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Book cover of A Voice for the Spirit Bears

A Voice for the Spirit Bears

By Carmen Oliver, illustrated Katy Dockrill. Kids Can Press, 2019. 32 pages, $18.95.
Joanna Clark

A Voice for the Spirit Bears is an excellent book to introduce the topics of advocacy, compassion and confidence-building to students. It is based on the true story of Simon Jackson, the founder of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.

In this book, written by Carmen Oliver and beautifully illustrated by Katy Dockrill, readers are introduced to Simon, a young boy who related more to nature than to the other children in the school yard. He was teased at school for his stutter and, although doctors assured him that he would be fine, he felt the complete opposite. As he explored the woods by his home, he felt comfortable and happy. In this happy place, he began reading, especially about bears. At home, he watched the news and saw a story about a forest above Canada’s border in Alaska that needed saving as trees were to be cut down, destroying the homes of the bears that lived there. This was the push Simon needed to spring into action. He opened lemonade stands to raise money and wrote to the people in power urging them to stop cutting the trees. He was happy to learn he was making a difference. At school, he still felt uncomfortable and wanted a way to get his words out clearly. He wanted to encourage his classmates to write letters too. Simon stood in front of his peers to ask for help. The illustrations show his sweaty palms and unsure feet. In this moment Simon spoke clearly, without stuttering. He found his voice and it propelled his activism. He went on to create a youth coalition, attending rallies, and joining an expedition to study spirit bears. He even became friends with Dr. Jane Goodall.

The message of perseverance weaves its way throughout this story. Oliver uses metaphors to emphasize that one person can encourage others to make a difference and bring about real change. If you are looking for a strong mentor text with beautiful pictures, this is the book to use. In the classroom, you can use it to link to a variety of curriculum areas as well as springboard to character development and social justice. A Voice for the Spirit Bears aligns very well with the Grade 4 science curriculum, specifically expectation 3.8, which has students “explain why changes in the environment have a greater impact on specialized species than on generalized species.” After the story there is a short biography of Simon Jackson and an explanation of Spirit Bears. This section can encourage more research and exploration into the topics in the story.

Joanna Clark is a member of Thames Valley Teacher Local.