Submitted by Kevin Kablutsiak)

Tundra inspiration

The book's title character makes a great journey from one camp to another to gather food. 
Deborah Kigjugalik Webster's younger daughter, Nicole Amaruq, shows off Charlene Chua's illustrations. (Submitted by Deborah Webster)

Along the way, Webster says Akilak feels taulittuq, an Inuktitut term describing "the experience of moving, but without the sense of nearing one's destination."

In other words, she has the familiar 'Are we there yet?' feeling.

In the story, Akilak draws on her imagination and her grandmother's spirit to turn the daunting trek into an adventure.

"It hopefully reflects the way Inuk kids are and some Inuit beliefs," says Webster.

For Webster, reading the finished books brings her back to her time working as an archeologist by Nunavut's Kazan River, "when you can be on the tundra and smelling the land."

"It is fictional," she said. "But it seems so real to me that it seems to be true."

Inspiring the next generation

Webster says it was important for the book to be "culturally authentic" and she worked hard to weave together Inuit beliefs with the narrative. 

When her daughters Nicole Amaruq and Sonja Akilak, now 15 and 18, opened the books for the first time, Webster knew she'd achieved that. 
Maniituq Bruce-Thompson (left), who wore her white tuilik and brought a traditional Inuit doll to the event, gets a book signed for her granddaughter. (Submitted by Deborah Kigjugalik Webster)

"They were so thrilled," she said, laughing. 

"Anytime we can showcase our Inuit culture, I think that's a good thing."

The book has already touched at least one young Inuk. 

A day after the Ottawa book launch, where Webster's friends showed off traditional Inuit clothing and toys, she got a text from her brother. 

"My nephew, Timothy, who's about 10 years old, he said to his dad ... he'd like to be a writer."

Akilak's Adventure, with illustrations by Toronto's Charlene Chua, is available through Inhabit Media. An Inuktitut version is set to be published early next year.