A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

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.

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.