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Children’s book about Alaska puts literary sisters on the writing map

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Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012 12:16 am

FAIRBANKS — Three sisters with strong Alaska ties might just be the next big thing in the world of children’s books.

Claudia Lively, Holly Olsen and Elizabeth Hissem, who were all raised in North Pole and graduated from North Pole High School, are finding their literary niche with the second release of their Vole Family series, “The Vole Family in Summer: When the Midnight Sun Stays out to Play.” The colorfully illustrated book follows a family of voles as Papa Vole leads them on an outdoors adventure across Alaska under the midnight sun. As they go on hikes and cross rivers, they encounter moose, bears, porcupines and salmon and participate in blanket tosses, gold panning and baseball games at midnight courtesy of the 24-hour daylight. The first book in the series, “The Vole Family In Winter: When the Northern Lights Come out to Play,” was published in 2008, and since then the Vole Family has taken off with readers eager for a look at Alaska.

“Some people send it Outside for gifts, and it’s getting a good reaction,” Lively said. “I’ve met lots of people who say they have it in their homes, and I’m getting lots of good public input.”

The first book, the winter story, came into being after Lively wrote a poem about life in Alaska. Olsen added a line to the poem, Lively added another line, and from there, the storyline evolved from poem to children’s book. Lively and Olsen handle the writing with Hissem taking on the role as illustrator. Because of geographical differences — Lively lives in Fairbanks, Olsen lives in Iowa and Hissem lives in Whitehorse, Yukon — the three regularly communicate via Skype to pitch story ideas and art projects for the Vole Family’s outings.

“It’s hard to get together in person, so there’s lots of online meetings,” Lively said. “There’s lots of talking about what will work, what won’t work.”

After the first book was written, the sisters found an Anchorage publishing firm that works with Alaska authors. After the initial printing, the storyline took off for the trio. Five books are planned in all for the Vole Family adventures, with the final three being the family’s adventures in the fall, the spring and while on vacation. The book includes a glossary of terms unique to life in Alaska as well as a “Did You Know” explanatory guide about Alaska wildlife.

Lively, who has been making the rounds in Fairbanks hosting numerous book signings, said the biggest comment she hears is readers inquiring about the winter version. “Because we’re in the heart of winter now, people are asking for the winter book yet I’m out signing the summer book. It’s still been a blast.”

Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504.

Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMfeatures.

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