Barbara Lavallee is an Alaskan artist that my mother fell in love with when I was a kid. We had prints of hers on our wall, trivets with her art, the mugs with her art were set in a separate place so my brothers and father wouldn't fill them with coffee and take them to some far flung part of the farm and leave them on fenceposts, under a tractor seat, or in the milkhouse.
As a hangover from my childhood, anything Barbara Lavallee has illustrated has instantly become a bit special. I found this book on a library shelf in Anchorage last summer and had to check it out. With a 50 book limit* on our library card, we had to make some hard decisions about what we were and were not taking home with us, but this made the cut.
(This may seem like a gigantic limit, but it had to supply four kids, as well as myself, so it actually was a little hard. Books had to be put back on the shelf and left behind, always a sad, sad thing.)
I was already in favor of the illustrator, but the story itself was well worth it as well--traditional native fishing villiage, elder wisdom, and amazement at nature.
Jimmy Joe loved to fish, just like all the rest of his family.
So Jimmy Joe heads over to "help" the fish woman catch some fish. They get everything ready to head out to fish.
My cousin worked in a gift shop in Anchorage one summer and hated Barbara Lavallee due to the dividing line down the middle of the faces. Having been raised on these prints and illustrations, I never thought about it before. But there it is. In every face.
Fish Woman has promised Jimmy Joe a salmon fishing expedition. Salmon in their richness and bounty hold a special place in the lives and imaginations of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest/Alaska. Jimmy Joe is determined to catch the best, the biggest, and the most.
Catching the fish and putting it on ice.
When he catches a fish and sees all its sparkling majesty snuffed out, Jimmy Joe is torn. He knows his mother wanted fish to eat, but how can he take this beautiful thing from the sea?
Then!--the magic! The wolves of the sea appear.
Deigning to show themselves is a gift from the sea. The wise Fish Woman and Jimmy Joe both recognize the honor.
And suddenly, Jimmy Joe knows what to do with the magnificent fish he caught--return it as a gift to the orcas.
This is a little confusing since he was hesitant to catch the fish and use it to feed his own family, but I guess being the meal of an orca is a bit more fascinating to a little boy than being the meal of a mere human.
And he heads home--salmonless, but with an amazement and wonder of the sea.
I like the practicality of this book--Jimmy Joe, while lamenting the necessity of killing such an amazing creature, also understands enough of nature to know the salmon can't escape being someone's meal.
I love the Fish Woman helping him come to that realization. I like Jimmy Joe being allowed to spend time with (and wanting to spend time with) this elderly person who has so much wisdom and understanding to share with him.