The Baby Raven Reads-published book Shanyaak’utlaax̱ – Salmon Boy will represent Alaska at the 2021 National Book Festival, held by the Library of Congress. (Courtesy art / Sealaska Heritage Institute)

The Baby Raven Reads-published book Shanyaak’utlaax̱ – Salmon Boy will represent Alaska at the 2021 National Book Festival, held by the Library of Congress. (Courtesy art / Sealaska Heritage Institute)

Baby Raven Reads book is Alaska’s selection for National Book Festival

It’s the first time a book from the early literacy program has been selected.

A book from Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Baby Raven Reads was selected by the Alaska Center for the Book, a literacy advocacy organization, to represent Alaska in the Library of Congress’ 2021 National Book Festival.

The selection is a first for BRR, amid a rising tide of recognition for Alaska Native and other Indigenous writers and illustrators in the literary world.

“To be recognized on a national level is very exciting,” said Tess Olympia, BRR’s program manager, in an email. “We hope it brings people’s awareness to Alaska Native culture, and gets more children and families excited about reading.”

The book, “Shanyaak’utlaax̱ – Salmon Boy,” is a traditional Tlingit story brought to print in 2018 by Johnny Marks, Hans Chester, David Katzeek and Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, according to an SHI news release. Michaela Goade, recently named the first Alaska Native/Native American winner of the Randolph Caldecott Award for best children’s picture story, illustrated the book, which was also named best picture book at its 2018 debut by the American Indian Library Association.

[Free Little Art Gallery opens downtown]

“The theme is ‘Open a book, open the world’. We thought that particular book would help people get to learn more about the Alaska Native people,” said Sue Sherif, who sits on the board of the Alaska Center for the Book. “The illustrations are really beautiful. The book has received a number of awards.”

Shanyaak’utlaax̱ – Salmon Boy might not be the first Alaska Native-written book to go to the National Book Festival, but it’s unique in other ways beyond being the first to come from the BRR program.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the first book by an Alaska Native. But it is definitely the first illustrated by an Alaska Native person and the first bilingual book,” Sherif said. “There aren’t very many publishers; they don’t see the market for Alaskan languages being very robust nationwide. It’s really up to Alaskan entities. A lot of school districts have produced their own materials.”

The BRR program, born from a federal Department of Education grant in 2016, has expanded rapidly as it finds traction in the Southeast, said Kristy Dillingham, SHI’s education director. Since the program’s beginnings in 2016, a study by the McKinley Research Group showed that Alaska Native children participating in the BRR program in Juneau have shown a marked increase in early childhood literacy skills, Dillingham said.

“It’s closing that achievement gap of Native kids and nonnative kids as they enter kindergarten by an incredible amount,” Dillingham said. “They see their ancestors, the land, the values are all represented in the literature they’re sitting down reading together.”

The recognition will help the BRR program to keep improving the breadth of its offerings for kids in the Southeast and beyond, Dillingham said.

“It allows the recognition of the program and the funding to keep moving forward. It gives us the opportunity to keep building and growing the program,” Dillingham said. “When a kid is surrounded by books that are reflective of their culture, reflective of who they are, they seem themselves reflected in what they’re reading and listening to.”

The National Book Festival will run from Sept. 17-26 this year in a number of interactive programs accessible online through the festival, according to the Library of Congress’ website.

“The success of the program model overall has been really incredible to see,” Olympia said. “The data shows that families are spending more time reading together and we hope that more children will now get to read Shanyaak’utlaax̱ – Salmon Boy with their families.”

This book and BRR literature isn’t just for Alaska Native readers, said SHI President Rosita Worl in the news release.

“We developed our Baby Raven Reads series so Native children would see themselves accurately mirrored in literature, but we also know non-Native students read them,” Worl said. “This recognition underscores our parallel goal to promote cross-cultural understanding on a national level.”

An audio version of the book in Tlingit read by elder David Katzeek is available at, with an expanded version read by Tlingit storyteller Ishmael Hope at

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or

More in News

(Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast for the week of Nov. 27

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry LeConte at the Auke Bay Terminal on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Petition seeks name change for LeConte state ferry

Petersburg man calling attention to what he calls Joseph LeConte’s racist history.

The deadly landslide that struck Wrangell on the night of Nov. 20 is seen the next day. Southeast Alaska is, by nature, vulnerable to such landslides, but climate change is adding to the risk by bringing more precipitation and more extreme rainfall events. (Photo provided by Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
Deadly Wrangell landslide is part of a pattern in vulnerable Alaska mountainous terrain

Scientists warn climate change, by increasing precipitation and extreme rainfall, adds to risks.

Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File
Even the Grinch got into the holiday spirit at last year’s Gallery Walk on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.
An abundance of traditional and new ways to capitalize on this year’s Gallery Walk

More than 50 events scheduled Friday afternoon and evening from downtown to Douglas.

This view is from Wrangell on Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo by Joaqlin Estus/ICT)
Conservation group supports formation of new Alaska Native corporations

The conservation group the Wilderness Society has changed its position and now… Continue reading

From her hospital bed on Friday, Nov. 24, Christina Florschutz demonstrates how she pulled pajama bottoms that she found in the landslide debris over her legs, arms and head to keep warm. Her house was destroyed in the landslide, and after spending the night in the wreckage, she was rescued the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 21. (Caroleine James / Wrangell Sentinel)
Elementary school aide who survived Wrangell landslide calls circumstances a miracle

Christina Florschutz trapped overnight by landslide that killed at least 4 people, with 2 missing.

Lylah Habeger (left) and Jaila Ramirez lead the Konfeta Corps during a rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” at Juneau Dance Theatre. The ballet will be performed in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.At.Kalé auditorium Friday through Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Juneau Dance Theatre)
‘Nutcracker’ tradition, with a twirl of new choreography

This year’s performances feature a cast of 93, ages 5 to 78

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read