Nome author draws on real life for book
By Rob Stapleton
When Jim Magdanz took his son Reid on a river trip four years ago, little did he know or dream that their experiences would be the makings of a bedtime story for children all over America.
The 44-year-old Magdanz and artist Dianne Widom have teamed up to create the children's book Go Home, River. Magdanz calls the book "a learning story." The storyline is about an Iñupiaq boy's journey on a river and the cycle of water in our environment.
Magdanz, a well-known social science researcher and photojournalist, and an Internet buff, had originally used the tale of the river trip as bedtime story material for his sons Reid, 6, and Grant, 2.
The tale drew on the experiences shared by Magdanz and his son as they traveled up the Mauneluk River, a tributary of the Kobuk.
Throughout the writing experience, Magdanz said he drew a lot from his family. All the way from his parents who told him stories as a boy, to the inspiraton of the bedtime experience reading his sons to sleep, to the motivation behind actually writing the story.
Magdanz said his wife, Susan Georgette, was taking a children's literature course at the time. She was writing a story for the class and her assignment gave Magdanz the spark of an idea to sit down and write it out.
The original story was called "Where the River Begins." Written in third person, the story told about going up to the mountains and back to camp, using Reid and his Iñupiaq name as the boy in the story.
One night after telling the story, Magdanz said he sat down and put the entire thing in writing. He finished it at about 2 a.m.
"I changed it from the third to first person and cut the length in half. The water cycle came about in a subsequent revision," Magdanz remembers.
The local author is a little uneasy about writing a story from the point of view of a Native child. But Magdanz feels he has qualifications in his work and life that give him an insight into the lifestyle.
"In my work I write about traditional life and the lifestyle of the Iñupiaq. Whenever I travel to an old campsite or an archeological site, I always think about what life was like back then," Magdanz said.
The book, which took four years to produce, features illustrations done by Widom in octopus ink. Widom used Magdanz' skill as a photographer to help her with the illustrations.
Magdanz explains: "I shot eight rolls of film and sent them to Dianne, who needed something more to draw from than her memory. Magdanz used a model umiaq and five-year-old Amos Woods, a preschool friend of Reid, in the photographs.
Magdanz credits his family for their inspiration. "It is hard to teach a kindergartener about the water cycle," He said. "By telling a story, it makes it easier. Stories make life all that much more interesting." Magdanz' philosophy lives on in the pages of the book.
Magdanz and Widom will be available to sign books at the Arctic Trading Post in Nome from 4-7 p.m. Oct. 4. The Arctic Trading Post is hosting special children's readings at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Oct. 5.
© 1996 Alaska Newspapers Incorporated. Used by Permission.