Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin created buzz during her VP debate by shouting out to third-graders in her brother’s class at Gladys Wood Elementary, just down the street from my house. Was it cute? Silly? Hometowny? Hillbilly?

We won’t decide that here. Instead, as guest blogger for Andromeda, I want to shine the spotlight for a moment or two on some of the fine Alaskan writers and illustrators who shout out daily to young readers around the world.

As a children’s writer, I love hearing reports like that of a grandson in Denmark who wants Under Alaska’s Midnight Sun read to him every night. Readability, that perfect union of sound and story, is hallmark of every successful picture book, coupled with riveting illustrations. In picture books, every word packs a punch. Pages must turn in pleasing, predictable, and steady rhythm. Among the plethora of Alaskan picture books on the market, wordiness is one of the biggest flaws.

Alaska’s chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, founded by talented and prolific Nancy White Carlstrom, has done much to promote good children’s books in our state. Now under the leadership of energetic children’s writer and teacher Cherie Stihler, this organization sponsors conferences, monthly gatherings, and occasional visits with editors so Alaskan writers and artists can showcase their work.

Children don’t typically buy their own books, so writers for kids are also writing for parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who open their wallets on behalf of the younger set. Regional publishers like Sasquatch Books, which acquired the Paws IV imprint from Shelley Gill and Shannon Cartwright several years ago, market specifically to the millions of book buyers who visit our state every year. New York publishers aren’t set up to target that market, which is why I began publishing with Sasquatch in 2004.

That’s not to say New York has ignored Alaskan picture book authors. Shelly Gill now publishes with Charlesbridge, and Fairbanks author Debbie Miller has a great East Coast track record with non-fiction, nature-oriented picture books, not to mention a phenomenal schedule of school visits. And no discussion of Alaskan picture books would be complete without mention of Chronicle Books’ classic Mama, Do You Love Me?, written by Barbara Joosse and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, though it should be noted that Chronicle, of San Francisco, is technically a Left Coast publisher.

Whew. There’s lots to say about these short but powerful books that offer many kids their first peek at a truly amazing place. And we’ve only skimmed the surface of what’s happening with picture books for the under-eight read-aloud set. Next week, I’ll be back with thoughts on Alaskan books for “older young readers .”

Guest blogger Deb Vanasse is the author of several books for children, including Totem Tale and Amazing Alaska (2009). Blogging at, she’s scheming with Andromeda on ways to join forces.


  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thanks for your guest-blog, Deb! I’m eager to know more about the children’s (and YA) genre and am thrilled to have you writing about those subjects here. As a parent, I was often asked to read MANY longwinded picture books to my kids. I completely agree that the right blend of few words and perfect rhythm is essential.

  2. I have to agree with you. I am not going to buy a kid’s book unless the book looks appealing to me- rich in color and a good story line. A great colorful book that I just picked up that I think had all of these qualities is, “A Day with My Dad,” by Lance Waite. The storyline is great too- a story about a little girl getting to spend the day with her dad. I bought it because I liked it, and am happy because my kids love it too.

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