I interview author Christiane Dorion about her latest book Into the Forest, which helps kids learn about the woodlands near them.
Congratulations on your latest book Into the Forest, an in-depth look at these important parts of our planet.
Q. This is your eighth book, all of which offer an environmental theme. According to your bio, you are quite passionate about the environment. When did this passion start? How long have you been an environmentalist? What was the issue that brought the importance of caring for our planet onto your radar?
A. I think it comes from spending time in nature as a child, with lots of outdoor activities, hikes in the woods and camping trips. I come from Quebec City and my father used to take us to a log cabin in the north, where we would stay for days, fishing and canoeing on the river. We saw some amazing wildlife – bears, moose and beavers – which I’ve all included in my book. Years later, I took my children back to the same spot, a fantastic experience for them as they were born in the U.K. We didn’t catch a single fish and saw very few animals in the forest. To see the natural world change so fast must have been the trigger for my passion for the environment.
Q. You work as an education consultant for environmental organizations including WWF and the Forum for the Future. Can you explain to me what you do in general and what you do for these types of organizations?
A. My work is varied, which is what I really like. Most of it is about raising awareness of climate change and other key environmental issues with children, teachers and schools. I’ve just finished writing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for WWF in education for sustainability, gathering inspiring case studies from schools around the world. I also produce resources and educational programmes. My consultancy work complements my work as a writer very well.
Q. You are from Quebec, but have called the U.K. home since you completed a PhD in Education for Sustainable Development. What do you love about living and working in the U.K.? Do you return home often?
A. I love the fact that the weather is unpredictable and with all the rain we get everything is green all year round. I live in a beautiful part of the U.K. with lots of stunning walks and bicycle rides. This year in particular has been fantastic to explore our own patch of the world even more. I also love the British sense of humour! I try to go back to Canada every year to see my family, especially in the winter, my favourite season there.
Q. You have written books such as How the World Works, How We Make Stuff and How Animals live, among other titles. How do you come up with your ideas?
A. I had the idea for my first book ‘How the World Works’ when my son came out of school one day complaining about the boring geography lessons. I said to another mum “Imagine a geography book with a big pop up of the water cycle, an explosive pull tab of the Big Bang and tectonic plates colliding together! That would inspire kids!” Without knowing it, I was talking to the founder of Templar Publishing and a year later, my first pop-up book ‘How the World Works’ was published and translated into 13 languages! I then wrote five more in the series. Children are very good at suggesting topics and ideas for new books. When I thought I had covered everything, a little boy at a literary festival told me that I should write about plants, as they are so cool, especially the carnivorous ones!
Q. How did you come up with the idea for Into the Forest? Why was this topic important to you? Why was it important to write now?
A. Trees and forests are amazing. As a Canadian, I have fond memories of exploring woodlands and forests. They play such an important role, not only for people but also for wildlife and the whole planet. Yet the world’s forests are disappearing at unprecedented speed. As a writer, I feel fortunate to be able to work with talented illustrators and designers to produce beautiful picture books, spark children’s curiosity and encourage them to discover the world around them.
Q. What do you hope children gain from this book?
It’s not just about trees, but the many plants, animals and microorganisms that live there, as well as the soil, the water cycle and the weather. By understanding that everything is interconnected, we can appreciate better the impact of our activities on the natural world and also that we are part of nature.
Q. In your bio, you write: “I am an optimist and believe that young people can change the world and create a future in which both people and nature can thrive.” Is there a specific thing or moment that made you realize this?
A. I’ve always been an optimist. My father really fostered in us a positive attitude toward life. But I also think that it’s an attitude we can choose to adopt. It doesn’t mean ignoring difficulties and obstacles and being out of touch with reality, but it’s the belief that you can change things. Optimism certainly helps with my work in education, as it is really important for children to feel empowered. This year has been challenging for so many people. I hope we will emerge from this pandemic with a new perspective on the world and a better understanding of the need to live in harmony with nature.
Q. Your book has lots of information in it, offered into small chunks, and lots of things to look at on each page. Were the busy illustrations intentional? Why?
A. Yes, I love to write books with chunks of information, fun facts to stimulate children’s curiosity and lots of things to discover, a bit like a stroll in a forest. Children can dip in and out of the book, and revisit it as often as they like.
Q. What kind of research did you do for this book?
A. It involved quite a lot of research, as the book covers so many topics and different types of forests. Although I use the Internet, I’m quite old-fashioned and love to go to the library and read books on the subject. I also like to consult experts in the field, as it is so easy to oversimplify things. For this book I had the privilege to get feedback from two eminent foresters, Mikael Grut, who worked for the World Bank and United Nations, and my sister, Francine Dorion, who had an amazing career as a forestry engineer in Canada. I am always touched that such experts are happy to give their time and read my children’s books!
Q. Have you been to all these types of forests yourself? Which type of forest is your favourite? Which types of forest brings you the most joy?
A. I’ve been very lucky to see most of these types of forests, from the coniferous forest of Canada to the ancient woodlands of the U.K. My work has also taken me to Cameroon and Sri Lanka where I experienced the magnificent rainforest. One day I would love to see the majestic redwoods of the west coast of North America. But all forests, even small patches of woodland, bring me joy.
Q. How did you decide which creatures to include?
A. My approach is to look at the connections between plants and animals and how all living things work together to keep the ecosystem healthy. This influences how I decide which creatures to include. And of course, I really wanted to have many iconic animals that live in forests, including the moose, beaver and bear, which I encountered as a child.
Q. Of all the forest creatures, which one is your favourite?
A. I think it has to be the moose. I came face-to-face with one when canoeing on a river and it is such a big, majestic creature. A brown bear with its cubs is also a strong contender.
Q. What do you love most about this book?
A. Jane McGuinness’ gorgeous illustrations make the forest spring to life. It suited the images to write in a more poetic style. I absolutely love the Silent Winter spread with the ground covered in a heavy blanket of snow, glimpses of animals with their thick fur coats behind trees and the stillness of the forest. I also love the colourful, noisy rainforest with its howling monkeys, screeching macaws and croaking frogs.
Q. Anything else you would like to say?
Into the Forest: Wander through our woodland World is
from Christiane Dorion and Raincoast Books. It retails for $30.50.
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