Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature
NAME OF BOOK: Goodbye, My Island
AUTHOR: Jean Rogers
ILLUSTRATOR: Rie Munoz
YEAR BOOK WAS PUBLISHED: 1983
IS THE BOOK PART OF A SERIES (DESCRIBE)? No
WHAT IS THE SETTING OF THE BOOK (TIME AND PLACE)? 1964, King
The author lives in Juneau but it is unclear how much time she has
spent in Alaska. The author has received an Honored Author citation
from the Alaska State Reading Association. The illustrator lived in
Alaska since 1950 and is a well-known artist who has received various
honors. She taught in King Island 1951-1952 and that is the basis for
this story. All illustrations are in Rie Munoz's distinctive style.
The book is a fictional account of a group of King Islander's last
year on King Island when the school, church and store were still
operating. The main characters are the Atoolik family which includes
12 year old Esther, her older brother Lewis, and their parents.
Dixon, who is a nephew of the teachers, also spends the year on the
island and his many questions provides the reader with information on
what life is like on King Island. Other families and the island
priest are also featured.
The two main children in the book, Lewis and Esther speak the most
English in the village. Their father learned it when he was young and
had to stay in the hospital. He tells them that it is not enough just
to speak Eskimo, that they need to learn English and to attend school
and learn all they could because the old Eskimo ways were leaving.
The story begins in the fall when the King Island residents are
getting ready to move from Nome, where they have spent the summer,
back to King Island.
Esther's friends try to convince her to stay in Nome and talk
about how good it is to go to school in Nome vs King Island, that
there is more to do, plus hot lunches, movies, girl scouts, etc. They
also make references to the fact that people from St. Lawrence Island
and Shismaref don't like the King Islanders. A 'gussak' girlfriend
says it's silly that they are all Eskimos and should get along.
Shismaref kids say that the King Islanders are crazy to live on a big
empty rock rather than Nome where their family can make a good living
selling ivory to the tourists. The girls also talked about another
character, Wooko and his family. Wooko stayed drunk all the time and
beat his wife while in Nome, so they were going back to King Island
for the winter.
The author says that the King Islanders always had moved to Nome
for the summer at the end of June in their Oomiaks and then at the
end of summer they travel back via the North Star ship. When they
reach King Island the North Star stops and the oomiaks are lowered
filled with people, heating oil and provisions for the winter. They
are greeted by their dogs who have been left alone on the island all
summer where they survived by catching birds and eating eggs.
Everyone, including the children are excited about going home to
King Island. The whole village works together to haul supplies up to
their houses, the church and school.When they are done, a party is
held at the school. The priest welcomed everyone and a discussion was
held about the BIA school and store closing at the end of the year.
We learn about life on King Island through a journal that 12-year
old Esther keeps and through questions asked by Dixon, the visiting
nephew of the teachers. We are taught about the weather, storms,
shore and pack ice, ice fishing, seal hunting, and putting meat away
in the ice cave. We learn about houses that have doors that open half
way on top, that people sit on floor, cook on colman stoves, and use
furs and blankets along racks on the wall for sleeping. Clothing is
also described as well as Eskimo dancing.
There is also a community 'club house' with a tunnel and entrance
through the floor. This is a meeting place where community people tan
skins and carve ivory, and have Eskimo dancing. Community
celebrations are also held at the school. Christmas is celebrated
with a church service and feast at the school including traditional
foods such as pickled walrus flipper, seal liver, beluga stew, and
ice cream made with blueberries, reindeer fat (from Nome), seal oil,
and fish eggs. The Christmas celebration also included Tug of
war-man's game done with a rope around the neck, and ear pulling
contest, thumb wrestle, finger pull, and a tug of war with a pole
being held with one hand.
The book also gives us a brief view of subsistence activities
including seal hunting and walrus hunting at edge of ice, which
requires patience and endurance. In the Spring, families also gather
eggs and snare birds with hand thrown nets.
The book also explains the annual arrival of Navy ice breaker
"Burton Island" which brings a doctor and dentist for everyone on the
island to see. Everyone gets a cold after the ship's visit. They also
get a cold after a mail drop. This gives the teachers the opportunity
to teach about germs. There was also a description of an old man who
said his teeth were worn down from chewing tough blubber and frozen
walrus, and many others who had or had had TB.
The book provides the reader with a good sense of how the King
Island community worked and celebrated together. The community also
came together to deal with sickness and death. Traditional burial,
using stones, was compared to the more modern use of wooden caskets
covered with tar paper.
The book could have included more Inupiat language. It refers to
"Eskimo" as the language and uses Oomiak, Eskultea (Eskimo word for
teacher), mukluk and muktuk. It does include a brief glossary at the
The book could be used for upper middle school through junior high
school level. The positive aspects of this book include a good
overview of subsistence activities and a very good depiction of how
the village works together as a community. Children love living on
King Island, and there is a positive feeling of life there. However
there is a lot of emphasis on what they need to learn from western
society to be successful. The book could have included more on how
the family functioned, the intergenerational relationships, and the
spiritual relationship with the land and animals. Nome is also
depicted as having a lot more to offer for entertainment and
The book ends with the King Islanders traveling back to Nome,
which is 90 miles away, in big oomiaks. The trip took all day.
Everyone is sad, as they know most of the people will not return to
King Island next winter.
The book's last chapter "afterward" gives some interesting
historical information. The King Island BIA school was closed in
1964. For a few years after that the King Islanders did return to the
island in the winter, but gradually the abandoned WWII huts in Nome
where they lived in the summer became their permanent home. In 10
years they became miserable slums with a high incidence of TB. There
were also few jobs. In 1974 the area flooded, the shacks were
demolished, and then the BIA built new houses on the east side of
town. Some people moved to Anchorage. Some remaining inhabitants
established a fishing camp at Cape Woolley. The author said that
today ivory carving is a main source of income, and people still go
back to King Island for walrus and seal hunting and also herd
reindeer in Nome. The author also mentioned the 1971 ANSCA and the
formation of King Island Village Corporation. She also states that TV
has created new problems and the youth don't want to learn old ways.
In 1982 the Elders revived the wolf dance, which was the first
performance in 50 years. Video tapes of the dance etc help keep the
history and customs of King Island alive. (I found the afterward
section of the book somewhat paternalistic and dispiriting. More
could have been included on how the King Islanders continue to be
proud of their roots and how they have built on their past.)
I also talked to Yayuk (Bernadette Alvanna Stimpfle). I asked
about the lawsuits involving the King Island name. She said that the
book King Island Christmas is the one that has caused problems
because a New York Company turned it into an opera and used the title
King Island Records. It's been awhile since she's read Goodbye My
Island, but she said that the names are made up, and she felt
that they should have at least used the real King Islanders for
information. The book is out of Rie Munoz's memory when she taught
there in the 1950's.
In summary I would say that if this book is historically and
culturally correct it could be a good source of how life was on King
Island. But the author should have used King Islanders for the
information and as reviewers of the book. Although we get a good
sense of community and feel that the people will be sorry to leave
their island, the book needs more indigenous information rather than
being told from a western point of view. There seems to be too much
emphasis on learning the western ways and the positive points about
living in Nome. The generic word "Eskimo" is also used rather than
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.