Blessing's Bead

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Nutaaq and her older sister, Aaluk, are on a great journey, sailing from a small island off the coast of Alaska to the annual trade fair. There, a handsome young Siberian wearing a string of cobalt blue beads watches Aaluk “the way a wolf watches a caribou, never resting.” Soon his actions—and other events more horrible than Nutaaq could ever imagine—threaten to shatter her I~nupiaq world. Seventy years later, Nutaaq’s greatgranddaughter, Blessing, is on her own journey, running from the wreckage of her life in ...

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Nutaaq and her older sister, Aaluk, are on a great journey, sailing from a small island off the coast of Alaska to the annual trade fair. There, a handsome young Siberian wearing a string of cobalt blue beads watches Aaluk “the way a wolf watches a caribou, never resting.” Soon his actions—and other events more horrible than Nutaaq could ever imagine—threaten to shatter her I~nupiaq world. Seventy years later, Nutaaq’s greatgranddaughter, Blessing, is on her own journey, running from the wreckage of her life in Anchorage to live in a remote Arctic village with a grandmother she barely remembers. In her new home, unfriendly girls whisper in a language she can’t understand, and Blessing feels like an outsider among her own people. Until she finds a cobalt blue bead—Nutaaq’s bead—in her grandmother’s sewing tin. The events this discovery triggers reveal the power of family and heritage to heal, despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Two distinct teenage voices pull readers into the native world of northern Alaska in this beautifully crafted and compelling debut novel.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Concrete and symbolic references to the transforming power of language, names, and stories link the two narratives, but it’s the Nutaaqs’ rhythmic, indelible voices—both as steady and elemental as the beat of a drum or a heart—that will move readers most. A unique, powerful debut.” —Starred, Booklist

“Atmospheric yet restrained, this is a moving account of what’s changed and what remains in Inupiaq life.” Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“The community’s sharing of a whale adds color, as do the authentic imagery, details, and language that pervade this memorable story.” Horn Book

“Blessing makes an emotional journey of self-discovery, as Edwardson weaves a fascinating portrait of a family's rich history.” —Publishers Weekly

“This unique and fascinating tale is told in an evocative voice that includes Village English, school English, Native language, and colloquialisms.” School Library Journal

Edwardson treads an elegant line in her perspective: Blessing is both an insider—Iñupiaq—and an outsider still learning exactly what that means. It’s a perspective that allows any reader in, and they’ll learn much about the power of stories and names and how to use them both.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This heartwarming story is richly told in the tradition of storytelling and its characters grow up in and come to love.” —ALAN Online

“An outstanding novel.  Every young person and adult should read this page-turning look into the culture of the Iñupiaq Eskimos. It is both a compelling and an enriching tale.” —Jean Craighead George, author of the Newbery Medal Book Julie of the Wolves and the Newbery Honor Book My Side of the Mountain

Blessing’s Bead is beautifully seen, glinting with Arctic light. It is also beautifully heard. Edwardson’s voice is as clear and fresh as a wind off the frozen sea. There are passages that simply take your breath away.” —Tim Wynne-Jones, award-winning author of the Rex Zero books

Blessing’s Bead is a gem—lyrical, fresh—and a compelling story, too. What a unique and universal tale!” —Marion Dane Bauer, author of the Newbery Honor Book On My Honor and Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins

