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Friday, August 9, 2019

The Pencil, written by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula and illustrated by Charlene Chua. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2018. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"You know the reason we have to use our things very wisely is because they are quite difficult to get. We have only one pencil right now, and we won't be able to get another until we return to the trading post," she said.

Susan and her siblings know the importance of the one pencil the family has. Their mother uses it to write letters to friends in other northern camps. One day, when her mother is called to help with the birth of a new baby, the children spend time with their dad. He involves them in storytelling and games while they wait for Anaana to return.

Looking for something else to do when their tolerance for regular games runs out, the children are thrilled when their father retrieves the pencil from the wooden box filled with very important things.

"The pencil, the pencil!" Peter and I yelled.
We hardly ever got to see it. It got a little bit
smaller every time we saw it."

Not much is left of that pencil. Susan is encouraged to use it for drawing. Not willing to lose her chance, she immediately begins drawing pictures of her family, the tools they use, and the animals of the far north. Everyone gets a turn, including Ataata. The pencil gets shorter.

Is there reason to worry about their mother's reaction when she gets home and sees what they have done?

This memoir is a telling look at life in an iglu, and the need to protect the resources a family has. Susan and her family experience the same boredom that comes to all children when time is long. The joy they get from using the pencil is clearly shown in the drawings done by Charlene Chua. Endpapers capture the childlike joy of drawing what you see and know.

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