The Three Hunters, a new book co-written in 2019 by teacher Raymond Gianfrancesco and his former students at Leo Ussak elementary school in Rankin Inlet, is a reimagined telling of the classic Three Little Pigs story, only this version is set in Nunavut and follows three hunters as they face a blizzard. (Image courtesy of Inhabit Media)

Reimagining the Three Little Pigs, Nunavut-style

Students, teacher from Rankin Inlet elementary school publish Nunavut version of classic fairy tale

By Madalyn Howitt

Three hunters, all brothers, make their way out on the land of Nunavut.

Akagaq, the youngest brother, makes a tent to shelter from a blizzard, but the powerful winds knock it down. The middle brother, Tiriaq, finds shelter in a snowdrift, but the wind blows out their qulliq, a sealskin oil lamp.

It’s not until Akkiutaq, the eldest brother, brings them to his sturdy igloo that the three brothers are safe from the blizzard.

If the story of these three hunting brothers sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a reimagining of the classic fairy tale, The Three Little Pigs, but set in Nunavut.

The Three Hunters is a new illustrated children’s book written by former Rankin Inlet elementary school teacher Raymond Gianfrancesco and his Grade 4 students from Leo Ussak Elementary School: Avra, Andrew, Michael, Puya, Tayshaun, Kyrene, Robert, Hailey, Iqaluk, Sulu, Dylan, Atuat, Joseph, Nolan and Lisa.

Gianfrancesco, who taught in Rankin Inlet from 2013 to 2019 and now teaches high school in Ottawa, started writing the book with his students in 2019 as part of a folk tales and fairy tales unit his class was studying.

“We had read a bunch of like versions of the Three Little Pigs, so we decided to write our own [northern] version,” he said.

The school counsellor, Noah Tiktak, and learning coach Trudy Bruce came in and taught the students about traditional Inuit tools, which helped spark their imaginations, Gianfrancesco said.

“We combined our social studies unit about traditional tools, traditional practices, and then we just incorporated all of that into our story.”

The tale follows the structure of the original story, but draws inspiration from traditional Inuit practices and northern references: instead of three little pigs, the protagonists are three hunter brothers; instead of a big bad wolf blowing down their houses, a blizzard strands the brothers when they’re out on the land; instead of a house made of brick standing tall at the end, a well-built igloo keeps the three safe from the storm.

Writing a story together as a class was also a great way for the students to learn about tackling big projects and about different learning styles, Gianfrancesco said.

“We talked about mindset in the classroom, what it means to be a good learner, what it means to sort of understand how you’re learning and being sort of critical of your own learning,” he said.

“So the three hunters all sort of took on characteristics of that.”

The first brother “doesn’t take anything seriously,” the middle one is “arrogant” and the third brother is “earnest and considerate and sort of mindful of his learning.”

Former Rankin Inlet elementary school teacher Raymond Gianfrancesco said co-writing The Three Hunters with his Grade 4 students was one of the “best” learning experiences he’s had as a teacher. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Gianfrancesco)

Gianfrancesco said the story “wrote itself a little bit,” as his students followed the fairy tale format and incorporated the cultural images and Inuktitut language they were learning.

“The idea of a fairy tale sort of exists as long-lasting, because it does follow a structure that is easily retold … and it’s sort of fitting within the general oral tradition of stories,” he said.

“We took things from culture class and language and we just started compiling … we would add new adjectives and take words from our word wall and just sort of keep building and rewriting.”

He called it “a really awesome process.”

The book took about six weeks to write, Gianfrancesco said, with his class meeting every day after lunchtime to work on it for a half-hour or so.

Initially, it was meant just as a culminating project to bring together all the things they learned during the year.

But when Gianfrancesco read the finished story, he realized how good it was.

“We had no intentions of publishing, but it was awesome. I really thought it was a great book. I was like, ‘This is better than all the other ones out there. We should definitely publish.’”

After talking with the students’ parents, he submitted a pitch to Iqaluit-based publishing house Inhabit Media. It was accepted, and the process of creating a published book took two years from there.

Gianfrancesco donated half of his proceeds from the book advance to the Rankin Inlet Ikurraq food bank, while the other half went to the school.

He said co-writing the book with his students was “maybe the best learning experience for my career,” as a teacher.

“I thought I would want to be a published writer myself, and it never actually happened. And I didn’t expect to be going about it this way.”

The Three Hunters is illustrated by Thamires Paredes and available Tuesday from Inhabit Media.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Untermensch on

    Another cool lesson to be found in this is how an idea or motif can spread between cultures across space and time; some writers have called these units of cultural information ‘memes’ (Dawkins, Wright).

    We also see considerable resistance to this kind of cross pollination through cultural protectionists who might accuse the borrower of ‘appropriation’. I am not among this crowd, but out of curiosity wonder if anyone would take up the question: what is the fundamental difference between ‘Reimagining’ a story as it is framed here and ‘appropriating’ one?

    I would probably approach this by questioning the validity of ‘cultural ownership’ in the first place. Granted, there are nuances to unpack here. Would be interested to hear what others think.

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    • Posted by The Quiet Part – Out Loud on

      I think it is safe to say that if the source was reversed and the story was written from the opposite perspective, i.e. a traditional Inuit story re-jigged by Westerners for Westerners, there would be no end to the howls of outrage.

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      • Posted by Flipped Script on

        This raises another question worth considering; how differently would the media treat that reversed situation?

        Would Nunatsiaq write a glowing piece like this, for example, if a school in Ontario re-wrote a story about Kiviuq, but placed him in an environment entirely removed from the north, changed his name and culture, yet intentionally used the same themes and narrative structures?

        I doubt it very much. And this gnawing sense of hypocrisy is hard to shake off.

        Anyone at Nunatsiaq care to comment on that?

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        • Posted by Confused on

          The Three Little Pigs is not traditionally belonging to one culture so your comparison of Southerners taking an traditional Inuit story and changing it to fit their context, is invalid.

          “Howls of outrage”
          “Gnawing sense of hypocrisy”
          Seriously? If this did happen, people would have a right to be annoyed or upset because stories as Kiviuq are traditional stories that have be shared amongst Inuit for generations.

          This teacher brought his students together to create such a sweet story and it is something for them to be proud of. Let a wholesome story be a wholesome story rather than inserting your negativity.

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          • Posted by Untermensch, et al… on

            Just for clarity, nothing that has been said above is critical of the teacher or this project. In my opinion this kind of cultural borrowing is completely natural, even desirable.

            The questions raised are all in reference to the appropriation debate, specifically how it has been handled by different people depending on their position within that debate – media especially.

            So you are aware, the ‘Three Little Pigs’ is English folklore and is generations old as well. I find it strange that you’ve decided there is some kind of qualitative difference between the two where one is fair game for cultural borrowing, and the other is not.

            This is exactly the kind of non-sense my comments were meant to address.

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          • Posted by Not confused (as much) on

            Dearest Confused;

            The story of the Three Little Pigs was first published in 1840, but is thought to be much older than that. It’s an English story by the way, which comes from a place across the Atlantic ocean we call England. So, believe it or not, has origins in a particular culture.

            I hope you are less confused now. Good luck.

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