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  • Writer's pictureSarah Hudson

Top 10 (and then some) Inuit Traditional Tale Picture Books for the Classroom

Top Traditional Inuit Tales for the Classroom

"Pleeeeease Read One More! We Promise We Won’t Get Scared!"

Who doesn’t like a creepy story? A thrilling story can work wonders. When you can ignite a craving for great stories with readers and non readers alike, you know you are on to something good. One of my favourite units I teach, Inuit Traditional Tales, does just that. The Inuit know how to tell story! I can’t resist jumping into it, so I try to at least delay teaching it until October, where I can tie it into the creepiness of Halloween. Not all Inuit Traditional stories are creepy. Some are silly, some involve fantastic creatures and animals, many have the listeners sympathize with the protagonist, most teach a lesson, and all are entertaining. Below is my list of top Inuit Tales. Not all are appropriate for younger grades, so I have included a “gore rating” out of 5, to guide you.

*Hint* Share this article with your school librarian or municipal library so that they can stock up on these amazing titles.

Kiviuq and the Mermaids

Written by: Noel McDermott

Illustrated by: Toma Feizo Gas

Gore Rating: ☠️☠️☠️

I love this book series! While the recommendation for this book is grades 4-7, I read this to my grade 2s, letting them know at the beginning of the story, “Kiviuq gets away.” They were hooked and couldn’t wait for more.

I later created a reading response unit supporting this story, suitable for grades 3-7. You can find it here: Kiviuq and the Mermaids and Kiviuq and the Bee Woman

Tell me more....

“Kiviuq, one of the greatest and most important characters in Inuit mythology, is said to have travelled over land and sea overcoming obstacles and successfully defeating various fearsome foes. In Kiviuq and the Mermaids, young readers experience one of Kiviuq's most heart-pounding adventures: an encounter with a group of frightening mermaids. With only his qayaq to keep him out of their clutches, Kiviuq must think fast to defeat these angry creatures of the deep!”

Kiviuq and the Bee Woman

Written by: Noel McDermott

Illustrated by: Toma Feizo Gas

Gore Rating: ☠️☠️☠️☠️☠️

This is the exciting follow up to Kiviuq and the Mermaids (mentioned above) I assume that there will be more in this electrifying series in the future. I would recommend reading this story to grades 5-9.

Give me the Low Down...

“Kiviuq, one of the greatest and most important characters in Inuit mythology, is said to have travelled over land and sea, overcoming obstacles and successfully defeating formidable foes. In Kiviuq and the Bee Woman, Kiviuq faces one of his most frightening opponents yet: Iguttarjuaq, a bee in human form. Known as the Bee Woman, she is a fearsome figure who is said to cook and eat humans. Trapped in her tent, Kiviuq uses all his powers to get to his qajaq and escape the Bee Woman!”

I enjoyed both Kiviuq books, so I created a bundled reading response unit supporting this book series. You can find it here: Kiviuq and the Mermaids and Kiviuq and the Bee Woman

Tales the Tundra

Written by: Ibi Kaslik

Illustrated by: Anthony Brennan

Gore Rating: 0

This graphic novel is perfect for primaries. I loved it so much, that I created a response booklet to support and extend students’ learning. The animated characters shortcomings and follies make for great stories. Students looked forward to hearing more and enjoyed re-reading the tales independently. You can find the supporting Reading response unit here: Tales of the Tundra - A reading Response Unit

The Skinny:

“A book of fables like no other! Learn why the raven is black or how a little boy was transformed into a bird. Find out why a walrus used to have antlers and how an earth spirit pulled the first caribou from the ground. These fascinating stories will capture the imagination of young readers and introduce them to the rich mythology of the Canadian Inuit.

Anthony Brennan’s illustrations are like nothing you’ve seen in children’s books. Edgy, vivid and dynamic to the extreme, the images enrich the reading experience.”

Infusing Indigenous Literature

The Blind Boy and the Loon

Written and illustrated by: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

Gore Rating: ☠️

This ominous story instantly hooks children with its Cinderella similarities. Originally created as short animation film, (you can find it on youtube) it was later turned into a book.

You can find the supporting unit here: The Blind Boy and the Loon - A Reading Response Unit

What’s this book about...?

“Based on an acclaimed National Film Board of Canada animated short, The Blind Boy and the Loon is a beautiful retelling of a traditional Inuit story that both explains the origin of the narwhal and cautions listeners against the dangers of seeking revenge. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s mystical, brooding animation has been adapted to a picture book format that is suitable for all ages. A timeless tale stunningly told.”

