by Dana Hopkins
In the Focus On: series, we share insight into the story behind one of our Nunavummi titles.
Viivi’s New Kamiks by Nadia Mike, illustrated by Ali Hinch, tells a familiar story in a setting that will be immediately recognizable to Northern readers but might be new for readers in the south. We all remember what it’s like to want something special with all our hearts, maybe something that’s a little bit grownup. And we all know what it’s like to be told no. In this heartfelt, funny story, almost-nine-year-old Viivi wants nothing more than a pair of her own kamiks. Her parents keep telling her no—they don’t think she’s old enough for kamiks. So Viivi embarks on a campaign to prove to her parents that she is grownup and responsible enough for kamiks of her own. On the day she turns nine, her parents have a big plate of pancakes and a very special surprise waiting for her…
So what are kamiks, and why is it so important that Viivi be mature enough to handle having a pair of her own?
Kamiks are handcrafted boots worn by Inuit, made from caribou or sealskin. Inuit in Alaska wear a similar style of boot, which they call mukluks. Kamiks are traditionally made by Inuit women, and the method is passed on from elders to younger seamstresses. Institutions such as the Tukisigiarvik Centre in Iqaluit and Nunavut Arctic College offer workshops and courses in fur preparation and kamik making in order to preserve and share this knowledge.
The process of making kamiks is long and involved, a labour of love to create a functional, beautiful boot. Traditionally, the caribou or sealskin is chewed until it is the right suppleness and shape. Sewing takes a lot of skill and strength because the skin is so thick—it has to be to protect feet from winter weather that is on average -30°C or colder! While bone needles were once used, now strong metal needles are pushed through again and again, folding the skin into tight puckers at the toe and sewing them securely. The entire boot covers the foot and extends at least halfway up the calf. This takes a lot of sewing! Traditionally, kamiks are sewn with animal sinew, though modern kamiks are often sewn with wax thread.
Kamiks are worn over special wool socks, called duffle socks, and they are just as important aesthetically as they are in keeping feet warm! Colourful, intricate patterns are stitched into the sock. Patterns are often geometric or floral.
Always popular, kamiks are lightweight, which allows hunters to move quietly across the land. They breathe well, which is incredibly important in icy cold temperatures. And they connect the wearer to a proud tradition. You can see why Viivi wants a special pair of kamiks all her own—and why her parents want to be sure she’s old enough to appreciate them and take care of them!
When you read Viivi’s New Kamiks to your child or class, you can turn to the final page, which includes a note about kamiks and a photograph of a real-life pair of these boots. You can ask what special item your reader has always wanted, just like Viivi wants kamiks!
Reading Level: Grade 2, Fountas & Pinnell Text Level: I, Nunavummi Level 9
A Nunavummi Level 9 book is 16–32 pages with 2–4 sentences per page. Sentences are more complex than earlier levels, with varied punctuation, dialogue, and fun, beautiful images that support the text. More information is coming from the text than the images at this level, helping children learn to follow a sequential story with engaging characters and settings.
Dana Hopkins brings over 10 years of experience in academic and trade publishing to her role as senior editor with Inhabit Education, working with authors to craft uniquely Northern stories for young readers. She loves espresso, opera, and curling up with fantastic books.