Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sweet Home Alaska

25489429Dagg, Carole Estby. Sweet Home Alaska. 
February 2nd 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Copy received from the publisher

In the grip of the Great Depression, Terpsichore's family is barely holding on in their small Wisconsin town. Her father has lost his job as a bookkeeper, and the family is quickly running out of food, relying on their garden and Terpsichore's skill in the kitchen. When her father finds out about FDR's plan to send families on relief to set up a settlement in Alaska, he is very excited and fills out the application. Her mother, however, is less than thrilled about moving out to the wilderness, and it isn't until one of the family's accepted backs out that the Johnsons are accepted. They pack up their household belongings, get on a ship, and set off. One of the first people she meets is Mendel, who is a veritable mine of esoteric information, but whom she finds a tiny bit overbearing and boring. He is a nice change from younger siblings Matthew, Cally, and Polly, so the two become friends after a fashion. When she starts school in her new community, Trip (whose hated nickname follows her) meets Gloria, who is a good substitute for her friend Eileen. The three classmates decide that what Palmer, their new community, needs is a library. Trip does a ton of work, asking her grandmother for books, getting supplies from Demco, and raising money for the library by washing diapers for a neighbor! Gloria and Mendel also turn their hands to fundraising, and before long the Palmer Library Action Committee has a selection of books as well as a couple of magazines which they store in the pastor's tent. After a particularly bad storm, the books are moved to the school building for safe keeping, and the children's contribution isn't recognized, causing some confusion and hard feelings. The situation is worked out, and Trip is able to turn her hand to pumpkin growing just in time for a community festival. Will her family be able to stay on in the new frontier, or will they be returning to the civilized world of Wisconsin?

I love historical novels where I learn things! I had no idea that Roosevelt had sent people to Alaska, along with a huge number of CCC workers who built homes, schools, and a hospital. Of course, there was no electricity at first, so Trip's mother has to leave her electric stove and isn't happy about it! Gloria isn't happy about the lack of movie magazines, although movies occasionally make it to the community. 

The details of daily life, both in Wisconsin and in Alaska, are nicely drawn. Trip's collection of books is particularly interesting, as is her processing of them with circulation cards and spine labels, and her excitement about getting a copy of the brand new Little House on the Prairie is very fun. There is a note in the back about the lack of indigenous Alaskan people-- apparently, sources from the time don't mention anything about them, and the author has not interpolated any communication between the two groups. 

Trip is an engaging character, and her enthusiasm for bringing her love for books to her neighbors is admirable. Sweet Home Alaska is a great addition to pioneering books like Larson's Hattie Big Sky, Hill's Bo of Iditarod Creek, or the Little House books that Trip 

Thanks to Nancy Paulsen books for sending me a copy and arranging for Carole to stop by today. I adored The Year We Were Famous, so here are some of Carole's travel tips!

dagg-home-portraitWhen my husband and I retired, we celebrated by booking an around the world, 90-day cruise. Don’t get too jealous. This was on the aging QE2 on her last world tour (leaking ceiling in the hall, broken air conditioning)  and we were in the cheapest inside cabin (no porthole, one bunk bed) located  next to crew members who partied all night. We had room for only one person to get dressed at a time, and we had to wear heavy slippers because the floor was hot from the engines right below us.

So what if the cabin was hot and cramped? We saw the world, and the only times we were in the cabin were to sleep, wash, and (for me) work on my first book, The Year We Were Famous.

Travel makes history real. We stood where the first Olympics were held in Greece, We crept into King Tut’s tomb, stood outside the fence where the last helicopters evacuated people desperate to leave VietNam as the war ended, climbed the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and rode a jeep in the Falkland Islands, where unexploded land mines still remained after the war, rounded Cape Horn like many a seafarer before us, had tea in Bath, England (the site of my favorite Jane Austen book) and peeped into Captain Cook’s cottage in Melbourne, Australia.

Growing up in the Western World, I felt the most history in Greece, but Cambodia left a strong impression too, because I didn’t know any of the history before we visited.

ODDEST: Here I am, on a camel among the Great Pyramids. My husband is in front of me, talking to one of the locals. What you can’t see in the picture is that Cairo population has spread far beyond its original footprint, and that just beyond a narrow stretch of sand and a busy road, there’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Be flexible. Try kippers or pickled herring for breakfast instead of Cheerios.
When it makes sense, ignore the itinerary you’d planned and  take advantage of whatever you discover on the way.
If you can find a shared language, talk to the locals. Learn at least a few polite phrases of the language.

Look for common ground as well as differences in the people you meet. 


  1. I would agree with you about the Giza Pyramids, it was so odd to literally see a KFC/Pizza Hut so close by. I also couldn't get over seeing people climb on the pyramids, although they aren't supposed to, some people still do. Sweet Home Alaska sounds like a very interesting slice of history, adding it to the TBR.

  2. There is so much interest in Alaska these days and it's great to see it reaching down into middle grade novels. This sounds wonderful. :)

  3. I already have this one on my radar and hope to get to it soon. It sure looks like a good one. Thanks for the post.

  4. Thank you for having me! We must be kindred spirits, because I used to read every book (with rare exception of the 10th in a series of sports books) that came into the library when I was a children's librarian too, clear back in the mid-1960's.