Kids and Beavers: A Natural Match – a guest blog by Frances Backhouse
Beavers have been a huge part of my life as a freelance writer for the past decade, providing me with subject matter for a book, several magazine articles, a radio documentary and various speaking gigs. But all of those were aimed at adults. It wasn’t until a publisher invited me to write a beaver book for middle-graders that I considered reaching out to a younger audience. If I had known how fun—and rewarding—it would be, I would have done it sooner.
While I was working on Beavers: Radical Rodents and Ecosystem Engineers I sought out young people who were willing to share their beaver experiences with me and be featured in short profile sections of the book. These Beaver Backers, as I dubbed them, included three teenaged Methow Beaver Project volunteers, a Montana Conservation Corps youth crew member who had worked on a citizen science beaver assessment program as a 12-year-old and a Canadian high school student whose class had helped with a tree-wrapping project. In every case, their hands-on engagement had transformed them into articulate and enthusiastic beaver advocates.
Now that the book is out, I’m connecting with kids as readers, so far largely through virtual classroom visits. Those conversations are confirming what I found out from my Beaver Backers, which is that kids are keen to learn about this species. I suspect that’s because beavers are such recognizable animals and kids can easily relate to their family-centered, lodge-based lifestyle. Fortunately, opportunities to see beavers in action, even in cities, are increasing as their populations expand. And even when beavers stay out of sight, they still give aspiring observers lots of things to look for and at, from dams and lodges to chew sticks and scent mounds.
Like all of us, kids are faced with a barrage of gloomy environmental news these days, with the added burden of knowing they’re eventually going to have to rectify the problems their elders created. In contrast, the beaver’s recovery from near-extinction is a good news story and anyone can get involved in further improving life for beavers. At the end of the book I offer five ideas for celebrating beavers and five suggestions for how young people can get involved in beaver conservation and coexistence work. Whether or not readers pursue those ideas, I hope they’ll come away with a bit more optimism and a greater sense of their own ability to build a better world for themselves and other species—just like beavers do.
Most of all, I hope this book will get kids as excited about beavers as I am and inspire them to get out and explore their local beaver neighborhoods.
Because it’s clear to me that kids and beavers are a natural match.
– Frances Backhouse, author of Beavers: Radical Rodents and Ecosystem Engineers and Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver. www.backhouse.ca