Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: December 22nd, 2020

Illustrator’s original paintings for books to be on exhibit, available for sale

October 2, 2017

(Books at a Glance)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has published two new culturally-based children’s books that reflect the Native worldview.

The latest releases in its Baby Raven Reads series include the ancient Haida story The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales  and the Tlingit storyThe Woman Who Married the Bear, adapted by Frank Henry Kaash Kataase. Both books were illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons.

SHI will release the new books at a book signing this Friday, Oct. 6, from 4:30-8 p.m. at the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau during First Friday. Gibbons’ original paintings for the books will be on display and available for sale. Gibbons and Katasse will sign books during First Friday, which will also feature artists Ronnie Fairbanks from Klawock and Karen Stepanenko from Pelican. This First Friday will be the last chance for people to see SHI’s Alaska Native mask exhibit, which will close this fall.

The books are part of the institute’s award-winning Baby Raven Reads, a program for Alaska Native families with children up to age 5 that promotes language development and school readiness. Baby Raven Reads this month was one of 15 programs in the world chosen for a 2017 Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program Best Practice Honoree.

The release of the books is groundbreaking because so few culturally-relevant children’s books from Southeast Alaska exist that are not tailored for the commercial market. And, research has shown that Native students do better academically when their cultures are incorporated into learning materials and classes, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“We know that schools sometimes allow our children to fail and that they’ve stumbled in the past by supplying books with distorted depictions about Native cultures,” Worl said. “With this series we are aiming to meet the demand for books that reflect the Native worldview and to give our children some of the tools they need to succeed.”

The project is based on ample research that has shown the effectiveness of using culturally-based teaching resources and methods to improve academic achievement in Indigenous students. Scholars note the disparity between the experience of Native children and materials currently used in the classroom. 

Research also indicates that children who are fluent readers by the end of third grade are likely to do well in school and go on to higher education. Students’ scores in reading are consistently associated with academic grades and economic success later in life.

The books follow on the heels of 15 other Baby Raven books SHI has published since 2016. The institute plans to publish three additional books in November, bringing the total number of books published during the three-year program to 20. All Baby Raven books are distributed free of charge to families enrolled in the program. They may also be purchased at the Sealaska Heritage Store and online. The new books will be available for purchase on Oct. 6 at the book signing.

Raven Reading: A Culturally Responsive Kindergarten Readiness Program is funded by an Alaska Native Education Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education:  CFDA # 84.356A, PR# S356A140060. Though the pilot program ended in August 2017, SHI recently received funding to continue Baby Raven Reads for an additional three years. 

Books at a glance

The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales: When a woman is carried off by killer whales, her husband embarks on a journey to get her back. Aided by friends he meets along the way, the man follows her trail across the bottom of the sea to the Killer Whale House. Find out what happens to Nanasimgit and K’uljáad in this ancient Haida story. Illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons.

The Woman Who Married the Bear: In this ancient Tlingit story, a woman who has insulted the bears while out berry picking meets a bear in human form. They fall in love and get married. Soon, the woman’s brothers come looking for her and the woman learns her husband is not what he appears to be. Text adapted by Tlingit writer Frank Henry Kaash Kataase. Illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9119

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