That Unwritten Book

Lately I was asked to define art, something I normally wouldn’t attempt. Writing doesn’t feel like art (though I know it is), perhaps because of my journalism years before I entered book publishing. So what is art, and what drives the creative process? For me, creative expression is fueled by a persistent idea. One that will not leave me alone until I act on it. The fact is, I’ve been quietly obsessed about a certain book idea for more than twenty years. It’s been simmering on the back burner while I wrote other books that needed writing.

This month came the wonderful announcement that I could actually focus on that unwritten book. I was among thirty-five Alaskans named as recipients of Individual Artist Awards from the Rasmuson Foundation. It’s not that I didn’t expect it–I mean, I did apply and create a proposal–but I didn’t expect it. When I got the call, I smiled, swallowed, and told my friends who were sitting nearby, “Oh, man. Now I’ve got to write that book!”

“That book” is the story of Irene Sherman, a woman who was well-known to the people of Fairbanks, Alaska, for most of the 20th century. Irene came along in 1911, born to the daughter of a hotelier who’d married a gold miner/trapper. The romantic part of the story ends there, however. At age five, Irene was disfigured by fire and suffered significant scarring on her hands, arms, torso, and face. People spoke of a cabin fire and Irene’s heroic role in saving herself and others. Was it true? The story had been embellished through the decades. By 1988, the elder Irene was a mainstay on the streets of town, a brash bag lady dressed in layers of clothing, wrapped up in a dirty parka cinched with a worn leather belt. She was loud, opinionated, and thirsty for a free beer any time of day, feared as well as treasured by the locals. As a magazine writer in the late 1980s, I followed Irene to learn her story.

Irene Sherman – Fairbanks, Alaska, July 1988

That story in digital form can be found under the Newspaper Writing tab on this website. As a pdf, it has been a touchstone of truth whenever speculators go sideways while remembering Irene Sherman. The experience of spending time with her, researching the archives, interviewing those who knew her well and quietly saw to her needs–all of it made for one of the most profound, well-recognized pieces I’ve written. I had a couple of breath-taking moments of discovery while researching and shattering the myths. The story won awards. I thought I was done. Irene died in 1995 and the old pioneer cemetery in Fairbanks was reopened for one last interment. Front-page news. Life goes on.

And then in January 2019, I received an email from a stranger who introduced herself and said her husband was related to Irene through his mother. That lady had been adopted away from the birth mother she shared with Irene. The sisters never met, never knew each other. And there were other siblings they’d heard about.

Follow-up conversations and exchanges of information had me so stirred up that I began to think more about a book. Although Irene’s memory wasn’t ironclad, she had told me that her mother had birthed seven children. I’d learned that two had died in horrific circumstances through which Irene lived. The others were all adopted out.

Where were they and what had their lives been like? How was it that siblings who were raised in different states, unaware of each other, had such similar behaviors? I did some early research before applying for the Rasmuson grant. And I’ve been intrigued by some of the answers, frustrated by the loose ends, and eager to dig deeper. I’m so grateful to the Rasmuson Foundation and its support of the arts, for worthy non-profits, and for equipping leadership in Alaska. This amazing opportunity has revived me. Time to write that book.

To see the full list of recipients for the 2021 awards, click here. Congratulations to my fellow IAA awardees.

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Not a Selfie Kind of Gal

When I was asked to create a minute-long video about the release of Bobbie the Wonder Dog in its softbound edition, my first reaction was stage fright. I’m the one in the family who takes the pics, and I rarely turn the camera around. Nonetheless, I love this story so much that I dove in for a brief promotional video. Click HERE to watch it on YouTube.

Check out this 1924 photo of Bobbie, when he was the star in his own movie! Actually, movie-makers had the Brazier family help to reenact preparations for their big driving trip from Oregon to Indiana. After making his epic walk back from Indiana to Oregon, Bobbie started a new chapter in his life. No more a farm dog. Now he was a superstar.

Bobbie was an unstoppable traveling boy!


To order books, you can find Bobbie’s page on West Margin Press’s website. To get there, just click below on the beautiful note from Derric, who told me about how Bobbie inspired him to never give up.

And a special thanks to all of you in the Pandemic Readers Tribe! Readers gonna read, pandemic or not.

