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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Neeluk: An Eskimo Boy in the Days of the Sailing Ships

Reviewed: July 11, 2003
By: Stories by Frances Kittredge, illustrations by Howard “Weyahok” Rock
Publisher: Whitecap Books
88 pages, $16.95

This is the story of a year in the life of the Inupiat, the native people of Alaska’s Arctic, as seen through the eyes of Neeluk, a boy of seven. The stories begin in July and carry through the months until the following June. The year is not given, but the period is around the end of the 19th century, when the great whaling ships still visited the area.

The author based her work on the life she observed and the stories she learned in Wales, AK, in 1900-02, during the two years she lived there with her relatives, who were teachers in Wales. The stories celebrate the simple joys of a young boy’s life: playing on the beach, getting a puppy, learning to make a simple trade, wishing to copy his father. Over the months he gets new boots, gets into trouble, goes fishing, watches the men catch a whale and thrills to the excitement of having the trading ship arrive in the spring.

All of this is related in simple prose, and enhanced by the drawings and paintings of Weyahok, who did this work as a young man before he later became famous for both his art and his knowledge. Each chapter has an oil painting and a variety of sketches to bring it to life.

An extensive forward tells how the book, which was not written until the 1930’s, managed to avoid making it into print as long as it did. There is also a short bibliography of material on this subject included in the back of the book.

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