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Betty and Teri at a book signing

Berry Magic Dolls


Berry Magic
written by Teri Sloat and Betty Huffmon, illustrated by Teri Sloat
Alaska Northwest, 2004


Ben Franklin Silver Medal
Kirkus Starred Review
First Alaskans Program
Reading at Smithsonian

School Library Journal: This charming pourquoia tale tells of an Eskimo girl and her magic. Listening to the older women complain as they pick the hard, dry crowberries, Anana thinks up a plan to give them pleasure. She sews four dolls, each with a different color pelatuuk, or head scarf. After carrying them to the hills, she sings a special song and dances, transforming each doll into a berry girl who speckles the fields with cranberries, blueberries, raspberries and salmonberries. Done in a palette of deep, earthy hues, ethereal blues, and bright highlights, Sloat’s pictures are vibrant and engaging, befitting the land of the northern lights. The rich language enlightens readers to different elements of the Eskimo culture such as reindeer-skin bags, muskrat parkas, and the “ice cream” called akutaq. Delightful, playful and beautifully written.

About the Book (from Native People's Magazine)

BERRY MAGIC was a very short story told out loud to Yup’ik children to explain the origin of berries. Just one paragraph long, it went something like this:

A mother was sitting on the tundra sorting out the greens that were stored in a barrel. She had four noisy little girls running circles around her so she sent them off to the top of a small hill to play. When the first little girl got to the top of the hill she jumped off ….and turned into cranberries. The second little girl jumped off and turned into blueberries. The third little girl jumped further and turned into salmonberries. The last little girl jumped beyond the rest and turned into the sweet juicy raspberries.

Everyone has heard different versions of the story. Betty Huffmon grew up with the story and I heard it while living out in the delta villages. Even though the story was too short for a book, it provided a set of pictures in our mind that would not go away. So we created a story around it. Anana would be the good shaman that is just waiting to do some good magic.
Betty had her grandmother’s sewing bag on a shelf in her closet. Inside the bag we found all the things we needed for ideas of how to make the dolls in the story. We gave her a dance to do and Betty created the chant to go with the dance. We wanted something very simple that readers could say themselves even if they didn’t speak Yup’ik.. The dance fans that I had in the villages are a lot like Anana’s. They are made from reindeer hair with snowy owl feahers bound to the edges of the fan.

I had great fun with the illustrations for the book. Her parka is not just like Betty’s parka, or like the up-river parka that I used to wear.. It is imaginary, The reindeer skin bag is very much like Betty’s grandmother’s sewing bag. Going through all the items in the sewing bag was a step back in time, but it was also full of things currently used. Some of the items we found were rolled up seal intestine, sinew sewing thread, a pouch of reindeer hair, reindeer skin, seal skin, commercially tanned rabbit skin, muskrat skin, Russian trade beads and the ivory forms for making dolls from a long time ago.

About Collaborating

Betty and I are similar in so many ways, but we are from two different cultures and two different ages. Our styles of writing are different even while we are telling the same story. If you have ever written a story with someone else you know that it is great fun but that you have to work to find a way to say things that pleases both of you, feels right to both of you, yet tells a story to others. For Betty the story we tell has to feel right to her culture and the words chosen in English do not always mean the same to both of us. It took several years of meetings to finish the story, but we are both happy with it. We hope you like it as much as we do. Betty is 86, and we have one more story to finish.

For Northern Readers: Betty and I have shared another goal, along with Helen Morris and Tricia Brown, formerly of Alaska Northwest Books. The goal was to provide translations of high quality trade books into northern indigenous languages. It has been a 30 year effort, and finally it has become a reality. It is a generous move on the part of the publisher to see people across the north share their stories with each other and the rest of the world in English, but to have those stories available in their own languages as well .

(From Native Peoples Magazine’s ‘On The Wind”) Alaska Northwest Books, an imprint of Graphic Arts Center Publishing, has begun releasing a new line of children’s books in Native Alaskan languages. The books will be provided at low cost to Alaskan Schools, Alaskan Native villages and organizations. First out in May, was Berry Magic, a 32 page picture book by Teri Sloat and Yup’ik Eskimo storyteller, Betty Huffmon.

We are happy to say there are many other titles available now, not only to Alaskan groups but open to groups sharing similar stories throughout the north. Among the other titiles are The Eye of the Needle, (see Book Gallery) and The Hungry Giant of the Tundra, (see Book Gallery).

Teacher Activities Guide (click pdf icon below)

© Teri Sloat 2006