Friday, July 21, 2017

Books for Teachers in Bush Alaska

Book: The Kids From Nowhere by George Guthridge
Summary: The author, George Guthridge, accepts a teaching job and moves his family to an island in the Bering Sea. The job comes with many issues: racism towards his family, lack of resources in the school, awful/unhelpful coworkers, and a million other little things. Despite all of his issues outside the classroom, Guthridge ends up creating a strong connection with his students. Eventually, he ends up successfully leading his students to win a national education competition.
Why I suggest this book: There aren't a lot of "modern" books that deal with teaching in rural Alaska. This book, while written in the '80's, deals with a lot of current issues that bush teachers face. The island that Guthridge teaches on has some particularly extreme issues, but it is still very relevant. The author also does a good job of speaking about the importance of culture in the school system, and he immerses himself in his communities cultural events, which I believe is important for all teachers in the Bush to do.

Book: Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Summary: This story jumps through the generations of an Inupiaq family who reside on a small island off of the coast of Alaska. The story opens with Nutaaq, a girl living in the early 1900's, and her family as they attend a trade fair in a neighboring village. Nutaaq's sister is married off to a Siberian man and taken back to Russia. Nutaaq remains behind with her family, but soon tragedy strikes when a plague comes to their village. After this, the story jumps forward and follows Blessing, a young female descendant of Nutaaq, who is living in Anchorage in the 1980's. Blessing is taken from her mother and placed in her grandmother's care. Her grandmother lives in the same village that Nutaaq once called home. The story then follows Blessing and her connection to her culture and ancestry.
Why I suggest this book: This book does a beautiful job at addressing the generational changes that have taken place within society. The book deals with issues that are extremely specific to Alaskan villages, and it is written by a woman who has lived her life above the Arctic Circle. The author does a great job of showing the Inupiaq culture in extremely rich detail. This book is beautifully written and I believe is a must-read for all teachers coming into schools in rural Alaska.

Book: 90 Below: Or, What Bush Alaska Taught Me About Drink, Destruction, and Survival by Eric Mack
Summary: This short story was written by an NPR contributor who moved to Alaska to start a career in radio. Mack's story opens with him at the bar and he recalls various events that transpire in his short time living in Galena, Alaska. The author details rough parties, local suicides,  and domestic violence. He also talks about the great friends he makes along the way and the ways that they have aided the direction his life took after leaving Galena.
Why I suggest this book: This book depicts bush living in a frank way, and does not shy away from   what life can be like in isolated places, particularly as an outsider looking in. I also think that it is important to note that Mack didn't stay long in Galena, which is often typical of bush teachers too, so I think that makes it an interesting insight. We often get stories from the successful teachers/people who loved bush life, Mack's story is kind of the opposite.

Book: One Man's Wilderness by Sam Keith
Summary: This book is essentially a compilation of the journals of Richard Proenneke, who built a cabin (by hand!) in Twin Lakes, which is an incredibly isolated wilderness area about a 30 minute flight from Port Alsworth, Alaska (Note: Port Alsworth is the location of one of my district's schools). Proenneke's journals detail his first 16 months off living in his remote cabin, totally isolated except for the rare visits by local pilot Babe Alsworth. Proenneke talks about building the cabin, providing his own food, handling dangerous wildlife situations, and many other unique Alaskan wilderness experiences.
Why I suggest this book: While this book may not seem like an obvious suggestion, it is a fantastic read. In fact, it is one of my favorite books of all time. I also think it gives a cool look at local history, flora, weather, and wildlife in this region of Alaska. Proenneke's descritptions paint a vivid picture of bush living, and also of the intense isolation of living alone in the wilderness.

Books about teaching/living in Alaska that are still on my to-read list:
Winds of the Skilak by Bonnie Rose Ward
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Shadows on the Koyukuk by Jim Rearden

Other notable/similar books that I've read and recommend: 
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Your turn...What are some of your favorite books about where you live?
Currently listening to...Wooly Mammoth - Local Natives


  1. Interesting picks. You should add some affiliate links to these too :).

    As for Michigan, hmm ... there are a lot of Michigan-based authors that I'm sure have written stories that take place here.

    1. I am trying to brainstorm some of my favorite Michigan authors and I'm drawing a blank...I'll have to think about that one too!

      Affiliate links are attached to the titles :)

  2. What an interesting list, I'll have to pick up one or two for my summer reading :)

    1. Thanks! One Man's Wilderness is one of my favorite books of all time, so I highly recommend that one.

  3. Great book list for those interested to discover Alaska, its people and culture. Reading about real places in fiction stories can be informative and helpful in knowing its roots and culture. Thanks for sharing, I'm inspired to list down books about my hometown.

    1. Totally agree! One Man's Wilderness and The Kids from Nowhere are both actually non-fiction books, so this list is kind of a mix. I wanted to include both. :)

  4. This looks like a great list. Thanks for sharing your expertise!


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