Bookshelf

Bookshelf
A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Baby Raven Reads

I’m thrilled to see Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) filling a much-needed gap in Alaskan children’s literature with their well-designed, age-appropriate, culturally accurate picture books for kids.

Baby Raven Reads is a program implemented by Sealaska Heritage, a regional Native nonprofit corporation, through grant funding from the US Department of Education’s Alaska Native Education Program. Their goal is to promote “love of learning through culture and community.” Baby Raven Reads includes family events for young children, as well as the creation of an exemplary collection of picture books centered around Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures in Southeast Alaska. In 2017 the Library of Congress recognized Baby Raven Reads as a “Best Practice Honoree” with their Literacy Award.

Their Raven series includes three stories adapted from the scholarly works of Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, who devoted much of their careers to transcribing oral accounts by Tlingit Elders. Raven and the Tide Lady, beautifully illustrated by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade (Tlingit name Sheit.een), was published in 2018. 

Raven and the Tide Lady,
illustrated by Michaela Goade.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

In the story, Raven forces the Tide Lady to allow low tides so animals and people can harvest food from the ocean.


The Tide Lady refuses Raven's approach.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

In Raven Makes the Aleutians, illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons and published in 2018, a great flood leaves Raven exhausted from searching for land. 

Raven Makes the Aleutians,
illustrated by Janine Gibbons.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Raven solicits the help of a sea otter to create the Aleutian Islands, thus providing Raven a place to rest as he flies back toward the mainland. The islands remain today as the homeland of the Unangan and Alutiiq people. Gibbons' bold illustrations emphasize the contrast between sea, land, and sky.


Raven tosses pebbles into the sea.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

In a third story, Raven Loses His Nose, published in 2018 and illustrated by Tsimshian artist David Lang, Raven’s legendary greed gets him into trouble, causing him to lose his nose.


Raven loses his Nose,
illustrated by David Lang.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

A selection of additional titles includes:

How Devil’s Club Came to Be by Miranda Rose Kaagwéil Worl, illustrated by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade, published in 2017. This original story is inspired by oral tradition but is not a traditional Tlingit tale. 

How Devil's Club Came to Be,
illustrated by Michaela Goade.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.
In it, Raven’s niece sets out on a hero’s journey to save her village from a terrible illness. The illustrations are striking and evocative.


Raven's niece on her journey.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

The Woman Who Married the Bear, adapted by Frank Henry Kaash Katasse, was published in 2017 and illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons.

The Woman Who Married the Bear,
illustrated by Janine Gibbons.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Presented as a story-within-a-story, this Tlingit teaching tale cautions children to respect the bears and not to go into the forest by themselves at the berry-picking time of year.

The woman and the bear walk into the forest.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Shanyaak’utlaax — Salmon Boy, published in 2017, is bilingual throughout in Tlingit and English. Illustrated by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade, it was adapted from oral tradition and edited by Johnny Marks, Hans Chester, David Katzeek, Nora Dauenhauer, and Richard Dauenhauer. A preface explains that this is a Kiks.ádi story, with variant versions owned by other Raven Clans. In this tale a boy is captured by the Salmon People for disrespecting the food they provide.

Shanyaak'utlaax -- Salmon Boy,
illustrated by Michaela Goade.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.
He becomes a salmon, eventually returning to his home and family when the salmon migrate from the sea. His story illustrates the need for humans to respect and understand the relationship between humans and their environment.

Salmon Boy returns to his mother.
Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Shanyaak’utlaax — Salmon Boy received the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Picture Book in 2018.

The books include information about SHI and Baby Raven Reads, as well as notes about story sources. The Raven books include a foreword “Raven the Trickster” by Rosita Kaaháni Worl, Ph. D., President of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

With their rich cultural context, age-appropriate storytelling, quality artwork, and attractive design, the books are a gift not only to Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian children, but to all of us.

A complete list of Sealaska Heritage Institute books is here. All images are used with permission of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Finding Gold

Matthew Lasley’s first picture book is Pedro’s Pan: A Gold Rush Story, illustrated by Jacob Souva and published by Alaska Northwest Books in 2019. This whimsical tale manages to tell an entertaining story from the point of view of a gold pan (“call me Pan for short”) while also conveying basic information about prospecting for gold — a topic almost non-existent in children’s picture books.

