In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one author’s book is giving young readers and their families a chance to see the world through fresh eyes. L.E. Carmichael’s newest book, The Boreal Forest: A Year in the World’s Largest Land Biome, is being released April 7, 2020.
Published by Kids Can Press, with art by award-winning illustrator Josée Bisaillon, The Boreal Forest is Carmichael’s 22nd science book for young readers.
“Most kid’s books on this topic focus on answering the question, ‘What is the boreal forest?’” Carmichael said. “That’s important, but to me, it doesn’t go far enough. For my book, I wanted to explore deeper questions, like ‘How does the forest work?’ and “What is a forest for?’ In other words, why does the forest matter?”
The Trenton, Ontario resident’s interest in how and why stems from her background in wildlife genetics and ecology.
In 2006, the Alberta native won the Governor General’s Academic Medal for her PhD thesis on the genetics of northern wolves and arctic foxes. Her books, however, are anything but academic. Carmichael said she writes to fire children’s imaginations and spark their curiosity.
“So many people have the idea that science is a collection of facts they have to memorize,” Carmichael said. “My mission is to help kids discover what science is really about – asking questions, paying attention, and staying alert to the wonders of the natural world.”
Wonders certainly abound in The Boreal Forest, which features both iconic animals – like moose and bears and foxes – and weirder species, like raccoon dogs, flying squirrels, and star-nosed moles.
Parents will appreciate the information on habitats and food webs as they look for ways to encourage their children’s learning in a time of self-isolation. The book also supports teaching of elementary science curriculum concepts like the water cycle and the carbon cycle.
The boreal forest’s role in the carbon cycle makes this biome intensely important in an era of global climate change, Carmichael said.
About 29 per cent of the Earth’s boreal forests are found in Canada. Worldwide, the boreal absorbs more atmospheric carbon dioxide than tropical rainforests. Boreal soils, peatlands, and permafrost also contain thousands of years’ worth of trapped carbon – carbon that could be released as warming temperatures increase the speed of decomposition in these cool northern woods.
Deforestation is a smaller problem in the boreal forest that in other forests around the globe, Carmichael added, but is of particular relevance as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. For one thing, a lot of that toilet paper people have been hoarding is typically made from wood pulp that comes from trees in the boreal forest.
In addition, some scientists have linked the emergence of novel viral diseases to deforestation and other forms of habitat destruction that bring human beings into closer contact with wild animals, increasing the risk that a virus will leap from animals to people – an event that scientists call a “zoonotic jump.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted Carmichael personally.
“Like all other events that might draw a crowd,” she said, “my book tour for The Boreal Forest has been cancelled. I – and many other authors in the same boat – are looking for digital ways to connect with and support home-bound readers in this challenging time.”
In Carmichael’s case, those online events include “Forest Fridays” on her blog, where she’ll be sharing lesson plans, resource lists, deleted scenes from her research, and behind-the-scenes writing tips.
“I hope that teachers and parents will find this material especially useful as they look for safe, COVID-free ways to teach and entertain their kids,” she said.
“I’m cooking up some other online events, too, in collaboration with my publisher and other members of the kidlit community.”
Purchasers can also contact her through her website to receive a free autographed bookplate.
Visit Carmichael’s website, www.lecarmichael.ca for information on these initiatives.