Inside the Creation of the First Denaakk’e Language Digital Book


By Kerry Boyd, Superintendent, Yukon-Koyukuk School District

Tobaan Utsuh, an interactive digital picture book adapted from an original Athabaskan legend.

During two days in February, 37 students, teachers and elders gathered at Allakaket school to participate in a digital publishing workshop that resulted in the creation of Tobaan Utsuh, a digital picture book adapted from a traditional Athabaskan legend that goes back for generations. Tobaan Utsuh, was originally an oral story, and now for the first time the story has been captured into a modern digital format that can be easily shared for everyone to enjoy.

The digital book is the first of its kind to incorporate written and spoken Denaakk’e language and culture, targeting elementary-aged students. It contains numerous interactive “touch zones” that, when tapped, trigger audio translations and sounds of story characters and objects.

Allakaket school principal Larry Parker and elder Irene “Hogetnolno” Henry observe a student creating a book page background illustration.

The workshop, facilitated by AASB’s Consortium for Digital Learning (CDL), began by leading students and teachers through the process of creating a storyboard outlining the text and illustrations for each page. Using art supplies, students in grades K-12 then created page illustrations. Every grade level had an important role in the development of the book. The primary students created the water and sky, the upper elementary worked on the tree bark and pictures, and the middle school students drew the pictures of the animals and helped make the sounds of the animals.

Susan Paskvan, Native Language Coordinator for Yukon-Koyukuk School District works from a storyboard on the back wall to assist students in creating page illustrations for the book.

Creating the book took two and a half days; one day to complete the majority of the artwork, and another day to record and organize the narration. Audio narration and translations of story objects in the Denaakk’e language were recorded by students and elders. To add additional context to the story, the book also incorporates video clips of local elder Irene “Hogetnolno” Henry. On the third day, students were taught how to use the Book Creator app that will allow them to create their own books.

Superintendent Kerry Boyd and teacher David Fields provide encouragement to a student creating page illustrations for the Tobaan Utsuh story.

The Allakaket students were motivated by the assignment of creating a digital book because it had value outside of the classroom. Using the approach of digital learning to teach writing engaged them because it is educationally meaningful and the students are encouraged when they see that their effort has value to their parents, elders and their classmates.

Students use a laptop to create audio sound effects that will be incorporated into the digital storybook as interactive touch zones that trigger Denaakk’e language word translations, and sounds of story characters and objects.

In today’s world, we are all surrounded by technology, so we need to embrace and it help our children utilize it in a productive manner. Teaching students to create digital content is an essential skill, and enabling them to publish their writing for others to experience is rewarding on many levels.

AASB facilitated the entire process and made it very simple for the students to be successful with their first attempt of creating a digital book. YKSD is now confident that we can create additional digital books as school projects in all of our communities. The entire school had a lot of fun learning and we plan on doing this again.

Principal Larry Parker with students creating page art for the Tobaan Utsuh digital storybook.

The project was the result of the Allakaket Community School Committee’s goal for the inclusion and implementation of local, culturally responsive activities for all grades that can be incorporated into the curriculum and instructional materials for the school. The digital book project was initiated by Allakaket school Principal Larry Parker and Superintendent Kerry Boyd. The completed digital book was developed in-house by CDL staff and distributed within the Yukon-Koyukuk School District. I would personally like to thank AASB for all their support and expertise leading us through the entire process.

Download a free copy of Tobaan Utsuh to your Mac computer, iPad or iPhone.

Interested in creating interactive digital books for your school or district? AASB’s Consortium for Digital Learning can facilitate a digital publishing workshop in your community. Contact Us


The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.