Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

A detail of the cover illustration by Katy Dockrill for A Voice for the Spirit Bears
A detail of the cover illustration by Katy Dockrill for A Voice for the Spirit Bears. Cover image courtesy of Kids Can Press

New Beach Reads for Kids of All Ages

This season’s selections take readers to beaches, islands, and the rainforest, where they meet an inspiring cast of characters.

Authored by

by Raina Delisle

Article body copy

While you may enjoy relaxing on the beach with a good read, kids are much more likely to build sandcastles and driftwood forts, search for sea glass, and go on imaginative adventures with friends new and old—all experiences we hear about in this season’s selections of coastal kids’ books.

But when the kids head home after a sun-soaked day, they need to relax, and diving into a book is a great way to unwind. Not only is reading fun—a 2018 Scholastic survey found that nearly 60 percent of kids ages six to 17 really enjoy reading over the summer—it’s also important to avoid the dreaded “summer slide,” the loss of academic skills over the holidays. Still, that same Scholastic survey found that the percentage of kids ages nine to 11 who read zero books over the summer doubled from seven percent in 2016 to 14 percent in 2018. Help reverse that trend by sharing some of these captivating coastal reads with the kids in your life this summer.


West Coast 123s cover imageWest Coast 123s
Text and illustrations by Jocey Asnong
28 pp. Rocky Mountain Books

From the lighthouse in Sooke to the salmon that spawn in the Squamish River, West Coast 123s introduces the littlest book lovers to the iconic sights and species of British Columbia. Chubby little fingers can count the colorful characters, including six seals soaking up the sun in Sidney by the Sea and 14 surfers ripping through the waves in Tofino. Whether you live on the coast of British Columbia or just dream of visiting, West Coast 123s will inspire a love of land and sea among readers young and old.


Babies of the Great Bear Rainforest cover imageBabies of the Great Bear Rainforest
Text and photos by Ian McAllister
24 pp. Orca Book Publishers

British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the subject of an awe-inspiring IMAX film in theaters now, and home to an array of wildlife and their adorable offspring. In Babies of the Great Bear Rainforest, Ian McAllister, director of the film and a celebrated visual storyteller who lives in the rainforest, introduces us to his beloved newborn neighbors. If proud animal parents could post photos on Instagram, this is what we’d see: a killer whale calf smoothly swimming alongside its mother, a spirit bear cub confidently climbing a tree, and a sea otter pup lounging on its mom’s chest. This board book is an excellent introduction to the diversity of life in one of the wildest places on the planet.


Great Bear Rainforest: A Giant-Screen Adventure in the Land of the Spirit Bear cover imageGreat Bear Rainforest: A Giant-Screen Adventure in the Land of the Spirit Bear
Text by Alex Van Tol and Ian McAllister
Photos by Ian McAllister
96 pp. Orca Book Publishers

Did you leave the Great Bear Rainforest IMAX film with a child who begged to see it again (and again) and learn more (and more) about this sacred sanctuary? Great Bear Rainforest: A Giant-Screen Adventure in the Land of the Spirit Bear is exactly what you need to satisfy that craving for knowledge. This captivating coffee table book takes readers behind the scenes to see what it took to create the film, including cooperation with First Nations, three years of shooting, the latest and greatest technology, and a roster of talented and dedicated individuals. With gripping anecdotes (like the time a sly wolf stole McAllister’s GoPro), tips from the pros (find a good role model and lead by example), and tidbits of science (do you know the difference between keystone, foundation, and umbrella species?), this book will inspire the next generation of storytellers and environmentalists.


A Voice for the Spirit Bears cover imageA Voice for the Spirit Bears
Text by Carmen Oliver
Illustrations by Katy Dockrill
32 pp. Kids Can Press

For even more inspiration, pick up a copy of A Voice for the Spirit Bears and meet a passionate young environmentalist who is striving to save the rare black bears with white fur after learning about proposed logging in the Great Bear Rainforest. Based on a true story, this book follows Simon Jackson’s journey from shy student with a stutter to empowered activist who rallies his peers, the public, and even pop stars. Simon’s hard work and perseverance take him all the way to the Great Bear Rainforest where he meets a spirit bear face to face and makes it a promise: “I won’t let you down.” And he doesn’t. This uplifting story—told through emotive prose and enchanting illustrations in a pastel palette—shows kids that one voice really can make a difference. The back matter includes additional information about real-life Simon and spirit bears, and some tips on how kids can get involved, including hosting a bake sale and donating the proceeds to a worthy cause. Sounds like a fun summer activity!


Friends cover imageFriends
Illustrations by Geraldo Valério
40 pp. Groundwood Books

When a picture book has no words, you have to use your imagination to tell the story. Similarly, when you head to the beach to fish but the fish aren’t biting, you have to get creative. That’s the premise in Friends, a wordless book with vibrant illustrations featuring a girl with curly red hair and her trusty pet frog. The pair cope with the disappointment of not having any fish to catch by turning their frowns upside down and making faces at themselves in the water. When their reflections transform into a mermaid with her own pet frog, the adventure begins. You can take turns telling the story with the young reader in your life and enjoy the different interpretations of the joyful imagery that takes you on a swirling adventure to the seafloor and back up again.


