Telling stories that are as inclusive and diverse as we are

By Elizabeth Boileau

How important are the stories we tell about outdoor learning? Story books have a unique power to shape children’s outlook, motivate and inspire them. Children need to see themselves represented in stories of all types to know they have a world of possibilities before them. 

Last year, at an environmental education conference, I learned that families of colour and diverse ethnic origins are seldom portrayed in the literature on the outdoors. Although I have often seen a huge diversity of families enjoying parks and natural areas, there are very few books that feature children and families of colour going camping or playing outside in the winter.


What impact might that have on young readers, I wonder?


Children’s books are filled with implicit messages and can play a role in shaping the kind of world we want them to see – a world where everyone feels welcome to explore beautiful Canadian landscapes and engage in outdoor activities. So, it is important to stop and look at what type of people are represented in children’s books, and who has been omitted.


Pete Oswald, illustrator of “Hike” (published in 2020), does an amazing job at telling the outdoor adventure story of a father and child of colour that go on a day hike together. What makes this book stand out is its simplicity and its beautiful images. In fact, there is no text (other than a few words within the illustrations), therefore the story can be told in a different way every time. It is unclear whether the child in the story is a “she” or a “he” so I have told this story both ways, as well as using the pronoun “they”. The way this child is represented without a specific gender adds another layer to the inclusivity this book promotes. Some of the most touching moments in the story are when the child conquers their fear of crossing a log across a stream, when the father-child duo climb up a mountain and are rewarded with views of soaring bald eagles, and when they return home to enjoy some milk and cookies together after a long day. It is a beautifully illustrated, unique and engaging book that children of all ages will enjoy. And it helps counter the norm. 


I encourage teachers, environmental educators, and parents to be intentional about the stories they tell about the outdoors and the books they use in their teaching. “Hike” might be a great addition to your bookcase!


More books to add to your collection can be found at: 


Elizabeth has a lifelong passion for nature and the outdoors. She is a PhD Candidate at Lakehead University researching child-nature relations. She also loves reading stories to children.
She can be reached at

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