image of children on top of books in a forest

Let’s Go Adventure Outdoors (With Books!)

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.”

Collage of people outside
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

Book cover for Adventure Day

*A Walk on the Tundra
Written by Rebecca Hainnu and Anna Ziegler and illustrated by Qin Leng

Book cover for A Walk on the Tundra

Bradford Street Buddies: Backyard Camp-Out (Green Light Readers Level 3)
Written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Michelle Henninger

Book cover for Backyard Camp-out

Cece Loves Science and Adventure
Written by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Book cover for Cece Loves Science and Adventure

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter
Written and illustrated by Kenard Pak

Book cover for Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn
Written and illustrated by Kenard Pak

Book cover for Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

*Sky Sisters
Written by Jan Bourdeau Waboose and illustrated by Brian Deines

Book cover for Sky Sisters

Sunset Hike
Written by Dineo Dowd illustrated by Khaya Nkomo

Book cover for Sunset Hike

Tracks in the Snow Written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee

Book cover for Tracks in the Snow

Under My Hijab
Written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

Book cover for Under my Hijab

*Zoe and the Fawn
Written by Catherine Jameson and illustrated by Julie Flett

Book cover for Zoe and the Fawn

Books by authors of other identities

Backpacker ABCs
Written by Heather Legler and illustrated by Hannah Legler

Book cover for Backpacker ABCs

Bea’s Bees
Written by Katherine Pryor and illustrated by Ellie Peterson

Book cover for Bea's Bees

Ben’s Adventures: A Day at the Beach
Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Gerlach

Book cover for Ben's Adventures

Charlotte and the Quiet Place
Written by Deborah Sosin and illustrated by Sara Woolley

Book cover for Charlotte and the Quiet Place

*Explorers of the Wild
Written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Book cover for Explorers of the Wild

Hey Water
Written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis

Book cover for Hey, Water!

Hiking Day
Written by Anne Rockwell illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

Book cover for Hiking Day

I Am the Desert
Written by Anthony Fredericks and illustrated by Jesse Reisch

Book cover for I Am the Desert

National Parks of the USA
Written by Kate Siber and illustrated by Chris Turnham

Book cover for National Parks of the USA

Over and Under the Pond
Written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

Book cover for Over and Under the Pond

*Painted Skies
Written by Carolyn Mallory and illustrated by Amei Zhao

Book cover for Painted Skies

Ruby’s Birds
Written by Mya Thompson and illustrated by Claudia Dávila

Book cover for Ruby's Bird

*The Not-So Great Outdoors
Written and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper

Book cover for The Not-So Great Outdoors

The Map Challenge: A Book about Dyslexia (SEN Superpowers)
Written By Tracy Packiam Alloway and illustrated by Ana Sanfelippo

Book cover for The Map Challenge

Water is Water
Written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin

Book cover for Water is Water

Activity Books

*The Canadian Kids’ Guide to Outdoor Fun
Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Claudia Dávila

The Canadian Kids' Guide to Outdoor Fun

Forest Club: A Year of Activities, Crafts, and Exploring Nature
Written by Kris Hirschmann and illustrated by Marta Antelo

Book cover for Forest Club

Science! STEM Sticker Adventure
Written and illustrated by Hopscotch Girls

Book cover for Science STEM Sticker Adventure

Outdoor Sports Sticker Adventure
Written and illustrated by Hopscotch Girls

Book cover for Outdoor Sports Sticker Adventure

*Chirp Magazine
Summer 2019 Issue “Let’s Go Camping”

Book cover for Chirp 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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