Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Karen Autio. Take it away, Karen!
Thank you, Lindsey, for the opportunity to write this post. It’s an honour to be part of Cantastic Authorpalooza!
All stories are connected,
new ones woven from the threads of the old.
—ROBIN WALL KIMMERER, Braiding Sweetgrass
I used the epigraph above in Making Seaker, my latest book—a contemporary Middle Grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) novel. Making Seaker was inspired by the iconic book Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling, published in 1941, and still in print.
In Paddle-to-the-Sea, an Indigenous boy carves a small wooden man in a canoe and names the carving Paddle-to-the-Sea (which the author shortens to Paddle). From where the boy sets him on a snowy hill north of Nipigon, Ontario, Paddle is carried by spring runoff down to a creek then swept into the current of the Nipigon River, and eventually floats into Lake Superior. Paddle’s journey takes him all the way through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
When Sumiye Sugawara, librarian at the Nipigon Public Library, asked if I’d write a story set in my hometown of Nipigon and suggested some possible themes, I immediately wanted to link whatever I wrote to Paddle-to-the-Sea.
Moving to a new town is tough, especially when you’re different. In Making Seaker, my main character Jamie doesn’t want the friendless future she imagines, so she dreams up a Make-a-Friend project and sets out to be like other kids. But that requires her to deny her love of science, math, and building things, especially models. Her Make-a-Friend project backfires.
Following this disaster, Jamie decides to be true to who she is. She likes Nipigon and is fascinated by the Paddle-to-the-Sea story, so she starts a new project, to try making a trackable model boat to recreate Paddle’s journey. After researching the tech she’ll need and searching for the best design for the boat, Jamie reluctantly tells her class about the project. When a classmate offers to help, Jamie is over-the-moon excited. But her STEM project has complications, and so does the friendship. Jamie’s not sure she can salvage either.
In elementary school, we read Paddle-to-the-Sea and watched Paddle to the Sea, the National Film Board short film adaptation created by Bill Mason, released in 1966. I’ve loved Paddle’s story ever since because of its connection to Nipigon, the geography of the Great Lakes, and Paddle’s exciting journey.
After writing Making Seaker, I got to thinking, how else has Paddle-to-the-Sea influenced me?
For sure the book provided a fun way to describe where I grew up on the northernmost shore of Lake Superior. Holling C. Holling transformed the lake’s outline into a wolf’s head and Nipigon is located near the tip of the wolf’s ear—left ear, to be exact.
A friend recently read Making Seaker and shared that reading Paddle-to-the-Sea in her childhood could be why she has a travel bug. Perhaps that’s why I do, too.
I know the classic book helped develop my love of maps and geography. When choosing my electives for my first year of university studying mathematics and computer science, a geography course was top of the list (and the only one I got A+ in that year!).
More sections of Paddle-to-the-Sea that fascinated me were the diagrams explaining how things work, such as a sawmill, the canal locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and a lake freighter. This led me to explore another title in my childhood home’s collection: The Way Things Work: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Technology by C. van Amerongen.
Did Paddle-to-the-Sea contribute to my love of paddling a canoe? Perhaps. I thoroughly enjoy my view from the bow of a canoe exploring Lake Superior or Okanagan Lake or any of the numerous smaller lakes near my home in the Okanagan.
I wonder if the book influenced me to write my picture book Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon as narrative non-fiction, with maps. It could be.
Paddle-to-the-Sea definitely inspired me to write Making Seaker!
I hope my novel inspires readers to explore STEM projects with friends. Or to write their own STEM stories. How wonderful if reading my book leads someone to be true to who they are and follow their own interests despite what others around them may say.
Making Seaker—where classic book inspires contemporary story, and where STEM adventure meets friendship.
For more information about Seaker, tracking equipment, and Jamie’s real-life science and space inspirations, visit www.seaker.ca