Laughter bounced off the wooden walls of the clan house.
Despite dark skies, about a dozen children had excitement and energy for Baby Raven Reads storytime in Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building. Readings highlighting the ongoing and award-winning series of culture-based early literacy program open to families with Alaska Native children 5 and younger were part of SHI’s Gallery Walk activities.
Also during the evening, student art was displayed, artists were on hand to sell their works and members of the dance group Yees Ku Oo sang and danced their way into the street.
Storytelling was led by Lily Hope, and others read from the newest books in the series.
“It’s difficult to find content that’s relevant and engaging for Alaska Native children,” said Miriah Twitchell, Juneau coordinator for Baby Raven Reads, who read from one of the three Baby Raven Reads Books released this year. “I’m reading because I read to my children all the time.”
While children laughed and played with stuffed animals before the readings, illustrators Janine Gibbons, a Haida artist; Michaela Goade, a Tlingit artist; and David Lang, a Tsimshian artist; signed books.
The artists were also excited for the readings and to see the books to which they contributed enjoyed.
“The kids are what makes it all worth it,” Gibbons said.
Lang, who has illustrated five books for the SHI program, said he’s enjoyed seeing the books included in the Baby Raven Reads series evolve over the years.
“They started out like board books, but it’s gotten more and more illustrative,” Lang said. “This one was a challenge. I enjoyed it.”
Goade said she appreciated the guidance available to the artists when illustrating the books.
“Doing work where you’re representing an indigenous group, you have a responsibility to be culturally sensitive,” Goade said.
Waughnita James-Elton was one of the parents who had illustrators sign books. James-Elton said her 3-year-old son, Trent, is a big fan of the series.
“He loves all of the books, especially the ones in Tlingit,” James-Elton said.
James-Elton, who is studying the Tlingit language, said when she’s at home she tries to speak it more than English.
Between her efforts and books, James-Elton said her son seems to be absorbing the language.
“Like him, when I was a kid, I knew a little,” James-Elton said. “I think he speaks more than I did at his age.”
More about the program
Baby Raven Reads is open to Alaska Native families with children up to age 5.
The books are a collection based on cultural stories of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people.
It’s open to families in Juneau, Angoon, Craig, Hoonah, Klawock, Petersburg, Saxman, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat.
Enrollment can be done online through Sealaskaheritage.org. For more information call (907) 587-9219.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.