Nature’s Apprentices

25 May 2023

Nature’s Apprentices: The Magic of the Peatlands
by Elizabeth Bekolay, illustrated by Jennifer Lynn Becker
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Michelle Shaw
$19.95 ISBN 9781778690020

Every so often you come across a book that so inspires you that you want to eagerly hand it out to as many people as possible.

This is a book about the importance of the peatlands, which are a type of wetland. It’s a book that’s packed full of fascinating facts and educational resources. But it’s the story — a beautiful blend of ecology, fantasy and the joy of childhood adventures — that draws you in and enchants you.

Johnny and Marty are two brothers who spend time with their mother, a biologist, up north every summer in a cabin in the boreal forest. Friends nearby have a daughter Willow, who is about the same age as the boys and the three children love roaming the forest. Willow is fascinated with learning about different types of plants and frequently stops to draw one in her notebook. One day on one of their adventures they hear a flute playing a very old and beautiful melody and the children fall asleep. When they wake up, they discover they have shrunk to the size of a dew drop. They meet Horace and Rose – fairies — who explain that they need to teach the children everything they need for their future quest. The children discover a whole new world as they fly on the back of insects (Aeshna, a dragonfly and Sr Phid, a hoverfly) and experience heartache, adventure and incredible discoveries.

I loved this book. The story is engaging, and the author explains scientific processes very clearly and practically. The children shrink so they can understand – literally – how things like photosynthesis and capillary action work, and the reader sees the natural world through their eyes.

Nature’s Apprentices inspired me so much. I had no idea about the destruction of the peatlands and how incredibly valuable they are to the ecosystem and the planet. After reading the book I went down so many Google rabbit holes finding out more about peatlands, mosses and carbon and understanding it in a way that I hadn’t really before.

There’s an extensive educational guide at the back of the book with detailed questions and projects. The map at the front of the book gives a great visual perspective of the children’s journey and makes the story almost interactive. The book also contains different types of visuals including photos, illustrations and diagrams which strengthen the visual narrative.

The author, Elizabeth Bekolay was born and raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and spent her childhood roaming the forests and rivers nearby. So, it’s not surprising that she grew up to become a nature-based educator, naturalist and writer. The book came about through a Kickstarter campaign after the author met illustrator and artist Jennifer Becker “over entomological discussions online”.


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