Baby Raven Reads book wins American Indian Library Association Award

Pictured: Baby Raven Reads book "Raven Makes the Aleutians".(Image: Sealaska Heritage Institute)

National awards honor “best of the best” in youth literature

News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) Baby Raven Reads book Raven Makes the Aleutians has won a Picture Book Honor award from the American Indian Library Association (AILA).

The American Indian Library Association, an affiliate of the American Library Association, announced winners of its biennial Youth Media Awards today in Philadelphia, calling the selected books “the best of the best in children’s and young adult literature.”

“There were more excellent books submitted than ever before, including some from major U.S. publishers,” said Lara Aase, 2020 chair of the American Indian Youth Literature Awards. “We chose books that appealed to the young readers we know, and we were thrilled to see writers address contemporary as well as historic and traditional topics.”

“All of us grapple with issues of identity; we are grateful to see authors and illustrators represent the myriad identities of young Indigenous readers,” Aase said.

Raven Makes the Aleutians, which was published in 2018, was adapted for children from the work of the late Nora and Dick Dauenhauer, who transcribed it from Tlingit storytellers Kaasgeìiy Susie James and Shaadaax’ Robert Zuboff’s oral accounts. Raven stories are complex, humorous and sometimes filled with raucous adventures, said Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl, who is Tlingit.

“Raven the Trickster is found in oral traditions throughout North America and elsewhere in the world and teaches people how to exist in society,” Worl said.

In Raven Makes the Aleutians, after the flood, Raven falls from the sky far out to sea, and he can’t get back to the mainland. With the help of a friendly sea otter, Raven comes up with a plan to reach the shore. Ultimately, Raven’s ingenuity leads to the creation of Alaska’s Aleutian Chain.

The story was brought to life by illustrator Janine Gibbons, who is Haida Raven of the Double-Finned Killer Whale clan, Brown Bear House. Gibbons said she felt tremendous pride upon hearing the news.

“There were many times during the process of illustrating Raven Makes the Aleutians that I felt my ancestors guiding me. This honor solidifies that they really were always there, that their spirits are alive and helping guide the way,” Gibbons said.

“Our ancestors prayed for this day when they walked the earth and when there were so few of us left. Like Raven created islands out of thoughts we each individually have the capability to change the world with vision, willpower and friends. The Baby Raven Reads program is living proof that together we can change the course of history through telling our stories.”

Janine Gibbons grew up in Petersburg and graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle as well as Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. In trying to find herself, she studied everything from education to philosophy to biology to religion but finally settled upon what she has been doing for her entire life, which is art. She finds artistic inspiration in the colors and patterns of nature and in the meticulous work of her Haida ancestors.

Raven Makes the Aleutians was also chosen for an annual “best-of-the-year” list for 2018 compiled by the nationally known literacy group The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), along with Raven and the Tide Lady, illustrated by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade, and Raven Loses His Nose, illustrated by Tsimshian artist David Lang.

About Baby Raven Reads

Sealaska Heritage sponsors Baby Raven Reads, an award-winning program that promotes early-literacy, language development and school readiness for Alaska Native families with children up to age 5. In 2017, Sealaska Heritage Institute received funding to expand the program from Juneau to nine other communities in Southeast Alaska, in partnership with Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) Head Start program.

Baby Raven Reads improves early literacy skills by translating cultural strengths into home literacy practices. Baby Raven Reads provides family literacy events, training for care providers and professional development for early childhood educators.

An evaluation by the McDowell Group found that parents or someone else in participants’ households read to children an average of 5.4 days per week, and more than 60 percent read from one-three hours.

The program also supports publication of the Baby Raven Reads series. The release of the series is considered 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. Since 2016, Sealaska Heritage Institute has published 25 Baby Raven Reads books that reflect the Native worldview. The books are given to families enrolled in the program and are also available through the Sealaska Heritage Store.

Baby Raven Reads was recognized in 2017 by the Library of Congress, which gave Sealaska Heritage Institute its 2017 Best Practice Honoree award. In February 2018, the American Indian Library Association gave Sealaska Heritage Institute's book Shanyaak'utlaax: Salmon Boy its American Indian Youth Literature Best Picture Book Award winner. Also in February 2018, Sealaska Heritage Institute.’s Baby Raven book How Devil’s Club Came to Be was reviewed by the American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) blog as a recommended title.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. Sealaska Heritage Institute 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 Artists Committee, and a Southeast Regional Language Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

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