• Parents for Diversity

Let's Go Adventure Outdoors (With Books!)

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

A recent article published in the Atlantic poses the question: Why aren’t Black children represented in books about nature? 

In the article, Black American librarian and Gold Star Girl Scout (Girl Scouting’s highest honour) Michelle Martin notes the absence of books on library shelves featuring Black, Indigenous, and racialized children enjoying the outdoors.  Martin tells the interviewer:

“In children’s literature, every reader needs 'window stories' and 'mirror stories'...mirrors to be able to see themselves, and windows to be able to see the lives of other people who maybe don’t look like [them]. Those stories are key to developing empathy." "[I hope] that one day, young readers will look into their proverbial “mirrors” and out their proverbial “windows” and see more kids and families of colour exploring the wonders of the natural world.”

A composite of four images, including three photographs of Black parents with their children in the outdoors and a water-colour painting of three hikers on a mountain
Black, Indigenous and people of color are underrepresented in the images of the outdoors. Photo credit from upper right: Rahma Rodaah (Children's book author), Rahma Rodaah, Latasha Dunston (artist, Jitterbug Art), Dineo Dowd (Children's book author)

Here in Canada, enjoying outdoor recreation is commonly seen as a fundamental part of the Canadian national identity, and the ability to participate in outdoor recreation is often seen as essential for being "Canadian". University of Toronto scholar and outdoorsperson Jacquline L. Scott has noted that the juxtaposition of "Canadian" with "outdoors" isn't consistently represented across identities. In a recent interview with the National Post, she states: “There is a sense that the outdoors is a white space, that people of colour don’t belong in that space...People of colour want to do it, but they need a bridge to get them there.”

She has noted in her writings that “visual apartheid” may contribute to the misperception that Black, Indigenous, and racialized people are not already enjoying outdoor spaces.  By showing predominantly white people in their advertisements, outdoor equipment companies reinforce that misperception. Scott's own blog is an excellent resource for reversing those biases. There is commonality between the “visual apartheid” that Scott has identified and the lack of representation in children’s literature that Martin has identified.

Here at Parents for Diversity, where we are committed to every child’s right to an education free from discrimination, we also advocate for inclusion in all spaces. A recent trip to the amazing Canadian Museum of Nature's gift shop revealed a collection of books that featured white, cis male characters, and we realized our community could benefit from a resource to assist them with finding more inclusive, representative books. Existing booklists focus largely on characters of cis male, white identities. We are sharing this list of books that reflect kids of diverse identities enjoying the outdoors as a resource for families, librarians, and educators. Please note that “own voices” is a term that denotes the book was written by a person who shares a key identity with the character in the book, and therefore brings artistic authenticity to the story.  If you have a favourite book that isn't on the list, leave a comment or send us an email!

Own voices stories (* denotes Canadian or Indigenous author or illustrator)

Adventure Day

Written by Dineo Dowd and illustrated by Cecil Gocotano

Adventure Day by Dineo Dowd

*A Walk on the Tundra

Written by Rebecca Hainnu and Anna Ziegler and illustrated by Qin Leng

A Walk on the Tundra by Rebecca Hanna and Anna Ziegler

Bradford Street Buddies: Backyard Camp-Out (Green Light Readers Level 3)

Written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Michelle Henninger

Bradford Street Buddies Backyard Camp-Out

Cece Loves Science and Adventure

Written by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter

Written and illustrated by Kenard Pak

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter book cover with two young children at a forest's edge with a deer

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Written and illustrated by Kenard Pak

Goodbye Summe, Hello Autumn book cover a young girl walking with a dog in an autumn forest

*Sky Sisters

Written by Jan Bourdeau Waboose and illustrated by Brian Deines

Sky Sisters book cover with two girls staring at the night sky and stars

Sunset Hike

Written by Dineo Dowd illustrated by Khaya Nkomo

Sunset Hike book cover with children on a hiking trail and sunset in the background

Tracks in the Snow

Written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee

Cover of Tracks in the Snow a young child in a snowy field

Under My Hijab

Written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

Cover of Under My Hijab a young girl with a pink hijab amongst flowers

*Zoe and the Fawn

Written by Catherine Jameson and illustrated by Julie Flett

Cover of Zoe and the Fawn, a young girl near a sleeping fawn

Books by authors of other identities

Backpacker ABCs

Written by Heather Legler and illustrated by Hannah Legler

Cover of Backpacker ABCs with a long haired person facing towards the mountains wearing a backpack

Bea's Bees

Written by Katherine Pryor and illustrated by Ellie Peterson

Cover of Bea's Bees with a young Black girl looking at a flower garden

Ben's Adventures: A Day at the Beach

Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Gerlach

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

Written by Deborah Sosin and illustrated by Sara Woolley

Cover of Charlotte and the Quiet Place with a young Black girl and a dog under a tree with a cityscape in the background

*Explorers of the Wild

Written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Cover of Explorers of the Wild with a young brown-skinned boy and a bear against a mountain landscape

Hey Water

Written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis

Cover of Hey Water a young brown-skinned girl wearing a facemask of swimming in the water

Hiking Day

Written by Anne Rockwell illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

Cover of Hiking Day showing a young Black girl and her father hiking up a rocky hill

I Am the Desert

Written by Anthony Fredericks and illustrated by Jesse Reisch

Cover of I Am the Desert, a painting of a desert lanscape including a coyote and raptor

National Parks of the USA

Written by Kate Siber and illustrated by Chris Turnham

Over and Under the Pond

Written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

*Painted Skies

Written by Carolyn Mallory and illustrated by Amei Zhao

Cover of Painted Skies with two young girls looking at the northern lights

Ruby's Birds

Written by Mya Thompson and illustrated by Claudia Dávila

Cover of Ruby's Birds with a young Black girl cavorting in a public park with birds flying

*The Not-So Great Outdoors

Written and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper

The cover of The Not-So Great Outdoors with a dark-skinned girl pouting on the shores of a mountain lake with her family in the background

The Map Challenge: A Book about Dyslexia (SEN Superpowers)

Written By Tracy Packiam Alloway and illustrated by Ana Sanfelippo

Water is Water

Written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin

The book Water is Water

Activity Books

*The Canadian Kids' Guide to Outdoor Fun

Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Claudia Dávila

Cover of The Canadians Kids' Guide to Outdoor Fun

Forest Club: A Year of Activities, Crafts, and Exploring Nature

Written by Kris Hirschmann and illustrated by Marta Antelo

Cover of Forest Club with three children of different races exploring the forest

Science! STEM Sticker Adventure

Written and illustrated by Hopscotch Girls

Cover of Science! Stem sticker adventure featuring girls of many identities in STEM careers

Outdoor Sports Sticker Adventure

Written and illustrated by Hopscotch Girls

Cover of Outdoor Sports Sticker Adventure with girls of many identities paddling a boat a river

*Chirp Magazine Summer 2019 Issue "Let's Go Camping"

Cover of Chirp Magazine "Let's Go Camping" issue

Thank you to author Rahma Rodaah, author Dineo Dowd, and artist Latasha Dunston for the photos used here.

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