A northern abecedary, with a nod to literacy

Bonnie Belec
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Between regattas, outdoor festivals, the Crime Stoppers Dog Show last weekend and Shake it Up’s Shakespeare for kids at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market, it’s been difficult hitting the books.

This summer has been a first for a lot of things for us  — whale watching, the St. John’s Regatta and the most recent excursion, a trip to the St. John’s Farmers’ Market.

You don’t know what you’re missing just outside your door in this diverse city unless you make the effort to explore.

A prime example is the market.

I expected food and homemade crafts, but certainly not hula hooping, dancing, music and a spectacular performance by the young actors of Shake it Up.

During my whirlwind trip in and out of the market — Lindsay and Liam were anxious to get back to “Romeo and Juliet” — my senses became over stimulated.

Between the Indian food, the dazzling homemade one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelery and Mrs. Fudge’s fudge, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

I’m not sure what it was that first drew the children’s attention to Shake it Up, but Lindsay yelled out, “They’re doing ‘Gnomeo and Juliet,’” an animated movie based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with music by Elton John. The characters are gnomes — reds and blues — who have been at war with each other for years.

A red Juliet and a blue Gnomeo meet and fall in love, only to find out they are mortal enemies. And so the story goes.

Shake it Up takes on the sensitive subjects of love, hate and tragedy with enthusiastic humour. The children loved it and wouldn’t leave until the show was finished, which also included a short performance of “Hamlet.”

Flash back a couple of weeks to the St. John’s Regatta. It was challenging — one parent, two children each wanting to go in two different directions at the same time. Not to mention the masses of people.

But once I got my bearings and started to go with the flow, we found our way to the pond to see the races, which unfortunately was short-lived. The children were more interested in the games of chance, jumpy castles and fries.

After a full day at the Regatta, pooped and tuckered out, I managed to squeeze in a book which is as diverse as our summer excursions.

It’s all about the territories. The information contained in “T is for Territories: A Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut Alphabet” is truly enlightening and the illustrations are brilliantly eye-catching.

Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak takes young readers on an alphabetical, rhyming tour through the three Canadian territories. For the more experienced reader, he uses sidebars to explain the finer details, culture and history about the massive area.

Impeccably illustrated by Iris Churcher, the book opens our minds to a place and a way of life that is embraced by the people who live there.

Churcher’s lifelike illustrations and her attention to detail, coupled with Kusugak’s simple approach to writing, makes the book inviting and easy to read.

From Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada, to the discovery of gold at Rabbit Creek in 1896, to Mount Logan, the coldest mountain in Canada, this book is truly amazing.

One of my many favourite parts is when Kusugak talks about the late Peter Gzowski, host for many years of CBC’s “Morningside,” and his devotion to promoting literacy. It comes under the letter X.

X is for literacy

My friend asked me to write a cheque

and then he signed it with an”X.”

I asked him, “Why?” He said with shame,

“I never learned to write my name.”

On the opposite side of the page is an illustration by Church of Gzowski, whose likeness is uncanny, and a sidebar about  the formation of the Peter Gzowski Invitational golf tournaments which he inspired to grow across Canada before he died in 2002.

Kusugak explains how there aren’t any golf courses in most northern communities and how they have to improvise, using ice cleared with a bulldozer. They also use fluorescent-coloured golf balls as opposed to the traditional white ones because they get lost in the snow.

The book is inspirational on many levels and shows us what is just outside our door, no matter where you live, if you just take advantage of it.

Kusugak and Church are to be commended for their beautiful creation.

Happy reading.

Bonnie Belec is The Telegram’s municipal reporter and the mother of eight-year-old twins Lindsay and Liam. She can be reached at bbelec@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC, Church of Gzowski

Geographic location: Canada, Northwest Territories, Baffin Island Rabbit Creek Mount Logan Morningside

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