Tlingit author and American Book Award recipient Ernestine Hayes wanted to write a children’s book that would be relevant to children in Southeast Alaska. Rather than the tales of farm animals she grew up with, she wanted to create a story that Alaskan children could directly relate to. The story she came up with, “The Story of the Town Bear and the Country Bear” fit the bill nicely. Mirroring the storyline of “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse” the book touches on questions of identity, relationship to place and relationship to others.
When Hayes decided to translate the book into Tlingit, though, she ran into some difficulties. What is an author to do when the language she is translating her children’s book into has no words for “car,” “bear-proof garbage can,” “bird feeder,” or “hamburger”?
Drawing on help from linguists and elders, Hayes translated the book from English to Tlingit. She then used that translation to re-translate the book back into English. The result made for a a more nuanced and compelling version of the text.
The book has been acclaimed internationally- and more importantly, locally. A grant from the Association of Alaska School Boards’s Initiative for Community Engagement has helped put the book, along with an accompanying audiobook read by native Tlingit speakers, in a number of classrooms in Southeast Alaska. It is also available for purchase here.