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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Vivian Martindale
ED 493:
Book Review #5: Children of the Midnight Sun: Young
Native Voices of Alaska by Larry Merculieff

"Children of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska" by Patricia Brown with photographs by Roy Corral is a 48 page pictorial book with essays by the author including interviews from the perspective of young Native people in Alaska. The book, published by Alaska Northwest Books (ISBN 0-88240-500-4) in 1998, is categorized by the publisher as Juvenile literature as well as Alaska literature (non-fiction). Author Tricia Brown, a non-native, has lived in Alaska since the 70s and has been editor and contributing writer for the Alaska Journal, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, and the Anchorage Daily News and has authored one other book on the Iditarod race. Roy Corral, a photographer, resides in Alaska. He was educated at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His photography has been featured in Alaska magazine, the National Geographic, Outside, Forbes FYI, Backpacker, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Alaska Geographic, The Los Angeles Times, National Wildlife, and Nature Conservancy plus other publications.

"Children of the Midnight Sun" has won numerous awards: In 1999, the Publisher's Marketing Association's Benjamin Franklin Award for Juvenile/Young Adult non-fiction. In 1999, it won the Independent Publisher magazine's Ippy Award in Juvenile/Young Adult Nonfiction. In 1998, "Children of the Midnight Sun" won the School Library Journal's Best Book of 1998.

The foreword in the book is written by Aleut Larry Merculieff, co-founder of the Bearing Sea Coalitions and the Amiq Institute, and former city manager of St. Paul Island in Pribilof region and leader in educating the public on worldwide environmental issues. As well, the introduction provided by the author is an essential part of the book, giving readers a political and social background of Alaska Native peoples and important issues both past and contemporary.

The primary focus of this book is to spotlight young Alaska Native's contemporary lives and how they deal with the tremendous changes in their lives while still maintaining traditional values. Merculieff writes, "Their primary challenge may be to retain and enhance the wisdom of their cultures as our communities become less and less isolated as the lure of the material world intensifies." The author, Tricia Brown uses a perspective that reflects the voices of the children themselves. It is as if the children are speaking. Many of the children combine contemporary life, such as being able to learn how to run a snow machine, to learning how to carve. The children also give the reader the impression of balance. This balance of the old traditions and the new is presented in a very positive manner.

The author focuses on eight regions in Alaska, thus eight different Native children: Robert Nageak, Inupiat, John Charlie, Athabaskan, Katiana Boudukofsky, Aleut, Selina Tolson, Haida, Andrea Hoelscher, Yup'ik, Danny Hewson, Tsimshian, Josh Hotch, Tlingit, and Tauni Thompson, Aleut-Caucasian. This is an excellent book for both adults and children of various ages. The ages of the children depicted in the book varies from age 10 to 13. Brown gives a good description of the children and the communities in which they live. She also interweaves the importance of family and community life and the role they playing the continuance of culture in the lives of the children depicted in the book. The children discuss with the author their favorite activities and what is important to them in their lives. The dialogue is in the voices of the children, which lends to the authenticity of the book. In the book, we are hearing from Alaska's Native children themselves. They talk about the changes in their community as well as in their families. And the authors illustrate, in an excellent manner, a group of well-adjusted children who deal with the contemporary and the traditional.

The photographs portray Alaska's Native children in real settings. In one photo you see Robert Nageak fishing in his uncles' whaling boat and on the facing page he is cutting maktaq for a snack after helping himself to a bag of Doritos. As well, Josh Hotch is depicted, smiling happily, near the Chilkat River in his dance regalia. The children's profiles also include some historical perspectives and information on the regions where the children live. The book also includes a map titled "Alaska Native Homelands" as well as an informative glossary divided according to regions. Plus the book also includes a list of other books for recommended reading by the author(s). The author(s) acknowledge many different Native peoples for their assistance with the book plus a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

This is an excellent book for both adults and children. Even young children would probably enjoy looking at the pictures depicting Alaska Native children participating in everyday activities in their communities. Educators and parents could use this book to introduce children to the various cultural groups in Alaska. The author and photographer take a positive approach to the issues surrounding cultural traditions and the changes facing Alaska's Native children today.

Although the book specifically does not have a 'tribal' endorsement it does have the endorsement of respected Alaska Native leader Larry Merculieff and part of the proceeds from the book are going to a reputable Alaska Native Agency. In regards to authenticity I would suggest that respected members from each community depicted in the book review their section for accuracy. Members from the Yup'ik community who reviewed the segment on their region detected some inaccuracies thus furthering me to suggest that those involved in education should seek out sectional reviews of this book. Something like this could be done at a Native educators conference. I award this book 12 salmon salmonout of 14. I recommend this book to children, teachers, and parents. The book portrays Native peoples in a positive manner.

The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004.

The book reviews are written by the students and are a reflection of their own analysis of the books and have not been altered in any way. The reviewers have given permission to share the book reviews on the HAIL website.






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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
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Last modified August 21, 2006