Former school librarian Janet Moore pens children’s novel

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 16:46
  • Moose, Baseball and a Friend Named Dutch was inspired by Moore’s years in Eagle River. It takes place in a fictitious school based on Ravenwood Elementary. Courtesy Photo
  • School librarian Janet Moore helps a student at Fire Lake Elementary in December 1985.

Ten-year-old Joe Baker is angry. He is being forced to leave home in Duluth, Minnesota, on short notice.  There’s not even time to see his baseball teammate and best friend, Tom, so Joe has to say goodbye in an email.

            “You were at camp,” he writes Tom. “Dad tried to call but we couldn’t find you. We are moving to Alaska.”

            So begins Joe’s adventure in the juvenile fiction book, Moose, Baseball and a Friend Named Dutch, by Janet Wykes Moore, published in April by Outskirts Press.

            Moore, a retired school librarian, spent almost three decades in Alaska after arriving in 1968, including a total of 16 years at Homestead, Fire Lake and Ravenwood Elementary Schools between 1980 and 1996. (“Valley View School,” where Joe becomes a student, is a fictitious version of Ravenwood.)

Moore committed herself to educating readers as she entertained them. In the book, Joe develops a fascination with moose and learns everything he can about them. He discovers the meanings of strange new words like “cheechako” and “sourdough.” Just as importantly, his intellectual curiosity sets a good example for readers.

“I think there’s nothing wrong with having a character that’s a good student and likes to learn,” Moore said in a recent telephone interview. “Sometimes his friends make fun of him, but they’re good kids, too.”

Yet Joe’s life isn’t all about learning. He makes friends with a kid named Dutch and does battle with the class bully. He struggles to find his place in the social structure of Valley View School as he pines for his old life in Minnesota.

Sharing an emotional landscape

Moore drew on her own experiences when creating Joe’s story. She, too, had to leave home in her youth. Born in South Africa, she relocated with her family to the U.S. at age 13, first to Long Island, New York for a year, and then to Minnesota.

 “That whole feeling about being reluctant to leave, that’s real,” she said. “I was angry at my parents all through high school.”

Like Joe, Moore bounced back.

She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. in 1961 and a second bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Minnesota in 1963. She taught school in state for four years before returning to the University of Minnesota for an M.A. in elementary education.

“I decided I just did not want to go back to my old job teaching fourth grade, so I applied all over the country,” she said. She landed a job teaching sixth grade at Mountain View School in Anchorage. Because her master’s degree included an emphasis in children’s literature, she was eligible to become a school librarian. She took the new position and never went back to the classroom.

“In every school I was at, every class was scheduled to come to the library once a week—even the year when Homestead had 900 kids as we waited for Ravenwood to open,” she said. With the older kids, “I tried to emphasize that the search was the important part, exploring every possible source, the asking of questions and looking for answers.”

In short, she fostered independent learning and created a place ideal for someone like Joe.

Ambassador for Alaska

Moore and her husband, Glen—whom she met her first week in Alaska—raised their children, Dan and Jenny, in a house on Second Street in Eagle River. Both are Chugiak High alums who went on to graduate from college.

“I feel like they got a very good education right there in Eagle River,” Moore said.

She and Glen retired to Weatherford, Oklahoma, in 1996, and Moore began giving presentations about Alaska to local school children. Through her interactions with them, she came to realize that many children Outside envision Alaska as 100 percent wilderness.

“Kids down here in Oklahoma think of Alaska as being just one big, snowy place,” she said. “I wanted to tell an urban story, one that’s not been told.”

            That’s why baseball figures so heavily in the book. Joe, who had planned to return to Duluth for the baseball season, ends up deciding to stay and play in Eagle River.

            Moore, who hopes to get back up here for a visit someday, will content herself with writing about Alaska and other places out of her home office in Weatherford. Over time, she has completed short stories, picture books and folk tales.

            “This is my only novel, but I’ve been thinking I might write another one, maybe even a sequel,” she said. “If not a sequel, maybe a girl story set in Alaska.”

Moose, Baseball and a Friend Named Dutch, published by Outskirts Press, is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com

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