Lily Rivera, 11, likes to invent other worlds. She lives in a setting that often inspires her: Alaska’s Adak Island, which is home to the westernmost town in the United States and has sweeping views of the Bering Sea and volcanic mountains. Another inspiration: books. “If I’m reading a book, and I’m really into it, then I can actually see the characters go and do all the things that they’re doing,” Lily says.
But for Lily and other kids in remote areas of Alaska, getting new books is difficult and expensive. Everything has to be flown in on private or government-funded planes from Anchorage. That’s true even in some areas on the mainland, like the Yukon Delta, where there are no roads connecting local villages to the rest of Alaska. There, reading material is even scarcer this year, because of shutdowns 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 buy 3,000 books and ship them to around 2,800 young readers across the state. Each book was chosen especially for its readers by community leaders and educators. For instance, John Lamont, a former teacher and superintendent, included books that would teach Indigenous students about their cultures, like one about inventions by the Inuit (who are indigenous to Alaska, Canada and the Arctic). “It builds self-esteem to know that our people made it into a book,” 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 “The One and Only Bob,” by Katherine Applegate: “I don’t get a new book that much,’’ Anna says — so when she does, ‘‘it’s really exciting.”
Almost as exciting was the reward for finishing their books: a pajama party at school with Krispy Kreme doughnuts flown in from Anchorage. ‘‘It’s very hard to get doughnuts here,’’ Lily says.
This article was originally published in The New York Times for Kids. Find the section in the paper Sunday, Dec. 26, and on the last Sunday of every month.