Hakai Magazine

A detail from the cover illustration by Marcus Cutler for the book Dear Polar Bears
A detail from the cover illustration by Marcus Cutler for the book Dear Polar Bears. Cover image courtesy of Orca Book Publishers

Twelve New Kids’ Beach Reads to Inspire Action and Adventure

Young readers can become archaeologists, seaweed harvesters, and Arctic explorers, all through the pages of books.

Authored by

by Raina Delisle

Article body copy

Wildfires have recently been a hot topic of conversation among the 12- and 13-year-old girls on my daughter’s softball team. That’s because an ongoing blaze on Vancouver Island, where we live and where Hakai Magazine is based, has closed the only highway to their end-of-season tournament and filled the air with smoke that’s not conducive to running the bases. As an assistant coach, I get to be part of the lively discussions in the stretching circle.

“Do you know what causes wildfires?” I ask the team as we do arm circles.

“Stupid people,” one girl says.

“Climate change,” adds another.

Yes (although let’s not call people names) and yes.

In British Columbia, about 60 percent of wildfires are caused by lighting, while 40 percent are due to human activity.

Climate change increases the risk of wildfires by making “fire weather”—hot and dry conditions—more common. And as regular Hakai Magazine readers know, wildfires can affect the oceans, from cooking fish to altering the chemical composition of the Arctic, as well as the land and air.

As we await word on the fire, the highway, and the tournament, I worry that beneath the immediate anxiety over whether they’ll get to play in the tournament, some of the girls may also be experiencing climate anxiety.

One of the best antidotes to climate anxiety is climate action, and there are plenty of places to look for inspiration—including within the pages of several of this season’s new kids’ beach reads. If the tournament’s a go, I’ll be bringing them with me for the ride.

cover of Butterfly WingsButterfly Wings: A Hopeful Story About Climate Anxiety
Text by Samuel Larochelle
Illustrations by Eve Patenaude
104 pp. Greystone Books

People are becoming increasingly aware of climate anxiety among children, but it can be difficult for kids to recognize and understand their feelings. In Butterfly Wings: A Hopeful Story About Climate Anxiety, an illustrated book for kids eight and older, we meet a boy who’s going through just that. After 10-year-old Florent overhears his moms talking about whether it would be responsible for them to have another child given the state of the world, he starts having nightmares about the climate crisis. “He sees firefighters panicking as water disappears through a drain in the ocean.” He stops speaking. And then he lashes out in anger. His anxiety doesn’t ease until his moms help him understand that he can be part of the solution by taking action like other kids, including one who discovered a way to remove plastic from the ocean. Through calming poetic prose and botanical-inspired black-and-white illustrations, Butterfly Wings captures the confusion of climate anxiety and the clarity of climate action.

cover of Big Sharks, Small WorldBig Sharks, Small World
Text by Mark Leiren-Young
20 pp. Orca Book Publishers

Sharks are one of the most misunderstood and maligned animals out there. Jaws, the 1970s summer blockbuster about a bloodthirsty great white, had me wary of my local beach as a kid, but you can get the little ones in your life off to a better start by reading them Big Sharks, Small World. This rhyming board book introduces toddlers to several species of sharks through fun facts and real-life photos. Kids will learn that some sharks swim with friends while others play hide-and-seek, making them much more relatable. Big Sharks, Small World is a welcome primer on the wonderful world of sharks that will have small swimmers fascinated by these fish rather than fearful of them.

cover of Sharks ForeverSharks Forever: The Mystery and History of the Planet’s Perfect Predator
Text by Mark Leiren-Young
112 pp. Orca Book Publishers

If you have an older shark fan in your circle, you can pick up a copy of Sharks Forever: The Mystery and History of the Planet’s Perfect Predator, the big brother book to Big Sharks, Small World. This nonfiction book for middle-grade readers gives kids a comprehensive overview of the world of sharks. It starts by dispelling my childhood fear that I would be eaten alive by Jaws, apparently a fear shared by many, and goes on to explore sharks’ biology, behavior, and role in the ecosystem, as well as the threats they face. Dramatic photos, real-life stories, surprising facts, and ideas of how to help save sharks keep kids engaged through 12 bite-sized chapters. Sharks Forever is a fascinating introduction to an awe-inspiring animal that should be revered not feared.

