Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature
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
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
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 out
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.