The release of two new children’s books by Saskatchewan authors is an opportunity to appreciate the rich biodiversity found in Canada’s northern forests. They’re also a reminder that our forests are at risk and need our help if we want future generations to be able to enjoy this beautiful area.

Nature’s Apprentices: The Magic of the Peatlands

“They were above the trees now, and had been joined by other little people astride a variety of flying insects: narrow blue damselflies, humongous spruce beetles, fuzzy yellow bumblebees, and butterflies of what seemed like every colour and size. It was spectacular—and terrifying.”

Nature’s Apprentices: The Magic of the Peatlands, written by Elizabeth Bekolay and illustrated by Jennifer Becker, is an intriguing mix of fantasy and natural science. Three young people are playing in the forest one day when they find themselves shrinking. They are taken on a tour of the forest by insect and fairy ambassadors and are enchanted to come eye to eye with a woodland caribou and her newborn calf but horrified by the damage caused by peat mining and other human activity.

Elizabeth Bekolay, who is a native plant specialist and educator, provides detailed information about the plants and insects to be found in the forest, focusing particular attention on the muskeg and its wetland inhabitants. The photographs and illustrations are invaluable in helping readers identify plants such as muskeg tea and sundew. An education guide at the end of the book provides more detailed information as well as activities and discussion questions.

Written for children in grades 3 to 5 or older, the book is a celebration of Saskatchewan’s natural heritage as well as an ode to the beauty of hoverflies, dragonflies, beetles, and other insects. It’s also a call to action to oppose the plans for peat mining in northern Saskatchewan. This is a book for everyone who loves nature, especially families that enjoy summer holidays beside a northern lake.

Copies of Nature’s Apprentices are available from local booksellers in Saskatoon or by contacting Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing.

Fox and Bear

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” said Bear the next day, “if we didn’t have to work all the time?” … “I would go into the forest,” said Bear, “and gather what there is to gather and catch what there is to catch … At noon, I would take a nap on my favourite tree and listen to the birds sing. In the evening, I would watch the sun set, and at night, I would watch the fireflies light up the sky.”

Fox and Bear, written and illustrated by Miriam Körner, is an enchanting introduction for young children to some of the birds and animals that live in the boreal forest. In addition to the main characters, a fox and a bear, there are mice and crows, owls and squirrels, dragonflies, woodpeckers, and owls.

Fox and Bear have a comfortable life in the forest. Bear picks berries, while Fox hunts for eggs. At noon, Bear naps in his favourite tree and listens to the birds, while Fox looks for treasures. But one day Fox has an idea for ways to find food more efficiently so they’ll have more time for their leisure activities. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. They become busier and busier as they increase the size and automate their food collection system. It’s up to Bear to suggest that they stop working so hard and return to their original approach, collecting food as needed and enjoying the sunset, the birds, and the fireflies.

It's a delightful story with an important lesson for us all, but it’s the images that will draw you back to this book over and over again. The illustrations were made from reused and recycled paper and cardboard and are amazingly detailed, from wild strawberries and bird nests to cranes and bulldozers.

Miriam Körner has lived in a small cabin in northern Saskatchewan for the past 20 years and is the author of several books for children. Fox and Bear is part of her attempt to answer her childhood questions: “Why do we keep destroying our forests, pollute our rivers and oceans and even the air we breathe? Can we change our relationship to the natural world?”

Copies of Fox and Bear are available from local bookstores, Red Deer Press, and online distributors (Amazon).

Additional Resources

Global Peatlands Initiative

Nature Books for Kids by Canadian Authors, EcoFriendly West

Play and Learn with Nature Companion, EcoFriendly West

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