January 17, 2017

The Caterpillar Woman

by Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Carolyn Gan
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-083-9
32 pp.
Ages 7-10
2016

Piujuq was a beautiful woman who loved to dance with the butterflies by the lake. One day she meets a woman with glowing, green-tinged skin who introduces herself as Tarraq and admits she has become lost and separated from her camp.  Wearing only a thin jacket of strange material, Tarraq shivers with cold and asks Piujuq if they could trade coats, to which the kindly Piujuq agrees.  Soon after the stranger leaves, Piujuq realizes her hair has become spiny and her skin has transformed, becoming prickly and fuzzy and green. Not wanting to frighten her family, Piujuq wanders the land before secluding herself in an abandoned tent.

When three men, on a search for wives, come across her, she offers them tea and mends their ripped clothing.  Though she is saddened when they leave, knowing she was not beautiful enough to become one of their wives, one of the men, an older man named Amaruq, returns and declares that she is very kind and he would like to have her as his wife.  The two fall in love and make a good life together, each caring for the other.  When Piujuq asks him to make a drum so that she might once again dance with the butterflies, Amaruq finds an abandoned drumbeater that makes magical music, ultimately transforming both husband and wife.
From The Caterpillar Woman 
by Nadia Sammurtok
illus. by Carolyn Gan
Inuit writer Nadia Sammurtok has written The Caterpillar Woman as a traditional Inuit tale. The legend which has a moral or message about seeing beyond skin-deep beauty is steeped in Inuit traditions from parkas to drums but with the supernatural element of a caterpillar woman and a magical drumbeater. Though the transformation of Piujuq to a caterpillar woman may be somewhat frightening, and Australian artist Carolyn Gan does this creepiness very well, it is Piujuq’s kindness and the inner beauty both she and Amaraq see in each other that uplifts the story to one of magic.  It’s a story of redemption, though had Piujuq and Amaruq never been transfigured to beautiful and youthful, The Caterpillar Woman would still have had a happy ending and a lesson in seeing beyond superficial appearances.

From The Caterpillar Woman 
by Nadia Sammurtok 
illus. by Carolyn Gan

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