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Monday, April 23, 2018

My Wounded Island, written by Jacques Pasquet and illustrated by Marion Arbona. Translated from the French by Sophie B. Watson. Orca Books, 2017. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"Why is this creature trying to hurt our island? Why isn't the goddess of the sea, Sedna, protecting us? Grandfather says she can do nothing. Our island is wounded, gnawed away bit by bit by a monster that is unknown to the gods, goddesses and spirits who looked after our people ... " 

Imarvaluk and her family live on Sarichef Island. It is so tiny that, on a map, it looks like a speck near the Arctic Circle between Alaska and Russia. The real problem is that Sarichef is getting even smaller, devoured by a fearsome sea creature. The Inupiat have lived on the island for many years. Though there have been changes, they have been able to support their families through a connection to life there and at sea. It is their winter home.

During the summer, they live on the mainland, gathering berries, fishing and hunting caribou. Life is forever changing and Imarvaluk is frightened by the strength of the sea.

"I can't ever forget the fury of the sea.
 Once,  huge waves, so high and so
strong, almost swallowed the entire

As the sea creature continues to threaten their way of life, outsiders have come to study the island. They explain that this is no mythic creature working its bad magic. Rather, it is climate change and it is happening in other places in the world as well.

'We watched a film that showed what is happening
to islands like ours. Because of the warmer temperatures,
glaciers are melting and the water is rising. Our island, like
all the others that are too close to sea level, could
disappear under the sea."

Nightmares for Imarvaluk are just one consequence of this new knowledge. The other is that any house sitting close to the sea will have to be moved to the middle of the island where all the other houses are. Eventually, they will have to leave the island for good. Then what? Solutions are discussed and considered, including a move to Nome. That does not sit well with Grandfather. He prefers a permanent move to their summer camp on the mainland.

"What worries Grandfather the most is that
the creature will make not only our land
disappear but also the memories of our

It is a terrible thought, and a scary future for too many. This is a book for older readers, and is sure to evoke serious conversation. Making it personal and real through a story of the people affected most by the warming climate and the shrinking sea ice gives perspective to news stories and environmental warnings. Ms. Arbona's  mixed media illustrations match the tone perfectly. She uses rich tones and important detail to depict the growing sense of dread, while also providing a threatening sea monster intent on devouring what has been their way of life.

A brief glossary that defines both geography and culture adds context.

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