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. This amazing organization is 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 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).

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 a set of these groundbreaking books, contact Best Beginnings in Anchorage. Simply click here. Look around on their website if you are an Alaskan family with babies to preschoolers. Enroll your family in the program and get more information to help your baby grow!

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What are you doing now?

‘Cuse the Mess

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:

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.

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!

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!”

If you like to download a pdf of all fifty books broken down by grade level, click here.

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One great idea; two unforgettable books

Meet the terrific Alaska Native kids from Children of the Midnight Sun (1998) and its recently released sequel, Children of the First People (2019). The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center hosted our release event, and we welcomed broadcast journalist Rhonda McBride. Roy and I remembered the challenges of setting up interviews and traveling to farflung villages and towns around our supersized state with so few roads. After interviewing me and Roy, Rhonda caught up with kids, some from each of the books published two decades apart, who were able to attend. McBride’s story appeared on KTVA-TV’s Sunday magazine, “Frontiers with Rhonda McBride.” (All photos © Roy Corral)

Released in 1998 – Selina (Haida)
20 years later – a new cast of kids
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It’s official! A new book is born.

Photographer Roy Corral and I are celebrating the long-awaited release of our new book, Children of the First People, and the launch party is going to be a sensation. Please join us on Saturday, April 20, beginning at 11 a.m. at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street. We’re signing books beginning at noon. That Saturday is KidsDay at the museum–so admission for those twelve and under is free!

Tricia and Roy – NOW

Children of the First People profiles ten boys and girls, each one representing a unique culture that has thrived in the Far North for centuries: Iñupiat, Eyak, Yup’ik, Haida, Athabascan, Unangaxˆ (Aleut), Tlingit, Alutiiq, Tsimshian, and Siberian Yupik. The kids open up like Alaskan pen pals, sharing how they hunt and fish for healthy Native food, celebrate with traditional dancing and drumming, and compete in Native Youth Olympics. Still, like kids all over, they also watch their favorite NBA teams, shop for clothes online, and listen to new music.

10 Terrific Kids

At 11 a.m. on April 20, Roy and I will present a short film in the auditorium and we’ll introduce the great kids and parents who are represented in the book. We had traveled all over the state, in and out of Anchorage over a two-year period to meet these families. At the presentation, we will answer questions that we often hear, like “How did you pick the children?” “How long did it take?” “How did you get around Alaska?” “What happened to the kids from the first book–are you still in touch?” We get that question a lot. And we plan to bring everyone up to date in our presentation.

In fact, I’m happy to report that some of the “grown-up kids” from Children of the Midnight Sun will join us at the museum, too. Like the honored kids from the new book, they will participate in a mass book-signing that begins at noon, so you and your kids can come and chat with them yourself. Also, the Anchorage Museum is planning to feature Roy’s incredible photos in twenty enlargements from the first and second books. They’ll be exhibited around the main atrium on easels for the special event.

Won’t you come and join us for this exceptional book launch?

Tricia and Roy – THEN!


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Supporting your local library

Ray Troll – A fishy kind of genius

I’m love invitations to events like our local “Beyond the Stacks,” organized by the Anchorage group called Friends of the Library to benefit the Anchorage Public Libraries. I’m betting there’s an FOL in your neck of the woods, too. If you’re in Southcentral Alaska on Saturday, April 6, would you buy a ticket and attend this outstanding event? I’ll be one of about thirty authors hosting tables, and dinner will be excellent. It’s from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Anchorage Marriott, 820 W. 7th Ave.

I’m a huge fan of Alaskan artist Ray Troll (I have Troll T-shirts that are older that most high school graduates), so I’m excited that he’s the keynote speaker this year. We’ll have giveaways, a silent auction, book-signings, and, again, RAY TROLL. Even if you can’t make it, please think about giving to your local library. These folks need all the help they can get.

Click here to see more on the amazing line-up of authors who will be attending. I hope to see you there!

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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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