Excellent picture books introduce kids to Alaska’s wonders

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By Debbie Miller

Illustrations by Jon Van Zyle

Walker & Co., 2006


Kids are fascinated by the animal life in Alaska, and author Debbie Miller, in her 10th children’s book, “Big Alaska: Journey Across America’s Most Amazing State,” has taken that fascination and run with it. Or rather, soared.

Because the main character in this unique children’s book is a bald eagle, who flies across the state, leading readers on a fascinating trip into what makes the 49th state so remarkable. From Admiralty Island, where there is the largest concentration of bald eagle nests, to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the largest in North America, and all letters of the alphabet in between, this eagle covers mountains, streams, lakes, glaciers, and islands, introducing young readers to grizzly bears, Chinook salmon, walrus, Kodiak brown bears, muskoxen, wolves, and sled dogs.

“Big Alaska” was inspired by Miller’s experiences with Everett, a stuffed bald eagle that has traveled all around the world. Everett is the mascot of a fourth-grade class in Chicago, who journeys throughout the world and sends reports, cards, letters and photos back to his classroom, a sort-of Flat Stanley in plush.

He visited Miller and her family, sharing adventures in skiing, mushing, sledding, and a visit to Denali National Park and Preserve, flying over Mount McKinley in a Super Cub to get an “eagle-eye” view of the tallest mountain in North America.

In addition to the gorgeous illustrations by Jon Van Zyle, collaborating on his eighth book with Miller, the book includes a lot of facts about “The Last Frontier,” in easy-to-take doses so kids are learning while enjoying the eagle’s flight. Miller includes geography, biology, Athabascan culture, animal facts, and state statistics, packing a ton of fascinating information in a highly readable, enjoyable book.


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By Laurie C. Tye

Illustrations by Thomas D. Mangelsen

WestWinds Press, 2005

For ages 3 to 6


Laurie C. Tye uses animals to help children understand their emotions and feelings. In “The Animal in Me is Very Plain to See,” Tye assigns animals to common feelings. Hunger is a grizzly bear, anger is a lion, sadness is “a dark brown bison standing alone in a white storm.”

Along with the photographs and hoof- and pawprint graphics, bright colors, big type, and simple words, the book reads simply and easily, like a bedtime lullaby. The prose, while simple, not only introduces children to animals and emotions, but with its simile style, gets them ready for more complicated reading. The softcover book is composed of thick pages, easy for little hands to grip, and the pictures are breathtaking.

Mangelsen is an experienced wildlife photographer, having spent a lifetime capturing Nature in his lens. Tye has a degree in education, spending her days teaching and interpreting for the deaf, as well as writing.


“Moose Village Alaska”

By Mike Conley

Illustrated by Ric Estrada and Marc Estrada

Moose Kids Publishing Co. (2005)


Kids like colorful pictures, so Mike Conley’s “Moose Village Alaska” will delight youngsters ages 1 through 3. It’s the story of Little Moe, a young moose who wants to play outside in his wintry playground on the Yukon River but must do his chores first.

Little Moe must follow Mama Moose’s instructions before he can join his friends, Mattie Moose and Buddy Beaver, ice skating, snowboarding, and sledding.

The words are simple; the drawings, clean and sharp with bright colors, will attract the attention of children being read to and the eyes of those just starting to read.

Conley’s moose are anthropomorphic, more people than animals, and the author’s notes on the back explain: “He (Conley) developed a respect and reverence for moose, and unlike many longtime Alaskans, has never shot one.”

The art was done by father and son team Ric Estrada and Marc Estrada of Utah. Ric does line drawings with a black fine line marker, and son Marc fills in the color using Adobe Photoshop. The Conley-Estrada-Estrada collaboration began when Conley read an article about Ric in a Utah newspaper.