Pedro's Pan: A Gold Rush Story
by Matthew Lasley, illustrated by Jacob Souva

Above all, Pedro's Pan is fun. Lasley focuses on telling a simple story for ages four to seven about the challenges and joys of a pan and his man in the wilderness. Parents and children may read the story solely for pleasure, while educators may use it as a springboard to spark interest in geology and to explore the social, political, and environmental repercussions surrounding Gold Rush history in Alaska and elsewhere.

Thanks to a well-written text, imaginative illustrations, and thoughtful pacing, the personalities of both Pan and his prospecting partner Pedro come to life as they search for gold. It is Pan, however, that especially shines. In Lasley’s story, Pan is more than a tool; he is a committed partner and companion who helps Pedro in unexpected ways and worries about letting Pedro down.


"On sunny days I shade Pedro's eyes.
On rainy days I keep his head dry."

Lasley smoothly incorporates basic information and vocabulary about prospecting into the story, including quartz, black sand, fool’s gold (iron pyrite), and panning. Pan’s voice is straightforward and engaging, with a touch of humor that both kids and adults can appreciate.

“What is it, Pedro? Do you see
a moose? Is it a bear? Did a
mosquito fly up your nose?"


Souva’s illustrations extend and complement the text with verve. Unlike the time-worn, stodgy historical images of Gold Rush prospectors we’re familiar with, Pedro verges on the cartoonish — in a contemporary, energetic way. True to prospector form, he still wears suspenders, patched jeans, and what I presume is a button-down union suit. But Souva’s style — a mix of what might be called naive with digital sophistication — gives a feeling of bringing the past into today. The red-flannel-patterned endpapers add a fitting touch.

Pedro’s Pan includes a brief note on Felix Pedro, a real-life Italian emigrant and prospector whose discovery initiated a second gold rush and the founding of Fairbanks, Alaska. Lasley also gives directions on “How to Pan for Gold” and “Gold Facts.” From his bio, we learn that Lasley grew up in an Alaskan gold-mining family and currently lives in Anchorage, where he teaches first grade.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Catching Up

It’s past time to highlight some of the new Alaska and northern books I’ve seen this past year. First up:

Fighter in Velvet Gloves
by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr.

At long last we have a biography about Elizabeth Peratrovich!

Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich, by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr., documents the life and work of this exceptional Tlingit woman. Her tireless efforts to end discrimination against Alaska Natives contributed significantly to passage of the first anti-discrimination law in the United States, right here in Alaska.

Thanks to Boochever, who grew up in Juneau (the setting for much of the book) and Roy Peratrovich Jr., the son of Elizabeth and her husband Roy, we now have an accurate historical account of Peratrovich’s life and legacy.

On February 16, 1945 Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act became law in what was then the territory of Alaska, a notable feat when we consider that it took nineteen more years for the U.S. Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act. While the work of Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich, along with many others, was instrumental in creating change, Elizabeth’s eloquent speech before the Territorial Legislature was a decisive factor in striking this legal victory against discrimination. Boochever writes, “This book celebrates all their efforts by telling the story of a woman who exemplified courage and commitment throughout her life.”

Fighter in Velvet Gloves is published by Snowy Owl Books/University of Alaska Press for a teen audience “and their families.” Though the format of the book lacks the graphic sophistication that’s become prevalent among YA nonfiction produced by the Big Five publishers, Fighter is meticulously researched and respectfully written to honor the values of Tlingit traditions. The text includes Tlingit words and names, black-and-white photos, a timeline, bibliography, glossary, and notes by both authors. It sheds light on historical struggles for equality and justice that adults, as well as young people, may not be aware of. Fighter in Velvet Gloves may well inspire readers to make a difference, too.

$1 Coin Honoring
Elizabeth Peratrovich
Image: US Mint
In 2020 the U.S. Mint will issue a $1 coin with her image.
In 1988 the Alaska Legislature declared February 16 “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day” in honor of her accomplishments.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

How Did Raven Get That Crooked Nose?

How Raven Got His Crooked Nose: An Alaskan Dena’ina Fable is my new favorite Alaskan picture book. To begin with, it’s a Raven tale, complete with tomfoolery, transformation, and tricksterism. That’s a great start but the best news is that it’s wonderfully told by Barbara and Ethan Atwater, skillfully illustrated by Mindy Dwyer, and thoughtfully designed by the team at Alaska Northwest Books.

How Raven Got His Crooked Nose -- Cover

Put all together, the book’s creators have accomplished no easy task — a modern retelling of a traditional Dena'ina Athabascan tale that honors the story and makes it accessible to children both within and outside of the culture it comes from.

