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: Toughboy &
Sister copyright 1990
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT AND WHERE IT COMES FROM?
The summary in the book states: "The death of
their drunken father strands ten-year-old Toughboy and his younger
sister at a remote fishing cabin in the Yukon, where they spend a
summer tying to cope with dwindling food supplies and hostile
The summary in the book like the parts in
the book about the drunken father, these statements I didn't really
care for. While a lot of the children in the villages have to deal
with alcoholism in the home I felt that this part of the story could
have been written differently and with more compassion. I feel that
reading this book some children might be afraid that this could
happen to their family and may cause them to be afraid of all people
WHAT REGION OR TRIBAL GROUP IS THIS BOOK PORTRAYING?
This story I believe like the rest of Hill's
stories takes place along the Yukon River in the area around Ruby and
Nulato. This is the Doyon region and all the villages have their own
FRONT COVER OF BOOK AND ILLUSTRATOR:
Illustration by Diana Zelvin, 1992 and Cover
design by Rebecca Laughlin
INFORMATION FROM BOOK SELLERS SUCH AS AMAZON OR OTHERS ON WHAT THE
BOOK IS PORTRAYING:
This is a book review from the internet site kidsandbaby:
and Sister, tough language as well
After reading "The Year Of Miss Agnes" with my 9 year old
we eagerly ordered "Toughboy and Sister". What a disappointment! I
don't feel that even mild profanity is appropriate in a book sold
for the 9-12 age level. Nor was I pleased with two different
examples of taking the Lord's name in vain. This book was ordered
for a book report for my daughter but was a waste as it cannot be
used in her Christian school.
The sad thing for us is that the story is great, and would have
been just as good without including words that are offensive to a
whole group of parents.
Another book review from the same site:
Toughboy, age 11, and sister, age 9 have only their
alcoholic dad to care for them after their mother's death. They
get excited about going to fish camp, even though it will be the
first trip without mom. Shortly after they arrive to camp, their
father leaves. Toughboy and sister learn to prepare meals, take
care of themselves, catch fish the way their parents once had, and
reminisce about past times. One day the dad returns on the boat,
dead. They are then stranded at the fish camp for many weeks;
finally Natasha saves them. At this point, they both realize the
tremendous positive affect being stranded has had upon them.
The book, in my opinion, tells a very good story. It provides a
positive ending to a suspenseful, intriguing story. If you like
survival stories, you will definitely enjoy this book!
AWARDS GIVEN FOR BOOK:
AUTHOR: Kirkpatrick Hill
Good points: I know of Kirkpatrick Hill and
her books and I use them in my classrooms but nothing was written
about the author in this book.
Bad points: Did not tell about the author in
ILLUSTRATIONS: Cover illustration copyright
Diana Zelvin, 1992. Cover Design by Rebecca Laughlin.
Good points: I though that the front cover
depicted what Toughboy & Sister would of looked like. They looked
like Alaska Athabascan Indians. I don't think that the children then
or now would be wearing white shirts though.
Bad points: It did not give any information
on the illustrator or designer of cover.
Information about Illustrator: none given
for this book. It would have been nice to know more about the
illustrator and the author.
INFORMATION FROM AN ELDER FAMILIAR WITH THIS TIME AND PLACE?
PRONUNCIATION OF NATIVE WORDS IN BOOK: could they sound out the
words by showing it in parentheses ( ).
LOOK AT PICTURES:
Properly illustrating what the book is about and the people that it
As stated in the illustrator's section, I liked
the cover of this book.
LOOK FOR STEREOTYPES:
Look at both the writings and pictures to see if they are
stereotyping the culture which the book is about.
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?
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 genuine
In this story the author writes stereotypes,
loaded words and tokenism's that are not true of most Alaska Natives.
When father found out about his wife and
unborn child dying in childbirth he, "got drunk somewhere", "daddy
hated it when there were too many people around", Mamma was laid out
in her coffin", "up there in the community hall, while everyone
played cards around her and ate and drank".
When I read this part of the book it
saddened me that the Athabascan people were portrayed as drunks and
that the funeral was a burden to the father and he ignored his
children for days. Also stated that the mother was laid in her
coffin, I would of written a homemade casket or casket. It seems to
me that she was just laid there with no respect. Also in the
community hall people do sit around and play cards because we are
never to leave the body alone until after they are laid to rest. It
stated that they drank, is this stating that people were drinking
alcohol because I know that drinking alcohol in the community hall
during a burial is not allowed or ever was.
"What's the old man going to do about them
kids?" on page 4 was unnessassary. I think of this statement as
having no respect for the children and that they were not cared for
by their father. The father was not an "old man", I think this is a
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?
The time and place were written with very
vivid words and I could visualize myself there in the story. The
Native heroes in the story were the father when he told Natasha that
he could care for his children and they were old enough to care for
themselves. Also it talked about the people of the village that
helped out when needed. This part of the story I see as part of the
village life on the Yukon. Alaska Native people are giving and caring
people and this part of the story I truly enjoyed.
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
In the story they say that Natasha chose to
take the children in and raise them was nearly seventy years old.
Many older people in the villages during this time took care of other
peoples children or their grandchildren. My great grandmother Anna
Stickman took in many children and was a very caring and
compassionate woman and very well respected. She was never mean or
came off as being non-approachable by children. In this story they
say that the children and others were alittle afraid of Natasha.
People were not afraid of the medicine people, they were respected
not seen as voodoo people.
OVERALL VIEW OF THE BOOK AND RATED BETWEEN 1 - 10
I truly enjoyed this story even with the little problems with some of
the wording of problems that arose during these children's lives. I
would still chose to use this in the classroom because it does depict
the lifestyle of the Athabascan people of this time. I think the
author made the characters real and belieable
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.