Two Kids' Books: Creatures of the Sea and Sky

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer / Staff writer
February 22, 2013 01:00 AM

A book for young teens: Author G.G. Neilson with Beogall's Choice.

What's a starfish to do when he's ripped from his watery home and dropped in the tickly grass? Scott the starfish gets by with a little help from his friends, Harley the dog and Catastrophe the cat, in a delightful children's book, Scott the Starfish: An Unexpected Adventure, published by MW Books in Garden Bay.

Alberta writer Jennifer Fraser, who loves the ocean and visits the Coast at every opportunity with her son Liam, age 3, writes Scott's adventure. The picture book is illustrated by her stepmother Melanie Eastley who lives near a Coast beach and who enjoys walks by the water with her dog and cat that bear the same names, not surprisingly, as the book's animal characters. Eastley's background as a graphic designer in the book industry has given her a good eye for composition in creating the many colour drawings.

The reader can't help but like smiling Scott, and cat lovers will be happy to find that, for once, the cat is not the villain of the story. Catastrophe is a friendly and helpful kitty. Each drawing shows other sea creatures, including a ubiquitous crab (the narrator?).

This little book is aimed at pre-school and kindergarten age, but a more grown-up explanation on the back page gives more information about the sea stars we find in our waters, and it counsels kids not to remove them from the ocean. Fraser and Eastley have given readings to schoolchildren in the past - on one occasion to a school in northern Alberta with Fraser on site and Eastley sitting on a Coast beach participating via her iPad.

Scott the Starfish is available from Talewind Books or from Wilson Creek SPCA for $13.95 with $1 from every sale donated to the SPCA. Scott also has his own Facebook page (

Sometimes riches to rags can turn out to be a good thing, as it was for 14-year-old Toby Myers when he was forced out of the family mansion in Vancouver to a new, multi-cultural neighbourhood.

Toby must attend a new school that is decidedly odd, and he meets a whole new group of friends who launch him on an adventure.

Beogall's Choice: How a Boy and a Bird Rescue Nature by Gibsons author G.G. Neilson is the story of a great blue heron, Beogall, and a boy, Toby, who can communicate with the birds. Toby learns that he's not the only one with this ability - not only can many of his new classmates speak with birds, animals and plants, but his grandmother has the ability as well. Grams lives on Truewind Island, and when Toby visits, she introduces him to the elders of the local bird colony. When the island's bird sanctuary is threatened by unscrupulous developers, Toby and his friend Chester, along with their school mates, decide to use their powers for good and become eco warriors to fight for their beliefs.

"This is an important story for our times as young people engage in the critical struggle to re-connect with nature," Neilson said.

They are guided along the way by Native elders, the birds themselves and remarkable teachers such as Miss Tanaka and her father Dr. Lawrence Tanaka (think David Suzuki and his daughter).

Neilson, an environmentalist, is now retired from teaching and has raised sons of her own. There wasn't much written for teenagers, she points out, of books with an environmental theme that talk of activism, a subject of interest to young adults. The plot in which Toby and friends try to save old growth trees and thwart developers is entirely believable as though taken from today's headlines. The magical element, human communication with birds, also becomes believable by the end of the book. Who's to say we can't chat with a jay?

The book is aimed at ages 12 to 16 and is also of interest to adults. Read more Beogall's Choice is self-published on recycled paper and is available at local bookstores for $18.95.

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