Tobias Goes Seal Hunting

New Math Trauma
Friday Fiction: Master of the Marshlands

Tobias Goes Seal HuntingTobias Goes Seal Hunting
Hertz
1984

Submitter: So we’ve had this book in my library for a while now, and I just haven’t been able to decide whether it’s a weeder or not. Circulation is pretty high, including in recent years. I’m just stuck, like, part of me thinks of dead baby seals and thinks this probably shouldn’t be in my children’s section. But the other part sees that it’s really informative and quite well done.  Thoughts?

Holly: I see what Submitter is saying. There is a segment of the population that will be horrified that the seal is killed and flensed (skinned. I googled it. That’s quite a word for a children’s book!) and eaten, and the steps are told and shown in detail. The dead seal floats next to the boat, they have trouble carrying it to shore because it is slippery and wet, and the Mom is shown slicing into its belly with a knife.

Others will recognize this as a cultural study of how things are done in the books’ setting of Greenland (and it does seem fairly accurate). They may even be glad to see a children’s book that illustrates responsible hunting. It’s not a sport in the book; it is a food source for Tobias’ family and the author doesn’t romanticize either the cute seal or the victory of the hunt. My thought is that this is meant for older children and it would be better cataloged as non-fiction than as a picture book, even though it is a fictional story.

Tobias shoots

Picture of Tobias shooting

Tobias father shoots

Taking seal to shore

taking seal to shore

flensing the seal

flensing the seal

14 comments

  1. Surprisingly well done. Although would have one be questioning the book by name alone, the mute tone is well done for the subject and seems to put no thrill to the fact the family has to eat. This is the cultural setting in Greenland and Tobias is Inuit? Maybe it wouldnt stick out as much if his name was more suggestive of being Inuit. This is how it is in that part of the world and kids still have a right to find this information.

    I like it. I say keep it.

  2. It’s better than the National Geographic books my grandmother always gave me at Christmas. They had photographs of seal skinning and whale hunting. It’s very bloody.
    That could be why this book has such dull illustrations. I am surprised today’s kids check it out, it just seems too “old” regardless of the content.
    There must be some reason it still circulates. Maybe the students have a unit on Inuits?

  3. I’d keep it. It’s an accurate depiction, and it circulates. Anyone who takes out a book called “Tobias Goes Seal Hunting” and is offended that a seal gets killed is a twit.

  4. Tobi Tobias is listed as the artist in many native stories.
    We have a large Native American collection in our library which had its heyday in the late 1980s/early 1990s. We have this and Tobias Catches a Trout by the same author, Ole Hertz. Tobias also goes ice fishing and has a birthday. I think they were Danish first and translated into English.
    I have dithered over withdrawing this many, many times. I keep putting it back on the shelf, even if it’s not getting the activity that yours seems to. Maybe we should add it to the main stacks–or add some subject headers to the records to make it more of a target!

  5. In our libraries if it circulates it stays. Unless you can replace the content with a more current book or its in bad shape what would be the issue with keeping it?

  6. I looked at these books when I was weeding my library’s picture book collection a few years ago. At the time, I thought they were pretty cool, despite the less-than-dazzling illustrations. I liked the child-level depiction of ordinary Inuit life. Unfortunately, our patrons seemed less interested than I was. The books hadn’t circulated in years, so out they went. Keep them if they circulate; they’re solidly written stories about a culture and environment very foreign to most readers. It’s great to be able to provide multicultural perspectives for younger readers.

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