By Jean Craighead George
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
A beautiful tale that spans 200 years, the life of one bowhead whale and the lives of many generations of two very different families.
- Siku, a bowhead whale
- Toozak, the young boy who witnessed the birth of Siku and then later accidently leads Yankee whale hunters to a pod of whales that are then slaughtered
- Emily Toozak, a young girl who saves Siku and whom is saved by Siku
- Tom Boyd, captain of a whaling ship that helps to decimate the whale population in the Arctic Ocean
- Will, son of Captain Tom Boyd V, married Emily Toozak
- Agvik Toozak, the final Toozak of the story who meets 200 year old Siku
The story begins in 1848 when as a young Eskimo boy, Toozak witnesses the birth of a bowhead whale and makes a connection with him, naming the whale Siku. Some 20 years later with the whale population in decline from all of the whalers, Toozak accidently leads a group of whalers to a pod near his home. All of the whales are slaughtered. Overcome with grief for what he has done he seeks guidance from the village shaman who pronounces a curse upon Toozak. To make up for the destruction of the whales, Toozak must spend his life protecting Siku. The curse will carry on from generation to generation until either Siku dies or Siku saves the life of Toozak or one of his offspring.
So Toozak leaves his village in search of Siku and advice on how to protect him. Through many generations and interactions between Siku and Toozak’s family the story weaves the tale of the near-extinction of the bowhead, through the eventual protection, and ends in 2048 when the whale population is finally reaching pre-slaughter levels and one final time when a Toozak saves the life of Siku.
This was a hard story to read in places when it detailed the horrors of whale harvesting. But it offers hope for the future and a unique insight into the lives of the Eskimo, or Inuit, people of the north. They rely on the whale and seals to survive but never take any more than they have need of. This is a lesson for all of us to only take from the earth what we need and no more. The story of Toozak and Siku is painfully sweet and should be passed on for other people, young and old, to read and share.
It is important to remember that while the harvesting of whales is now outlawed in the United States with the exception of native Inuit villages along the Alaskan coast, some countries still harvest them and all too many die in fishing nets and by ships propellers. Whales are an integral part of our oceans and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Rating: 3 paws for a bittersweet story of the importance of taking care of the creatures who share our planet.
Some of Mrs. George’s books:
This is one I will definately check out!