Thank you, Children’s Book Council!

The Children’s Book Council
A “Helping Hands” Story

Sincere thanks to the Children’s Book Council for recognizing Charlie and the Blanket Toss in its showcased books this winter featuring “Helping Hands.”

Look for Charlie and other honored books at their showcase website by clicking here.

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That was a 7.0 M earthquake!

As I write, several schools in Southcentral Alaska are closed for the year and administrators and educators have worked hard to rearrange student populations at other schools. The major earthquake that shook Anchorage on November 30 happened while I was 400 miles away, visiting schools farther north in Fairbanks. While I was calmly setting up for a day of speaking to kids at Weller Elementary, back in Anchorage, the entire region was shaking. After all, we do sit on the northernmost edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

The USGS captured this aerial image of a Wasilla-area road.

Suddenly, I got a text from my husband saying his building had been evacuated and he was hurrying home to our granddaughter. Our power was out (so our well doesn’t work either), and officials were urging people to turn off their natural gas. My family gathered at my brother’s place, where there was a generator. All day long, my phone was dinging with friends and family checking in. The report on damage at our house was minimal–just a whole lot of picking up, clean-up waiting for me, as everything on top shelves made a jump.

I was scheduled to fly home that evening, but a temporary airport closure and further flight delays changed that plan. When I was leaving Fairbanks the next day, the airport gift shop clerk seemed surprised that I didn’t feel the earthquake. The antique airplane that hangs above travelers at one end of a concourse had been swaying in the air during the quake, she said. She had been at her barrista job at the time, and was trying to keep everything from falling off the shelves. More than 400 miles away from the epicenter.

Strong aftershocks arrived regularly that night and for days afterward, and everybody has been edgy for the last couple of weeks. Even something as simple as the dog shifting her spot in the car’s back seat can make my heart leap. But likewise we are feeling thankful. No one died, and most of what was broken can be fixed . . . except perhaps for ragged nerves.

Thank you all for thinking of Alaska, and for your prayers. The Alaska Earthquake Center website is an excellent resource for learning about how common earthquakes are in these parts. You can view a list of the latest, their times, depths, and magnitudes.

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Season of Cheer

Visiting Santa Claus House in North Pole.

I know, I know, it’s not even Halloween yet! We’re talking back to the early Christmas ads at my house, too. But I’ve already been invited to Holiday Bazaars and craft shows that start in late October. And besides, I’m friends with Santa all year long.

So, just a heads up–if you want a signed copy of one of my Christmas books, or any other books of mine, check my web calendar. I’ll be making appearances at special events and schools around Anchorage and Fairbanks from now through the end of the year. For me, the Christmas season begins this Saturday, Oct. 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an invitation from the Alaska Woman’s Club. Their annual Bazaar is held at Anchorage’s Pioneer Schoolhouse, so come down to 437 E. Third for this popular event. I hope to see you there!

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Something Old, Something New

1995 – Tricia Brown

Remember the mid-1990s? Cell phones really were the size of bricks, and selfies required a tripod and a timer. My first personal email address was newly minted, and I was trying to conceive just how the Worldwide Web might be useful to me. But travel in Alaska was essentially the same: by air, ferry, or a handful of highways.

From early 1995 to May 1996, photographer Roy Corral and I crisscrossed Alaska for thousands of miles to interview and photograph eight kids for our book titled Children of the Midnight Sun. It was the first and only overview of Alaska’s diverse Native peoples, written just for kids. In 1998, the 48-page book introduced young readers to eight remarkable boys and girls, all between eight and twelve years old, each representing a unique Alaska Native heritage.

1996 – Roy Corral
For ages 8 and up

To choose the kids, we relied on the help of culture camp leaders, village mayors, principals, and parents. Our subjects had to be bold enough to speak freely with a stranger and discerning enough to share cultural knowledge. We wanted a mix of genders, seasons, and traditions. What had they learned from their elders? Their favorite time of year and why? Their favorite foods and places? What did they want to be someday? The result was an intimate portrait of each child against the larger backdrop of ancient culture and place. It beautifully captured Alaska of the times.

As the book’s twentieth anniversary approached, we began work on a new edition of Children of the Midnight Sun with a new generation, choosing ten kids who face entirely different challenges while staying grounded by the best of their traditions. We’ve added in three smaller, often overlooked Alaska Native groups this time.

