#431 – Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit by Mike Blanc

magoc wordsMagic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit

Mike Blanc, illustrator

Edward Field, translator

Vanita Books


Press Release:  Magic Words is a modern translation (1965), of a very old Inuit creation story by nationally known poet Edward Field. As a poem it captures beautifully the intimate relationship this Arctic people have with their natural world. Magic Words describes a world where humans and animals share bodies and languages, where the world of the imagination mixes easily with the physical. It began as a story that told how the Inuit people came to be and became a legend passed from generation to generation. In translation it grew from myth to poem.

The text comes from expedition notes recorded by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1921. Edward Field got a copy from the Harvard Library and translated it into English. Magic Words can be used as a jumping off point for history and geography lessons, showing how the Inuit spread across the Arctic from Canada to Greenland.

About the Story:  The translation by Edward Field states that both animals and humans roamed the world and were one. Humans could become animals and animals could become humans; some were both. And the two spoke the same language so they understood one another. The human mind is said to have held a mysterious power, according to the Inuit. Any word spoken by chance could have strange consequences. The word came true, forming into whatever it was the person wanted to happen.

          Nobody could explain this: That’s the way it was.


What I Thought: Magic Words is an interesting book. The illustrations are bold and reach every edge of the page. The Inuit symbols remind me of hieroglyphics, yet they are easier to understand, on the surface. A rabbit looks like a rabbit. A fish and turtle respectively look like fish and turtles. The underlying message the Inuit are expressing is another matter entirely. Then it gets philosophical, or magical, depending upon your viewpoint and understanding of the Inuit.

The Inuit people have a harmonious relationship with animals, plants, and the environment respecting all equally making it no surprise their stories include being one with—or transposing oneself with—animals. They believe animals can hear and understand human words. All spoke the same language. That was the time when words were like magic.


The Inuit belief that the human mind has mysterious powers is a belief many professions hold today, believing the mind is more than the equivalent of a central processing unit keeping the body functioning. They believed a word spoken could have strange consequences. Speaking of the word,

             It would suddenly come alive and

     what people wanted to happen could happen.

     All you had to do was say it.

I like Magic Words but find it difficult to explain. Vanita Books suggests Magic Words “can be used as a jumping off point for history and geography lessons, showing how the Inuit spread across the Arctic from Canada to Greenland.” I agree with this but take a little further in that I think Magic Words can be difficult to explain to your child unless you have an understanding of legends, myths, and the Inuit in particular.


Magic Words is a beautiful books thanks to Vanita Books insistence upon high quality and because the illustrations are gorgeous. Those that collect picture books for their outstanding illustrations would be wise to add Magic Words to their collections.  Elementary school libraries should be carrying this unique picture book about an interesting and little known people.

Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit

Mike Blanc, illustrator    website    blog    facebook    twitter

Edward Field, translator    website    bio    facebook    twitter

Vanita Books    website    blog    facebook    twitter

Released September 1, 2013

ISBN:  978-0-9832904-6-9

28 pages

Age 5 to 11


© 2013 by Vanita Books, used with permission

Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Mike Blanc

Translation copyright © 1998 by Edward Field



magic words


12 thoughts on “#431 – Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit by Mike Blanc

  1. Pingback: #523 – Don’t Dangle Your Participle by Vanita Oelschlager & Mike DeSantis | Kid Lit Reviews

  2. Well, this one looks pretty intriguing. Animals and humans becoming each other?! Pretty cool idea. And I guess you have to be very careful what you say! I think we need to look into this book. Thanks for the review!


  3. Nice review. This book sounds right up my alley. I love the folklore of animals and people changing into the other. Inuit folklore as well as all Native folklore is just cool! Oh yeah, I am a coyote by night. Awwwwwwuuuuuu.


    • You Canadians are all alike. Human by day and who knows what by night. Sheesz 🙂
      This is something you would like. I actually thought of that while I was reading it for the third time trying to understand enough to review it and make sense. Did’nt happen like I wanted. 😦


  4. This sounds like a good book that I’d like. The idea of humans and animals changing into each other is very unique, and interests me greatly. The illustrations are very cool, too. I like the colors! 😎


    • You would probably understand everything right away, Erik. If you should ever want to look for a book to review, check out Vanita Books. They have some interesting titles and they all look great. Plus, Vanita is a nice person and easy to work with. 🙂


  5. Intriguing book and review. I have always been fascinated with native people and their culture. I love the bold, graphically balanced illustrations!


    • You will definitely love this book then. The production values are always high with Vanita Books and the subjects she publishes are unusual in that it is not typical publisher mainstream stuff. I reviewed one titled Knees about dyslexia and it is a good book. You know quality. 🙂


  6. I really like this review. It looks like a great book. I love the idea of the illustrations reaching the outer edges of the page. I think it might be tough to explain to children by the sounds of it, but I won’t know for sure until I read it. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, but I love the presentation of your posts, particularly the font size. The images and breakdowns are great as well.

    Paul R. Hewlett


    • Thanks Paul. I appreciate it and am turning a bit red. I try to make it what I would like and I have always been visually oriented (photog at one time). I like how the illustrations break up the long reviews into what looks more manageable for most people. I just cannot write a good review in 400 words (I could if I took enough time, but . . . )

      The book is gorgeous, which is no surprise from Vanita Books. I think this is for older kids. A lot of philosophy involved.


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