10 minute read

Debbie (S.) Miller (1951-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1951, in San Francisco, CA; Education: University of Denver, B.A., 1973; attended University of Alaska. Hobbies and other interests: Hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, "being a soccer mom!"


Office—1446 Hans Way, Fairbanks, AK 99709.


Elementary schoolteacher in Alaska and California, 1973-79; State of Alaska, Legislative Branch, Fairbanks, investigator and writer, 1982-86; Caribou Enterprises, Fairbanks, photojournalist 1986—; adult and children's author, 1986—. Visits schools as author and teacher; active volunteer in conservation community.

Honors Awards

Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, National Science Teacher's Association/Children's Book Council (NSTA/CBC), and Notable Book designation, International Society of School Librarians, both 1995, both for A Caribou Journey; Outstanding Science Trade Book Debbie Miller for Children, NSTA-CBC, and Outstanding Book from a Learning Perspective, Parents Council, both 1997, both for Flight of the Golden Plover; Children's Literature Choice List, 1998, and Notable Book nomination, American Library Association, 1998, both for Disappearing Lake: Nature's Magic in Denali National Park; Charlotte Award nomination, 2002, and Outstanding Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, CBC, and Recommended Title, National Council of Teachers of English, both 2003, all for The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail; Teacher's Choice Award, International Reading Association, 2003, for Are Trees Alive?; Pacific Northwest Booksellers Book Award nomination, for Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights.



A Caribou Journey, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.

Flight of the Golden Plover: The Amazing Migration between Hawaii and Alaska, illustrated by Daniel Van Zyle, Alaska Northwest (Anchorage, AK), 1996.

Disappearing Lake: Nature's Magic in Denali National Park, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Walker (New York, NY), 1997.

A Polar Bear Journey, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.

River of Life, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.

A Woolly Mammoth Journey, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.

Are Trees Alive?, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, Walker (New York, NY), 2002.

The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Walker (New York, NY), 2002.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Walker (New York, NY) 2003.


Midnight Wilderness: Journeys in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1990, with a foreword by Margaret E. Murie, Alaska Northwest (Portland, OR), 2000.

(With Loren MacArthur) Audubon Guide to the National Wildlife Refugees, Alaska and the Northwest: Alaska, Oregon, Washington, foreword by Theodore E. Roosevelt IV, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Wilderness, Alaska Geographic, and Alaska.

Work in Progress

Winter Dreams, for Chronicle, expected 2006; Big Alaska: Through the eyes of a Bald Eagle, for Walker, expected 2006.


Debbie Miller is well known for her picture books, many of which focus on the state of Alaska. She once explained to Something about the Author how she began her writing career: "After spending thirteen years exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I was motivated to write a book about the region, based on our extraordinary wilderness adventures and the fact that the area is threatened with proposed oil development. The Arctic Refuge is the largest and most isolated protected block of wilderness remaining in North America." The result of her efforts was Midnight Wilderness a book written for adults, which "describes vividly the wonders of this magnificent nineteen million-acre preserve in Alaska's northeastern corner, from its coastal plain to its mountains, glaciers and rivers," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

Miller's experience, knowledge, and respect for Alaska's wilderness and wildlife is also reflected in her books for children. A Caribou Journey takes the reader traveling with a herd of caribou through Northern Alaska. The land as well as the life and habits of this migratory animal are revealed as the reader follows along the trails. Set against a beautiful landscape, the caribou move through a hostile environment, search for food under the snow, and run from their enemies. Appraisal reviewer Elizabeth Irish called the book delightful and "full of accurate, fascinating, and unusual information." While the "story is simply told," claimed School Librarian critic Sybil Hannavy, "it contains a lot of information." Other commentators have noted that A Caribou Journey is a fine vehicle for Miller's extensive knowledge of caribou and habitat. "She knows the terrain and the animals first hand," concluded a reviewer for Junior Bookshelf, who added that Miller "feels deeply about her subject."

Miller's second children's book, Flight of the Golden Plover, takes readers on another extraordinary migration. Miller describes the dramatic journey of the Pacific golden plover, a shorebird that flies across the Pacific Ocean between Alaska and Hawaii. Flight of the Golden Plover and A Caribou Journey were both recognized as Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council.

Published in 1997, A Polar Bear Journey is an "engrossing" presentation of the life cycle of polar bears, according to Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper. The narrative begins in November with a mother bear seeking a winter den in order to give birth to two young bears in January. The journey continues with the mother and her two offspring leaving the den in March to forage for food. Miller brings the reader into the bears' world of survival as they travel over a sea of ice. Ellen M. Riordan, writing in School Library Journal, praised the book for its "informative and lyrical text," noting that facts about the polar bears are "smoothly integrated into the satisfying narrative."

In Disappearing Lake Miller once again renders the cycle of life, this time in Denali National Park. As spring melts the winter snow, the water coming down from the mountains forms a lake which sustains a variety of animals and birds. Summer then dries up the waters, changing the area into a meadow where new plant and animal life thrives, until, once again, winter covers the region with snow. "Miller describes [the wildlife residents] comings and goings and the lake's metamorphosis in smooth, often poetic prose," Elizabeth Bush complimented in her review for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Also praising the book, School Library Journal critic Roz Goodman applauded the author's use of "simple, yet descriptive, action-packed words" to reveal the ever-changing life of the disappearing lake.

