• 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.”

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

*A Walk on the Tundra

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

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

Written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Michelle Henninger

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 Summer, Hello Autumn

Written and illustrated by Kenard Pak

*Sky Sisters

Written by Jan Bourdeau Waboose and illustrated by Brian Deines

Sunset Hike

Written by Dineo Dowd illustrated by Khaya Nkomo

Tracks in the Snow

Written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee

Under My Hijab

Written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

*Zoe and the Fawn

Written by Catherine Jameson and illustrated by Julie Flett

Books by authors of other identities

Backpacker ABCs

Written by Heather Legler and illustrated by Hannah Legler

Bea's Bees

Written by Katherine Pryor and illustrated by Ellie Peterson

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

*Explorers of the Wild

Written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Hey Water

Written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis

Hiking Day

Written by Anne Rockwell illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

I Am the Desert

Written by Anthony Fredericks and illustrated by Jesse Reisch

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

Ruby's Birds

Written by Mya Thompson and illustrated by Claudia Dávila

*The Not-So Great Outdoors

Written and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper

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

Activity Books

*The Canadian Kids' Guide to Outdoor Fun

Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Claudia Dávila

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

Written by Kris Hirschmann and illustrated by Marta Antelo

Science! STEM Sticker Adventure

Written and illustrated by Hopscotch Girls

Outdoor Sports Sticker Adventure

Written and illustrated by Hopscotch Girls

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

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

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We are a collective of parents committed to achieving inclusive and non-discriminatory learning environments that allow children to fulfill their true potential in this world. We advocate for schools and families to promote diversity and inclusion and to take meaningful steps to address and eradicate discrimination and bias.

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