By Rosalyn Hope
Alaska is celebrating a number of anniversaries this year, including the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Cession, the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States on March 30, 1867, and the 75th anniversary of the construction of the Alaska Highway. In honor of this largest and most sparsely populated state of the union, below are some of my favorite books and DVDs about Alaska, aka The Land of the Midnight Sun, America’s Last Frontier and Seward’s Folly. For more materials on Alaska, visit the library website at www.anoka.lib.mn.us.
–“American Experience: Building the Alaska Highway” – After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and with the Japanese only 750 miles away from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Highway was conceived as a way to protect the United States from threats in the Pacific. Less than a year later on Nov. 20, 1942, 11,000 military engineers battling mud, mosquitoes and racism, in weather extremes ranging from 50 degrees below zero in the winter to summer temperatures in the 90s, accomplished something few thought possible: the completion of the 1,520-mile Alaska Highway. American Experience, the PBS documentary series, tells this story. WGBH Boston Video, 2005.
–“The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” by Michael Chabon – Michael Chabon imagines what would have happened if Israel had failed as a fledgling state and if, in 1948, the Jewish people had created a homeland instead in the Alaskan panhandle, namely the Federal District of Sitka. Sixty years later, Alaska wants its land back. The protagonist of our story, hapless homicide detective Meyer Landsman, is on the verge of divorce and a murder has just landed on his doorstep, literally. HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.
–“Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer – Alaska may be a good place to disappear but not always the easiest place to survive. In April 1992 Christopher Johnson McCandless hitchhiked to Alaska and was not heard from again. His corpse was discovered four months later. Jon Krakauer initially wrote about McCandless’s story for an issue of Outside magazine but because Krakauer was unable to let go of McCandless’s story, “Into The Wild” was born, Krakauer’s attempt to answer so many of the unanswered questions about McCandless’s life and his altruistic quest. Villard Books, 1996.
–“Whaling Season: A Year in the Life of an Arctic Whale Scientist” by Peter Lourie – John Craighead George, son of beloved children’s book author Jean Craighead George, lives in Barrow, Alaska, in order to study the bowhead whale year-round. He works closely with the Inupiaq, Native Alaskans also known as the People of the Whale, who have relied on the bowhead whale for centuries to survive the severe Arctic conditions. Peter Lourie’s gorgeous photographs illustrate whaling season as well as the beauty and harshness of life in the Arctic. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
–“Diamond Willow” by Helen Frost – Diamond Willow is a 12-year-old girl who is part Athabascan and part ordinary. Diamond loves and understands dogs better than other people and wants nothing more than to mush her family’s sled dogs on her first solo run to her grandparents’ cabin in a remote part of Alaska, with her favorite dog, Roxy, in the lead. Like diamond willow (willow trees with diamond shaped scars in the bark), most of this lyrical story is told in diamond shaped poems with the marrow of each poem embedded in darker ink. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
Rosalyn Hope is an outreach librarian with Anoka County Library’s Rum River Branch.