Kusugak, Michael (Arvaarluk) 1948-

views updated

KUSUGAK, Michael (Arvaarluk) 1948-

PERSONAL: Born April 27, 1948, in Repulse Bay, Northwest Territories, Canada; married; four sons. Ethnicity: "Inuit." Education: University of Saskatchewan, B.A. (English literature).

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 572, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada X0C 0G0. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Storyteller and author of books for children. Worked as a civil servant in Canada for fifteen years; Arctic College, director of community programs. Member, National Library of Canada advisory board and Rankin Inlet Library board. Lecturer at schools and libraries; storyteller at festivals and other venues, including Kaleidoscope 6, Calgary, Alberta, 1996, Young People's Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, 1997, Wordfest, 1998, and Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, Sechelt, British Columbia, 2003.

AWARDS, HONORS: Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award, 1994, for Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails.

WRITINGS:

(With Robert Munsch) A Promise Is a Promise, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka, Firefly Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Baseball Bats for Christmas, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka, Firefly Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Hide and Sneak, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka, Firefly Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka, Firefly Books (New York, NY), 1993.

My Arctic 1, 2, 3, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka, Annick Press (Willowdale, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

Arctic Stories, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka, Firefly Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Who Wants Rocks? Firefly Books (New York, NY), 1999.

A Promise Is a Promise has been anthologized in Munschworks 3: The Third Munsch Treasury, Firefly Books (New York, NY), 2000, and The Munchworks Grand Treasury, Annick Press (Willowdale, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

ADAPTATIONS: Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails was adapted as a CD-ROM, Discis Knowledge Research (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

SIDELIGHTS: Michael Kusugak is a Canadian author who has broadened the spectrum of children's literature through his contribution of stories focusing on his Inuit heritage. Many of his titles, among them Hide and Sneak, Baseball Bats for Christmas and the short-story collection Arctic Tales, engage early elementary-grade readers with their crisp prose and unique subject matter. Reviewing Baseball Bats for Christmas, Kenneth Oppel remarked in Quill & Quire that Kusugak's "first-person narration is warm, energetic, and wonderfully humorous" as he tells the story of growing up in an Inuit fishing village.

Kusugak grew up in the small village of Repulse Bay, in Canada's Northwest Territories, and inherited his love of storytelling from his grandmother. As a child he spoke only Inuit, the language of his family, and his memories of those years, in which he lived in sod houses and igloos and traveled by dog team, has served as the basis of much of his fiction for young readers. By the time Kusugak was a teen the old Inuit way of life had gradually slipped away. He became one of the first Inuit in his region to graduate from a high school, a goal that required him to leave his home and become a boarding student during the school year. After college, although he worked for the Canadian government and for a local university, he always remained tied to his cultural roots and to Canada's Arctic region. As Jon C. Stott explained in an essay in St. James Guide to Children's Writers, "Kusugak set about to create stories that would combine elements of the old and modern worlds, would appeal to his own people as well as to larger audiences and would catch the attention of children who were primarily interested in television and video games."

Written with coauthor Robert Munsch, whom Kusugak met when Munsch appearing at a northern Canada school assembly, Kusugak's first published book, A Promise Is a Promise, is based on a childhood memory of going ice fishing. In the story, an Inuit girl named Allashua decides to disobey her parents' wishes and go fishing alone, but falls through the ice and is trapped by the Qallupilluit—creatures who dwell beneath the frozen sea. Released on her word that she will return to the Qallupilluit with her brothers and sisters, Allashua tricks the sea beasts with help from her mother. André Gagnon praised the story in his Canadian Materials review, commending its "suspense, magical moments, and . . . most satisfying ending." A Promise Is a Promise has been included in several anthologies of Munsch's stories.

