Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature
Criteria for analyzing Alaska Native
By Jennie McLean
Is this book truthful and respectful? Would anything in this book
embarrass or hurt a Native child? Is anything in this book
stereotypic thinking in a non-Native child?
NAME OF BOOK and published:
TWO OLD WOMEN, An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and
ISBN NUMBER: ISBN 0 - 945397 - 18 - 6
GRADE LEVEL & GENRE: 6th Grade, Alaska LegendsBRIEF
OVERVIEW OF WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT AND WHERE IT COMES FROM?
From the book:
" Based on an Athabaskan Indian legend passed along from mothers
to daughters for many generations on the upper Yukon River in
Alaska, this is the tragic and shocking story - with a surprise
ending - of two elderly women abandoned by a migrating trib that
faces starvation brought on by unusually harsh Arctic weather and
a shortage of fish and game. The story of survival is told with
suspense and wisdom by Velma Wallis, a promising new Native
American writer. Her style is a refreshing blend of contemporary
and traditional, and her choice of subject matter challenges the
taboos of her past. Yet her themes are modern - empowerment of
women, the graying of America, a growing interest in Native
WHAT REGION OR TRIBAL GROUP IS THIS BOOK PORTRAYING?
Doyon Region, Fort Yukon Area (right below the Arctic Circle)
FRONT COVER OF BOOK AND ILLUSTRATOR:
Book design: Leslie Newman Design/ Illustration
Cover: Leslie Newman
Found a Website on Leslie Newman
Leslie has developed a unique, yet, broad range of
illustration styles that have a fresh, friendly appeal. When not
designing or illustrating, she is occupied with lots of stuff like
gardening, reading and serving her Abysinnian cat, Jetson.
INFORMATION FROM BOOK SELLERS SUCH AS AMAZON OR
OTHERS ON WHAT THE BOOK IS PORTRAYING:
Positive,&inspirational for anyone, December 14,
I read this story about 2 years ago and recommended for it Ophra's
bookclub review. It is so uplifting and shows that someone of age can
still be worthwhile and make something of their life, regardless of
the situation they might be in. An older person has a lot of worth
left to give to themself and others. Reading the story of how these
two old women survived against the odds and how they helped
themselves and each other to cope was inspiring. How they were left
by family and friends and still moved on to survive, it something
that happens to some of the aging people today. I reread this book
every now and thenwhenever I feel down. The book helps us to remember
that we can do anything we want to do, if we want it bad enough. It
also helps us to remember that we are never too old to be helpful. An
aging person has a lot of widsom to share if they can't share
anything else. Talk to an aging person about their life and learn
something new and maybe interesting to you.
AWARDS GIVEN FOR BOOK: Two Old Women received a Western States
Book Award for Creative nonfiction in 1993. The Western States Book
Awards are a project of the Western States Arts Federation.
AUTHOR: Velma Wallis, Fort Yukon, Fairbanks.
Good points: It gave really good reviews on Velma in this book. I
was very pleased that the Author bio is on the back flap and also the
last page with a picture of Velma and her mom. It really makes the
book more historically correct when you read about the author and
there own life comes from the story.
Bad points: NONE
ILLUSTRATIONS: James Grant Sr. was born in the Athabaskan village
of Tanana, Alaska, in l946, and raised in California. He attended
Chaffey Junior College in Alta Loma, California, and the University
of Alaska in Fairbanks, where he now lives. While stationed in Europe
with the U.S. Army, Grant had an opportunity to travel and to study
the masters. His art also includes mask making, wood and ivory
carving, bronze casting, oil painting, and pen and ink.
Good points: What I have written above is what was written in the
book. I am glad that Jim was chosen for the pen and ink drawings in
this book. Without the accurate look of the Indians and country where
they live you cannot really get a feel for where this story is taken
place. I think the illustrations are just as important as the words.
I love that both the author and the illustrator are Alaska Natives.
It makes this book all the more special.
Bad points: NONE
Information about Illustrator: Provided above
INFORMATION FROM AN ELDER FAMILIAR WITH THIS TIME AND PLACE?
I did not ask an elder from my community about this book. I did
ask a few of the Alaska Native teachers here in Nulato and they
enjoyed the book and thought it was well written and documented
PRONUNCIATION OF NATIVE WORDS IN BOOK: could they sound out the
words by showing it in parentheses ( ).
Like I have written in my other book reviews I sure wish that the
author would use parentheses so the reader can pronounce the words
correctly that are in their language. For example the two old women's
names are Sa' and Ch'idzigyaak. But I am not sure if they sound just
how they are spelled I am sure not.
LOOK AT PICTURES:
Properly illustrating what the book is about and the people that
it is portraying. Properly illustrated from my point of view.
LOOK FOR STEREOTYPES:
Look at both the writings and pictures to see if they are
stereotyping the culture which the book is about.
I did not see where the writings and the pictures were
stereotyped. I know that long ago both the Eskimo and Indian people
use to tell me that they use to fight or not get along. In Bird Girl
it was explained about the territory that both peoples used to
LOOK FOR LOADED WORDS:
Are racist adjectives used to refer to Native peoples? Is language
used as to insult Native peoples? Is the language respectful? The
language was not insulting.
LOOK FOR TOKENISM
Are Native people depicted as stereotypically alike, or do they
just look just like whites with brown faces? Are they depicted as
James Grant does an excellent job of drawing the people in the
clothing that they wore in this time of the story. They are genuine
LOOK FOR DISTORTION OF HISTORY
Is the time and place of the history in the story correct? Does it
depict the right clothing, language, and way of life for that time
and place in history? Is the U.S. government only "trying to help"?
Are there Native heroes who are admired because of what they have
done for their own people? Are they elders shown as people that were
greatly respected by the community?
LOOK AT THE LIFESTYLES
Are Native cultures presented in a condescending manner? Are there
paternalistic distinctions between "them" and "us"?
Are the Natives in the book respected and does it show respect for
the complexity of their societies, values, religions, morals and
connection to past and present?
LOOK FOR STANDARDS OF SUCCESS
Are the Natives portrayed as a helpless and less of a person
compared to a priest, teacher, or other non Native person that seems
to know what is "good for them" (the Natives).
LOOK AT THE ROLE OF WOMEN, MEN AND ELDERS
Do the women do all the work? Are the men lazy? Are the elders
treated with respect or are they looked upon as a burden to the
people? Are the customs of the elders valued?
LOOK AT THE EFFECTS ON A CHILD'S SELF-IMAGE
Is there anything in the story that would hurt or embarrass a
Native child? Are there one or more role models with whom a Native
child can identify? Are the children encouraged to succeed by their
elders and parents?
OVERALL VIEW OF THE BOOK AND RATED BETWEEN 1 - 10