A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Great Kodiak Connection

I love it when I find an amazing children’s book when I least expect to!

Last spring I was sipping coffee in Monk’s Rock Café, my favorite Kodiak (Alaska) coffee shop, when my writer/librarian eyes lit on a small treasure – just 4.5” by 4.5” -- tucked into a display basket. The silhouette of a white chicken pranced on a yellow background. What could this be?

I opened the hand-bound pages of The Great Chicken Escape to find a simple but evocative wordless story in black-and-white about the adventures of a cat, some hens and some nuns.

Now nuns might seem like an odd component for a children’s book, unless you’re sitting in Monk’s Rock Café. The coffee house and bookstore is associated with St. Innocent’s Academy, a Russian Orthodox school and residential community in Kodiak. An author’s note in the back of the book explains that Nikki McClure, the author and artist, lived for a time with the nuns on nearby Spruce Island in a small Russian Orthodox monastery. McClure ends her note, which briefly describes daily life through the seasons on Spruce Island, with thanks for the community’s “immeasurable gifts.”

Perhaps it was the habits of the nuns that inspired McClure’s choice of color palette. In any case, her use of white and black space is creative and engaging, with some occasionally stunning designs. I particularly love the close-up of the cat stalking the chicken (below); and the beautiful final spread of white and black hens sleeping under a starry sky.

At first glance I assumed the art was of wood or linoleum block prints. Not being an artist, however, I wasn’t sure. Plus I was curious about this Nikki McClure: who is she? What does she do? So of course I searched her name online.

It turns out that Nikki McClure ( is a paper-cut artist who lives in Olympia, Washington. She makes posters, books, cards, t-shirts, and calendars, as well as designs covers for books and recordings. She also illustrates for magazines and – I knew it! – children’s books! Nikki has conceived and illustrated seven of her own stories, as well as illustrated All in a Day for Newbery award author Cynthia Rylant. (Follow the “Projects” link on her site to learn more about her books.)

I'm glad to see that McClure is using her paper-cut talents for storytelling. And gratified to know she finds inspiration, like so many of us do, in the beauty of the Northern landscape.


  1. Hi Ann!

    Great idea, this blog. I live just across the border, in the Yukon, and write mostly non-fiction for kids. While it's not specifically northern, it does come from a genuine northerner. You can find information about my latest book, Lizards in the Sky: Animals Where You Least Expect Them, and my other books on my website,

    And The Great Chicken Escape sounds charming.

    Claire Eamer

  2. Hello! Wow! What an exciting blog. I'm not quite as far North as Claire, being in Norther-eastern BC, but my Inuvialuit mother-in-law is from Banks Island which is pretty far North (a hop skip and a jump and you're going South again). As for nuns being a strange topic for a childrens' book,we just had a book published with two nuns as characters. It's called FATTY LEGS and is about her time at a residential school in Aklavik. I'm not as on the ball and don't have a website like Claire, but it can be found here: Legs
    on the Annick Press website. BTW, Claire and I are Annick sisters, but I loved her books before I joined the Annick family. I actually reviewed SUPER CROCS AND MONSTER WINGS a few years ago and thought it was superb and fascinating reading, packed full of extremely interesting facts.

    Another writer you may be interested in is Michael Kusgak. He is co-Author of A PROMISE IS A PROMISE (along with Robert Munsch) and his ARCTIC TALES is also wonderful (actually all of his books are great).

    Anyway, so glad Claire shared this blog. I can't wait to read more.

    Christy Jordan-Fenton

  3. Wow, great to hear from you! Lizards in the Sky looks like a great topic to write about -- I hope to see the book soon. And thanks for letting us know about Fatty Legs. It sounds like a wonderful story and one I'll try to get ahold of. My librarian self can think of some children who would enjoy reading both these books.

    I know of at least some of Michael Kusgak's stories. I read A Promise Is a Promise to my primary classes each year and love it. I'll Will have to find Arctic Tales.

    Keep tuning in!

  4. Hi! Claire, who i do not know at all, posted something on the artsnet here in the Yukon, that's how i got here. No time to read, it's this northren weather :) always dragging me outside, i'll add you to my list and i'll be back, promise.

  5. Great! Your northern summer must be better than ours has been. Looking forward to hearing from you later.