Voices in Education

The Alaskan Spirit Captured in Books for all Ages

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July 21, 2017

As an English teacher, literacy is on the top of my “important” list. As an English teacher in Alaska, I’ve always tried to tie in our fabulous state and the writers and artists who capture its uniqueness so wonderfully.  There’s just no place like Alaska, and a good book is a great way to have an Alaskan adventure!

Children

A great children’s book should capture the imagination, include realistic elements, and it doesn’t hurt if it gets a bit “hands on.” My choices below are found in most Alaskan homes with small children, and are popular for a reason. Their beautiful illustrations, connection to Alaskan wildlife, and entertaining stories are fun for children and adults alike.

  1. "Mama, Do You Love Me?" by Barbara Joosse; illustrations Barbara Lavallee
    In the tradition of “Goodnight Moon” and “Guess How Much I Love You,” this Alaskan classic is a must for little ones.
  2. "My Coyote Nose and Ptarmigan Toes" by Erin McKittrick; illustrations Valisa Higman
    A little boy pictures himself as numerous different Alaskan animals that each have special skills he needs to triumph in the wilderness. This book is filled with local animals!
  3. "Moose Racks, Bear Tracks, and Other Alaskan Kid Snacks " by Alice Bugni; illustrations Shannon Cartwright
    This is a personal favorite. My daughter and I enjoyed making many of these recipes when she was little. Twenty-five Alaskan inspired recipes to choose from and beautiful illustrations make this a keeper.

Teens

It’s so important to keep the love of reading alive during the teen years! A good adventure story is sure to do the trick. Whether it’s a fictional story, or one straight from the person experiencing things, a fast pace and familiar landscapes are sure to please.

  1. "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey
    A child built out of snow and a couple trying to survive the Alaskan wilderness combine for one surprising story. Set in the 1920s, when Alaska was even wilder than it is now.
  2. "Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George
    This Newbery Medal-winning story is about an Eskimo girl lost in the wilderness. She tries to follow the survival methods of a pack of wolves and ends up feeling like they are family. It includes beautiful illustrations from John Schoenherr.
  3. "A Tundra Tale" by Lone Alaskan Gypsy
    Alaskan folklore inspired this story. It follows a young woman on a dangerous journey over the tundra where she gets help from Alaskans, the human kind and the furry kind.
  4. "Braving It" by James Campbell
    A true story that takes place in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge about a father and daughter embracing the wilderness and all of its challenges. 

Young Adults

Young adults can be a tricky demographic. Ask what they are into reading, and every answer will be unique. I love finding Alaskan books for my students because not only can they relate to the character struggles, they can relate to the setting as well. The more connections I can create, the better.

  1. "The Alaskan Laundry" by Brendan Jones
    After her mother dies, she finds herself on a remote Alaskan island trying to make a living. She discovers the crazy world of commercial fishing, and is very, very good at it.
  2. "Finding Bethany" by Glen Klinkhart
    This is a true crime memoir. Glen discusses the case, and the emotions involved in detail and really gets the reader inside the head of a homicide investigator.
  3. "Dirt Work" by Christine Byl
    After college Christine Byl got a job maintaining trails in Alaska. This true account of her days in Glacier National Park is full of new perspectives, thrilling experiences, and a lot of dirty work.

Art

I would be remiss if I excluded at least a few artist coffee-table books. Alaska is majestic and inspires artists around the globe. Here are a couple visual stunners you won’t be able to look away from. 

  1. "Alaskan Artist Rie Munoz"
    Rie Munoz moved to Juneau and became one of Alaska’s most famous artists. Her paintings and watercolors can be found all over Alaska, and this book features many of her works that capture Alaska and its people so well.
  2. "Alaska" by Art Wolfe 
    Coined as a “conservation photographer,”, Wolfe has taken stunning photos of the Alaskan wilderness. This coffee table book shows the awesome nature of this “Great Land.”


Want to learn more about Alaska? Be sure to watch our Facebook Live with Chris Kratt, that was live from Juneau! 

Follow Traci & other Alaskan educators all week on the @PBS.Teachers Instagram!


Traci is an English teacher at South Anchorage High School and the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator from Alaska. English is Traci’s passion: English rhetoric to be specific. She teaches her units with an emphasis on the power of language and shows her students how to harness that power. She builds her curriculum around the student - immersing them in a given topic and working on it from every possible angle.

Traci Espeland

Traci Espeland High School English Teacher

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