Children’s animal book targets Inuit hunters

“The authors should really be more informed”



Teachers in Iqaluit are alarmed by a new children’s book that describes the plight of Arctic animals.

That’s because young, impressionable readers who open the 16-page book will learn that people who inhabit the Arctic pollute their environment with garbage and kill cute animals for their meat, fat and fur.

No mention is made of the importance of hunting in Inuit culture – something that concerns teachers in Iqaluit.

Polar Animals in Danger is published by Scholastic Inc., the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books. The book targets six- to seven-year olds.

It’s written by Melvin and Gilda Berger, the authors of the best-selling Question and Answer series, which includes popular titles such as Do Whales Have Belly Buttons?, Can it Rain Cats and Dogs?, and Do Tornados Really Twist?

But their latest title raises some puzzling questions, beginning on page one, which shows a seal tangled in fishing net, followed by the caption, “Most polar animals are in danger.”

The seal stands on a sandy beach, making it unlikely that it lives anywhere near either pole.

And a six-year-old might have trouble understanding the difference between an animal that’s “in danger” and “endangered.”

The bowhead whale is the only animal currently considered endangered in the Arctic, while seal populations are thriving.

Further along, the book warns that “Polar bears have been killed for their meat,” “Seals have been killed for their fur,” “Whales have been killed for their fat,” and “Walruses have been killed for their tusks,” beneath portraits of the animals.

It ends with a photo of a dewy-eyed baby whitecoat seal with the caption, “Let’s keep polar animals safe!”

Educators in Iqaluit aren’t impressed.

“The authors should really be more informed, and use the correct pictures, too,” said Eva Aariak, Nunavut’s previous official languages commissioner and a former school teacher, after she read the book.

One page warns, “People dump garbage in the Arctic,” with a photo of a polar bear standing in Churchill’s dump.

“Doesn’t everyone dump garbage?” asked Aariak.

As a new grandmother, Aariak said she was concerned a book like this could frighten her granddaughter from trying country food like muktuk.

“I’m just wondering, if she’s reading this, which won’t be long, does that mean she’ll say, ‘eww, animals, we eat animals’?” she asked.

“This book says: you don’t need to eat animals for food,” Aariak said. “It’s really one-sided.”

She also wondered why there was no mention of how global warming may pose a greater threat to polar animals than any garbage or hunters.

During an interview with Nunatsiaq News, Melvin Berger said he and his wife wrote the book out of concern for animals, particularly whales.

Past books he’s written have spurred classes to write letters to government officials or sign petitions, Berger said. In this case, he said the book could encourage children to ask for polar bears to be listed as an endangered species.

However, he said mentioning the role of hunting in Inuit culture would have made a children’s book too confusing.

“We just couldn’t. To explain that to someone who was just beginning to read, I think it would have been too difficult to explain,” he said.

He did admit that not mentioning global warming was an oversight. “That’s a new thing, which if we do a revision, I’d want to include,” he said.

The Bergers researched the book using “a lot from the Internet, some journals, with authoritative articles, and some books,” he said. Scholastic sends its manuscripts to experts to check for accuracy, he added.

No one from the Arctic was consulted during their research, and neither of the Bergers have traveled farther north than Toronto and Vancouver.

“We’ve both never gone terribly gone far north. We’ve stayed close to the border,” he said.

As someone who has published several children’s books about Inuit culture, Aariak said if she used Polar Animals in Danger for teaching, she’d have to make some changes, by providing her own material to accompany it.

“It’s a beautiful book,” she said. “I’d probably cut out the nice pictures.”

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