Seven new books are appearing this fall through the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s early literacy, Library of Congress-recognized program, Baby Raven Reads.
Launched in 2014 in Juneau, the program encourages adults in the lives of Alaska Native children ages 0-5 to speak, listen, and read to their children to get them ready for kindergarten and be successful in school. Part of this mission is achieved through the culturally-relevant books SHI releases through the program, which usually feature Northwest Coast art, language, and stories.
“Often-times books that are used in school unfortunately portray Native cultures erroneously, and that creates a disconnect for Native students. These books tell Native stories from the Native point of view and that is so important,” said SHI Media Specialist Kathy Dye.
Browsing the shelves
“Shanyáak’utlaax — Salmon Boy,” one of the recently released seven, is a traditional Tlingit story. The version in this book was edited by Johnny Marks, Hans Chester, David Katzeek, Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, and illustrated by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade. SHI’s Education Director Jackie Kookesh said it’s her favorite of all the books because it is written both in English and Tlingit and the illustrations are beautiful.
“(Salmon Boy) is a very special project that brought a lot of people together,” Goade said. “With such respected and knowledgeable elders contributing to the text, I felt honored to have played my part in bringing it to life. Salmon Boy is a traditional Tlingit story of the Kiks.ádi clan. That’s my clan as well, and I was actually visiting family in Sitka (Kiks.ádi territory) when reading the text and creating the sketches for the book. It felt very special.”
“Let’s Go! A Harvest Story” is an original text written by Hannah Lindoff and illustrated by Michaela Goade. Lindoff has been close to this program since it began when she signed her children up for Baby Raven Reads.
“They’ve attended events, workshops, received books in the mail, etc. It was about a year ago that the organizers asked me to work on some books for the program,” Lindoff said. She feels greatly honored to be on the Baby Raven Reads team.
“(It) takes on a noble, important mission, striving to increase early childhood education and literacy,” Lindoff said.
One of her favorite moments since being involved with the program was when her son received the Tlingit alphabet books. Her daughter has since graduated out of Baby Raven and is now a Tlingit language student in the Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy program.
“She picked up the books and said to her little brother ‘Let me read these to you.’ I know that I didn’t teach her any of those letters or sounds. That’s these programs working together, a perfect dove-tailing. The impact is huge and it’s a joy to watch,” Lindoff said.
The creative process for “Let’s Go” began when Lindoff was asked to produce a story about harvesting traditional foods, something her husband is known to be passionate about, and when possible, he involves the whole family in what Lindoff calls a “soul feeding” activity.
Over the course of a year, the book takes the reader on a journey with the use of an imperative narrator who calls for others to join in different harvesting activities such as gathering cedar, picking berries, and fishing.
“My favorite part of the process on this book was seeing it come to life with the illustrations. Michaela really captured the beauty of the landscape we are lucky to inhabit,” Lindoff said.
She turned it into something relatable for those who grew up in Juneau and were lucky enough to participate in some of that harvesting.
“It has a bit of nostalgia for the adults, excitement for kids, and joy for everyone, thanks to Hannah’s wonderful poem,” Goade said.
Lindoff is also the author of “Picking Berries” and teamed up with illustrator and Tsimshian artist David Lang to bring it to life.
“Because the use of rhyme is often so helpful to remember new words it seemed like a good fit that in this fun, rolling rhyme the book could incorporate and teach Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian words for different berries. My daughter helped me with the pronunciation so I could get the rhymes right. She was very patient with me and it was fun to work together,” Lindoff said. “The coolest thing about working with an illustrator is knowing that their influences, their memories are also coming to life, making the scope of the book twice as broad. I love the way David Lang brought his heritage to the book and added beautiful formline birds and other elements into the illustrations. It’s stunning.”
“Native Values: Living in Harmony” was written by SHI president Rosita Worl and has photography from SHI staff and contractors.
“The Woman Who Married the Bear” is a traditional Tlingit story adapted by writer and playwright Frank Kaash Katasse and illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons.
“The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales” is a traditional Haida story also illustrated by Gibbons.
“Am’ala”is a traditional Tsimshian story adapted by Katasse and illustrated by Lang. It’s not yet released, but is coming this fall.
SHI has previously released other books through the Baby Raven Reads program. Once “Am’ala” is released, it will total 18 different books.
The books are available through SHI’s store in Juneau and on their website: sealaska-heritage-store.myshopify.com.
• Mackenzie Fisher is a freelance writer living in Juneau. Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller and editor Mary Catharine Martin contributed to this story.