Cover of Billie and Bean at the BeachBillie and Bean at the Beach
Text and illustrations by Julia Hansson
Translated by B. J. Woodstein
32 pp. Orca Book Publishers

Forget Jaws, some kids can be scared of the beach because it’s sandy, splashy, or stingy. In Billie and Bean at the Beach, a picture book for preschoolers, we meet one such kid. Billie, unlike her dog, Bean, isn’t keen on the beach. The kids are too loud, the water is too cold, and when her mom finally coaxes her in, she gets stung by a jellyfish. Despite all this, with the help of Bean, Billie gives the ocean a second chance and discovers a calm, magical world beneath the surface. Soft, simple text and illustrations in muted beachy colors create a quiet tone for this introspective book. Billie and Bean at the Beach is a gentle story of courage sure to inspire other children to get their feet wet.

cover of Dear Polar BearsDear Polar Bears
Text by Gabrielle Prendergast
Illustrations by Marcus Cutler
32 pp. Orca Book Publishers

The Arctic and Antarctic may be polar opposites, but plenty of people only see their similarities. In Dear Polar Bears, a picture book for preschoolers, an emperor penguin colony invites a pack of polar bears to join them for a summer solstice party at the South Pole. Told through a letter from the penguins to the polar bears, and cute illustrations of the expressive animals, this story introduces readers to two unique regions of the world as well as their shared challenges. Dear Polar Bears is an adventurous tale that helps children understand the differences and the distance between the planet’s icy extremes—and, importantly, that emperor penguins live in the Antarctic and polar bears live in the Arctic.

cover of Emperor of the IceEmperor of the Ice: How a Changing Climate Affects a Penguin Colony
Text by Nicola Davies
Illustrations by Catherine Rayner
32 pp. Candlewick Press

Kids who are keen on penguins can continue learning about them—and their challenges—in another new book about the birds, Emperor of the Ice: How a Changing Climate Affects a Penguin Colony. This picture book for elementary-aged children tells the true story of an emperor penguin colony that lost its home at Halley Bay, Antarctica, when the sea ice collapsed, but persevered against all odds. Through poignant prose and painterly illustrations, readers are immersed in the penguins’ harsh yet beautiful world. An introduction by a climate scientist and back matter about how climate change is affecting emperor penguins and what people can do to help adds to readers’ understanding of the subject. Emperor of the Ice is a story of survival and a call to action sure to inspire kids to get creative and do their part to protect the penguins.

cover of Sora's SeashellsSora’s Seashells: A Name Is a Gift to Be Treasured
Text by Helena Ku Rhee
Illustrations by Ji-Hyuk Kim with Stella Lim
40 pp. Candlewick Press

Collecting seashells is a timeless tradition that connects people and cultures. In Sora’s Seashells: A Name Is a Gift to Be Treasured, a picture book for children just starting school, a young girl spends every summer beachcombing for beautiful shells with her halmoni, or grandma, who visits from South Korea. On these special outings, Halmoni teaches Sora an enduring lesson about the beauty of sharing as she always leaves the prettiest shell behind on a bench for someone else to discover. It’s a lesson that serves Sora well as she faces kids who tease her about her name and the loss of her grandma. Sora’s Seashells is a touching tale, complete with enchanting illustrations, about the gift of the grandparent-grandchild relationship, the gift of a name, and the gift of kindness.

cover of It's Time For BerriesIt’s Time for Berries!
Text by Ceporah Mearns and Jeremy Debicki
Illustrations by Tindur Peturs
24 pp. Inhabit Books

