The last time I read a Neil Christopher book, he introduced me to giant mythological beings from Inuit folklore known as the amautalik.This time he once again highlights Inuit legends previously unknown to me. I swear I listened for such stories when I lived in Nunavut, but I guess I still had lots to hear. Better late than never I guess.
In Ava and the Little Folk, the mythological beings are the Inugarulligaarjuit. As Christopher points out in the introduction, they have different names for them in different regions around the north, but there were still some similarities in their characteristics: they were great hunters, could persuade the weather to change, could walk through rock, and were little. I was reminded of the intro to Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl in which they discussed the popularity of fairies and like-folk around the world. An important distinction with the Inugarulligaarjuit is that they were little by choice. It seems that they can also change their size at will, which would give them an entirely different outlook on their surroundings and life.
But this is also the story of Ava, an Inuk boy, who feels ostracized from his village. He first encounters the little folk as he wanders away looking for solitude. The little people wind up teaching Ava valuable lessons in confidence and acceptance, and eventually take Ava in as one of their own. It was a curious ending and at first I was a little nonplussed that there didn't seem to be a resolution with Ava's original village. Did they ever miss him? Wonder where he went? Regret the way they had treated him? But when I considered how open and accepted adoption was in the Inuit towns I've lived in, I kind of saw this as an adoption story. Ava found a family that could and would love him and that was all that really mattered.
If it all sounds feel-goody, preachy, or heavy, it's better than that. There's also a lot of humour in the book. For instance, when Ava first meets a tiny Inugarulligaarjuk man, he's at a loss for words.
"You... you're... you're a..." Ava stammered in belief.
"That's right," the tiny man said, stabbing the ground with his spear. "I'm a hunter."
"But you're so..." Ava's hands darted around in the air as he tried to find the words. The stranger's eyes followed the hand movements calmly. "You're so..."
"So well-dressed?" The man shrugged, stretching out his arm. "My wife is a talented seamstress."
The only problem I have with the book— and it's similar to my issues with Stories of the Amautilik— is the imbalance of text and illustrations. Jonathan Wright's watercolours are beautiful. However, for every illustration there's an accompanying page filled with lines and lines of text, tiny font text. It would be a very awkward read aloud. Still, for those that like that to read by themselves and are still open to picture books, the story is well told and entertaining.