VOYA - Dotsy Harland
Nutaaq is thrilled to leave her island off the coast of Alaska and travel with others from her Inupiaq village to the 1917 trade fair on the mainland. Excitement is in the air as the various Eskimo tribes intermingle, tell stories, and exchange news. But Nutaaq is blindsided when her beloved older sister, Aaluk, impulsively marries a Siberian man with a mesmerizing necklace of cobalt blue beads at the fair and leaves with him to start a new life. Before her departure, she gives Nutaaq two of the Siberian's blue beads by which to remember her until they see each other again. Because of the implementation of the "Ice Curtain" between Alaska and Russia, however, the two sisters are never reunited. Decades later, in 1989, Nutaaq's great-granddaughter Blessing and her brother Isaac are sent from Anchorage by social workers to live with their blind grandmother in an isolated Inupiaq village while their mother is treated for substance abuse. Blessing finds one of the blue beads in her grandmother's sewing tin, and it becomes a symbol of power and reassurance to her as she integrates into her new environment, embraces her ancestral culture, and unravels the reasons behind the actions of her relatives. Edwardson bases her compelling novel on factual events. Her writing style is stunningly descriptive and her message filled with hope. Readers will learn a tremendous amount about the history of Eskimo culture, and at the same time, they will be deeply touched by this jubilant celebration of family ties. Reviewer: Dotsy Harland
VOYA - Elizabeth Muller
I think Blessing's Bead should be a highly recommended book for historical fiction. It makes you feel like you are in the tribe, looking at the stories of Nutaaq and Blessing. It describes in detail where they are and how they live. It is a fantastic book to read over and over, and I'm still doing that. You must read this book. Reviewer: Elizabeth Muller
Publishers Weekly
Author of the picture book Whale Snow, Edwardson's first novel is a lyrical piece of historical fiction that focuses on Iñupiaq culture in Alaska, narrated by two teenage women, generations apart. In 1917, Nutaaq's beloved older sister, Aaluk, falls in love with a visiting Siberian and disappears with him across the ocean, leaving her sister with a pair of blue beads and a promise to return. Soon after, Spanish influenza devastates Nutaaq's village (“The silence of death has become as familiar as family. I recognize it instantly”). Seventy years later, Blessing (Nutaaq's great-granddaughter) and her younger brother are sent away from their alcoholic mother in Anchorage to live with their grandmother in a traditional Iñupiaq village where they initially feel like outsiders. But as Blessing absorbs their stories and traditions (“When they stamp their feet, the drums pound louder and the voices rise higher and it makes me want to jump up and dance with them”), she begins to identify with her culture. Narrating in a heavy dialect, Blessing makes an emotional journey of self-discovery, as Edwardson weaves a fascinating portrait of a family's rich history. Ages 10–up. (Nov.)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—In 1917, Aaluk is drawn away from her small Alaskan village by a handsome young Siberian, tempted by his beautiful blue beads and wooed by mysteries across the sea. She leaves her sister with two beads and a promise: she will be back with a bead for every person in her Inupiaq family. Nutaaq watches the ocean and waits, year after year, but she never sees her sister again. In 1989, 14-year-old Blessing and her younger brother are taken away from their abusive stepfather and loving, but irresponsible and alcoholic mother in Anchorage to live with their grandmother and uncle in a village "up North." Blessing misses her mother, but she is fascinated by the stories about her great-grandmother Nutaaq. Blessing's story is tied irrevocably to those of her ancestors. She adapts to life with her kind and intuitive grandmother. Nested in her grandmother's sewing basket is a blue bead. Surreptitiously she pockets it and at once it becomes her talisman. She learns the seasonal tempos: to dance to the drums, to celebrate the whale harvest, to sew, to carve caribou antlers, to make a yo-yo, and, at long last, to greet the Siberian visitors who, after decades of the politically enforced Ice Curtain, are able to reunite. Pivotal to the power of the novel are the shifts between Nutaaq and Aaluk's time and Blessing's present. This unique and fascinating tale is told in an evocative voice that includes Village English, school English, Native language, and colloquialisms.—Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY
Kirkus Reviews
In 1917, two Inupiaq sisters are separated when one marries a Siberian and crosses the Soviet "Ice Curtain." In 1989, Blessing-great-granddaughter of the other sister-heads to Barrow, Alaska, to stay with her aaka (grandmother) while her mother is in treatment for alcoholism. There Blessing finds a blue bead in the bottom of her aaka's sewing tin. As she grows to understand and love her new community, she learns about the story the bead holds and how it connects the whole family-even those in Siberia, who visit when the Ice Curtain finally falls. This multilayered family story is marred somewhat by awkward pacing and sometimes-unconvincing voices-the 1917 voice is overcome with nature similes; Blessing's is occasionally strongly colloquial ("My mom always braid my hair before she go Bingo"), only to slip suddenly into "proper" English. Still, Edwardson treads an elegant line in her perspective: Blessing is both an insider-Inupiaq-and an outsider still learning exactly what that means. It's a perspective that allows any reader in, and they'll learn much about the power of stories and names and how to use them both. (Fiction. 9-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374308056
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 11/10/2009
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 870L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

We are all of us reflections of the experiences we've had, the places we've lived, the people we've loved.

I've lived for over 30 years on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, a place of many challenges and many rewards. I haven't always lived here, but I've always lived in northern places. I grew up in Minnesota, where I spent summers with my mother at our family cabin on an island in the boundary waters of the Canadian border. My mother was an artist and I was a dreamer...and a reader. I read constantly and dreamed of becoming a writer.

As I grew older, I ventured even further north, to Noway, the land of my ancestors where I immersed myself in the Norwegian culture and learned the language. I attended Nansenskolen in Lillehammer—long before Lillehammer became the site of the winter Olympics.

The school was named after Fridjof Nansen, arctic explorer. Little did I know that I would follow Nansen's footsteps, north to the arctic—not as an explorer, but as a wanderer.

My wanderings took me to northern Alaska, home of the Inupiat, the "real people." There I found a mentor who taught me to see the world through his eyes. It was a good world.

I married this man whose grandfather, as it turned out, was Norwegian. Together we've raised seven children who are now living all over the country and across the globe from Washington DC to Austrailia.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. Along the way I've worked as a nurse's aide, a waitress, a pipeline worker, a radio reporter, a PR writer, a college director and a school board president. And now, at last, I really am a writer. Isn't it interesting how life works?

