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Glimpse Into the World of an Aleut Boy

Share It's Alaska as you've probably never seen it before It's Salmon Summer, a new Bruce McMillan book that explores -- in words and wondrous photos -- an Alaskan way of life.

Salmon Summer Book Cover

Writer-photographer Bruce McMillan has done it again. This time McMillan has created Salmon Summer, a glance into the culture of an Aleut family in Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Macmillan introduces readers to nine-year-old Alex Shugak. Alex and his family have moved to their summer fishing camp at Moser Bay from their rest-of-the-year home in the village of Old Harbor. As the book opens, Alex is chomping away at his favorite snack, a chewy dried fish called tamuuq (tah - MOHK).

Readers will learn much about Alex's life in Moser Bay.

Settled into camp, Alex and his family will fish away the summer -- just as their ancestors before them did. It will be a summer of hard work as the family catches the fish that will be an important part of their diet the balance of the year. But there'll also be plenty of fish to share with the village neighbors who are too old to fish.

Evidence abounds of Alex's respect for the nature that surrounds him. As the youngster cuts away at a just-caught salmon -- using a knife passed down to him from his grandmother's uncle -- he purposely leaves behind scraps for magpies, gulls, and foxes to scavenge. Salmon are also a major food source for the eagles and Kodiak bears that make their homes in Moser Bay.

Readers follow Alex as he fishes for the perfect salmon. The young boy need only toss his line into the water to catch a fish. Indeed, the waters are so dense with salmon that Alex often hooks the body of one on his cast! He casts and casts until he catches a humpy (pink) salmon. It's the humpy salmon's flesh that he'll use as bait to catch halibut. Halibut, after all, is the fish that is dried to make Alex's favorite tamuuq, a snack enjoyed for generations by his ancestors. Soon Alex has his prize, a halibut almost as big as he is! But even this halibut is small by halibut standards. Halibut can grow as big as 400 pounds!

Alex is the star of Salmon Summer, but top billing is shared by McMillan's spectacular photo images. As crystal clear as the waters of Moser Bay, the photographs -- taken by McMillan in July and August 1996 -- capture all the natural beauty of Kodiak Island. Every aspect of Alex's day is caught on film too, providing readers with a genuine glimpse into a way of life. We see Alex reveling in his tamuuq snack, helping his dad pull in the gill netting they'd set, pulling a crab out of the family's crab pot, and holding up his prize halibut. McMillan also captures a fox, a bear, and an eagle -- all residents, with the Shaguk's, of Moser Bay!

McMillan's photos are beautiful but, more than that, they provide readers with vast amounts of information. One photo shows Alex displaying, from smallest to largest, the humpy (pink), red (sockeye), silver, and dog salmon that the family catches. Other photos show salmon as it cleaned, hung out to dry, smoked, and cured. Finally, we see Alex's little brother, Larry, tear off a chunk of smoked salmon to eat!

In addition to Salmon Summer's photos and text, McMillan also provides a glossary of terms and a few closing notes about Alex's heritage. Alex's name, McMillan points out, reflects the history of Kodiak Island. His last name, Shugak, is an Alaska Native name. His first name reflects the island's Russian history. In 1784, the Russians established the first permanent settlement in Alaska on Kodiak Island. Eighty-five years later, the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians.

Salmon Summer is a perfect addition to any classroom study of Alaska and its people. It's written for students in grades 2-4, but readers of any age will learn something new from McMillan's informative photos and text.

Salmon Summer, written and photo-illustrated by Bruce McMillan, is published by Houghton Mifflin Company (1998). Salmon Summer is available at bookstores. If you are unable to locate a copy, ask your local bookseller to order one for you.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World