Infusing Indigenous Literature

The Gnawer of Rocks

Written by: Louise Flaherty

Illustrated by: Jim Nelson

Gore Rating: ☠️☠️☠️☠️☠️

This a creepy graphic novel! It offers a valuable lesson warning children not to stray too far from home. I wouldn’t read this story to students younger than grade 5. Having said that, if you enjoy a story with gore, this is up your alley. You can find my reading response unit supporting this story here: Gnawer of Rocks - A Traditional Inuit Tale

I need to

“While everyone is busy preparing for the coming winter, two girls wander away from their camp, following a path of strange, beautiful stones. Each stone is lovelier than the last, and the trail leads them farther and farther away from camp. But what starts out as a peaceful afternoon on the tundra quickly turns dangerous when the girls find themselves trapped in the cave of Mangittatuarjuk—the Gnawer of Rocks! Based on a traditional Inuit story, this graphic novel introduces readers to a dark and twisted creature that haunts the Arctic landscape and preys on unsuspecting children…”


Written by: Marion Lewis

Illustrated by: Kim Smith

Gore Rating:0

This story highlights a common Inuit theme: be kind and considerate to less fortunate, usually orphans and elderly. In this story, students sympathize for the main character’s unfair treatment which, to their enjoyment, ends in triumph. A great story needs a great response unit, so I created one. You can find it here:

Kaugjagjuk - A Traditional Inuit Tale

Say What...?

“The legend of Kaugjagjuk--a mistreated orphan who gains the strength to stand up for himself with a little help from the Man of the Moon--is a traditional Inuit tale told throughout the Arctic. Re-imagined for modern audiences by emerging Inuit writer Marion Lewis, and brought to life by Kim Smith's beautiful illustrations, this version of the Kaugjagjuk story gives young readers a chance to experience this traditional tale that has been carefully passed from storyteller to storyteller for generations.”

The Shadows that Rush Past

Written by:

Illustrated by:

Gore Rating: ☠️☠️☠️☠️ ½

This is a creepy anthology that quickly captures the attention of readers and listeners. The stories are exciting, teeming with monsters, narrow escapes and deadly forces of nature. Combined with horrific illustrations, gore and details too gross to mention, it’s an instant winner with many pre-teens and older. Stay tuned for a reading response unit to support this book… It’s on its way!

Dish the dirt...

“The Shadows that Rush Past introduces young readers to some of the creepiest, scariest stories from Inuit mythology. These tales, told by critically acclaimed writer Rachel Qitsualik, bring to life four creatures from Inuit mythology: the amautalik, akhla, nanurluk, and mahaha. These tales are filled with child-stealing ogresses; monsters that are half-man, half-grizzly bear; ice-covered polar bears ten times the size of normal bears; and a smiling creature that surprises unsuspecting campers and tickles them to death! Written in a playful, conversational, sometimes funny style, The Shadows that Rush Past will keep young readers anxious for the thrilling frights that might lurk on the next page.”

The Qalupalik

Written by:

Illustrated by:

Gore Rating: ☠️☠️

This is a great tale introducing the exciting, creepy imagination of the Inuit to younger readers. The illustrations in the book depict how the cute cartoon-like children outsmart the vile Qalupalik. The story is suitable for Grades 1 and higher. While I don’t have a response unit for this story, one will be available soon. Check back soon!

I want to learn more...

“All Inuit know about qalupaliit, strange creatures that live under the sea ice and carry away unsuspecting children on their backs. But when one bright young orphan strays too close to the ice, he soon learns that while qalupaliit may be very scary, they are also easily tricked. The Qalupalik is the first installment in The Unikkaakuluit Series a new, beautifully illustrated children's series based on the work of celebrated contemporary Inuit storytellers.”

The Fox Wife

Written by: Beatrice Deer

Illustrated by: DJ Herron

Gore Rating: 0

This magical tale addresses issues including kindness, honesty and communication. There are many learning opportunities within this story. I had to create a response unit to support this book. You can find my unit here:

The Fox Wife Reading Response Unit

I’m curious for more …:

“On a cloudless summer night, a fox falls to earth and comes across a family of humans. As the seasons change and they move their camp, she follows them, growing ever more intrigued by human ways—and especially by the oldest son, Irniq. When Irniq grows older and sets out hunting on his own, he is surprised to enter his tent one day and find the lamp lit, the tea made… and a strange woman who says she is his wife. Tired of being alone, Irniq welcomes the woman. But soon he grows curious and cannot stop himself from asking too many questions. Where did the fox pelt hanging in their tent come from? And why did the fox that had been following him suddenly disappear? Based on award-winning musician Beatrice Deer’s powerful song “Fox,” this graphic novel reinterprets a traditional Inuit story for a new generation.”