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Hardbound or softbound?

Most libraries and schools prefer to buy hardbound editions of children’s picture books. So do families with kids who are a bit rough on books. Some people pick hardbound books because they’re building a nice kidlit collection, or other little ones are in line to handle those books.

In Alaska, the decision about what edition to buy has to do with how our population more than doubles in a typical summer. The 2020 summer was anything but normal, but usually more than a million tourists visit our state between September and May. We love showing off where we live and the visitors boost the economy while making memories. Those visitors buy books! Many are grandparents who’re roaming the world in retirement; some are families with the kids along; then there are the singles with beloved nieces and nephews. And that’s where the hardbound/softbound question comes into play. Someone like me, who often meets readers and signs books at market stalls and other events, knows instantly that tourists are careful about how much their gifts weigh. So often I meet them after their tour company has possession of their checked bags, and now it’s just the carry-on to contend with. Softbound books can win out in those debates.

These thoughts came to mind recently when West Margin Press advised that they will be releasing a softbound edition of Bobbie the Wonder Dog (one of my favorite stories, by the way) in April 2021. So while I’m sad to see that beautiful hardcover go out of print (get yours now!), Bobbie will still be going strong in a softbound version. It’s been nearly a century since Bobbie’s remarkable walk across the country. In the winter of 1923-24, this hardy Scotch collie walked thousands of miles to reunite with his family, from Indiana to Oregon, after they accidentally separated during a vacation. The story is all the more moving because it’s true.

Speaking for myself and my fellow Alaskan authors, we can’t wait to see you in person again. It’s really fun chatting and signing books at Anchorage’s Saturday Market, and learning about where people have come from on their big trip. We’re hoping to be back in summer 2021. In the meantime, teachers and librarians, shoot me an email if you’re interested in a Zoom or Skype visit. I’d love to share Bobbie’s story.

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Ninja-Worthy Games

See that guy on the book cover? Can you do that? Me neither. Even if you’re the top athlete in your school, I seriously doubt you’ve developed the right muscles, the special balance, or pain tolerance, or downright stamina that you need to accomplish the Alaskan High Kick, as this particular game is called.

Kicking a sealskin ball while doing an upside-down one-handed handstand is one of dozens of challenging games that have been practiced in Alaska for hundreds of years. They’ve changed little, thanks to the elders, senior athletes, and officials who’re intent on keeping their histories and traditional play intact.

My creative partners and I decided it was important to pull together a book for middle-graders and up, to catalog the often-played games today, and how they mirror or remember the Alaska Native ways of subsisting in this part of the world. Certain actions recall strength required for hunting moose, pulling fish, creeping up on seal-breathing holes, and the endurance required to be successful at feeding one’s family from the land, rivers, and ocean.

I was honored to partner with Joni Spiess in writing the book, which was recently released by the Snowy Owl imprint of the University of Alaska Press. Joni has firsthand knowledge as a coach and competitor from Nome who now lives and works in Anchorage. We were joined by the skilled photographer Roy Corral (who has collaborated with me on several other culture-based books). That awesome cover shot is just a taste of what’s inside.

One of my favorite parts of working on this book was enlisting a champion competitor to write the Foreword. Nick Iligutchiak Hanson is best known nationally as the “Eskimo Nina,” whose amazing balance, muscle, and physical endurance is regularly featured as a star of NBC’s American Ninja Warriors. In his Foreword, Nick shares the circumstances of growing up biracial in Alaska’s far northwest and how competing in the Alaska Native Games literally saved his life. His mission now is to pass along his message to depressed or suicidal kids: Through the discipline of sports such as the Alaska Native games, you can find the same meaning and hope as he did.

All of us are pleased that the Native Games are gaining in importance in schools across the state, even incorporated into the curriculum in the Anchorage School District. And that’s why we made sure each game was fully explained . . . plus how to do it yourself. Follow the safety instructions and don’t even try those that are intended for adults, okay? You’ll get there soon enough. In the meantime, listen and learn what the first Alaskans have to share with you, no matter where you live.

You can order a copy through your favorite bookseller, online or in person. The book is distributed through the University of Chicago Press. Click here to connect.

