Outside of bookstores, I’m not much of a shopper. The kids know that Dad is the one who takes them to the mall to wander around shopping and I take them only for one specific item, barking “we’re in a hurry, try this on, meet me at the cash register.” The exception is when we are on vacation. The first year the kids were old enough to realize this vacation transformation, they were shocked as I stopped in every little store on a twisted alley in Santorini trying on clothes and bargaining for art. My son said “Mom’s lost her mind.”
So, as we cruised from one port to another in Alaska last week, I was disappointed to find the streets lined with jewelry stores. Jewelry, in Alaska? I don’t know a lot about shopping for jewelry, but when I think of diamonds Juneau doesn’t pop straight to the front of my brain. Nevertheless, the streets were packed as our boat with 4,000 people joined two other floating cities. Luckily, I had done my research, and I knew where to escape the madness, Hearthside Books & Toys downtown by the clock.
We had about an hour between visiting dogs on a glacier and heading out to look for humpback whales, so we dashed to Hearthside and entered what I believe was closer to the Juneau community than store after store of shiny bling. Hearthside permeates a golden color due to the walls and bookshelves, but it stood out more in stark contrast to the grey cloud covered streets and surrounding mountains. It was bustling (more so than many of the jewelry stores, yahoo!) with tourists looking at books and cards. It is fairly small with the front section featuring books on Alaska and the wilderness, including books written by local authors. A raised platform area contained fiction that appeared to cater to the tourist trade, many were vacation reads. There was a nice sized children’s section with toys, my teenager laughed through Peter and the Cruise Ship by Hans Mateboer, if I had a 5 year-old on my Christmas list, I would have snapped it up.
I had fun talking with Darlene, a long time resident of Juneau who worked at Hearthside. I was looking for another book on the Southeast section of Alaska. I had read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, several of Muir’s essays on the area and John McPhee‘s excellent book Coming into the Country, but realized I was getting more of a feel for the northern sections of Alaska. She had several suggestions, but what struck me was Blonde Indian, An Alaska Native Memoir by Ernistine Hayes. It’s a memoir by a local Native American woman interwoven with Tlingit oral history. I found that most of the books on Alaska are from the point of view of white people, men for that matter, who have well written observations of the Native Americans, but the joy of reading is experiencing a different point of view. Blonde Indian gave me that insight.
Back at home, I checked on their website and found a whole section on the “Battle of the Books.” I had never heard of it, but discovered it’s a non-profit program run nationwide where kids grades 3 through 12 read a list of books and then participate in a family feud style competition. Hearthside provides a list of the books for each grade level and sells them to the participants. I’m forwarding the information for the competition to our school librarian and a few teachers I know. Check it out.