What better way of creating a love of reading than by focusing it on the natural world all around us?
Packed with everything from legends to games, and often reflecting powerful Indigenous perspectives, the titles below from Harbour Publishing, Douglas & McIntyre and Nightwood Editions offer young readers new ways of imagining the connections between their own lives and the delicate abundance of the natural environment. Some of the stories are romping fables; others are expressions of ever-evolving traditional knowledge or groundbreaking science. But all are able to infuse growing minds with a sense of deep belonging.
Coast comes alive for new readers
The acclaimed duo of Tsimshian artist-storyteller Roy Henry Vickers and author Lucky Budd shines brightly in First West Coast Books, a series of luminous board books inspired by the rich landscape and animal life in this part of the world. The award-winning A Is for Anemone introduces the alphabet through embossed images of famous West Coast creatures and elements, starting with the colourful ocean-dwellers of the title and running to the “Zzz” snoring of a hibernating grizzly. The graceful rhymes and bold imagery of Hello Humpback! teem with otters, orcas and other denizens of the natural world, and are sure to captivate babies and toddlers learning their first words. Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak echoes with the sounds of coastal life—the rustling of trees in the wind, the swoosh of canoe paddles, the crackle of campfires, the roar of sea lions—in a chorus that fosters language development. One Eagle Soaring is a delightful lesson in numbers, full of whales, frogs and owls in countable clusters. And the visually enthralling Sockeye Silver, Saltchuck Blue spans the rainbow of West Coast colours, changing with the seasons as surely as the hues of a spawning salmon.
An unexpected friend from the sea
Roy Henry Vickers returns with Ben the Sea Lion, a magically poignant tale drawn from the artist’s own childhood in the North Coast village of Kitkatla. The orphaned pup Ben is a tiny creature when he is mistakenly caught in the net of a village fisherman. But he grows quickly in the care of youngsters Roy and Bussy, and is soon leading the kids through a series of boisterous adventures. And then comes the inevitable moment when Ben finds his way back to his true ocean home, a turn as natural as it is touching.
The nourishing wisdom of elders
The powers of oral tradition are at the heart of Oolichan Moon, the story of two young Nisga’a sisters to whom Elders pass on knowledge about their people’s time-honoured foods—especially the oolichan fish, an animal charged with meaning. Author Samantha Beynon and illustrator Lucy Trimble conjure a tale that is both lighthearted and revelatory, celebrating the Nisga’a language and its sacred place in preserving the sources of food and life itself.
Animals throw a house party
Out camping or hiking, most of us are just fine with the idea of being uninvited guests in the abode of the forest animals. But what if the tables were turned? In the witty and enchanting book City Day, Nanaimo author and illustrator Glenn Brucker imagines how it would go if Moose, Bear, Otter, Raccoon and their many friends decided it was time to follow the humans back to town at the end of camping season and make themselves at home there for a day. As our four-legged cousins crash through streets and buildings in their curiosity about human ways, we learn an uproarious lesson about acting with respect whenever we pay one of our unannounced visits to our fellow creatures’ home in the wilderness.
Lessons about the great community of nature come not only from the animals, but also from the trees—too long considered silent background characters in our stories, but portrayed as caring and alert beings in their own right in the engrossing picture book for young children Do Trees Have Mothers? Through vibrant illustrations and descriptions, Toronto author and artist Charles Bongers delves into ever-deepening scientific research that shows how mother trees nourish the seedlings around them, and even warn the little ones about encroaching threats. The result is a life-affirming vision that may well surprise kids and adults alike.
Speaking the language of the forest
The playful It’s a Mitig!, by Anishinaabe author-illustrator Bridget George, takes a joyous stroll through the forest to introduce the Ojibwe language’s dynamic vocabulary about the natural world. The text has a simple, pleasing rhythm, offering the challenge of pronouncing the sometimes tricky new words and then, with the help of accompanying descriptions, guessing their English equivalents. Complete with an Ojibwe-to-English glossary and a set of online recordings to help with sounding out, It’s a Mitig! has a gently unique ability to spark a fascination with words.
Leaving Nature Outside
Lilliana LOVES frogs. So much so, she decides to bring some home. Oh dear. Based on author and illustrator Scot Ritchie’s fond memories of exploring Camosun Bog as a child, Lilliana and the Frogs is a humorous story with playful illustrations that will inspire young readers to explore nature—but to leave it outside.
Plant guides for the playful
Of course, kids often have more energy than reading can contain—they also want ways of participating, especially when the topic is the nearby natural world. Harbour Publishing offers two guides filled with captivating knowledge and activities that help children understand and bond with the profusion of local plant life. The Science and Superpowers of Seaweed, from West Coast marine biologist Amanda Swinimer, journeys under the waves to glittering seaweed patches and towering kelp forests, describing their crucial role in the ecosystem of the entire planet and showing how their plentiful nutrients and vitamins can be sustainably harvested. The middle-grade botanists in your life are sure to be engaged by Swinimer’s mix of field-guide facts and spirited games that will have them creating seaweed art and searching out dark, spongy “fingers” to use as squeezable squirt guns. And you can move this combination of education and fun onto dry land with Philippa Joly’s A Kid’s Guide to Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Brimming with activities, recipes and quizzes, this introduction to local flora encourages readers to get their hands and boots dirty as they go on scavenger hunts, gather ingredients for medicinal salves, and sample nutritious berries and leaves (while carefully steering clear of any dangerous ones). The resulting sense of awareness and independence may be enough to convince kids that there are more adventures to be had among growing things than in glowing screens.
Legends of earth, water and air
Revered poet and author Joseph Dandurand draws on the storytelling traditions of his Kwantlen heritage for a series of three elegantly simple works for children, featuring buoyant imagery by Kwakwaka’wakw illustrator Simon Daniel James and Kwantlen artist Elinor Atkins. In The Sasquatch, the Fire and the Cedar Baskets, the famously furry and elusive forest-dweller evades hostile humans and lives happily among his growing family—until fire breaks out in the trees, a crisis he can end only with the help of his mate’s great weaving skills. This book’s follow-up, A Magical Sturgeon, descends into ancient currents of legend to tell the tale of two sisters whose encounter with the mysterious river spirit reveals the timeless web connecting all forms of life. Finally, The Girl Who Loved the Birds depicts the mutually sustaining powers of kindness, as a young Kwantlen child devotes herself to gathering food and nesting materials for her winged friends. Together, these three volumes instill a sense of kinship that extends far beyond the limits of the human world.