Sea-parrots. A lot of sea-parrots. A boy asks the question: Why are there so many sea-parrots? A wise-man tells him the Inuit tale of the Fish-Boy to explain.
Title: Fish-Boy: An Inuit Folk Tale
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrator: Mike Blanc
ISBN: 9781760401085 Language: English with Inuit keywords
Themes: cause and effect, kindness, acceptance, traditional tale
What’s it about?
While out fishing a boy notices that there are many sea-parrots (possibly puffins?) on the water and poses the question of: Why are there so many sea-parrots? He is then told the story of Tukmeuk, a lame man who survives by catching fish for a living. One day he comes across Fish-Boy who asks him to be his father. Fish-Boy has no arms but proves himself to be useful to Tukmeuk. As the news of Fish-Boy spreads he is invited by Nepso-sok, a great chief, to come across the water to meet him but it doesn’t go as planned.
Illustrations – as always I am blown away by Mike Blanc’s talent for illustration. There are basic maps included in the book to show where the story takes place as well that allow the reader to get a good sense of the story. The story itself flows well and includes a good balance of dialogue and description. The story also contains a moral.
This is the second books I have read by Vanita and illustrated by Mike and wow – what a team. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for traditional stories – have since I was a little girl – and I did genuinely love this book.
The essence of this story is to not underestimate people based on their physical limitations. The fisherman, Tukmeuk, survives by doing the job that he can. Fish-Boy, though he has no arms, becomes invaluable to Tukmeuk to be successful at fishing. They both learn that they are not limited by their impairments but rather use what they can do to their advantages. When a nearby chief hears of Fish-Boy he wants him to come and visit and although Tukmeuk is hesitant, he agrees and with a small party head to the island.
Once on the island a “pop star mentality” takes over – everyone wants to see Fish-Boy. Everyone wants to touch Fish-Boy. As the crowds converge people are injured and a man killed. Clearly this is not the fault of Fish-Boy but he is blamed for the harm that has been called to the people of Nepso-sok. After defeating the strongman of the village the party leave and head for another island – where the same thing occurs – being chased Fish-Boy uses his magic to transform the party into sea-parrots and carry them all home safely. The magic though also transforms the angry villagers who would not help them and blame them but there is no magic for them to transform back to humans – and so their punishment for being unkind and unwelcoming is to spend their days as sea-parrots. I’ve read a few other reviews that stated that there was no moral to the story but as I’ve just written – there is. This book is about kindness to others, acceptance of others. I can see this being used as an analogy for classroom kindness, behaviour, and acceptance of others. I can see it being used to teach about disabilities not being the end but the beginning of a journey to adapt and be successful. And with older students I can see this book being used to draw comparisons between the way modern “stars” are treated when compared to Fish-Boy.
Overall, this book provides many learning opportunities across a range of grades. I definitely recommend it!