Recess at 20 Below Written and illustrated by Cindy Lou Aillaud; published by Alaska Northwest Books; 32 pages; 2005; $15.95 (hardbound); $8.95 (softbound).
Alaska’s talented writers and illustrators have published some great stuff for children this year. With the holiday season upon us and a long, cold seasons ahead, what better time for youngsters to curl up with a good book?
“Recess at 20 Below”
Written and illustrated by Cindy Lou Aillaud
Published by Alaska Northwest Books
$15.95 (hardbound); $8.95 (softbound)
Cindy Lou Aillaud is an award-winning elementary teacher at Delta Junction. In “Recess at 20 Below,” her first book, she used her photography skills and the enthusiasm of her students to create a charming account of winter play. Some images, such as frosted eyelashes and static hair, are irresistible. Alaskan children identify with those featured; children in other states may be impressed by the realistic message that Alaska is cold and still fun. The supposedly child’seye viewpoint is a bit contrived, but on the whole this book is just good, cool fun for primary grades.
“The cold takes my breath away and makes the inside of my nose stick together, so I tug my scarf up all the way to my eyes. The snow on the ground sparkles like diamonds and the air is filled with tiny ice crystals twinkling out of the sky.
“Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! When I walk it sounds like I’m waking through a bag of potato chips. No chance of sneaking up on anyone in this stuff.”
“Alaska Animals, We Love You! Chants and Poems for Children”
Written by LaVon Bridges and Alice Wright
Illustrated and Designed by Meg R. Anderson
Published by Publication Consultants
32 pages + audio CD
“Alaska Animals, We Love You!” is aimed at teachers as much as at children. LaVon Bridges and Alice Wright, who teach English as a second language in Anchorage, wrote its simple (and sometimes banal) poems describe northern wildlife. Graphic artist Meg Anderson provided the gentle and humorous illustrations.
The key to the book is explained at the end. The pieces are designed to be sung or chanted with children to help them learn about animals and English an effective technique. Without this education component, the text and music are weak.
“Mr. Marmot, gray and furry, sleeping in the winter through the arctic night. Napping on a mountain slope, waiting for the light.”
“Alaska’s Little Chief: Traditional Chief David Salmon and the
Fur-bearers of Alaska”
Written by Judy Ferguson
Illustrated by Nikola Kocic
Published by Glas Publishing
“Alaska’s Little Chief” is the second book for children by Delta Junction writer Judy Ferguson and Belgrade-based artist Nikola Kocic. They collaborated with David Salmon, First Traditional Chief of the Tanana Chiefs’ Conference, to create this true story based on his childhood. Opening in 1912, it describes Athabascan life in the Upper Yukon drainage at a time of cultural change, with an emphasis on fur-trapping in the bush. The text and pictures are vivid and engaging, but some of the realistic subject matter may be too intense for youngsters expecting fairy-tale endings.
Interesting epilogs for older readers introduce Athabascan words and provide a short autobiography of the chief. Families praised this book for its well-crafted historical content.
“I woke in the morning snug in my warm duck feather bag, on top of my caribou hide with my little ermine nearby. My father added a piece of firewood to the crackling birch bark burning in the Yukon Stove. Sweet smoke curled up the stovepipe as frost crystals from the canvas ceiling melted into my eyes. Delicious smells of boiling grouse filled my nose. ”
“The Least of These: Wild Baby Bird Rescue Stories”
Written and illustrated by Joan Harris
Published by West Winds Press
Joan Harris, of Eagle River, follows the success of her previous book, “One Wing’s Gift,” with a second work about bird rehabilitation. This time, she focuses on baby birds from around the U.S., emphasizing ones notable for their rarity or personality, such as a swan that ended up with a prosthetic plastic beak.
One story is about a sandhill crane raised in Anchorage. This book soars over the head of the very young. But for upper elementary or middle-school students with an interest in birds, the upbeat stories, meticulous illustrations and nature notes are a font of information.
“Flying thousands of miles north to raise their young in Alaska, sandhills are notably unfussy about their choice of nesting locations, often choosing dry areas rather than the swamps preferred by most cranes. The choice of this site, on a military training range, had been particularly unfortunate.”
“Ranger Trails: Jobs of Adventure in America’s Parks”
Written by Lori and Jeff Yanuchi
Illustrated by James R. Morris
Published by Ridge Rock Press
“Ranger Trails,” by the Healy couple Lori and Jeff Yanuchi, is planned as a teaching tool. In 15 fictionalized vignettes about children meeting rangers on the job, it provides examples of the work they do, adventures that may involve and unique traits of national parks. Artist James Morris shows a feel for landscape and wilderness, but his people are clunky.
One family characterized the overall effect as “dorky.” Bolstering the work, however, is an impressive amount of background information, especially a big section on Internet resources. This book, geared for ages 8 to 13, is more education than entertainment, and could be a real asset to a home school or classroom.
“The girls and Janet’s parents are stopped on a hill for lunch with a great view of Mt. McKinley which is also known as Denali, a Native Alaskan word meaning ‘The High One.’ At 20,320 feet, Denali is the highest peak in North America.
“‘Hey, what’s that?’ asks Marita. Down the trail in the distance, two indistinct shapes were snaking their way up the hill. Janet takes out her binoculars. ‘Hey, check it out, it’s two dog teams!’”
“Seldovia Sam and the Wildfire Escape”
Written by Susan Woodward Springer
Illustrated by Amy Meissner
Published by Alaska Northwest Books
The series “The Misadventures of Seldovia Sam” continues with a third volume, in which 8-year-old Sam confronts a fast-moving wildfire threatening his town. Sam’s life, with his fisherman dad, bush-pilot mom and trusty dog at his side, is as Alaskan as can be, as are his adventures. They combine a warm sense of community and family with enough adrenalin to keep the pages turning. Children enjoy this series, and the easy chapter-book format is a hit with parents. Amy Meissner’s exuberant black-and-white illustrations do the stories justice. Sam’s escapades are winners for young readers, in Alaska or Outside. The publisher promises that a fourth volume is on its way.
“As Mom circled again, the plane bucked and jumped, and there was a gap in the smoke for a moment. Then the wind shifted again and the gap closed.
“‘Mom, I think there’s five trees on fire. I know I saw two trees that were all burned up,’ reported Sam.”
“Ten Rowdy Ravens”
Written by Susan Ewing
Illustrated by Evon Zerbetz
Published by Alaska Northwest Press
$15.95 (hardcover); $8.95 (paperback)
“Ten Rowdy Ravens” is another boisterous picture book from the team of Montana’s Susan Ewing and Ketchikan artist Evon Zerbetz. It is two books in one. The first section is a bouncy counting rhyme for the very young starring a flock of mischievous birds and Zerbetz’s colorful prints.
The book ends with “The Daily Kaw,” an imaginary newspaper featuring remarkable and often hilarious real stories about ravens for older readers of all ages. This book is unusual in that it draws on the latest in corvid science, with even the antics based on realistic behavior. Biology has never been more fun.
“Eight roguish ravens pilfer piles of loot, cheater swipes some pretty pearls, seven give pursuit.”
Shana Loshbaugh is a writer and former Clarion reporter who now lives near Fairbanks. This time, she had help reviewing from a great group of young book lovers in her neighborhood.
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