Twenty years ago, Roy and I used our Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends to buy MarkAir coupons (anybody remember them?!), enabling us to fly into remote villages. We were both employed full-time, and we spread out the trips over two years, investing our dollars and vacation time to get around. Today, the air and ferry expenses were ours to figure out—while we’re both freelancers, and the PFD has become a pale version of its old self. But the hospitality we’ve experienced has not changed.

Boarding a flight from Anchorage to Chenega Bay, a small village on Prince William Sound.

Since January 2017, we’ve interviewed and photographed children in Chenega Bay, Hydaburg, Metlakatla, Kotzebue, Bethel, Hoonah, Fort Yukon, and Unalaska. There’s still one last trip to go: We’ll meet a child from the Siberian Yupik culture, either on St. Lawrence Island or in Nome.

I’ve written nine of the ten profiles and the Graphic Arts Books editor is already at work on my manuscript. Roy’s sneak peek photos are sensational (I do take a few snapshots for my own memories, as I did twenty-three years ago). We’ll be sharing more soon, including answers to questions about the kids in the first edition–where are they now? Watch for the new edition in early 2019!

Roy sets up a photograph of our Eyak girl from Cordova
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Writing Time

That’s me, a Word Worker. This shot of my favorite T-shirt reminds me why I’d best stick to non-fiction. And it makes me want to enter a deliciously bad writing competition.

I’ve tried writing a long work of fiction. I wasn’t as bad as this guy, but I was no good at it. Generating ideas, creating vivid characters, and sustaining a story arc for a 32-page children’s book, that I can do. My young readers have connected at the heart level with an itchy little musk ox, a kitty named Groucho, and an Inupiaq boy named Charlie. However, most of my writing is non-fiction. While non-academic, my true stories for children incorporate fiction storyteller techniques to write non-fiction. Bobbie the Wonder Dog, Patsy Ann of Alaska, and Zig the Warrior Princess are examples of that melding in creative non-fiction.

(A quick aside: Anchorage-area parents, you’re invited to bring your school-aged children to the Loussac Library at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 17, for my presentation titled “Amazing Dogs,” followed by a craft project.)

Right now, I’m deep into writing an all-new edition of Children of the Midnight Sun, a non-fiction, photo-illustrated children’s book that sheds light on the unique qualities of Alaska’s Native populations as told by the children. My creative partner, Roy Corral, and I compiled a list of ten villages (or towns) to visit. To date, we’ve nearly completed our travels all over the state to interview and photograph one child from each of Alaska’s Native groups. The kids are all between 8 and 12 years old, and each is a beautiful reflection of his or her ancient Alaskan ancestry–they’re young, but believe me, they have been listening to their elders and other teachers.

I can’t wait to introduce this new book in early 2019. In the meantime, back to my word-working!

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Like Bobbie the Wonder Dog, I’m Headed to Oregon

Illustration copyright Cary Porter

I’m looking forward to reading Bobbie the Wonder Dog to an audience of Oregonians during a noon-hour talk on Friday, January 12, at the Albany Public Library.

I’ll share details about Bobbie’s walk across America and the research I undertook to write his story, even connecting with descendants of Bobbie’s family. We’ll also talk about Cary Porter’s amazing illustrations and how the book came together. Thank you to my hosts, the Friends of the Library. As usual, I’m traveling with a suitcase full of books. I’d love to see you there.

Ninety-four years ago this month, Bobbie was enduring a solo crossing of the Rocky Mountains. He would swim across the North Payette River and follow the Snake River canyon until crossing into Oregon on a railroad bridge.

Five months had passed since he became separated from his family during a vacation in Indiana. Presuming him lost, adopted, or dead, the brokenhearted Frank and Elizabeth Brazier drove home on the “auto trails” in their Overland Red Bird. Meanwhile, Bobbie made up his mind to walk back. Six months to the day after he was lost, nearly three thousand miles later, Bobbie walked up the main street of town, into the restaurant the Braziers operated, climbed the stairs to their living quarters, and jumped on Frank’s sleeping form in bed. He howled and yipped like a dog hit by a car, off and on, throughout the day. As one local journalist wrote, “nor was he the only one who wept.”