Spending time outside with grandma is a central theme in another book this season, It’s Time for Berries! In this Inuit picture book for children in elementary school, a pair of sisters learns traditional land uses from their ningiuq, or grandma. They fish, they dig for clams, and finally they pick berries, the girls’ favorite, all in tune with the seasons and under Ningiuq’s leadership. Through lively text peppered with Inuktitut words, and vivid illustrations of the smiling trio, readers are transported to the Arctic and Ningiuq’s welcoming home. It’s Time for Berries! is a sweet story about the hard work—and the tasty rewards—of living off the land.

cover of CargoCargo
Text by Adèle Tariel
Illustrations by Jérôme Peyrat
32 pp. Orca Book Publishers

It’s a universal childhood fear: when your parent goes to work, will they come back? This is a particularly prevalent worry if said parent does a dangerous job like piloting a cargo ship. Cargo, a picture book for preschoolers, explores and eases this worry. In this bedtime story, a boy dreams that he’s a seagull soaring over his father’s ship, making sure that he’s safe and happy. Told through thoughtful words and bright, bold illustrations from a bird’s-eye view, Cargo is a touching story about how kids watch over their parents just as parents watch over their kids.

cover of Dig DeepDig Deep: Connecting Archaeology, Oceans and Us
Text by Nicole F. Smith
48 pp. Orca Book Publishers

There’s nothing like some detective work at the beach to keep the kids occupied over the summer. And Dig Deep: Connecting Archaeology, Oceans and Us is just the guide kids need to get started. In this nonfiction book for middle-grade readers, archaeologist Nicole F. Smith teaches kids how to search for clues that may show us how people have used the oceans in the past and how that intel can be used to help the ocean in the future. Smith weaves her personal knowledge and experiences throughout the book while also integrating Indigenous traditional knowledge. Breakout boxes with “arti-facts” and “field notes,” as well as photos of archaeology in action, keep young readers engaged. Dig Deep is an entertaining and educational read that gives aspiring archeologists an overview of the field and ideas of how they can get started digging for clues to help the planet.

cover of The Science and Superpowers of Seaweed: A Guide for KidsThe Science and Superpowers of Seaweed: A Guide for Kids
Text by Amanda Swinimer
168 pp. Harbour Publishing

Turning washed-up bull kelp into foghorns is a popular beach activity for my family, but we never knew there were so many other cool things we could do with seaweed until picking up The Science and Superpowers of Seaweed: A Guide for Kids. In this book for middle-grade readers, professional seaweed harvester Amanda Swinimer takes readers on a journey through the watery and wonderful world of seaweed. She introduces us to the different types of seaweeds, the animals they feed and shelter, and their important ecosystem functions. She also dives into how to harvest seaweeds and all the cool things you can make out of them, including snacks, bath bombs, sunscreen, and greeting cards, complete with recipes and instructions. Swinimer’s enthusiastic text is peppered with personal anecdotes, and the pages are packed with intriguing photographs and illustrations. The Science and Superpowers of Seaweed is a comprehensive and compelling guide to the plants of the sea sure to keep many families—mine included—busy this summer.

cover of Mission: Arctic: A Scientific Adventure to a Changing North PoleMission: Arctic: A Scientific Adventure to a Changing North Pole
Text by Katharina Weiss-Tuider
Illustrations by Christian Schneider
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
128 pp. Greystone

Going on an Arctic expedition is something most of us can only dream of. But Mission: Arctic: A Scientific Adventure to a Changing North Pole welcomes kids on board the Polarstern to join the MOSAiC, the biggest, longest, and most daring Arctic expedition ever undertaken. This coffee table–sized book for tweens and young teens takes readers behind the scenes as about 500 scientists from around the world work hard to uncover the mysteries of the dark, icy, and rapidly changing ecosystem. Through photos, illustrations, and engaging text, kids are immersed in the mission and how it connects to the past, present, and future of the Arctic. Mission: Arctic is a compelling compendium that takes young minds on an adventure to a fascinating frozen world to better understand how and why it’s changing and what they can do to protect it.