The Magic Boat cover imageThe Magic Boat
Text by Kit Pearson and Katherine Farris
Illustrations by Gabrielle Grimard
32 pp. Orca Book Publishers

Do you have a shy child in your life? The Magic Boat might just help them come out of their shell. Every summer morning, Ellie and her nonna go to the beach, but Ellie can never muster the confidence to join in the fun with the other children. But one day, another little girl invites Ellie on her “magic boat,” a washed-up, splintery rowboat, and they go on amazing adventures from sea to sky fueled by the power of their imaginations. Ellie is hooked. But when her friend heads back to the city and Ellie tries to take the magic boat on a solo adventure, it doesn’t work. She realizes she needs a friend, takes a deep breath, and asks a little boy to play. With descriptive language and whimsical illustrations, readers feel like they’re along for the ride. It’s the perfect book to prepare kids for fun at the beach with new friends.


To Live on an Island cover imageTo Live on an Island
Text by Emma Bland Smith
Illustrations by Elizabeth Person
32 pp. Sasquatch Books

Kids often enjoy learning how other people live, especially when it’s different from their day-to-day. To Live on an Island takes young readers to the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington State, where the ferry horn is the alarm clock, the beach is the classroom, paddleboarding is the preferred after-school activity, and dinner is whatever comes up in the crab trap. The simple story follows a young boy as he goes about a typical day, and sidebars add interesting facts about the region. For example, when the boy spies a bald eagle swooping down and snagging a fish through his binoculars, we learn that the San Juan Islands have the greatest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. The detailed ink and watercolor illustrations capture the beauty and simplicity of life on the San Juans and even feature some real-life places that people in the know will recognize.


The Ocean Craft Book cover iamgeThe Ocean Craft Book
Text by Clare Beaton and Rudi Haig
Illustrations by Clare Beaton
32 pp. Charlesbridge

Beat boredom this summer by picking up a copy of The Ocean Craft Book and making a sea of ocean creatures with the kids. There are more than a dozen engaging activities in this book complete with easy-to-follow instructions, including paper-cup penguins, jellyfish bowl bouncers, and toilet-paper-tube coral reefs. Each activity includes an introduction full of fun facts. For example, before kids make a shark pop-up card, they’ll learn that sharks have been around since before dinosaurs and there are 500 species ranging in size from as big as a school bus to as small as a juice box. For a sweet reward after a day of learning and crafting, there’s a recipe for making sea-star-shaped cookies along with instructions on how to make seaweed serving platters.


Ocean Emporium: A Compilation of Creatures cover imageOcean Emporium: A Compilation of Creatures
Text by Susie Brooks
Illustrations by Dawn Cooper
64 pp. Charlesbridge

Taking the kids to the beach this summer? Before you pack up the pails and picnic blanket, peruse the pages of Ocean Emporium: A Compilation of Creatures and open their eyes to the diversity of life beneath the waves. This colorful compendium introduces young ocean enthusiasts to dozens of species in categories such as corals, sharks, and sea turtles. Each page includes a description of the featured animals and detailed drawings labeled with the common and scientific names, which inspire lots of giggles and discussion. My kids and I enjoyed picking out our favorite species on each page and discussing how they got their names. The gaudy clown crab, chocolate chip sea star, and striped pajama squid were particularly popular.


Sea Glass Summer cover imageSea Glass Summer
Text by Michelle Houts
Illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline
32 pp. Candlewick Press

Collecting sea glass is one of my favorite family beach activities. Every summer, we fill a mason jar and use the tiny treasures to make crafts. We often wonder where the glass comes from, especially those rare turquoise pieces—just like Thomas, the boy we meet in Sea Glass Summer. When Thomas is visiting his grandmother at her island cottage, she gives him her late husband’s magnifying glass and introduces him to sea glass. “Your grandfather used to say that each piece of sea glass has a story all its own,” she tells her grandson. When Thomas goes to sleep, he has vivid dreams of where the glass came from, taking readers to the past, through black-and-white pages, when a bottle of champagne was smashed to celebrate a new navy destroyer and a schooner was swallowed by the sea in a storm. When Thomas is on the ferry home, he accidentally drops the magnifying glass, and the shattered glass falls into the ocean becoming another story to be discovered generations later.


Stubby the Fearless Squid cover imageStubby the Fearless Squid
Text by Barbara Davis-Pyles
Illustrations by Carolyn Conahan
32 pp. Sasquatch Books

Getting a pen pal is a great way for kids to practice their writing over the summer and learn about life in another place. In Stubby the Fearless Squid, we meet a squid who decides to do just this. But when he’s matched with a clam named Razor, he gets intimidated and writes a litany of lies about how rough and tough he is. With each correspondence, the pals try to outdo each other until Razor comes for a visit and they both confess to exaggerating. Fortunately, all that daydreaming about being a tough guy helps Stubby save his new friend from a hungry otter. After that close encounter, Stubby and Razor decide to use their wild imaginations for good and start writing stories about thrilling and chilling adventures and sharing them with their friends. The quirky characters in this action-packed book offer valuable lessons in bravery, self-acceptance, and telling the truth.