Five of the best Alaska-themed kids books, as recommended by a Newbery judge

Kyle Hopkins
Mountain View librarian Elizabeth Moreau and her five Alaska children's book picks at the Loussac Library on Friday, February 1, 2013.
Bob Hallinen
Mountain View librarian Elizabeth Moreau looks at Berry Magic by Berry Huffman and Teri Sloat, one of her five Alaska children's book picks at the Loussac Library on Friday, February 1, 2013.
Bob Hallinen

Every year a group of librarians sequester themselves in a room and pick the very best new children's book. The award is called the John Newbery Medal, and it's the Oscars of kids' literature.

This year, Mountain View Branch Library manager Elizabeth Moreau won a spot among the 15 elected judges. The panel began debating titles in Seattle on Jan. 25 and announced the winner - "The One and Only Ivan," by Katherine Applegate - on Monday.

"It's a little bit like electing a Pope. They lock you in a room and don't let you out until you have a winner," Moreau said.

Judges for the Newbery considered only books published by American authors in 2012 for kids 14 years old and younger. The award honors "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children," according to the American Library Association. A separate award, the Randolph Caldecott Medal, is given to the best children's picture book of the year.

"The One and Only Ivan" is written in the point of a view of a lonely gorilla who lives in a shopping mall. "The characterization is excellent," Moreau said. The book hit high scores in every category such as plot development, clarity and respect for children's understanding and abilities.

"(The language) is spare, like a gorilla would be. But every word is carefully chosen and exactly what you want to hear. She doesn't waste words in this book," Moreau said.

The novel and three runners up were selected from hundreds of titles mailed to judges over the past year.

"It was like Christmas every day. ... There's 600 books in my living room," the librarian said.

Moreau said she never stopped enjoying children's books, even as a "too cool for high schooler" teenager, and wrote her college thesis on the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Another children's novel, Jean Craighead George's "Julie of the Wolves," partially inspired her move to Alaska as an adult, she said.

We caught up with the librarian Friday at the Loussac Library in Anchorage and asked her to suggest five of her favorite Alaska-inspired children's books.

Here's Moreau's unofficial list, in her own words:


Polar Bear Night

By Lauren Thompson and Stephen Savage

This is not specifically Alaska, but it is about a little polar bear who wakes up in the arctic night and he wanders around. He sees the walrus, and the sea otters and sort of all of the Alaskan animals.

It has just come out on board book, and it's a very sweet bedtime story that is really going to work for very, very small toddlers up to preschoolers and Kindergartners. While not necessarily Alaskana, it's has all of our Alaska animal friends.

I've read this to kids in three different states, and they've connected to it in every state because there's something universal about when you can't sleep and wandering around your home.


Berry Magic

By Betty Huffmon and Teri Sloat

Teri Sloat, while she lives in Washington now, spent several years teaching in the Bush with her husband in rural villages. And this is a wonderful, wonderful story that she heard and retold from a Yup'ik Eskimo storyteller, Betty Huffmon, as a traditional Yup'ik tale of a little girl who goes berry hunting.

It's a lot of fun and it's a very joyous story.

I love (Sloat's) artwork. It's very full of life and color. ... It's a traditional Yupik tale, but there is still that (universal) element of a little girl and her grandmother and doing things together.


Mama, Do You Love Me?

By Barbara M. Joosse and Barbara Lavellee

Two great Barbaras ... This is one I have personally given as baby shower gifts.

Barbara Lavellee lives in Alaska and Barbara Joosse lives in Wisconsin, but this is sort of the very traditional, once again the universal (question), "do you love me?" But then the answers are very Alaskan: "I love you more than the raven loves his treasure. More than the dog loves his tail. More than the whale loves his spout."

Before I came to Alaska, this is one I was familiar with ... Barbara Lavallee is one of our most prolific Alaska children's artists.


My Name is Not Easy

By Debbie Dahl Edwardson

Speaking of national recognition, this was a National Book Award finalist last year.

This is Debbie Dahl Edwardson, who is an Alaskan, and this is based off what actually happened to her father-in-law, which is that he was removed from his home and taken to a boarding school where he was not allowed to speak Inupiaq.

He is having his culture systematically stripped away from him. And then there sort of becomes this other element where the government is doing some TB vaccination testing on the students. And this is very much what actually happened to Alaska Natives in the 50s, that they were removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools.

My future father-in-law tells stories of basically the same thing. Being hit with a ruler if he spoke in Yup'ik.


The Impossible Rescue

By Martin W. Sandler

This is brand new this year. I actually got a copy of it for my Newbery adventure.

(It's) a true story that happened in 1897 where eight whaling vessels were stuck in the ice off of Point Barrow. President McKinley ordered these three men to drive a herd of reindeer across Alaska to feed the men who would otherwise have starved to death on the whaling vessels.

One of the people who was on the (trip) had just discovered this new thing that was called photography. ... There's tons of photos from the period.

It's another probably fifth- to seventh-grade book. I had to bring in one non-fiction book.

There are so many Alaska adventure stories that are completely true, and I think we tend to only focus on Balto and the Iditarod. Kids have heard that story. If you grew up in Alaska, you know that story, but this is another very cool, true adventure that happened in Alaska.


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2013 American Library Association youth media award winners:

John Newbery Medal:

> "The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate.

Newbery Honor Books:

> "Splendors and Glooms" by Laura Amy Schlitz

> "Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon" by Steve Sheinkin

> "Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage.

Randolph Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children:

> "This is Not My Hat," illustrated and written by Jon Klassen.

Caldecott Honor Books:

> "Creepy Carrots!" illustrated by Peter Brown, written by Aaron Reynolds

> "Extra Yarn," illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett

> "Green," illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

> "One Cool Friend," illustrated by David Small, written by Toni Buzzeo

> "Sleep Like a Tiger," illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Mary Logue

Find the full list at

What are your favorite Alaska-themed kids' books? Tell us about them in the comments.


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