An on-going challenge in Alaska is finding authentic, place-based, and culturally relevant books for children. Mary’s Wild Winter Feast by Hannah Lindoff, illustrated by Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizul, fits that bill.
In six short chapters the book introduces readers to the bond between a Tlingit family and their Southeast Alaska homeland through the wild foods they gather and preserve. On a rainy winter day, when Mary questions why they live there, her father takes her to the pantry. Jars of food on the shelves — salmon, deer, seaweed, blueberries, and smoked salmon — inspire brief, one-chapter stories about how the food was harvested and preserved the previous summer. Told primarily by Mary’s father, the stories are saved from didacticism by their realistic details, genuine affection between father and daughter, and a conversational style that incorporates Mary’s comments and memories, as well as Dad’s.
The book is unusual in that it is illustrated by two artists, both from Juneau (as is Lindoff). Nobu Koch’s background in 3-D animation renders graphic-novel style illustrations that form the visual backbone for the story. Clarissa Rizul, a Tlingit artist currently living in Colorado, contributed beautiful formline collages, which Koch integrated into her artwork. Rizul’s images add a layer of depth that enrich the illustrations both culturally and artistically.
Mary’s Wild Winter Feast is all about relationships — a people to their homeland, a family to their environment and traditions, a father and daughter to each other. It captures the joy of those relationships and the satisfaction of participating in the web of life through harvesting, preserving, sharing and eating wild foods. Best of all, it does that through authentic stories a child can relate to.