That writer was Albany journalist Charles Alexander, who met the dog after his return, and who chronicled Bobbie’s remarkable journey in a 1926 book for adults titled Bobbie a Great Collie of Oregon.

Describing the dog’s entry into Oregon from the north, Alexander wrote, “On the dawn that Bobbie crawled into Portland, winter had laid down its severest and least expected barrage. Only a powdery snow lay here and there, but the moist earth was frozen and a biting wind sawed at the few and startled Oregonians who were abroad in the outer streets.

“Bobbie came down the Columbia Highway; he had made his westing, he was near home now, and he knew it; but he left a crimson trail behind him, and the edged wind cut through the bag of bones he had become.”

What makes this story particularly heart-rending, I think, is the truth of it and the purity of a dog’s love. Bobbie was not a cartoon character with superpowers, just an average-looking farm dog who (as it turns out) possessed incredible natural abilities coupled with a supreme will to get back to his man.

Next month, on the anniversary of his return, I’ll write about Bobbie’s last two weeks of travel, and the heroic old woman who kept him alive in Portland so he could make his final push.

Bobbie continues to inspire, as he did the child who sent me this letter last year after reading Bobbie the Wonder Dog. What he learned: ” . . . don’t never give up on my goll and eney thing is posable if you don’t giv up.”

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Then and Now

A brand-new book from Schultz and Brown

A long while ago, I teamed up with Iditarod photographer Jeff Schultz for an Epicenter Press book titled Iditarod Country: Exploring the Route of the Last Great Race. It was released in February 1998. After a good, long life, that book went out of print years ago.

Since then, Jeff went on to publish more Iditarod books, calendars, posters, and fine art prints. And he continued to spend part of every March photographing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Meanwhile I pursued my own book-publishing career as a writer and/or editor, including more books that showed off Jeff’s talents, among them Iditarod Silver (Epicenter), The Iditarod Fact Book (Epicenter) Iditarod: Images of Sports (Arcadia), Sled Dog Wisdom (Epicenter), Iditarod: The First Ten Years (Old Iditarod Gang), The View from the Future (State of Alaska), and Chasing Dogs (Jeff Schultz Photography).

Last March, twenty years after we first worked together on Iditarod County, Jeff invited me to write the text for his latest book venture, Icons of the Iditarod, a 144-page journey through five decades of the race. It features 195 of Jeff’s stunning photos along with my profiles of the legendary people, dogs, and even inanimate objects (think bunny boots, sleds, and headlamps!) that are forever connected to the race. 

Barnes & Noble Book-signing, 1998

The project filled up most of 2017, and once again we got to work with Elizabeth Watson, the same book designer who brought Iditarod Country to life twenty years ago. We’re excited that the official release date is just a few days away.

First Jeff will be fulfilling orders from his Kickstarter supporters. But you can still jump on the Jeff Schultz Photography website to get your copy. Click here to order, with my hope that you’ll love it!

Meanwhile, here’s a little trip down memory lane . . .

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A Whirlwind Week in Finland

Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy-Finland

I carried the Alaska flag with me as I traveled through Finland during the last week of October. I was there at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, presenting all over the country in a speaking program titled “Arctic Dialogues: Building Cultural Bridges.”

U.S. Embassy-Finland Round Table, Helsinki

If you look at Earth from the top down, with the North Pole in the center of the image, you’ll see that Finland and Alaska lie directly over the pole from each other. We’re polar neighbors. (And we’d be next-door neighbors, too, if it weren’t for the entire mass of Russia separating us.) Beyond latitude, the northernmost people in Alaska and in Finland share much in common. Discussing our similarities and unique qualities filled my days as I presented to audiences for five straight days. I read to kindergartners in Helsinki and engaged in roundtable discussion with some of Finland’s leading experts engaged in arts, science, and indigenous culture. I presented slice-of-life images about Alaska to teenagers in several high schools and exchanged ideas and inspiration in a panel of Finnish authors. My keynote talk for adults was titled “Who Owns the Stories?” addressing intellectual property rights issues surrounding creative works about and by indigenous people.

