Review: Magic Words

Title: Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit

Author: Edward Field, Illustrator: Mike Blanc 

Date of Publication: September 1st, 2013


Goodreads Summary:

Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit is a modern translation (1965) of a very old Inuit creation story by nationally known poet Edward Field. As a poem it captures beautifully the intimate relationship this Arctic people have with their natural world.

Magic Words describes a world where humans and animals share bodies and languages, where the world of the imagination mixes easily with the physical. It began as a story that told how the Inuit people came to be and became a legend passed from generation to generation. In translation it grew from myth to poem. The text comes from expedition notes recorded by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1921. Edward Field got a copy from the Harvard Library and translated it into English.

Erika’s Review:

“Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit” by Edward Field

I was recently given the chance to look at “Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit” by Edward Field. We have a collection of native children’s books in our home (Paul Goble, anyone?)-some of our older favorites include “Bird Talk” by Lenore Keeshig Tobias, which deals with things you and your children might tackle if you are of native descent, but don’t look like people’s perceptions of what that means, and “Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest” by Gerald McDermott was a light-hearted favorite for both of my older children when they were toddlers.

“Magic Words” is different than most of what is already on our shelves.
First because it deals with Alaskan Native culture. Second, its short story reads like poetry. While it didn’t capture my very literal elementary school kids, it entranced my two-year-old. It’s reminiscent of the starting of ancient oral stories, and it has that kind of magic to it. You feel like you’ve stepped into that world, and are near a fire, listening in the dark to the voice of a storyteller. Everyone loved the illustrations, which are tribal in nature, but fluid and otherworldly in a modern art kind of way. The color schemes are dazzling.

Most books like this deal with getting the attention of children five and over, but I’d recommend “Magic Words” for ages one to four. It would be a great entry into learning about Inuit ideas, and it’s short and easy enough to read so that young attention spans aren’t overwhelmed, too.




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