Lily Rivera, 11, likes to invent other worlds. She lives in a setting that inspires her often: Adak Island in Alaska, home to the westernmost city in the United States and offering breathtaking views of the Bering Sea and the volcanic mountains. Another inspiration: books. “If I’m reading a book and I’m really into it, then I can see the characters doing whatever they do,” Lily said.
But for Lily and other children in remote parts of Alaska, getting new books is difficult and expensive. Everything must be airlifted in private or government-funded jets from Anchorage. This is true even in parts of the mainland, like the Yukon Delta, where there are no roads connecting local villages to the rest of Alaska. There, reading material is even rarer this year, due to closures caused by the pandemic.
That’s why two nonprofits, the Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission and First Book, worked with local leaders this fall to purchase 3,000 books and ship them to about 2,800 young readers across the state. Each book has been chosen especially for its readers by community leaders and educators. For example, John Lamont, a former teacher and superintendent, included books that would teach Indigenous students about their cultures, such as the one on Inuit Inventions (who are indigenous to Alaska, Canada, and the Arctic). “It boosts self-esteem to know that our people made a book out of it,” says Lamont, who is half Yup’ik Eskimo.
In Adak, the books arrived in October. Lily’s Favorite: “The Okay Witch” by Emma Steinkellner about a 13-year-old with special powers. Her 8-year-old sister Anna loved Katherine Applegate’s “The One and Only Bob”: “I don’t get a lot of new books,” Anna says – so when she does, “it’s really exciting. “
The payoff for completing their books was almost as exciting: a sleepover at school with Krispy Kreme donuts flown in from Anchorage. “It’s very difficult to have donuts here,” Lily said.
This article originally appeared in the New York Times for Kids. Find the section in the newspaper Sunday, December 26 and the last Sunday of each month.
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