As a tourist, I learned about Finland’s war-torn past and emergence into independence just a century ago. I took a ferry to an island near the Helsinki harbor. Remains of its days as a Russian fortification are still present centuries later. I was treated to a peek inside the National Library’s antique maps in the A. E. Nordenskiöld Collection in Helsinki, and days later traveled above the Arctic Circle to the Sajos Cultural Center as well as the Siida, the National Museum of the Finnish Sámi. The tribulations of the Sámi people and their dependence on reindeer herding was my biggest learning experience, and I still want to learn more. In Inari City, I was honored to lunch with City Council Chair Anu Avaskari and International Coordinator Eila Rimpiläinen, who kindly interpreted for me. And the food? Fabulous, fresh and local.

Traditional Sámi regalia displayed at the Sámi Education Institute.

The northern lights, Santa Claus, sod roofs, roaming reindeer, and gold mining. Imagine my surprise to dine in a restaurant decorated with gold pans and pick-axes, a sculpture outside of miners working a sluice box, and a frontier-styled dining room. My brain kept leaping back to Fairbanks while my feet were in Inari. But this city truly is on the frontier of Finland, and hearing about their desire for growth in tourism–controlled growth–made me think of Alaska’s Southeast panhandle. Large numbers of tourists and small towns . . . the same problems, similar successes.

My friendly hosts and traveling companions were Helsinki-based Ethan Tabor of the U.S. Embassy-Finland and Taina Iduozee of the American Resource Center. They tell me that visiting above the Arctic Circle was a new experience for each of them, so they were learning more about Finland while I was. For me, a couple of jarring notes: five hours by bus north of the Arctic Circle, and we were STILL among the trees. It seemed impossible. Pine instead of spruce. And the other: there are no wild caribou herds as we have in Alaska. Every single reindeer we saw, whether crossing the road or grazing in the distance, belonged to a specific herder. They were free-ranging, but not wild. Customizing “branding” using patterned cuts along the ear indicated which animal belonged to which herder. They are rounded up at certain times of year.

I am so appreciative of the welcome, the efficient planning, and the opportunities to meet phenomenal people during this trip. I hope I represented Alaska well.

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Packing My Parka

Finland, here I come!

No, I can’t speak Finnish. Thank heavens Finland’s population is progressive and most of them can speak English, because I’m about to fly off to the other side of the world to share Alaska with our friends abroad.

I leave tomorrow for a week of speaking engagements in Helsinki and as far north as Lapland, reading my books to children, and talking to adults about life in Alaska, our changing world, and what we have in common. I’ll be there at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy-Finland and the American Resource Center. (Thank you!)

The question of “Who Owns the Stories?” will be the subject for several public presentations and round-table talks.

While Finland is working to create a handbook of ethical standards to protect the misuse or misappropriation of indigenous stories and legends, we in Alaska count on the ethics and sensitivities of writers, illustrators, and publishers, most of whom are non-Native. Blunders occur at the expense of the Alaska Native cultures and the individuals who truly can define ownership . . . or can they? Even within individual cultures, rights to stories and other artistic expression can be a thorny topic. Talking about it is important. Listening is even more important. My hope is to encourage more Native Alaskans to write and illustrate their own stories. It’s happening, but successes are just beginning to build.

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Bookin’ along the Iditarod Trail

Aliy Zirkle reads The Itchy Little Musk Ox to a batch of kinders in the Golovin school.

Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle is on a different kind of trail this week, traveling the western coast of Alaska without her huskies and dogsled. With help from sponsors Marston, ExxonMobil, and the Iditarod Trail Committee, she’s flying in to schools in three villages–Golovin, Elim, and White Mountain–to read, chat, and give back to some great rural kids who have inspired her through the years. Her goal: “to help educators create a positive and exciting atmosphere for the new school year.”

As she travels, Aliy is delivering stickers, stuffed toys, and books to each school, too. Kids from kindergarten to high school are getting a batch of great stories written by Alaskan authors. No surprise, many of them are about mushing! And no surprise, because I coordinated the book selection, many of the represented authors are members of the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators, Alaska chapter. Sincere thanks to award-winning author Don Rearden, who donated multiple copies of his two excellent books, The Raven’s Gift, and Never Quit! Those are for the high-schoolers.

I’m just so proud of Aliy’s intentions–building up the kids and using her celebrity to promote good things in Bush Alaska. Way to go, Aliy!

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