A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hanukkah in Alaska

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.

While Alaska and its moose dominate the first half of the book, they eventually lead to a unique “Hanukkah in Alaska” 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!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

With Both Caps On

I’m back! I hope. After an embarrassingly long hiatus, I hope to carve out time for the occasional post to review new (or new to me) Alaska children’s books.

I’ve always worn two hats – my library bun and my writing cap. Sometimes it can be a trifle tricky wearing both at the same time. But I love children’s books and I love Alaska, so I can’t seem to stop myself.

I know first hand the joy and excitement of sharing good books with children, of exploring new ideas with fresh minds, of watching kids make connections with the world at large and the equally vast universe within through literature.

If we want our children to read well, they must want to read, to be internally motivated to read for pleasure and not just externally motivated to pass tests. That love of reading comes primarily from one thing: exposure to a wide variety of good books and intriguing stories.

All children need and deserve well-written books that accurately reflect their own experience, as well as stories that expand their horizons. In the spirit of aspiring to create the best books for children, I’ll do my best to review books about Alaska and by Alaskan authors that I find interesting and worth sharing. Stay tuned for more!