Graphic Novel Review: Putuguq & Kublu & the Qalupalik!

“Off they headed to the shoreline. Putuguq led the way as the two walked quickly across the melting snow of the tundra to meet up with Kublu’s friend Lisa.” page 9

Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik! by Roselynn Akulukjuk and Danny Christopher, illustrated by Astrid Arijanto.
Inhabit Media, Iqualuit, Nunavut, Canada, 2018.
Early reader graphic novel, 40 pages.
Not leveled.

Annoying little brother Putuguq, his dog, and big sister Kublu are on their way to meet her friend Lisa.  On the way they meet Grandpa who tells them a little about Qalupaliit and before they know it they might even meet one…

Putuguq and Kublu 2 Qalupalik cover resized

This is the second book of a graphic novel series called Putuguq & Kublu.  We hadn’t read the first one since I wasn’t aware it existed until the final page of this book, so I can attest that it’s possible to read these out of order!

I’m always excited to find early readers and early chapter books with diverse characters.  It’s particularly important to me that a variety of indigenous cultures are represented in our family’s library because our kids will have the opportunity to interact with people from every continent and most ethnicities.  They know many people from the LGBT community, differently abled kids and adults, and people with a variety of religious beliefs.

But even though we actively seek out opportunities for our children to learn about our area’s indigenous culture and those of other regions we travel to, realistically there are some areas we may never visit.  I’d prefer that as much as possible, we learn about those areas through #ownvoices representation rather than through white people’s books.

Which is a long winded way of saying books like this, or Shark King, are so important.

Putuguq and Kublu 2 Qalupalik page 38 resized
The excellent back matter of Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik includes cultural information (such as this excerpt from page 38) and suggestions for further reading.

Now on to the actual book.  There wasn’t much introduction to the characters, which makes sense now that I know it’s the second book in a series.  In some ways it reminded me of a level two Toon Book, but some of the vocabulary might push this toward more advanced readers.  The Inuktitut words are part of this, especially since there’s no pronunciation guide, but also some other words too, like tundra and knapsack.

What level this book is read at will probably depend a lot on context.  Children familiar with the far north would be able to read this much younger than those who may be intimidated by the word qalupalik on the cover.  For my own Midwestern children, it’s probably just right for my 9 year old, although some of the younger ones were interested in listening to it read. While this doesn’t have chapters, I’ve tagged it with early chapter book because it is right at that level of ability.

The cultural context and adult choices about how to present this story also matter, because the qalupalik is not resolved.  I’m reluctant to allow my highly sensitive reader around this one – stating that qalupaliit are imaginary creatures feels disrespectful to indigenous beliefs, but I also don’t want an overactive imagination to add terror to our next lake swim.  So it’s going to take some thought about how to phrase my statements around the qalupalik before I hand this book off.

Putuguq and Kublu 2 Qalupalik page 14-15 selection resized
This selection from pages 14 and 15 shows how the qalupalik is approached in Grandfather’s story.

The clean and simple art style conveys a lot of detail and emotion.  The cover is so appealing – it drew my eye in the store and had the kids clamoring to read it.  The title is embossed with a nice glossy finish.

The main issue here is one of formatting, and I think that will improve greatly as this publisher continues to produce graphic novels.  The pages have no center margin, which makes it hard for young readers to figure out the order of the panels (each page is read, no panels go over two pages except the map at the beginning).  I found this confusing on some pages even as an adult reader.  A simple fix would be to include center margins.

The second potential problem I’m torn about – the panels are very static.  The drawing, movement, and action within the panels is spot-on, but most panels follow a similar pattern and don’t have any sense of dynamic movement.  All panels are rectangular and mainly half or quarter page, with occasional full or two-thirds page boxes.  Overall, I felt the excellent rendering of emotions and setting made up for this, but would love to see more variation in future paneling.

Putuguq and Kublu 2 Qalupalik page 4-5 resized
Pages 4 and 5 of Putuguq & Kublu and Qalupalik show the confusion about panel order and static layout.

Thirdly, at points the language felt a bit stilted and grammatical choices confused me, such as one panel where characters suddenly used contractions after not using them previously.  I suspect this is related to the translation from Inuktitut as some dialogue probably just does not translate well into English.

I believe that all three will only improve as Inhabit Media continues publishing graphic novels.  I look forward to reading more and plan to buy the first volume.  These would make a good addition to school and classroom libraries, just look up pronunciation before reading aloud.  Recommended.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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