This is a teaching tale, as well as a story-within-a-story. Scenes with a modern-day Dena’ina Grandmother and Granddaughter working at typical subsistence activities (berry picking, harvesting salmon) alternate with the sukdu, or story, of how Raven’s nose became crooked. Artistic style and color palette help clarify the two. Dwyer’s illustrations skillfully weave back and forth between the Raven tale and the contemporary storytelling setting.


Grandmother and Granddaughter with blueberries

Scenes with Grandmother and Granddaughter are portrayed realistically, with a color palette taken from the natural word and art that bleeds to the edges of the page, while Raven’s world is shown with more stylized representation. Dwyer also employs frames to contain the Raven tale within the larger story and uses graphic novel-style techniques. Panels accelerate the sense of action and occasional first-person speech bubbles break the narrative in the same way an oral storyteller may interject as narrator or speak a character’s part.

Where was his nose?

This synthesis of traditional and modern storytelling techniques works well to preserve the tone of the original oral tale, with its back-and-forth between teller and listener — or in this case, reader — and transformational elements, such as when Raven turns into a man, while speaking to readers of the 21st century.

Additionally, the authors skillfully incorporate Dena’ina words into the text, helpfully and unobtrusively including side notes with pronunciation and very brief definitions. Back matter includes a note with information about Alaskan Dena’ina people, their stories, and culture, as well as a brief glossary of Dena’ina words used in the text and a bibliography for further reading.


Chida finds Raven's nose

The tellers of this story, Barbara Jacko Atwater and her son Ethan Jacko Atwater, have a personal connection to it. Her great uncle Walter Johnson, a respected Dena’ina elder, told them the story, among others, with the instruction to “go and tell this story in your own way.” Readers in Alaska and elsewhere can be glad they’ve taken his direction to heart. As they say in their Dedication (or “edication,” since Raven the trickster has playfully flown off with the “D”!) Chin’an, thank you, for sharing this story.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

No Penguins Here! Inhabit Media's "Animals Illustrated."

Illustrated by Ben Shannon
A pet peeve of children’s librarians in Alaska is the appearance of penguins in books about the North or northern animals. Penguins — as we all know, right? — live in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere we have puffins. And yet we continue to see penguins hanging out with walrus or floating on icebergs with polar bears in children’s books. *Sigh*

So — it was with great joy that I recently discovered Inhabit Media’s “Animals Illustrated,” a series featuring 24-page, beautifully illustrated and factually accurate books for young readers about animals of the Arctic.




Illustrated by Kagan McLeod


Titles thus far include “Walrus,” “Muskox,” “Narwhal,” and “Polar Bear,” with “Bowhead Whale” forthcoming.

Designed for the youngest readers, each book features nine to ten chapters of one to four pages each. Text is brief with an emphasis on basic and interesting facts.










Muskox skeleton.
Fully illustrated, each page gently informs with details about the range, skeleton, diet, babies, predators, and more of each animal, including a wonderful section on “Traditional Uses.”






Endpapers from "Walrus."




The endpapers, as well, use illustrations to full effect to convey information.


Illustrated by Hwei Lim
Design of the series is spot-on, with attractive covers and lay-out that is both consistent throughout the series and age-appropriate for conveying information visually and textually. The table of contents gives a clear sense of organization. The illustrations are both scientifically accurate, engaging, and beautiful. One improvement I could suggest is a map to complement the section on Range.

Notes about the authors and illustrators add to the authenticity of the books, in particular giving a sense of the connection between the authors and the environment of their subjects. Solomon Awa (Narwhal) was born in a sod house near Igloolik and teaches traditional knowledge at Nunavut Arctic College. 


Illustrated by Danny
Christopher
Allen Niptanatiak (Muskox) “is a hunter and trapper from Kugluktuk, Nunavut.”  Herve Paniaq (Walrus) “is an elder from Igloolik, Nunavut.” And William Flaherty (Polar Bear) is a conservation officer and hunter who lives in Iquluit, Nunavut.

This attention to place is purposeful. According to their website, Inhabit Media is “an Inuit-owned publishing company, with our head office located in Iqaluit, Nunavut. To our knowledge we are the only independent publishing company located in the Canadian Arctic.” Their mission is to “preserve and promote the stories, knowledge and talent of Inuit and northern Canada.”




Forthcoming December
2017
Though the focus of this series is the Canadian Arctic, the information contained and the quality of its conveyance makes it a useful resource for readers, teachers, and librarians in Alaska and beyond. The attention to interesting details, accuracy, visual design, and authenticity sets this series apart for interest and excellence.