River of Life follows the life of a river through the seasons in an Alaskan year, beginning and ending in winter. Illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, the book features both the lives of animals and humans who live near the river, including a young boy who watches the animals and builds snowmen on the river's banks. "This book reveals the vibrancy of the natural world," proclaimed Shelley Townsend-Hudson in her review for Booklist. Arwen Marshall pointed out in her School Library Journal article that readers will notice "the author and illustrator's obvious affection for and excitement about their subject."

Miller takes readers back in time in her next book, A Woolly Mammoth Journey. She explained how she got the idea on her Web site: "One day a friend handed me a mammoth tooth that he discovered while gold mining in a nearby river. The molar was the size of a brick and weighed about four pounds. This sparked my imagination. How could I hold this giant tooth and not further research these shaggy creatures that lived near my home as 'recently' as 10,000 to 12,000 years ago?" The mammoths in the book deal with the threats of living in the Ice Age, from hunters, both human and animal, to rough terrain. Margaret Bush, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the book is designed to "convey the impressive bodies and probable social behavior of these early cousins of the elephant."

Miller's daughter prompted her next title, Are Trees Alive?, which features not only Alaskan trees, but trees from around the world. "One day I hiked near a forest with my four-year-old daughter, Casey. She looked up at a tall tree and asked, 'Are trees alive?' I answered yes, and explained that trees were living things. She responded, 'But how do they breathe? They don't have noses.'" In order to answer these questions and others in a way that young readers can understand, Miller compares trees to the human body. Noting that this metaphor doesn't always work throughout the book, a Kirkus Reviews critic wrote that Miller "succeeds in conveying a warm feeling for trees and the environment," and concluded that the title is "a feel-good story." Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst in School Library Journal called Miller's language "simple but poetic."

Returning to Alaska and to her most frequent illustrator, Jon Van Zyle, Miller wrote her next book, The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail about the original Life in a land where the winter months bring only four hours of sun a day is described in glowing terms in Miller's dramatically illustrated Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights. (Illustration by Jon Van Zyle.) event that the 1000 mile sled-dog race commemorates. In 1925, sled-dog teams and their owners made the long trek from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, in order to deliver an antitoxin serum, which would be used to fight an outbreak of diphtheria. Miller spends some time on the most well-known of the heroic dogs, such as Balto, but focuses on the larger picture and history. A critic for Kirkus Reviews commented that Miller "offers a more complete history of the serum race and all the heroic players within a more general context" than other titles about the race. Susan Oliver, writing in School Library Journal, deemed the book "an excellent account told with lots of detail and drama." Booklist reviewer Todd Morning wrote that "Miller's telling is exciting, and her details are compelling."

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights focuses on the natural cycle of light in the Alaskan year, giving readers an idea, month by month, of what amount and duration of daylight can be expected, as well as what temperatures are normal during that time of year. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "A lovely treatment of a difficult concept and of a very special place." Patricia Manning wrote in School Library Journal that Miller includes "lyrical messages about light and its partner, darkness," as well as how the wildlife deals with the change in temperature and light. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, pointed out the "unusually good glossary" contained at the end of the book. Discussing what prompted her to write Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, Miller commented on her Web site, "One of the reasons why I love living in Alaska is the light, through all of our seasons."

Miller enjoys visiting elementary schools in different regions of the United States as a guest author. She shares the beauty of Alaska and her life as a nature writer through slides and hands-on materials. She explained on her Web site, "As a former teacher, I love sharing Alaska's natural world with my own children and with students in schools around the country .… It's my hope that readers will truly experience the environment of Alaska and the lives of animals when reading my books."

Biographical and Critical Sources


American Science, November, 1995, p. 562.

Appraisal, winter, 1995, Elizabeth Irish, review of A Caribou Journey, pp. 47-48.

Booklist, February 15, 1990, p. 1129; September 15, 1994, p. 140; December 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of A Polar Bear Journey, p. 701; December 1, 1998, Sally Estes and Carolyn Phelan, review of A Polar Bear Journey, p. 676; March 15, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of River of Life, p. 1384; May 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Woolly Mammoth Journey, p. 1686; June 1, 2002, Todd Morning, review of Are Trees Alive? p. 1727; January 1, 2003, Todd Morning, review of The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail, p. 884; October 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, p. 314.

Books for Keeps, January, 1995, p. 8.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of Disappearing Lake: Nature's Magic in Denali National Park, p. 215.

Childhood Education, spring, 2003, review of The Great Serum Race, p. 177; summer, 2004, Gina Hoagland, review of Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, p. 212.

Junior Bookshelf, February, 1995, review of A Caribou Journey, p. 11.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of Are Trees Alive? p. 419; October 1, 2002, review of The Great Serum Race, p. 1476; June 1, 2003, review of Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, p. 808.

Library Journal, February 15, 1990, p. 210.

New Science, November 19, 1994, p. 54.

Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1990, review of Midnight Wilderness: Journeys in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, p. 52.

School Librarian, May, 1995, Sybil Hannavy, review of A Caribou Journey, p. 65.

School Library Journal, April, 1997, Roz Goodman, review of Disappearing Lake, p. 129; October, 1997, Ellen M. Riordan, review of A Polar Bear Journey, pp. 120-121; July, 2000, Arwen Marshall, review of River of Life, p. 96; June, 2001, Margaret Bush, review of A Woolly Mammoth Journey, p. 140; May, 2002, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, review of Are Trees Alive? p. 141; November, 2002, Susan Oliver, review of The Great Serum Race, p. 130; August, 2003, Patricia Manning, review of Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, p. 183.

Wilderness, spring, 1995, p. 33.


Debbie S. Miller Home Page, http://www.debbiemilleralaska.com (April 3, 2005).*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) Biography