Local biologist turned author uses magic to make ecological literacy fun

Elizabeth Bekolay at the Prince Albert Public Library on Saturday afternoon during a reading from her first book, Nature’s Apprentices: The Magic of the Peatlands. -- Bailey Sutherland/Daily Herald.

A local nature-based educator, naturalist, and writer is turning the stories she told her children growing up into a self-published series of kids books that mixes ecological lessons with magical adventure to inspire families to help save Saskatchewan’s muskeg.

Author Elizabeth Bekolay was at the John M. Cuelenaere Library on Saturday afternoon for a reading from the first book of her series entitled Nature’s Apprentices: The Magic of the Peatlands.

“When my children were little, I used to tell them stories. I was studying biology and working out of Saskatoon, and every day that I couldn’t bring them out to nature, I would try to bring nature to them,” said Bekolay. “I’d shrink them down in their imaginations and walk them through the areas I was learning about and connecting with.”

In 2018, a friend suggested she begin writing down her stories and as a nature-based educator working with students at the time, Bekolay thought learning about the loss of the north’s peatlands would be the perfect ecosystem to promote literacy about. She quickly found out after doing some research of publishers that printing illustrated children’s books on recycled paper is not something that’s done in the industry and because of her love for the forest and her concern with clear cutting, Bekolay knew that self-publishing was the only way to go.

After meeting etymological and botanical illustrator Jennifer Lynn Becker online and asking her to be a part of the project, Becker suggested creating a fundraiser on Kickstarter in an effort to raise the money needed to self-publish Nature’s Apprentices. The Kickstarter generated over $18,000, which went to hiring editors and paid for the book’s printing.

“I was shocked actually,” said Bekolay. “I had no idea that we would raise this money but people really liked the idea that the books would be printed on recycled paper, they really liked the idea of ecological literacy for children with a magic tone.”

Bekolay grew up in Prince Albert and always had a strong connection with the land. As a child, Bekolay would bike to Little Red and go canoeing with her family every weekend in the summer. After having her own children, pursuing her biology degree and becoming a nature-based educator, she realized that being outdoors is what she needs to be healthy.

“Knowing how that’s helped me, I try to share that with other people to see if I can help them also,” she added.