Picture books can be a wonderful source of stories and information about life in far-off places. The Moose of Ewenki is set in the mountains of Inner Mongolia, one of the few regions* in Northern Asia inhabited by the Indigenous Ewenki people. There, they lead a semi-nomadic way of life, raising reindeer and hunting in the forest.
Written by one of China’s best-loved authors (and resident of Mongolia), Gerelchimeg Blackcrane, The Moose of Ewenki features two main characters, Gree Shek, an Ewenki elder, and Xiao Han, a moose calf whose mother the elder has unfortunately shot dead while out hunting. When Xiao Han (“Little Moose”) follows Gree Shek back to the reindeer camp, moments of beauty, joy and humor ensue. The moose turns out to have an insatiable appetite, follows Gree Shek everywhere, even down to the village at the foot of the mountain, and insists on sleeping in the elder’s tent.
Despite Gree Shek’s attachment to Xiao Han, however, he knows where to draw the line. So, Little (now very big) Moose is unceremoniously booted out of the tent to sleep with the reindeer herd. And, as Gree Shek grows older and frailer, he realizes that the moose should return to his original forest home. (The tough reality of life in the reindeer camp really hits home at this point). There are also reminders throughout that Xiao Han is a wild animal: he spars with the male reindeer in mating season and fights back when the dogs in the Aoluguya village attack him.
At 64-pages, The Moose of Ewenki is on the longer side for a picture book; however, the text is minimal on the page, and sometimes absent entirely, and Helen Mixter’s translation from Chinese flows smoothly from start to finish. The words are enhanced by award-winning artist Jiu Er’s intricate and delicate illustrations: a combination of vignettes and full-page spreads in sepia tones and the colors of nature. Characters are closely observed, and the backdrops carefully depicted—each page is a true delight.
The Moose of Ewenki is a beautiful story and a fascinating introduction to a traditional way of life in Inner Mongolia that should appeal to children and adults alike.
The Moose of Ewenki was originally published in Chinese.
The Moose of Ewenki written by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane and illustrated by Jiu Er
Translated from Chinese by Helen Mixter
Aldana Libros/Greystone Kids, 2019
*The Ewenki also live in Northern Russia.
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT and IBBY Australia. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com