Thursday, July 16, 2015
Painted Skies, written by Carolyn Mallory and illustrated by Amei Zhao. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2015. $16.95 ages
I remember being fascinated by Michael Kusugak's Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails (Annick, 1993) when I first shared it with my kids at home and at school. I had never heard the Inuit belief concerning the incredible light show that we call 'aurora borealis'. Fortunately, that book is still in print, and would make a perfect pairing for this lovely tale.
In it, she introduces us to Leslie, a young girl who has just moved to the Canadian North. Leslie and her friend Oolipika are doing what most kids do when faced with a yard full of pristine white snow - they are making snow angels in it. As they lie laughing and talking about her new home, Leslie is astonished by the darkness and the green sky. Together, they watch as swirls of other glorious colors make their way across the night sky.
Because she is afraid, Leslie whistles. It is something her mother taught her to do to take her mind off what frightens her. Oolipika is quick to quiet her friend:
"Stop whistling," Oolipika said. "They'll hear you."
She, in turn, begins to move her fingernails together, making a clicking noise. She explains to Leslie what her grandmother has told her about the lights they see in the night sky. Leslie cannot believe what she is hearing, watching closely as the lights change color and move closer. That shared story from Inuit tradition is sure to intrigue young listeners; it will leave them feeling much as I did twenty years ago.
Amei Zhao's stunning artwork adds even more wonder, bringing readers the majesty and beauty of the lights and making her audience feel as if they are right there with the girls as they delight in the dark skies. Her use of perspective allows us to see the lights from both far and near. They seem almost to be talking with the girls, as they experience the grandeur of the display.
A final page explaining the science that causes this exceptional occurrence is useful.