SHI releases three children’s books

JUNEAU — Sealaska Heritage Institute has released the first three of eighteen culturally-based children’s books that reflect the Native worldview.

The books are part of the institute’s Baby Raven Reads, a program for Alaska Native families with children up to age five that promotes language development and school readiness.

The series includes a counting book—“10 Sitka Herring”—which traces the fate of a herring school from 10 to one fish as they encounter Southeast Alaska predators. Herring and herring eggs are a subsistence resource and a staple of Native diets. The book was written by Pauline Duncan and illustrated by David Lang. Two other books—“Baby Raven” and “Baby Eagle”—teach the English and Tlingit words for clan crests. The clan crests were illustrated by Crystal Worl, who specializes in minimalist or “baby” formline, and the Southeast Alaska environmental illustrations were made by Nobu Koch.

The release of the books is groundbreaking because so few culturally-relevant children’s books from Southeast Alaska exist that are not tailored for the commercial market. Also, research has shown that Native students do better academically when their cultures are incorporated into learning materials and classes, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“We know that schools sometimes allow our children to fail and that they’ve stumbled in the past by supplying books with distorted depictions about Native cultures,” Worl said. “With this series we are aiming to meet the demand for books that reflect the Native worldview and to give our children some of the tools they need to succeed.”

The project is based on ample research that has shown the effectiveness of using culturally-based teaching resources and methods to improve academic achievement in indigenous students. Scholars note the disparity between the experience of Native children and materials currently used in the classroom.

Research also indicates that children who are fluent readers by the end of third grade are likely to do well in school and go on to higher education. Students’ scores in reading are consistently associated with academic grades and economic success later in life.

The first three books are geared for children up to age three, and SHI also will produce books for children up to age five in the coming years. The books will be available during Celebration 2016 and at the Sealaska Heritage Store.

Raven Reading: A Culturally Responsive Kindergarten Readiness Program is funded by an Alaska Native Education Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education: CFDA # 84.356A, PR# S356A140060.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

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