How long has it been since one of the big
New York houses published a picture book by
an Alaskan? (If you know the answer, please share!) A drum roll and
congratulations to Barbara Brown, whose Hanukkah
in Alaska, illustrated by Stacy Schuett, recently came out with Henry Holt,
“publishers since 1866.”
Brown tells the story of a young girl and the neighborhood moose that worries her. You know that critter – hanging out in your yard, chomping your trees, sleeping between you and your car during a deep-snow winter. Unpredictable and possibly ornery. Our young heroine is justifiably worried about the mayhem this moose can cause in her backyard.
Hanukkah in Alaska does a nice job of bringing the child-centered realities of winter in many
Alaska towns to a greater
audience: hugging trees for moose safety, layers of clothing, northern lights,
and streets filled with snow. At times, informative asides aimed at Lower 48
readers, such as a definition of “Outside,” threaten to distract from the story,
but are probably necessary for an audience beyond Alaska.
Alaska and its moose
dominate the first half of the book, they eventually lead to a unique “Hanukkah
experience that connects the lights of this Jewish festival with that pesky
moose, for a surprising and holiday-appropriate ending. A cataloging note
mentions that an earlier version appeared as a short story in the anthology A Hanukkah Treasury (Holt, 1998). That
may explain the somewhat meandering route this tale takes, which is unusual in
these days of very concise, short-form picture books. An Author’s Note at the
end discusses both Hanukkah and the aurora borealis.
Schuett’s acrylic and gouache paintings contrast the dark skies of winter with white snow, the purple tones of low light, and brightly colored parkas, streetlights, and interiors. She captures well the tension between the girl and the moose, particularly through interesting juxtaposition of the two in numerous scenes. My only quibble with the artwork is an overly literal interpretation of the text’s description of northern lights as “a rainbow on black velvet.” I’ve never seen the aurora look that horizontal and tidy. Her other aurora paintings, however, are evocative and lovely.
Hanukkah in Alaska is a welcome addition to children’s books about
Alaska. And I especially love to see
Alaskans writing them!