As many writers do, I write what I know, and through knowing it in my own way, make it my own, something both very old and very new at the same time, straddling the distinct and sometimes divergent traditions that make me who I am.

DEBBY DAHL EDWARDSON’S first book, Whale Snow, was named an NCSS/CBC Notable, a Banks Street Best, Independent Publishers, Best Picture Book of the Year and an IRA Notable Book for a Global Society. She earned an MFA at Vermont College in 2005.

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Read an Excerpt

The Trade Fair at Sheshalik

The Siberians are traveling with us to the trade fair, traveling along the coast, their boats piled high with the reindeer skins they have brought to trade. Our dogs run along the shore like shadows, their packs bouncing against their ribs—happy to be out in the late night sun, happy to be free. I am happy, too, gliding along in our skin boat, watching them run, wishing I could stretch my limbs and run with them, run for the sheer joy of it, as they do.

How glorious it is when summer comes again! Glorious to be out on the open water of the summer sea in the night-long sun, watching the bright ocean ice drift by, dreamlike, on the smooth dark water. Watching the grassy tundra roll past us, nearly close enough to touch, thick with the smell of sunshine and earth and greenery—Aarigaa!

Newborn animals are everywhere, too—birds and caribou and even baby seals—and we ourselves are soon to have a newborn of our own. Nuna, traveling with us, is round as a whale and clumsy in her unaccustomed shape, always forgetting she can no longer bend as fast as a child, and often impatient for her time to come.

Because it’s her first, Mama said one time.

Because it’s a girl, a big round girl, Aaka had countered, clicking her tongue and frowning the way grandmothers do sometimes. We need another hunter in this family!

Tupaaq smiled wide, eyeing Aaluk: Girls can be good hunters, too, he said, winking at me. Girls are good with arrows.

Tupaaq had asked Aaluk to ride in his boat that time, but Aaluk said no, muttering to herself how she’d rather run with the dogs. Aaka had frowned at this, because Tupaaq is from Aaka’s village, the village of my father’s people, and Aaka favors him.

I’ll go, I said. I’ll go in Tupaaq’s boat.

But Mama shook her head.

You’re too little, she said.

Too little for what? I had wondered, tall as I was. I was big, nearly bigger than Aaluk—big enough, certainly, to ride in Tupaaq’s well-made boat.

I’m big enough, I said. Saying it just like that, too, as bossy as Aaluk.

Big like a lemming. Aaluk laughed. Tupaaq laughed, too, which made my cheeks grow warm.

Wait until you grow bigger, little lemming. Just wait, Tupaaq said. Which made me feel like the lemming in the story Tupaaq always tells, the one stuck underneath an old sealskin, hollering at the top of his lungs.

Suddenly, I want to holler, too, sitting here in my father’s boat. I had waited so long for this trip to begin, but now, I realize, I’m ready for it to end, for the excitement of the trade fair to start. Waiting to hear the sound of the drums welcoming us into the Sheshalik inlet and waiting to hear the wavering note of the women’s voices, clear as water, singing the songs of Sheshalik, the Sheshalik welcoming songs.

We begin to hear their songs when we are still too far away to even see the people. The drums—we hear the drums .rst. The sound grows louder and louder, pulling us swiftly across the surface of the water, guiding us toward the spit of land, green with summer, that is Sheshalik.

As we round the .nal bend, the drumming begins to throb in the air around us like a heartbeat and the sweet shrillness of the women’s voices shoots across the surface of the water in bright arrows of sound.

Baby Manu, bouncing on her mother’s back in the front of our boat, squeals with delight, trying to sing as the women sing. I, too, am barely able to keep myself from squealing along with her.

My father has raised our .ag, the .ag of our whalers, and as soon as the drummers see it, their song changes and they begin, at once, to drum one of our own songs, announcing our arrival with our own music. Suddenly I feel very proud to be from the island, proud to claim such a brave song as the song of my own people, hearing it as if with new ears. The drumming grows louder and louder as we approach the shore, and soon the sound of our own voices joins with the sounds of theirs, sweet as birdsong.


Sheshalik, at first sight, is too big to believe—all the tents, the caribou-skin tents of our people, stretching out along the edge of the beach and reaching up inland as far as the eye can see. Over.owing with the sounds of happiness—the kind of happiness that only comes of many, many people, all coming together as one.

This is my first impression of the Sheshalik trade fair, that all the people of the world must be here. Everyone in the entire world, all here at Sheshalik, preparing to trade.

People have indeed come from many distant places, each group bringing the specialties of its own region. We ourselves have sealskin pokes full of seal oil, and split walrus skins for boat-making, because our women are the most skillful at preparing these. We also have coils and coils of sealskin rope, strong enough to pull a whale. The rope our men make is always in high demand by those from other regions. We will trade these island things for stone from the People-of-the-Land, soapstone and jade from the mountains up inland, the kind used for lamps, seal-oil lamps.

