The Inuksuk Book

The Inuksuk Book

by Mary Wallace

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The image of a traditional Inuit stone structure, or "inuksuk," silhouetted against an Arctic sky has become a familiar symbol. Yet, for many, their purpose remains a mystery. In a stunning new book, artist and children's author Mary Wallace, in consultation with Inuit elders and other noted experts, gives a fascinating introduction in words, pictures, and paintings…  See more details below


The image of a traditional Inuit stone structure, or "inuksuk," silhouetted against an Arctic sky has become a familiar symbol. Yet, for many, their purpose remains a mystery. In a stunning new book, artist and children's author Mary Wallace, in consultation with Inuit elders and other noted experts, gives a fascinating introduction in words, pictures, and paintings to the many forms of the inuksuk structure and its unique place in Inuit life and culture.

Used for centuries as a method of communication in the Far North, "inuksuit" (plural) take on many forms. The most recognized structure, the "inunnguaq," is built out of rocks in the shape of a human. An inunnguaq can be built to fit into the palm of your hand, while others are large majestic figures that loom on the horizon. The Inuksuk Book brings together the age-old stories and wisdom of Inuit elders with modern day insight to create a thought-provoking guide to inuksuk shapes and their meanings.

Archival photographs and exquisite silk paintings bring ten major inuksuk shapes to life. These stone structures function in a variety of roles. The "niugvaliruluit" ("that has legs") acts as a directional marker; the "nakkatait" ("things that fell in the water") points to a good fishing place. The "sakamaktat" ("towering inuksuit") is a tall stack of stones where meat, dog harnesses, and caribou skins are placed to keep them away from hungry animals. Inuksuit such as the "inuksuk anirnilik" ("inuksuk with a spirit") are built as an expression of joy, or as a memorial.

The skill of building an inuksuk is traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. Readers young and old can bring the magic of inuksuit into their own lives by building their own stone structures. Step-by-step instructions are provided along with accompanying photographs.

About the Artist

An award-winning artist, Mary Wallace has created twelve original silk paintings for the book that reflect the haunting beauty of the Arctic. Mary has spent more than seventeen years teaching art and crafts to children and adults at the Haliburton School of Fine Arts. She is the author of eight books in the I Can Make series from Owl.

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Editorial Reviews

Chosen as on of the "Best Books for Junior High and High School Readers 1999" by Science Books & Film in the category of Social Sciences.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8In the Arctic, an inuksuk is a stone construction that can act in the place of a human being. These structures, sometimes in human shape, have been built in the tundra to serve as directional signs; markers for sites of important events, food caches, or rest stops; memorials to beloved individuals; aids in hunting; and even as surrogate caribou herders. For the modern Canadian Inuit, they also serve as striking connections to the past. The introduction reminds readers that most people employ tools where human help is not available: scarecrows, traffic lights, statues, and signs serve as our modern equivalents. The author explores the meanings and uses of inuksuit and describes the people who built them and the Arctic environment. By providing both a historical and modern context for these structures, she helps readers view them as more than just artifacts. The numerous full-color and black-and-white photographs present a good mixture of current and historical images of inuksuit and the Inuit people. Wallaces landscape paintings are interspersed throughout the text. The artists vivid hues dispel the stereotype of a monochromatic north. Instructions for constructing an inuksuk and a glossary of Inuktitut words are appended. This well-designed book makes a much better introduction to Arctic life than the usual peoples-of-the-polar-regions overviews.Sue Sherif, Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Library, AK Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
For many years, perhaps many centuries, the Inuit of arctic Canada (now Nunavut) have built artfully arranged stone cairns and figures to mark caches, dangers, trails, and special events; here Wallace not only uses these inuksuit to open a window onto traditional and modern Inuit lifeways, but builds cultural bridges by pointing out similar artifacts in other parts of the world, e.g., traffic lights, and goes on to provide simple instructions for creating personal inunnguaq, the type of stone inuksuk that represents a human form. Heavily illustrated with a mix of old and new photographs, many in full-color, plus a dozen of the author's shimmering silk paintings, this perceptive study makes edifying background reading, as well as introducing an art form that will be unfamiliar to most readers. (glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

Maple Tree Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 10.60(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
9 Years

Read an Excerpt

Inunnguaq -- Like a person

An inuksuk is a stone structure that can communicate knowledge essential for survival to an Arctic traveller. Inuksuit (plural) are found throughout the Arctic areas of Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland. Inuksuit have been used by the Inuit to act in place of human messengers. For those who understand their forms, inuksuit in the Arctic are very important helpers: they can show direction, tell about a good hunting or fishing area, show where food is stored, indicate a good resting place or act as a message centre.

Every inuksuk is unique because it is built from the stones at hand. Inuksuit can be small or large; a single rock put in place; several rocks balanced on top of each other; boulders placed in a pile; or flat stones stacked. One of these stone structures is known as an inuksuk, two are called inuksuuk and three or more are referred to as inuksuit.

An inuksuk is a strong connection to the land: it is built on the land, it is made of the land and it tells about the land. Inuit are taught to be respectful of inuksuit. There is a traditional law, which persists today, that forbids damaging or destroying inuksuit in any way. New inuksuit can be built to mark the presence of modern-day Inuit, but the old ones should never be touched. Traditionally, it is said that if one destroys an inuksuk, his or her life will be cut shorter.

Over time, the style of building inuksuit has changed. In the past, most inuksuit were built by stacking rock in a particular way, but usually not in the shape of a human. However, many modern inuksuit are built to look like human figures made of stone (with a head, body,arms and legs). In Inuktitut, these are called inunnguaq. Some Inuit believe that this type of stone figure was first built about one hundred years ago, after the arrival of the qattunaat (non-Inuit) whalers. Others say that this human look-alike originated long before this century.

All things change with time; Inuit ways are not exempt. Today, as traditional ways are changing into contemporary ways Inuit, and even non-Inuit, sometimes build inuksuit simply to mark their presence-both in the Arctic and in their travels outside of their homeland.

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