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Every State has a Book

Sponsored by the Library of Congress, the 2020 National Book Festival is coming right up, and I wanted to see the entire list of books nominated by the Center for the Book for each state and U.S. possession. You can even buy copies if you’d like. Just click here to see the marvelous variety of titles. I smiled when I saw a Deep South state chose a book about Antarctica. Alaska has no corner on writing about the cold, right?

Remember, you can also make your shopping list and order through your favorite independent bookstore. Shopping local has never been so important!

The festival is entirely virtual this year, so please follow the link to register. Don’t miss a minute of readings, author talks, and interviews with your favorite authors, both national and regional. REGISTER HERE

Thanks for all your kind words and support for Children of the First People. My creative partner, Roy Corral, and I appreciate you all.

TRICIA BROWN, Author
ROY CORRAL, Photographer

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Hello, National Book Festival!

Photographer Roy Corral are excited to learn that our book, Children of the First People, will represent Alaska at the 2020 National Book Festival in D.C. There are many firsts this year with COVID restrictions, and this is yet another first: the late September book festival will be a virtual event.

The Library of Congress has established a Center for the Book in each of the states, and our Alaska Center for the Book has been active in the festival every year, sending representatives to represent literacy and other great organizations in Alaska. But that was before, when the event filled up a gigantic convention center with keynote speakers, readings, a sprawling bookstore, and book-signings nearly every hour. This year will be different.

As soon as I have details on how and where to access the festival and the amazing talent from all of the states, I’ll post the info. Meantime, enjoy this video that highlights our book and our beloved Alaska. Click here to view the video.

Alyson of Chenega Bay catches some winter warmth from the sun at its peak. Photo (c) Roy Corral.
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Go Bobbie!

We just heard that our book Bobbie the Wonder Dog is on the current list for 2nd- and 3rd-grade readers in America’s Battle of the Books. And having Brown as a surname has landed me right next to Judy Blume on the list. (OK, that was none of my doing, but what an excellent neighborhood I’m in.) Published by Alaska Northwest Books (an imprint of West Margin Press), Bobbie has been very popular and we love hearing from readers who’re enjoying it!

Bobbie the Wonder Dog shocked readers across America after walking from the Midwest to his home in Oregon, a distance of nearly 3,000 miles, in the winter of 1923-24.

American’s Battle of the Books is a voluntary reading list. Give the kids a head start on their Summer Reading Program and look for it here.

Frank Brazier poses with Bobbie
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New Board Books Highlight Alaska Native Talent

Photo by Taylor Booth
Photo by Ian Merculieff
Photo by Esther Pederson
Photo by Esther Pederson

I’ve been honored to serve as editor of a publishing project instituted by Best Beginnings here in Alaska. If you haven’t heard of this amazing organization, you’ll learn that they’re a branch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and they mail free books to hundreds of families all over the state each month. Getting books into the hands of babies and preschoolers can make all the difference in their later success in school.

Nonetheless, for many Alaskan families something was missing in all of those wonderful books. That “something” was the faces of Alaska Native children and their families. Enter Best Beginnings director Abbe Hensley, who hired me to execute their vision for a series of board books based on the seasons in the Northland. The emphasis would be on rural life, and specifically Native family life in Bush Alaska. A federal grant from the Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, funded that vision. We wanted the books to be completely Native-written and completely Native-illustrated.

The final team of authors and photographers are from all over the state and represent a wide variety of Native cultures. We cultivated the talents of authors Joni Spiess (Nome/Anchorage), Yaari Toolie-Walker (Savoonga/Anchorage), Angela Y. Gonzalez (Huslia/Anchorage), and Carla Snow (Bethel). Photo submissions came in from many talented photographers: Esther Pederson (Nome), Ian Merculieff (St. Paul Island/Anchorage), Carol Maillelle (Togiak/Anchorage), Taylor Booth (Nome), Greg Lincoln (Bethel), Jacqueline Cleveland (Quinhagek), and Cheryl Kriska (Fairbanks).

