Naomi Gaede-Penner was a preschooler when her father, a doctor who had been raised a Kansas farm boy, and her mother, also a Kansas farm girl from the Peabody area, first moved their family to Alaska to pursue a life of providing medicine to underserved areas. In her book, Gaede-Penner tells her family’s true story as a young Mennonite girl transplanted from the flatland prairies of Kansas to a life of Alaska village potlatches, school in a Quonset hut, the fragrance of wood smoke, and Native friends.

Add to the mixture, her father who creates hunting tales and medical adventures with a bush plane, a mother who makes the tastiest moose roasts and has the grit to be a homesteader, thow in a batch of siblings who always keep things interesting and you have a book that keeps you reading. Mixed in with the exotic locale of the Alaskan bush are many everyday activities and experiences that will be familiar to anyone growing up in the 1950s and 1960s as the Gaede children played, learned and experienced a family that grew up with a door always open — to a neighbor, friend or patient in need of a place to stay — or to a new experience as they moved to several places in Alaska, worked with Native Americans in Montana, lived near her father’s family in California and, ultimately, homesteaded in Alaska, ending the many moves that marked the children’s early lives.

Using letters sent by her parents to their families during this time period and the memories of herself and her siblings, Gaede-Penner weaves a tale that provides a fun read filled with many details of living in an area that didn’t become a state until 1959. Mixed in with stories of her father’s adventures flying his plane into the bush, hunting moose and dealing with medical emergencies in rudimentary facilities and her mother making due with the things on hand to make a home for the family of six, are stories of growing up with a strong sense of family and her Mennonite heritage and how those things affected Gaede’s childhood and response to her surroundings. Even though they were often living in an area that could be described as wilderness — where powdered milk and eggs were all that were available and moose roast was the norm rather than the beef or pork of their Kansas roots — the family continued to value their heritage and the role of family and faith which remains important to the siblings today.

“We come to Alaska for different reasons — jobs, love, adventure, a new start — or because we’re born here. We stay because we find what we’re looking for in short: home. Home is a sense of fitting in, a feeling rather than a structure of wood and shingles,” Gaede-Penner says. For the Gaede family, it took the hard work and sweat equity of the homestead for them to find home.