This week we have a guest on the blog: Nadine Siever – Grade 3 teacher at Rose Valley Elementary School in West Kelowna, BC.

It is with pleasure that I share with you why I believe author Karen Autio’s latest book, Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon is an excellent resource for teachers, particularly in B.C. — and especially in the Okanagan.

Having said that, Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon is a picture book that any age group will enjoy, full of descriptive language, beautiful images and well-researched, accurate information about the syilx/Okanagan people and their rich history. I would recommend it to anyone.

We had an amazing author and illustrator visit with Karen Autio and Loraine Kemp and a wonderful writing workshop with Karen last fall. Since then, my Grade 3 class has continued to learn from this book. Just one of many examples of new things we’ve learned is that the ponderosa pine tree was originally named the yellow pine. Karen chose to write this story around the growth of a ponderosa, from seed and seedling to over 200 years old, an ingenious way to present the passage of time.

I am finding the teachers’ guide to be very useful and will continue to use the activities outlined in it with my students throughout the remainder of the school year. So far, our favourite is the activity on page 6, “Thinking about Language.” It is all about the syilx language, n̓syilxcín. There is a handy link to the “Colville-Okanagan Salish Alphabet Song” on YouTube, which my students found challenging but extremely fun to try singing along with.

A group of grade 3 students in the classroom looking at an overhead projection with their teacher.

Working on the Colville-Okanagan Salish Alphabet Song

Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon provides many opportunities to make connections with both science and social studies curriculum. For example,
one of the questions we strive to answer in science is: How does Aboriginal knowledge of living things honour interconnectedness? Karen has included a lot, both through the story and the information found in the back of her book, that helps us to answer this question.

With Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, much of the social studies content I am teaching is easily accessible. Students are expected to know some cultural characteristics and ways of life of local First Peoples. Other topics of interest are:

  • technological innovations
  • governance and social organization in local Indigenous societies
  • oral history
  • traditional stories
  • relationship with and respect for the land and artifacts as evidence about the past

Because I often use the Rose Valley Regional Park as an outdoor classroom and I spend time with my family exploring Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, where Wild Horse Canyon is located, Karen’s book has been an inspiration to me personally. Since moving to this beautiful valley eight years ago, I have been fascinated and excited about learning all I can about syilx/Okanagan culture. Karen has helped me to further my understanding in a meaningful way.

a group of grade 3 students in posing in front of a pondarosa pine forest.

The outdoor Grade 3 classroom.

I have used Karen Autio’s other books in my teaching over the years. I have done novel studies and literature circles with grade 4 & 5 classes reading her trilogy about Canadian history: Second Watch, Saara’s Passage and Sabotage. This will be the third consecutive year that I have read Kah-Lan the Adventurous Sea Otter (Sono Nis Press) with my Grade 3 students. It is a favourite in our school library, too!

I love the way Karen combines non-fiction and fiction in her historical writing to create stories full of interesting, well-developed characters. All of her books are hard to put down, and I will continue to recommend them to both youth and adult readers.

Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon is truly a great addition to my classroom library and a perfect reference book for any teacher wanting their students to more fully understand local Indigenous history and culture.