This weekend, with the launch of the book series, some of those authors and photographers will join Best Beginnings leadership and me at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel during the annual Anchorage Association for the Education of Young Children (AAEYC) conference. Our panelists will talk about their creative process, but also touch on deeper issues of what it means for children to see their culture represented in a book, how it feels to be misrepresented or to view cultural misappropriation in other books, and they discuss the outlook for seeing more Alaska Natives in publishing.

Meanwhile, if you want to grab a set of these groundbreaking books, hot off the press, contact BestBeginningsAlaska.org. And if you are an Alaskan family with babies to preschoolers, connect with Best Beginnings to enroll your family in the program and get more information to help your baby grow! Simply click here.

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What are you doing now?

Not a bad day job

I get that question often.

Usually I can answer it with a quick, “Oh, I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire.” Sometimes authors aren’t free to talk about what’s coming up with a specific publisher, even if it looks like a contract is forthcoming. But if it’s not signed, it’s not real. I have one like that percolating right now. It’s a middle-grade nonfiction children’s book that’s currently under review. And I have a chapter book that’s under consideration by a respected agent. Fingers crossed. I kinda like that book.

Sometimes we can blab our news all over. So, allow me to blab. In the coming months, I’ll be appearing at several events, and I hope to meet you at one of them. Here’s a quick rundown:

OCTOBER:
Wed., Oct. 9: Photographer Roy Corral and I will give a talk titled “Bookends: Twenty Years of Collaboration in Children’s Books.” We’re the keynotes for the Anchorage Friends of the Library annual meeting, open to the public and scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. The gathering is in the Ann Stevens Room of the Loussac Public Library. Roy and I begin our multi-media presentation at 7 p.m., and a book-signing will follow.
Sat., Oct. 12: In honor of Alaska Book Week, Barnes & Noble in midtown Anchorage is hosting Roy and me again during the Book Fair Day to benefit Bartlett High School. We’ll give an author/photographer talk at noon in the Fireplace area, and we’ll sign your favorite titles from 1-4 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 27: I’ve been invited to participate in an Author Brunch at Anchorage’s Crowne Plaza Hotel as part of the annual Alaska Cross Content Conference. So I’ll get to share a meal with teachers and librarians who influence literacy across the state. I love them already. A book-signing is part of our morning, too.

NOVEMBER:
Sat., Nov. 9: from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., you’ll find me at the Mat-Su Marketplace held inside the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla, selling my books as well as helping my boothmate with her sales of glassware decorated with Alaskan wildflowers. I’m only there on Saturday of the weekend event.
Sat-Sun, Nov. 23-24: I’ll be back at booth 853 Holly Hollow inside the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage. The Arts & Crafts Emporium draws hundreds of shoppers. This will be my third year, and I can’t wait.
Fri-Sat., Nov. 29-30: I’m a veteran of the ReadAlaska Book Fair that’s held annually in the days after Thanksgiving. We’re on the second level of the atrium in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Downstairs is the Polar Bazaar, where exquisite art and crafts are on sale. We book people, you’ll find upstairs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. No Sunday times this year, by the way. Look for me, please!

When I’m not manning a booth or meeting folks at a book-signing, trust me, I’m working on books. And loving it.

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We made the list!

Are you tapping into this resource?

We’re so pleased that Scholastic Teacher magazine included Children of the First People in its featured books for the Summer of 2019. Teacher friends, please check it out!

Here’s what Chris Borris and Pari Deshpande Cohen had to say: “We’ve chosen a variety of great books to help your students while away the summer days.

“Let’s get lost in a book. Summer is a time to slow down, to sink into the rhythms of a sun-soaked day. And a book is a perfect thing to have by your side. “It makes me feel like I’m in my own little fairytale,” said one 8-year-old girl, when asked why she loves to read. In the books we chose for this year’s 50 best—with the help of our wonderful teacher, librarian, and author reviewers—kids will find many differ­ent ways to immerse themselves in a story, whether through fiction or nonfiction. Maybe it will be an adventure involving Alastair and Aggie, two parrots trying to figure out what home is. Or a serious but very funny story about an immi­grant boy who bakes cakes to get over his father’s death. Or a riveting retelling of the rescue of a soccer team from a cave in Thailand. Help your young readers find a book and get lost!”

Click here to see the complete list! Or, if you like to download a pdf of all fifty books broken down by grade level, click here.

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