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.