Aaluk will, of course, need a lamp of her own, now that she has become a woman. A pretty new lamp carved of jade, perhaps, or a smooth one of polished soapstone. A lamp to heat her own home, when she leaves ours for the home of her husband, whoever he may be. But not me. I have no use for a lamp just yet. Nor for a husband.

I’ve been eyeing the Siberian reindeer skins for the length of our trip together—white as snow and supple as water, piled high in the Siberians’ boats. I am wanting a new parka, a pretty new parka of Siberian reindeer, soft and light and easy to run in. I would have it with a dark wolverine ruff and leather trim dyed red with willow bark, the way the inland people make it. I hope Papa will trade one of our seal-oil pokes for enough skins for a new parka for me.

It doesn’t take long to unpack our gear, and soon our tent is snug as home with thick skins on the .oor and new people crowding in to greet us. We offer them dried seal meat, soaked in oil, my mother’s specialty. The meat is moist and chewy, rich with the .avor of the oil. The men are eating it in great quantities, telling stories and making jokes and singing little snatches of their songs. They are all smoking Siberian tobacco, too, and we sit watching the way the smoke from their pipes curls up toward the open nose of our tent in skinny little trails. As I watch, the strands of sweet-smelling smoke wind round and round one another, dissolving up through the tent’s nose and out into the open sky.

The smoke makes our eyes water and tickles our noses, making Baby Manu sneeze and sneeze, laughing every time. All of us children are laughing—sneezing and laughing, sneezing and laughing, until pretty soon none of us can tell which is which. So very good it is, to laugh together with all the many, many peoples who have come to Sheshalik to trade.

My sister, Aaluk, is not laughing at all, however. Aaluk, who is usually the center of everything, sits apart from the rest of us children—neither sneezing nor laughing. Acting as if she is already far too old for such silliness, when in truth she is but a few winters older than I. She makes a very pretty picture, however, sitting there so neat and composed, her dark hair smooth as a still river, her new tattoo as delicate as a .ower’s stem.

In truth, I am a bit jealous of her, because it seems to me she is everything I’m not. I have not yet been marked by womanhood—my face is smudged with dust alone. My hair, too, .ies in every direction, like tundra grass, and I am much too distracted to sit still and pretty the way Aaluk does.

Watching her eat her soup, her hands moving like graceful brown birds, I suddenly feel clumsy.

That one Siberian is watching her, too. The one who wears a string of large blue beads. His dark eyes follow Aaluk the way a wolf watches a caribou, never resting. I do not know this man and his bold stare scares me. Is he good or is he evil? And Aaluk is watching him as well, watching shyly, her eyes down—Aaluk who has never in her life been shy about anything. Aaluk, the bossy one, who has always turned her chin to the boys. Boys, Aaluk says, are rough and blustering and not worth the bother.

But now here she is, watching that Siberian—who after all is only an older boy—watching him the way he watches her: neither of them laughing, barely even blinking or smiling, their eyes full of sparks. That boy-man, who has placed his sealskin parka next to my father’s and now sits on my mother’s skins, his beads glowing blue against his broad brown chest.

I am immediately drawn to those beads. They are so blue, so very blue that I want, desperately, to touch them, to touch one of them, just once. But, of course, I do not.

You can barely imagine a blue of such power, glowing in the lamplight as if lit by an internal magic. Blue the way certain .sh are blue in shallow water, their scales .ashing blue in the sunlight—a blue like that, only different. A kind of blue none of us have ever seen before. It feels strange to me and a little frightening, the power of those beads and of the man wearing them.

I look away, determined to be bothered no more by all of this.

Baby Manu is toddling toward me with a serious look on her little face. I reach out my arms and she tries to move faster, but instead topples down with a plop. Her mouth starts to pout and I know she is about to cry, but she looks like such a funny little .sh that I cannot help but laugh. When she sees me laughing, she stops pouting and smiles, too, looking at me with trusting eyes as if to say: If you think it’s funny, it must be so. I reach out again, asking her with my own eyes if she wants to come to me. Yes? I ask, raising my eyebrows. She looks up at me, lifting her own eyebrows to say yes, too, just like a big person.

I scoop her up into my arms and she nuzzles her head under my chin and begins sucking her thumb, falling asleep at once. We lean back together against a pile of skins, and let the old men’s stories wash over us in waves of sound that rise and fall with emotion, making people laugh with delight in one moment and gasp in terror the next.

Excerpted from Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl.

Copyright © 2009 by Debby Dahl Edwardson.

Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and

reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in

any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2013

    Kinda boring

    The book is okay but, it could have some more interesting things happen

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