Monday, January 2, 2017

Little Whale

Little Whale by Roy A. Peratrovich, Jr. melds family history with imagination in this slim chapter book about 10-year-old Kéet, a young Tlingit boy who accompanies his father on a 200-mile journey by canoe from present-day Sitka to Ketchikan. Though fiction, the story is based on a voyage taken by Peratrovich’s Tlingit grandfather, Andrew Wanamaker, as a young child.

The book begins with a map of their route, a glossary of eight “words to know,” and an introduction that gives background information on the Tlingit people and their way of life, effectively setting the stage for the story that follows. The tale is thus able to unfold naturally, without excessive interruptions for explanations that would be necessary for young readers unfamiliar with Tlingit culture and Southeastern Alaska.

Kéet, whose name means “Killer Whale” in Tlingit, is the youngest and smallest member of his family. Normally left behind while his father and brothers hunt and fish, Kéet is thrilled when one morning his father takes him halibut fishing. On that excursion, they discover and successfully free a baby whale caught in a strange net, probably belonging to the “pale people” who have begun to appear in Tlingit country. Shortly after this brave and compassionate act, Kéet stows away in his father’s canoe, secretly joining a large party of men led by his father on a mission to seek recompense for a wrong committed by a member of the Ketchikan clan. Suffice to say, adventures involving weather, whales, and their reception in Ketchikan ensue.

Little Whale by Roy A. Peratrovich, Jr.
Published 2016, Snowy Owl Books
University of Alaska Press

While most of the story is told in a straightforward narrative style, one chapter contains an element of the fantastic, which Peratrovich identifies in his author’s note at the end of the book as his own embellishment.

Much of the interest of the story is found in the details of daily life, customs, tools, language, and attitudes among the Tlingit of that place and time. Peratrovich, who is the son of renowned Alaska Native civil rights leaders Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich, thanks noted Tlingit scholar Rosita Worl for authenticating his inclusion of Tlingit words and customs. Blurbs by Dr. Worl and Tlingit leader Randy Wanamaker further support the high level of authenticity found in both the text and the drawings. 

Peratrovich’s drawings enhance the story, with most chapters containing one black-and-white spot illustration. While several of the drawings would benefit from cleaner lines and better contrast, the details they depict are informative and interesting.

Little Whale is a valuable addition to the small body of authentic literature for children about Tlingit people and culture. While the book has an educational tone, the author’s storytelling style is strong enough to convey a tale that should be of interest to most children ages eight to ten. As well, it offers numerous possibilities for discussion about topics such as the impacts of Western colonization upon Alaska Natives, subsistence living, settlement of disputes, survival at sea, and values such as courage, compassion, and respect. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

An Almost-True Alaskan Adventure


A recent picture book by Erin McKittrick and illustrator Valise Higman, My Coyote Nose and Ptarmigan Toes, melds nature and imagination in a child’s-eye view of a family’s outdoor adventures.

McKittrick, who has authored three books for adults, was inspired to write her first picture book while on a family expedition. Her son coped with the rigors of an unexpected blizzard in an unusual way: he pretended to be a wild, wooly mammoth, impervious to snow and cold. The result is an “almost-true Alaskan adventure” in verse about the joys and challenges of wilderness backpacking, boating, and camping. The young narrator imagines himself as numerous wild animals — the coyote and ptarmigan of the title, as well as a beaver, sparrow, bear, mountain goat, and others — each suitable for adapting to a specific challenge on the family’s journey.

Published by Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, 2016

Higman fills black, cut-paper silhouettes with colored paper and paint to create bright, bold illustrations with texture, depth, and definition. The pictures give a feeling reminiscent of both stained glass and block prints. Each two-page spread throughout the book creates a scene of the family interacting with nature, rich with accurate natural details as well as whimsey, as the boy “becomes” a new creature.

Rhythm and rhyme generally flow smoothly, although inconsistencies in the pattern of the verse and number of lines sometimes contribute to confusion as the transition from reality to imagination is occurring. That said, My Coyote Nose and Ptarmigan Toes is a welcome addition to the relatively small number of books that celebrate children and their families interacting with wilderness in ways that are both realistic and imaginative.

As attractive and imaginative as it is informational, the book will be enjoyed by children and families, as well as useful in educational settings. It’s an exuberant reminder how powerful pretend can be and how nature fosters creativity.

For more information about Erin McKittrick, her books, and her family's outdoor adventures, visit her website.