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Two Alaska authors' works selected for National Book Festival

National Center for the Book
The Alaska Center for the Book has selected Seth Kantner's "A Thousand Trails Home: Living With Caribou" and Cindy Lou Aillaud's "Recess at 20 Below" to represent Alaska in this year's Library of Congress National Book Festival. The two works were submitted as part of the National Center for the Book's Great Reads from Great Places program, which solicits works from all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Alaska Center for the Book selects ‘unique, timely’ works

Two of Alaska’s best writers will be honored this weekend in Washington, D.C., as part of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. The annual event celebrates the nation’s best-selling authors, poets and illustrators.


Alaska’s contribution to this year’s National Book Festival includes Seth Kantner’s tribute to the land and its abundant wildlife that’s threatened by development and climate change; and Cindy Lou Aillaud’s children’s book about schoolkids who don’t let cold weather stop them from getting out on the playground.

Seth Kantner

“ ‘Recess at 20 Below’ is such a unique story,” says Sara Juday, co-president of the Alaska Center for the Book, whose board chose the two titles for the national event. Juday says Aillaud’s storytelling and photography about Alaskan kids playing outside during winter gives students elsewhere a glimpse of life in the far north.

“I think it really showcases what’s different about the state, and gives people this wonderful slice of life that not everybody gets to experience,” she said in an interview Thursday.

Juday says that sense of place also stands out in Kantner’s work, titled “A Thousand Trails Home: Living with Caribou.” She says his firsthand account of life in the wilds of Northwest Alaska is made even more compelling by his commentary on the need to protect the land and its wildlife from the twin threats of resource development and a warming climate.

“The timeliness of the subject, the connection to climate change, the attention to the changing lifestyles. … It captures a lot.”

Kantner says he’d heard his book had been selected for the book festival, but didn’t know much about the event.

“I’m pleased that somebody noticed my caribou book,” he said in an interview Monday. “ … I feel like my message about caring about the land and being tied to the land is an important one.”

Kiliii Yuyan
Kantner: “I’m pleased that somebody noticed my caribou book.”

A lead-in to an interview on says Kantner’s book “addresses his personal relationship with caribou and how caribou intertwine with Alaskan history, Iñupiat culture and the lives of people living in Northwest Alaska.”

Kantner is a commercial fisherman who splits his time between Kotzebue and his home on the Kobuk River. He’s also worked as an adjunct professor and wilderness guide.

Kantner grew up along the Kobuk hunting and fishing to subsist, and he says that lifestyle has informed his writing ever since he wrote his first book, “Ordinary Wolves,” published in 2004. He’s written four others since then, and is now working on what he calls a “tragi-comedy” about the place he calls home.

“I would like to write a fictional tale about the Northwest Arctic,” he said. “There’s a lot of change here and a lot of craziness, because of the crazy amount of change.”

Aillaud, the children’s book author, also drew from her own experience, as a school teacher, when she wrote “Recess at 20 Below.” And she’s advising kids to do that same so they can write about their thoughts and life experiences.

Aillaud: “I just hope to encourage young people to write their stories."

“I just hope to encourage young people to write their stories -- get those stories written down, because they’re important,” she said in an interview Monday.

Aillaud is a longtime educator who lives in Delta Junction. She retired from teaching 15 years ago, but returned to job a couple of years later. So, she now serves as a reading interventionist for the district, “to help kids who were struggling with reading, especially after the pandemic.”

Aillaud also writes about education. Her work includes collaborating on a book for vision-impaired children titled “Everybody Plays: How Kids with Visual Impairment Play Sports.”

“We wrote the story together and I took photographs, and I donated it to the American Publishing House for the Blind,” she said.

Aillaud says she’s got more projects in mind, along with traveling and keeping up with her grandkids.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.