Reviewed by Victor Elderton
Published by: Groundwood Books / Douglas & McIntyre
Written by: Annette LeBox
Illustrated by: Karen Reczuch
It’s not often in the Pacific Northwest that a children’s book is published that does a great job of illustrating the various aspects of a salmon’s habitat and ecology, while being told in a poetic style that children and adults would find interesting. Salmon Creek by Annette LeBox and illustrated by Karen Reczuch is just such a book.
It has great contextual illustrations which follow the incubation, hatching, juvenile life, adult life and spawning of Sumi a Coho salmon. The prose is both intriguing and poetic. The writing style matches the marvelous life history and the spiritual essence of this species of Pacific salmon, a real northwest icon. Even more remarkable is the fact that Coho or Silver salmon is the focus of this story. Many books illustrate Sockeye or Chinook salmon but it is rare to find any salmon book about any of the other Pacific salmon species.
Coho are truly a symbol of small stream health and often threatened by our urban and suburban development. Many of us have raised Coho eggs and fry in mini-classroom hatcheries to be released into our small local streams and creeks and this book would be an excellent addition to those classrooms for both primary and even intermediate students. LeBox has a personal dedication to protect natural areas and by writing this book she brings attention to this often threatened species for both children and adults.
The book has many strong attributes but its poetic prose might have the more technical environmental educator querying some descriptions. The young Coho, Sumi and her eventual mate Nulluk, are given names, I know this brings focus to the story for young children but I still believe this type of anthroplimorphism is not necessary and the story is so compelling I think that it would be effective without it. I was also not sure why at one point in the story Sumi’s size is compared to a pine needle. On my Coho streams this is not a common tree and needles can be variable in size, an alder catkin may have been a better comparison. The concluding notes in the book mention assistance from professional biologists and I know LeBox research each of her books thoroughly but, I am not sure salmon actually hear and sleep as implied by the story or drink salt water as smolts as suggested. Karen Reczuch’s illustrations are wonderfully contextual and accurate in most respects as well, an aspect of the book that makes it one of its strengths. However a heron or kingfisher hunting salmon fry in the estuary rather than a gull would have been a better choice for me.
Most significantly though are the Coho adult illustrations in speaking to the author I discovered that she agonized for those images and had more advice than imaginable. In her research LeBox discovered, and we should all remember, Coho races are variable and getting consensus on how they look is near impossible. The Coho in Salmon Creek are not the dark broad hooked heads I see on a daily basis each winter but the story is accurate and poetic style fits these fish that are so enigmatic. These may be technical points but I think children’s books need to be as precise as possible in their descriptions.
These shortcomings aside you’ll find a copy of this book in my nature library, without question.
Victor Elderton is Principal of the North Vancouver Outdoor School and
member of the Board of the Environmental Educators of BC. He is also the
director of the Pacific Foundation for Understanding Nature Society.