Sealaska Heritage Institute, working with a pair of Tlingit artists from Southeast Alaska, released a children’s book aptly titled “Celebration” in time for Celebration 2022, which begins in a week.
Written by Lily Wooshkindein Da.áat Hope and illustrated by Kelsey Mata Foote, “Celebration” will part of the Baby Raven Reads collection, and follows the story of a young girl as she experiences Celebration, an every-other-year event celebration Southeast Alaska Native art and culture held in Juneau.
“I guess I based it off of my own children, the way they might speak about it,” Hope said, adding that she included a ferry portion as a very Southeast experience, calling it the blue canoe. “I tend to write from a female perspective because I don’t know anything else.”
SHI reached out to Hope before Celebration in 2020 with the project in mind, she said. When pandemic canceled that year’s Celebration, the timeline was shifted to the 2022 event, Hope said.
“SHI approached me,” Hope said. “They said you’re a storyteller, can you tell this story?”
The original plan was for Hope to write words, while the art would consist of archival photographs, she said. The plan was altered to make it more accessible to children, with a single character and throughline, Hope said, anchored around the key events of Celebration, such as the regalia review, art market and fashion show.
“We were pretty clear at the beginning what we wanted to touch on,” Hope said. “I would much rather read a book (to children) with illustrations than archival photographs.”
The book does feature photos of past celebrations at the end, adding a historical component for adults to engage with, but SHI reached out to Native artists for the artwork, and eventually selected Kelsey Mata Foote.
“I was incredibly flattered as I knew Lily wrote the story back in 2019. They were looking for an illustrator who could capture regalia in its true spirit,” Foote said in a phone interview. “It’s always something I’ve held near and dear to my heart — portraying the traditional clothing I grew up making and wearing in a format accessible for children.”
Foote said her style is a marriage of watercolors and modern graphic design.
“Traditional watercolor is a lot of the background and the backdrops and digital art is layered on top of it,” Foote said.
Both the school she previously worked at and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, where she now works, were big supporters of the project, Foote said.
“I am currently focusing on upcoming art projects, but I just started as a Communications Specialist for the NIWRC,” Foote said. “It’s my goal to keep pursuing children’s literature and visual storytelling.”
Foote said she’s currently in the early stages of working on a graphic novel, as well as doing commission work. Hope said she actually has her own children’s book in the works, alongside her numerous other projects. The release of Celebration has been momentous, Hope said.
“I just have to keep exhaling into stuff. The adrenaline of making is one part of that experience. It’s out in the world like a baby that’s taking its first steps,” Hope said. “I do all the things with lots and lots of support. And asking for help. Asking for lots of help and accepting lots of help.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.