In the Stacks: New Alaskana

New Alaskana at the public libraries in honor of Alaska Book Week!


“That Fiend in Hell”: Soapy Smith in Legend, by Catherine Holder Spude.

We all know about Soapy Smith, Skagway’s legendary Gold Rush crime boss, killed by a vigilante intent on justice. Smith’s death ended the criminal stranglehold on Skagway, making it safe again for travelers and returning miners alike. Or did it? Was Smith the crime kingpin he’s been made out to be? Spude says no: that the conscious and subconscious building-up of Smith’s life and death served Skagway’s economic purposes at the time. Her research goes deep, showing that the charming Jefferson Randolph Smith was probably neither as philanthropic nor as dastardly as his Old West legend has made him out to be, but she goes further, examining how and why legends are created.

“Colony Kids: Adventures of the First Year in Alaska,” by Heather Cooper Lehe.

If Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pa had lived during the Great Depression, Little House on the Prairie would probably have been set in the Matanuska Valley. Though written for chapter book readers, adults will enjoy the kid’s eye view of the events that led to the farming communities that dot the Valley today. In 1935, faced with too many farmers needing too much help, the US government held a land lottery, and fifth-grader Paul’s family gets chosen to be one of the 202 families awarded land and transportation to Alaska. Though he’s faced with leaving nearly everything they knows behind, Paul and his sisters are still excited to be going. But that first year of living in a tent, clearing land, and learning about the differences between Minnesota and Alaska are tough and not all the colonists stay. This is a fictionalized account of the Matanuska colonies during 1935-36 is drawn from true stories told by Lehe’s friends and neighbors in the Matanuska Valley.

“World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska,” by Charles M. Mobley.

After the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands in June of 1942, taking the residents of Attu away to Japan (see Attu Boy, below), the US government evacuated the remaining islands and sent the population south to relocation camps. There have been many books published about the Aleuts’ experiences during the war, but few focus on the historical sites of their relocation. Using maps, archival materials and photographs, and oral histories, Mobley has pinned down the six camp sites from Funter Bay to Ward Lake, and documented what remains. Some have disintegrated into near-nothing while others have become private property and are cared for by those with a sense of history, and some cemeteries have even been reconsecrated. Heavy with archival and current photographs and plenty of oral histories to put things in context, this is a one-of-a-kind book about a past whose physical remains are quickly disappearing.

“Attu Boy,” by Nick Golodoff.

When Golodoff was 6 years old, the Japanese arrived on Attu. After several months of living with the Attuans in relative peace, the Japanese soldiers loaded the villagers up and took them away to Hokkaido Island, where they lived in a POW camp. Three years later, the war was over and the remaining residents were returned, via Manila, San Francisco, and Seattle, to Alaska, but not to Attu, which had been bombed. Many of the original 40 people to be taken to Japan died there and only 24 returned to the United States. The framework is Golodoff’s tale of his experiences as a child, and it’s supplemented by the oral histories of other residents, many of whom, like Golodoff, settled in Atka. A preface by his granddaughter, Brenda Maly, reminds readers who might be impatient for hard facts that these are a child’s memories tempered by time, and adds that although she did her best to verify dates, names, and events, some of the information was not released by the Japanese government. Filled with photos that bring the story to life, this is fascinating reading.


There’s lots going on this week. Tonight (Oct. 10) join library staff in welcoming author and professor Ernestine Hayes to the Downtown Library at 5:30 p.m., where she’ll be talking about her new book, Juneau.

Want help finding the resources your kids need for school? Join library staff on Friday, Oct. 11 at the Valley Library at noon for an in-depth look at what the library has to offer and how to best make it work for you. All ages welcome, but the focus will be on resources for school-age kids.

And – don’t miss this month’s Family Movie Afternoon, this Sunday, Oct. 13, at the Douglas Library at 3 p.m.

Finally, this is the last week for the bookmark contest! Pick up applications at any public library (or see the information here for printable applications: Contest closes Oct. 15.

For more information, visit or call 586-5249.


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Margaret Brady Fund scholarship applications now accepted

Area students pursuing artistic excellence may apply for scholarships as part of the Margaret Frans Brady Fund.

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