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Book part of award-winning early literacy program 

October 30, 2017

(Baby Raven Books)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has published a new culturally-based children’s book through its award-winning Baby Raven Reads program.

The new book, Am’ala, is based on a traditional Tsimshian story about a young man who is teased by his brothers for being lazy and dirty. The young man trains secretly with a spirit and gains superhuman strength. He takes on warriors, animals, and even a mountain before facing his greatest challenge—the world itself. The story was adapted by Tlingit writer Frank Henry Kaash Katasse and illustrated by Tsimshian artist David Lang.

Am’ala also is the story illustrated in the monumental house front carved by Tsimshian artists David A. and David R. Boxley on display in SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building.

SHI will release the new book at a book signing with Katasse and Lang on Friday, Nov. 3, at the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau.

Am’ala is the eighteenth children’s book published through SHI’s Baby Raven Reads, a program for Alaska Native families with children up to age 5 that promotes early literacy, language development and school readiness. Baby Raven Reads was one of 15 programs in the world chosen for a 2017 Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program Best Practice Honoree award.

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.

In 2017, SHI received a grant from the Alaska Native Education Program to expand Baby Raven Reads to nine other communities. SHI—in partnership with Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) Head Start program—will offer the three-year program in Juneau, Angoon, Craig, Hoonah, Klawock, Petersburg, Saxman, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat through 2020.

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, Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116