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Native Pathways to Education
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Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Criteria for analyzing Alaska Native Children's Literature
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: The Year of Miss Agnes

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT AND WHERE IT COMES FROM? This book is about a teacher that comes into a small Indian village on the Yukon River after many teachers have come and gone. The children in the village are all wondering how long this teacher is going to stay.

WHAT REGION OR TRIBAL GROUP IS THIS BOOK PORTRAYING? I know the author of this book and she was a teacher and has lived in the village of Ruby for many years. I believe she is writing this story about the Yukon River area around Ruby down to Nulato. This group of Indians belongs to the Doyon Region and each village has there own tribe. The front cover of the book shows the school house with the name Koyukuk School above the door. This is a very small village on the Yukon River between Galena and Nulato. The first school was built in 1939 in Koyukuk and today 91% of the village is Native. In 2003 there were 22 students attending the school.

FRONT COVER OF BOOK AND ILLUSTRATOR: Cover illustration copyright 2000 by Peter Knorr. Looked on the internet to find more information on Peter Knorr but couldn't find any. The picture on the cover seems to depict the children in that year of 1948 correctly. I looked at pictures of my grandmother and the dresses and such seem to be depicted correctly.

INFORMATION FROM BOOK SELLERS SUCH AS AMAZON OR OTHERS ON WHAT THE BOOK IS PORTRAYING: This is what was stated in the information on this book in the Amazon Book Order on the internet
... Touching Story of Miss Agnes--A Pattern for Teaching Miss Agnes is the first teacher who doesn't repel at the smell of fish....okay, so she has sinus problems and can't smell very well. She ...

AWARDS GIVEN FOR BOOK:
IRA Notable Book for a Global Society
A Junior Library Guild Selection
ABA Kids' Pick of the Lists
Smithsonian Notable Book for Children
Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction finalist
A School Library Journal Best Book

AUTHOR: Kirkpatrick Hill

Good points: 'Kirkpatrick Hill was raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. She graduated from Syracuse University with majors in English and education, and for the past thirty years has been an elementary school teacher, spending most of her time in one-room schoolhouses in the Alaskan "bush". Her two previous books, Toughboy and Sister and Winter Camp, also take place in the Alaskan wilderness and have been immensely popular both in the United States and abroad."

Bad points: About the Author was short and sweet. It could of gave more information on where she got the story from is it from a story of a family that actually went through this.

ILLUSTRATIONS:

Good points: The picture on the front cover I thought depicted the school house and the children of the village very well. That is how they dressed during that time. I asked my cousin Colleen Stickman and she said that is what the children looked like then by the pictures that she seen of her mother as a young women.

Bad points: It gave the name of the illustrator of the front cover but did not give any information about him and his work at drawing. Did he follow a picture of children during this time would have been nice to know.

Information about Illustrator: stated above in the illustrations section.

INFORMATION FROM AN ELDER FAMILIAR WITH THIS TIME AND PLACE?
I asked my cousin who has lived in the village of Nulato her whole life except to go to college. She would know about how they lived during this time because her mother Dorothy Sommer grew up during that time here in the village of Nulato and it is only 33 miles from Koyukuk.

PRONUNCIATION OF NATIVE WORDS IN BOOK: could they sound out the words by showing it in parentheses ( ).
Hill used a few words in the Athabascan language and it would have been nice if she had in parentheses how to sound out the words. If a teacher was to read this story out loud to a class she would not know how to say some of the words because this was not done in this book. She did however explain what each word meant in the story after it was used.

LOOK AT PICTURES:
Properly illustrating what the book is about and the people that it is portraying.

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 individuals?

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).The story was very well written. The students were shown as excited about learning in the school setting. The part that was upsetting to me in the book was the little girl Fred saying that her mother was angry about the children going to school because she couldn't seek English. It says in the book on page 14, "I was so happy to be going to school again. Mamma was mad. She was slamming things around. She didn't see the use of school. It made her mad to have me gone all day when I could be helping her at home." I remember people back in these days as being gentle and patient with children. My cousin Dorothy said that Grandma encouraged the children to go to school and learn the English language but Grandma only spoke to them at the house in Indian. I think it is sending the wrong message here to children about the mother seeing no use in children attending school.

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

I really love all the books that Kirkpatrick Hill has written. There were a few things that I would change but that is my opinion. I feel that this is an excellent book and should be used in the classroom. She depicted the Native people very accurately for that time and she did not jump back and forth like other books that I have read, that would change from different times and apparel and such. I have read this to all the different age groups here in Nulato and all the children love this series of books. I would rate this book on a scale of 1 - 10 as an 8 or 9.

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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Last modified August 14, 2006