A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Gillnetter Girls

Gillnetter Girls by author/illustrator Mollie Ginther takes readers along for a summer of salmon fishing in Alaska with young Ani, Mama, and their seafaring feline, BB Cat. The picture book’s lively artwork captures details of daily adventures aboard their boat while fishing, visiting with fellow fisherfolk, and riding out storms, as well as explorations onshore as they pick berries, examine tide pools, and find treasures on the beach.

Gillnetter Girls by Mollie Ginther
Cover illustration

The text and the illustrations are as interesting as they are informational. Ginther’s drawings give her characters a feeling of energy and motion, with a variety of perspectives and unexpected details that draw the reader into each page. Illustrated insets on some pages provide extra information, such as the parts of a gillnet, or interesting details, one of my favorites being a warning pile of bear poo.

Gillnet with inset details
Gillnet with inset details

Several full-page pictures accurately depict specific animals or plants, such as species of salmon, seaweed and kelp, and jellyfish. The information presented throughout the book is never heavy-handed; it flows naturally from the text and art as the days roll by.

Seaweed and kelp illustrations
Seaweed and kelp illustrations

The text is appropriately spare for a picture book and doesn’t try to do too much. While the story is slight — a simple accumulation of small events during the summer’s fishing — because it begins and ends with a season it feels satisfyingly complete. The everyday experiences will be unique and of interest to most children and adults.

Setting out for a new season of fishing!
Setting out for a new season of fishing!

Ginther uses an attractive, narrow border to contain the activities of each day to their respective pages, as well as enough white space to give the illustrations plenty of fresh, open air. Text integrates clearly with the illustrations, which complement and extend the text.

Gillnetter Girls will leave readers with a new appreciation for a unique way of livelihood -- and feeling like they’ve been on a grand summer adventure!

A brief glossary is included. Of interest to ages 4 to 7. Published 2020 by Orange Hat Press.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Ten Past One, Please!

I have a request of the publishing universe: Would someone please translate and publish Ann-Helén Laestadius’s young adult novel Tio över ett into English?

Tio över ett/Ten Past One

I kept thinking that as I was reading the book in Swedish, its original language, after it came my way through a friend who had met the author. A year later, I still think about it. A story that sticks like that is a story with resonance.

The title translates as Ten Past One. That's the time Maja sets her clock for each night. She needs to be awake to make sure she and her family survive the nighttime blasting that occurs deep below ground in the enormous, state-owned LKAB mine beneath Kiruna. This actual mine in far northern Sweden, which has operated for over 120 years, is the largest iron ore mine in Europe and employs some 4,000 people. Unfortunately, the enormity of the mining activity is causing cracks at ground level that threaten the homes, roads, infrastructure, and safety of residents. Portions of the town are in the process of being moved or the families relocated to New Kiruna, several miles away.

Maja’s father, like so many residents of Kiruna, works in the mine. He earns a good living. But Maja suffers from increasing anxiety, mostly irrational but also not entirely unreasonable. She endures the typical stresses of adolescence — friendships, school and peer pressures, family disagreements, a serious crush — with an added layer of genuine fear about change and the potential for impending disaster.

The setting is intrinsically interesting but Maja’s voice gives life to the story. She is so emotionally vulnerable, so frank, and struggles so valiantly to find her way through her troubles, I couldn’t help but empathize. As she navigates the unwelcome changes around her, she comes to grips with realities of politics and economy, family and class differences, prejudice against the Sami, and her own power to be resilient.


There’s actually no need to take my word for it that the book is worth translating. In 2016, Tio över ett won the August Prize for Swedish children’s literature, as well as the Norrland Literature Prize in 2017. Laestadius, a journalist by trade, has written several YA novels and two picture books, Pimpelfiske (2018) (Ice Fishing) and Vinterkväll (2019) (Winter Evening) with illustrator Jessika Berglund. Her first adult novel, Stöld (Theft), has just been released.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

SCBWI's Upcoming "Sticks and Stones and the Stories We Tell"

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has been offering its members a wonderful series of online presentations by accomplished editors, authors, and agents during the Covid-19 pandemic. I've tuned in to all of them.

Next Thursday, July 16 at 1 p.m. Pacific Time, a special program via Zoom will be available at no cost to SCBWI members AND the public. In "Sticks and Stones and the Stories We Tell: Children's Book Creators on Channeling Random Acts of Racism," ten talented writers and illustrators for young people will speak about how their own experiences of racism have found expression in their creative works.

The presenters, who are all BIPOC, include Crystal Allen, Floyd Cooper, Pat Cummins, Lamar Giles, Rafael López, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park, Christian Robinson, Shadra Strickland, and Lisa Yee -- an impressive lineup, to be sure.

For details, check out the SCBWI website here.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Hello, Water!

Congratulations to my friends and colleagues at Ember Press! Their 2019 picture book, Hello, Water! Snowflakes to Glaciers, a Wild Alaska Story, recently won three awards from the National Federation of Press Women.

Taylor Hoku Hayden, the author, received First Place honors in the category for Writing, Children’s Books — Nonfiction.

Iñupiaq artist Molly Trainor took Second Place for Graphics and Design — Graphics.

Art director Nanette Stevenson was honored with Third Place for Graphics and Design — Book designed by entrant.

Ember Press is a small and very independent Alaska publisher led by writer Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan. They specialize in nonfiction, adventure, conservation, and history related to Alaska and also serve as the publisher for books about the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area. Hello, Water! is their first foray into picture books. Everyone involved in the production of the book is Alaskan and it shows — in a good way!

