A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Little Whale

Little Whale by Roy A. Peratrovich, Jr. melds family history with imagination in this slim chapter book about 10-year-old Kéet, a young Tlingit boy who accompanies his father on a 200-mile journey by canoe from present-day Sitka to Ketchikan. Though fiction, the story is based on a voyage taken by Peratrovich’s Tlingit grandfather, Andrew Wanamaker, as a young child.

The book begins with a map of their route, a glossary of eight “words to know,” and an introduction that gives background information on the Tlingit people and their way of life, effectively setting the stage for the story that follows. The tale is thus able to unfold naturally, without excessive interruptions for explanations that would be necessary for young readers unfamiliar with Tlingit culture and Southeastern Alaska.

Kéet, whose name means “Killer Whale” in Tlingit, is the youngest and smallest member of his family. Normally left behind while his father and brothers hunt and fish, Kéet is thrilled when one morning his father takes him halibut fishing. On that excursion, they discover and successfully free a baby whale caught in a strange net, probably belonging to the “pale people” who have begun to appear in Tlingit country. Shortly after this brave and compassionate act, Kéet stows away in his father’s canoe, secretly joining a large party of men led by his father on a mission to seek recompense for a wrong committed by a member of the Ketchikan clan. Suffice to say, adventures involving weather, whales, and their reception in Ketchikan ensue.

Little Whale by Roy A. Peratrovich, Jr.
Published 2016, Snowy Owl Books
University of Alaska Press

While most of the story is told in a straightforward narrative style, one chapter contains an element of the fantastic, which Peratrovich identifies in his author’s note at the end of the book as his own embellishment.

Much of the interest of the story is found in the details of daily life, customs, tools, language, and attitudes among the Tlingit of that place and time. Peratrovich, who is the son of renowned Alaska Native civil rights leaders Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich, thanks noted Tlingit scholar Rosita Worl for authenticating his inclusion of Tlingit words and customs. Blurbs by Dr. Worl and Tlingit leader Randy Wanamaker further support the high level of authenticity found in both the text and the drawings. 

Peratrovich’s drawings enhance the story, with most chapters containing one black-and-white spot illustration. While several of the drawings would benefit from cleaner lines and better contrast, the details they depict are informative and interesting.

Little Whale is a valuable addition to the small body of authentic literature for children about Tlingit people and culture. While the book has an educational tone, the author’s storytelling style is strong enough to convey a tale that should be of interest to most children ages eight to ten. As well, it offers numerous possibilities for discussion about topics such as the impacts of Western colonization upon Alaska Natives, subsistence living, settlement of disputes, survival at sea, and values such as courage, compassion, and respect.