What do you do when your son falls in love with a book full of foreign animals and you want to offer him a chance to do the same with more local animals, but you can’t find the right book?
You make a book.
Or you do if you’re Kristen Cooper, one of the most creative and crafty people I have ever met.
“I wanted him to see animals that he would actually see around here … so I just started painting them,” said Cooper, describing how her son Kesten had received an animal book full of exotic jungle animals for Christmas which became one of his favourites. But she wanted him to get to know the animals around Fort St. James as well, and so she started a project with the paintings.
Cooper had not done a lot of painting since she took a few classes at university, but she didn’t let that slow her down.
Cooper compiled 27 paintings and information she researched into a children’s book titled My Northern Animals, which she has now self-published through the website Blurb.
The book is 30 pages, with each of the 27 animals having been painted by her and accompanied with some interesting facts on each one and the Dakelh (Carrier) word for each animal as well.
Cooper, new to the north, has been fascinated by the wildlife in the area, which is so visible in small communities like Fort St. James, and she said the northern animals often don’t get the spotlight they deserve.
“We’re raising (our son) in the North and we want him to have an appreciation for the land and the environment he lives in,” she said.
Researching the animals was a fun job for Cooper, who said she could have written a book about each one, and there were so many animals she couldn’t include them all.
Some of the facts she includes in her book are details like how the boreal owl uses its hearing to hunt under the snow, and how cougars can jump nearly as high as a two-story house.
But she said there were plenty of things she didn’t get to include which were just as interesting, like the fact adult wolves will leave their pups with “babysitters” in the pack when they go out to hunt and the seven-year population cycle which connects the snowshoe hare and the lynx, something documented since the early days of the fur trade.
Cooper used some local knowledge as well to help with the book, consulting Guy Prince on the Dakelh spellings and names and she spoke to Sandra Sulyma, a local biologist, who helped her select some key animals in the area to include.
“Having only been here about four years, I have been so fascinated by the abundance of new wildlife that I have seen,” said Cooper. “Writing and painting the book has been a great way for me to personally learn more about the local animal life and to have a deeper appreciation of it.”
She said the project has inspired her to take up the hobbies of snowshoeing and tracking animals tracks.
“I hope that in writing this book that I can share some of that wonder with others,” she said.
Cooper spent about one hour on each of the paintings and countless hours researching the animals thanks to her fascination. She began the project in January of this year and just recently published the book.
She has also published a painted alphabet book for children, a project she started after she got married and only recently completed, taking her five years. But she wanted to finish it for her son Kesten.
Cooper and her husband David Nutbrown are expecting their second child very soon.