Allashua returns in Hide and Sneak, and again gets herself into trouble with a magical being. This time the being is a Ijiraq, a small impish man who lures the young girl from her home but is thwarted in his kidnaping attempt when Allashua finds help from another source. Calling Hide and Sneak "a triumph," Canadian Children's Literature reviewer Stan Atherton praised Kusugak's preteen heroine as "credible, open, imaginative, and even slightly rebellious," while a Bloomsbury Review contributor dubbed the story "charming."

Kusugak's short story collection Arctic Stories was published in 1999 and also features a young female protagonist. Agatha is the focus of the three tales included, all of which are take place during the late 1950s in a village along the Hudson Bay. Encounters with a U.S. Navy blimp and a large raven, as well as her adventures during her first year at boarding school, are recounted by Kusugak with what a Publishers Weekly contributor characterized as "clarity and dry humor." John Peters added in Booklist that Arctic Tales is a "combination of recognizable characters and exotic locale [that] will transport young readers effortlessly."

Also for novice readers, Who Wants Rocks? tells the story of Little Mountain, which exists in the Arctic region and leads a quiet life. With the coming of the Yukon gold rush, Little Mountain must contend with a strange man named Old Joe, who is determined to disrupt the mountain's surface and the creatures and plants making Little Mountain their home in his search for gold. Finally, Joe realizes that the true treasure lies elsewhere, and determines to make his home atop Little Mountain and enjoy the hillside's natural beauty. Praising the story as a good read-aloud choice due to its focus on environmental themes, Patty Lawlor commended Who Wants Rocks? in Quill & Quire for its "short sentences and simple, carefully worded descriptions" and noted that Kusugak recounts his tale in "traditional storytelling style."

In addition to writing stories, which he does in a shed next to his house, Kusugak enjoys telling his tales aloud to young listeners in much the same way that his grandmother used to tell stories to him. With only a single piece of string with which to bring to life his animal characters, he performs at schools and libraries around Canada, and in 1997 was featured on stage at Toronto's Young People's Theatre.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Jones, Raymond E., and Jon C. Stott, Canadian Children's Books: A Critical Guide to Authors and Illustrators, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Canada), 2000.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, p. 615.

PERIODICALS

Bloomsbury Review, September, 1992, review of Hide and Sneak p. 21.

Booklist, November 1, 1998, John Peters, review of Arctic Stories, p. 503.

Books in Canada, summer, 1992, Rhea Tregebov, review of Hide and Sneak, p. 36.

Canadian Children's Literature, Volume 72, 1993, Stan Atherton, review of Hide and Sneak, p. 84.

Canadian Materials, November, 1988, André Gagnon, review of A Promise Is a Promise.

Children's Book News, winter, 1999, Jeffrey Canton, review of Arctic Stories, p. 23.

Horn Book, May-June, 1991, Sarah Ellis, review of Baseball Bats for Christmas, pp. 366-368.

Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1998, review of Arctic Stories, p. 71.

Quill & Quire, October, 1990, Kenneth Oppel, review of Baseball Bats for Christmas, p. 14; February, 1991, Peter Cumming, "Inuit Writer Kusugak Thrives in Two Worlds," pp. 21, 23; March, 1992, Sarah Ellis, review of Hide and Sneak, p. 65; September, 1993, Linda Granfield, review of Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails, p. 67; September, 1999, Patty Lawlor, review of Who Wants Rocks? p, 69.

School Librarian, autumn, 1999, Jane Doonan, review of Arctic Stories, p. 145.

School Library Journal, February, 1989, Reva Pitch Margolis, review of A Promise Is a Promise, p. 74; September, 1995, LaVonne Sanborn, "Storyteller: Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak," p. 154; May, 1997, Roz Goodman, review of My Arctic 1, 2, 3, pp. 120-121; March, 1999, Mollie Bynum, review of Arctic Stories, p. 177.

ONLINE

Annick Press Web site,http://www.annickpress.com/ (March 12, 2003), "Michael Kusugak."

Michael Kusugak Web site,http://www.michaelkusugak.com (March 12, 2003).*