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Salmon Forest

by David Suzuki and Sarah Ellis, Sheena Lott, illus.

There’s a lot going on between this book’s attractive covers: the story of a father and daughter’s riverbank walk in autumn, a lesson in biology and ecology, an encounter with a native family who provide a glimpse of their culture’s salmon fishing tradition, a contemporary recipe for barbecued salmon, and a six-word glossary (which I wish had included the word “oolichan”).

The story provides a framework for information about salmon and their role in the circle of life vis-à-vis rivers, forests, wildlife, and humans. The book’s theme is expressed simply and clearly in the final pages by the native mother: “In nature, everything is connected.” The non-native father, in what is perhaps a telling cultural distinction, uses a mechanical merry-go-round analogy to deliver the same message.

Salmon Forest, co-published by the David Suzuki Foundation, is the collaboration of a British Columbia power trio. Environmentalist David Suzuki, children’s author Sarah Ellis, and illustrator Sheena Lott are highly honoured veterans in their respective fields. The story is adequate and the factual information basic but good. Lott’s watercolours, rich in earth and water tones and punctuated with jolts of red, capably range from forest to underwater scenes, salmon eggs to rotting carcasses, and hungry animals to hungry people.

Still, the book feels wobbly in concept. Canadian librarians have assessed it as non-fiction; American librarians, as fiction. The merry-go-round metaphor seems too juvenile for a girl old enough to watch a salmon spawning video at school, and I wondered why the book was called Salmon Forest rather than Salmon Rivers or Salmon People. Ultimately, however, the heart of this book is in the right place, and its circle-of-life and balance-of-nature messages are good ones.