Book Reviews–The Winter Walk and Two Old Women

The Winter Walk by Loretta Outwater Cox, published 2013, nonfiction, secondary students and older, winner of the Alaska Indigenous Literature Award

This is the true story, more than a century old, of Cox’s great-grandmother’s walk to survival with her two young children. Cox’s great-grandmother was Inupiaq, and the older of the two children was Cox’s grandfather, who lived because he told his mother, “Mama, I want to live.”

When you read this book, read all of the parts people usually skip; the acknowledgments, the map, the introduction, the prologue, the information about the unique caribou skin pattern which identifies the descendants of Qutuuq, Cox’s great-grandmother. Then, read the story.

The story is written as Alaskan natives tell stories, or give stories. You will notice this immediately, the difference in story styles of Alaskan natives and authors elsewhere. To me, it’s a quiet style, where even the tragic events are related in quietness. Reading it is like listening to the story. This story will broaden your knowledge and understanding of the Alaskan Natives, their lifestyle a century ago, and Alaska.

Cox also includes photographs and information about her ancestors in this book, and there is a discussion guide. The guide’s first question deals with Native and non-Native storytelling differences and generates discussion about oral storytelling and written storytelling.


Two Old Women by Velma Wallis, published 1993, twentieth anniversary edition published 2013, young adult through adult, winner of 1993 Western States Book Award & 1994 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award

Categorized as folklore, Two Old Women is a story passed from generation to generation, not in a written fashion, until this book, but as oral history, oral storytelling. To gain background, read the dedication, the acknowledgements, and the introduction.

Wallis’ mother told this story to her, remembered during their conversation about how the elders would keep busy until they died or could no longer move. Wallis grew up in an Athabaskan family with traditional Athabaskan values and ways of life.

What happens to these two elderly women, who are part of a starving Alaska Native group? Are they helped, or left? The story contains a lesson for the reader; you’ll have to read the story to discover this lesson.

Two Old Women is another book that will broaden your background knowledge about Alaska, Alaska Natives, and ways of life long ago. The people Wallis writes about are of the Gwich’in band, one of the eleven Athabaskan groups in Alaska.

The illustrator, Jim Grant, depicts accurate designs, scenes, and maps. He is also an Athabaskan native.