Anga & the Reindeer

Anga & the Reindeer© Durga Yael Bernhard

This illustration is from a picture book I illustrated in 1994 titled The Girl Who Wanted to Hunt: A Siberian Tale, retold by Emery Bernhard and published by Holiday House.  My ex-husband and I were an author-illustrator team who produced a number of picture books together.  We chose this folktale for its shamanic theme – that is, for the presence of animal and plant allies whose transformative powers are engaged by the protagonist in a life-threatening predicament.   Young Anga is orphaned when her father, a powerful hunter, is killed by a man-eating tiger.  Her evil stepmother enslaves her with impossible demands, until Anga finds the animated spirit of one helper after another comes to her aid: a wooden reindeer toy, a sturgeon, a birch tree, and a pair of carved wooden sled dogs.

The Girl Who Wanted to HuntThe story takes place in the Amur River valley of southeastern Siberia.  While the region is analogous in terms of geography to my own Hudson River region (both rivers being estuaries, with similar climates), the tribal cultures of the Udeghes, Nanais, and others were entirely unfamiliar.  Here in the Hudson Valley we do not have Siberian tigers, which have had a profound effect on the shamanic cultures of Asia.  In this story the animal is evil because it has turned on humans – thus providing the necessity to hunt not just for food but also for self-defense.  This Anga does with the deft innocence of a girl who is both frightened and brave, defying her role both as a stepdaughter and a girl as she claims her budding powers – and the legacy of her father’s blessing as a hunter.

The Udeghes and Nanais blended the decorative arts of both Russia and China to make unique styles and patterns of clothing.  They wore fishskin robes, and created unusual scalloped collars for their clothing.  I found enough material to paint a different border for the text on every spread.  I enjoyed designing and illustrating The Girl Who Wanted to Hunt very much.  What a unique and inspiring story!  The book is out of print, but if you’re interested, you can find it on Amazon.


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