Infusing Indigenous Literature

Tulugaq and other Inuit Tales

Written by:

Illustrated by:

Gore Rating: 0

Scholastic created a graphic novel reading kit of indigenous tales. There are 8 packs, each consisting of eight graphic novels. My students and I enjoyed the Inuit Series: Tulugaq and other Inuit Tales, so I made a reading response unit to support the books. The unit includes student response booklets and when students are paired or grouped appropriately, they can independently read the novels and work together to complete the response pages. You can find the response unit here:

Tulugaq and other Inuit Tales

Tell me more....

You can find more information on this series through Scholastics Canada. The entire kit covering eight regions of Canada is quite expensive, so it was purchased by our library for the school. You may want to suggest this to your staff.

The Giant Bear

Written by:

Illustrated by:

Gore Rating: ☠️☠️☠️

This is an exciting story describing how a hunter and his wife had to plan and prepare an assault against the mythological creature, nanurluk. This exciting story can be supported with my reading response unit which can be found here: The Giant Bear - A Reading Response Unit

Keep reading….

“One of the most terrifying creatures to be found in traditional Inuit stories is the nanurluk, a massive bear the size of an iceberg that lives under the sea ice. Its monstrous size and ice-covered fur make it an almost impenetrable foe. But when a lone hunter spots the breathing hole of the nanurluk on the sea ice near his iglu, he quickly uses his quick thinking and excellent hunting skills to hatch a plan to outsmart the deadly bear.“

Legend of the Fog

Written by:

Illustrated by:

Gore Rating: ☠️☠️☠️

Another exciting tale involving horrific creatures and how one man had to our wit and fight his way to freedom. Stay tuned for a reading response unit to support this thrilling tale.

The Scoop:

“In this traditional Inuit story, a simple walk on the tundra becomes a life or death journey for a young man. When he comes across a giant who wants to take him home and cook him for dinner, the young man's quick thinking saves him from being devoured by the giant and his family, and in the process releases the first fog into the world.

Written by Cape Dorest elder Qaunaq Mikkigak and Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award-nominated author Joanne Schwartz, this action-packed picture book brings a centuries-old traditional tale to life for modern readers.”

The Raven and the Loon

Written by:

Illustrated by:

Gore Rating: 0

This fun tale explains how Raven and Loon end up with the colours and patterns they currently have. It’s a prefect story for pre-k to grade 3. A bundled unit supporting this story can be found here: The Raven and the Loon and The Walrus who Escaped

More info please!

“In the time before animals were as they are today, Raven and Loon were both white. Their feathers had no colour at all. Raven spent his days swooping through the sky trying to fight off his incessant boredom, while loon spent her days in her iglu working away on her sewing. One day, too bored to even fly, Raven visited Loon and suggested a sewing game that would give their feathers some much-needed colour. The results—not at all what the two birds expected—led to Raven and Loon acquiring their now-familiar coats.”

The Walrus who Escaped

Written by:

Illustrated by:

Gore Rating: 0

Perfect for Pre-K to grade 3, this animated story details a cheeky interaction between walrus and raven. My bundled unit supporting these clever stories can be found here: The Raven and the Loon and The Walrus who Escaped

Here’s the deets:

When Raven came across Walrus expertly diving for clams, he quickly became jealous of Walrus's great clam-hunting skills. So, as Walrus was about to surface with a tasty mouthful of clams, Raven cast a spell on the ocean, freezing Walrus in place! But Raven soon discovered that his magic was no match for Walrus's great physical strength. This fun, dynamic animal tale pits two of the Arctic's most popular animal characters against each other in a cheeky and amusing battle of wits.

A very special mention goes out to Inhabit Media, a publishing company who has brought to life most of these traditional tales with their amazing authors and brilliant illustrators.

“Incorporated in 2006, Inhabit Media was born out of a need for Nunavut kids to see their culture accurately represented in the books they read in schools. We have spent the last ten years working with elders and storytellers from across the Canadian Arctic to ensure that the region’s unique Inuit oral history is recorded and not lost to future generations.”

Another special acknowledgement goes out to Strong Nations, a fantastic source for all things Indigenous. I am grateful for their work, vast collections and knowledge.

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