Michel Arvaarluk Kusugak's Hide and Sneak
illustrated by Krykorka
Book review by Monica Friedman
A Modern Fairy Tale Inspired by Canadian Inuit Legend
Like much of the author’s work, this delightful picture book is set in Canada and draws on the Inuit legends of the author’s historical tradition. To set the stage for the story of Allashua and the Ijiraq, he first retells an older story, of the Ijiraq and the inuksugaq.
What’s an Ijiraq? It’s a creature that loves to play hide-and-seek. In this story, the Ijiraq is “a tiny little man…dressed in a fur coat that looked like ptarmigan feathers in summer. His brown legs were bare and he had nothing on his feet at all. Like a ptarmigan in summer, he was very hard to see.” The Ijiraq’s hiding skills are superlative. “If an Ijiraq hides you,” the protagonist’s mother warns, “no one will ever find you again.”
What’s an inuksugaq? Allashua wonders this herself as she observes one on a hill, “made of rocks, piled one on top of the other to look like a man.” The introduction suggests that a long line of inuksugaqs is a traditional way to “corral caribou where they could be hunted,” but also that one Ijiraq built such a figure “to help him find his way home. And he never got lost again.”
This all sets up a gentle tale with lively, detailed illustrations. Every strand of hair, and every barb of every feather is rendered with loving care. There are bright flowers and soft clouds, all the beautiful elements that attract the little girl’s attention. The drawings feature rough borders comprised of ancient-looking prints that depict the natural landscape—water, mountains, butterflies—along with messages in an unidentified script.
Little Allashua, warned about the tendencies of the Ijiraq, goes to play hide-and-seek with her friends. But Allashua is distracted by the details of her world: birds, butterflies, and bugs draw her eyes to nature and her mind away from the game. Allashua is not very good at hide-and-seek. She knows it, and her friends know it. Her intense scrutiny of the natural world and her inability to hide leads her to notice, and be noticed by, a real Ijiraq. “I am very good at hiding,” the Ijiraq says when he hears of Allashua’s failure at hide-and-seek, “Let me help you.
He’s so nice about his offer that Allashua decides that her mother is wrong. The Ijiraq can’t hide her forever, and maybe, just once, she can succeed at hide-and-seek. So she follows the creature to his special hiding place, where no one can ever find them. And indeed, no one can. After a while, Allashua wants to go home for lunch. Too late, she understands his true character.
But Allashua is a fairy tale heroine; she must be resourceful. By making personal comments and staring at her captor, she eventually makes him so self-conscious that he agrees to take her home. She knows that if she takes her eyes off him for one second, he will disappear, so she is vigilant in her pursuit, but she has only to blink once and “the Ijiraq was gone. Poof. Gone. Just like that.” Lost and alone, she cries for her mother, but at last she turns to her remarkable powers of observation.
Far in the distance, “so far away she could hardly see it, there was a black dot on a hill,” and that, Allashua decides, is where she’s headed. After a long walk, the black dot resolves into an inuksugaq, and she realizes that she has seen this inuksugaq before. In fact, she can see her family’s tent and is soon in her parents’ arms, where she tells the entire story, ending with, “Father, what is an inuksugaq for?”
“‘To help you find your way home,’ he replied.”
“She said, ‘You know what, Father? It works.’”
Allashua never gets better at hide and seek, but she no longer minds. She still has fun playing, chasing butterflies, and singing the Ijiraq’s song. “Hide-and-sneak. Hide-and-sneak. How I love to Hide-and-sneak."
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