Hello, Water! tells the story of the water cycle through the transformations experienced by Water, beginning as a chunk of calving glacier. Animals and other elements of nature — wildfire, wind, clouds and water in all its forms — tell the tale in brief, poetic bursts that bring the natural world alive. Information is also presented more formally in a map of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain area, a page of background facts about how water has shaped the land and its history, and a closing illustration of the water cycle with more “water facts” related to Alaska.

"Hello, Water," says Raven.
Frozen in ages of ice, Water makes no reply.

The art and book design create a feeling of movement evocative of water. Double-page spreads allow plenty of space to hold both this energy and more contemplative elements, such as a resting moose and the anthropomorphized face of Water. The spreads also convey the spaciousness of the Alaskan landscape.

One thing I love about this book is that it integrates scientific information with a view of nature that is not mechanistic, but imaginative and dynamic. Components of the natural world are connected and relational. Hayden and Trainor portray nature with a spirit of creation and transformation that (I believe) is a big part of what Alaskans love about being outdoors. When we immerse ourselves in nature, we, too, are renewed and transformed.

As I enjoy the glory of another Alaskan summer -- counting my blessings to have the freedom of so much space during this peculiar time of social distancing -- I appreciate Water in all its forms. When I observe familiar glaciers, now melting faster than they are reforming, I can't help thinking about how out-of-whack the cycle of water described in Hello, Water! has become. A first step in explaining the problem is understanding how the water cycle works. Hello, Water! does that on both literal and imaginative levels.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Baby Raven Reads Board Books

Sealaska Heritage continues to publish beautifully crafted books in Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida, the Native languages of Southeast Alaska. Three titles from 2019 provide engaging material for children under five and their families to learn about these languages and the cultures they express in that sturdiest of form, the board book.

Xanggáay: Learn the Colors in Xaad Kíl introduces readers to the Haida words for basic colors using examples from nature that children in Southeast Alaska will be familiar with: plants, animals, and the sun. Many of the illustrations, which were created by David Lang, employ a traditional formline style. The colors are vibrant and engaging. Words are presented first in Xaad Kíl, with English below. Skíl Jáadei (Linda Schrak) and K’uyáang (Benjamin Young) chose the words for the very simple text.

From the Sealaska Heritage website, a link to pronunciation can be heard here.

Xanggáay: Learn the Colors in Xaad Kíl

Similarly, Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm’algyax, uses the same format and illustrations by Lang to present the Tsimshian words for colors. In this case, the Haayk Foundation contributed the text. The link to pronunciation is here.

Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm’algyax

Cradle Songs of Southeast Alaska, illustrated by Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl, is a more complex book. Not only is it tri-lingual, with three lullabies each in Lingit (Tlingit), Xaad Kíl (Haida), and Sm’algyax (Tsimshian), it includes English translations for each and comes with a CD. Some songs have been passed down from elders, some were adapted from older texts, and some are new creations.

Cradle Songs of Southeast Alaska

The artwork in Cradle Songs, while still appropriate for a board book’s young audience, is more complex. The style combines traditional and modern elements to compliment the snippets of story in each song. I particularly enjoy the illustration of a young girl, drawn in formline style, “packing something up the hill” — an armful of books!

I love the work that Sealaska Heritage is doing to create beautiful, engaging, and useful books that authentically represent Southeast Alaska Native cultures and promote these living languages. These and other books can be purchased from the Sealaska Heritage website, which contains an array of language materials in Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Surviving The Wild Lands

Fairbanks author Paul Greci’s second YA novel, The Wild Lands, is a gripping tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic Alaska.

Several years after most people have fled the state, seventeen-year-old Travis and his ten-year-old sister Jess must fend for themselves in a dystopian landscape decimated by earthquakes, searing wildfires, and other assorted repercussions of climate change, including the collapse of government. Worse than the environmental depravations, serious as they have become, are the dangers the two face from marauding humans.

Travis and Jess attempt to make their way south toward Anchorage in search of civilization. Along their way, they meet up and join forces with two brothers and a trio of young women. Together they face brutal circumstances and difficult decisions, living mostly by their wits and in hopes of finding a place safe enough to call home.

The Wild Lands by Paul Greci. Imprint, 2019.

Especially once Travis and Jess are on their own, Greci’s storytelling is vivid and uncomfortably plausible. I’ve read plenty of apocalyptic fiction but found I could only read this novel during the day to avoid exhausting survival dreams at night. (Full disclosure: I close my eyes during the bloody parts of movies!) As in his first novel, Surviving Bear Island, Greci’s wilderness experience is evident throughout the story but he doesn’t focus solely on physical survival. Issues of trust and fear, hope and despair, grief and healing, equality and justice, self-defense and abuse of power, respect for and violence against women are integrated into The Wild Lands. Through the characters and  their challenges, Greci recognizes realities of power and powerlessness in social settings and how the balance can quickly change depending on one’s age, gender, resources, and beliefs.

While the story is told in first person from Travis’s point of view, the main female characters — Jess, Tam, and Max — are strong figures with distinct personalities and strengths. Each contributes to their group’s survival and forms friendships that help keep everyone alive. Travis may be the coming-of-age hero of the story but Tam and Max tolerate no guff from him and operate as equal partners -- once they decide to let him live.

Max stands out among the characters for her identification with her “Native” (unspecified) ancestry, which she appears to cling to as a way of maintaining hope for the future. Unlike the others, she holds a vision of someday returning to a renewed land. Max forms a special bond with young Jess, who finds comfort and strength in their relationship.

I appreciate that the characters recognize relationship to the land, if briefly amid their struggles to survive, through the lenses of their young world views and experiences. In that fractured landscape I came to care about each of the characters and to admire their resourcefulness and resilience. In Greci’s hands, their journey portrays a haunting version of the Alaskan wilderness.

Greci’s newest survival novel, Hostile Territory, is just out from Macmillan.

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.