Books·Reading list

14 Canadian books to read for Earth Day 2023

Earth Day is celebrated around the world on April 22. Check out our reading list of Canadian books with themes of climate change, nature and sustainability.

Earth Day is celebrated around the world on April 22. Here's a reading list of 11 Canadian books — fiction, poetry and nonfiction — about the environment, animals, climate change and more.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

A black, white and orange book cover with stylized text and the book's author, a blond woman wearing a navy coat looking off into the distance.
Birnam Wood is a book by New Zealand author Eleanor Catton. (McClelland & Stewart)

Birnam Wood is an engaging eco-thriller set in the middle of a landslide in New Zealand. Looking to make opportunity out of a disaster, Mira, the founder of a guerilla gardening collective that plants crops amid other criminal environmental activities, sets her sights on an evacuated farm as a way out of financial ruin. The only problem is the American billionaire Robert Lemoine has already laid claim to it as his end-of-the-world lair. After the same thing for polar opposite reasons, their paths cross and Robert makes Mira an offer that would stave off her financial concerns for good. The question is: can she trust him? 

Eleanor Catton is a London, Ont.-born New Zealand author. She won the 2013 Booker Prize for fiction and the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for her second novel, The Luminaries.

LISTEN | Eleanor Catton talks to Eleanor Wachtel about Birnam Wood: 
In 2013, Canadian-born, New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton made history when she became the youngest person ever to win the Booker Prize. Catton was just 28 and her novel, The Luminaries, went on to become an international bestseller. Catton later adapted her novel for a BBC-TV mini-series and wrote the screenplay for the 2020 film production of Jane Austen's Emma. Now, her much anticipated new novel, Birnam Wood, a page-turning eco-thriller set in New Zealand's South Island, tackles some of the biggest issues of our time, including the climate crisis, digital surveillance and economic inequality.

The Book of Rain by Thomas Wharton

A composite photo of a book cover featuring rain drops on an illustration of a green bird and the book's author, a man with short gray hair and glasses wearing a turtleneck.
The Book of Rain is a novel by Thomas Wharton. (Random House Canada, Mary Sperle)

The Book of Rain is a science fiction novel set in a world where ghost ore, a new minable energy source much more lucrative than gold can disrupt time and space and slowly make an environment inhospitable. In one of three ghost ore hotspots in the world, the mining town of River Meadows, residents have been evacuated, except Amery Hewitt can't seem to stay away. The former resident frequently returns to River Meadows to save the animals still living in the contaminated zone. When Amery goes on another dangerous trip and doesn't return, her game designer brother, Alex, enlists the help of his mathematician friend to help get her back. All they need to do is break the laws of physics. Amery's story is one plot line of three in this mind-bending epic by Wharton. 

Alberta-based author Thomas Wharton has written several books, including his first novel, Icefields, which won the 1996 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book in Canada and the Caribbean. Icefields was a finalist for Canada Reads 2008, when it was defended by Steve MacLean. His novel Salamander, was shortlisted for the 2001 Governor General's Award for fiction and was also a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize the same year. 

LISTEN | Thomas Wharton on The Next Chapter: 
TNC contributor Ryan B. Patrick interviews Thomas Wharton about his latest novel, The Book of Rain.

Greenwood by Michael Christie

A composite photo of a book cover featuring a green forest and the book's author, a man white short hair looking straight at the camera.
Michael Christie is the author of Greenwood. (McClelland & Stewart, Cedar Bowers)

In the novel Greenwood, it's the year 2038 and most of the world has suffered from an environmental collapse. But there is a remote island with 1,000 year-old trees and Jake Greenwood works as a tour guide there. From there, the novel takes you back in time as you learn more about Jake, her family and how secrets and lies can have an impact for generations.

Greenwood was on the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist and won the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award (now the Canadian Crime Writing Awards) for best novelGreenwood was championed by actor Keegan Connor Tracy on Canada Reads 2023.

    Michael Christie is a novelist currently living in Victoria. His 2011 short story collection The Beggar's Garden won the Vancouver Book Award and was a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. His 2015 novel If I Fall, If I Die won the Northern Lit Award and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

    LISTEN | Michael Christie talks to Ryan B. Patrick about Greenwood
    Ryan B. Patrick interviews Michael Christie about his 2023 Canada Reads contender, Greenwood.

    Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Müller

    Life in the City of Dirty Water is a book by Clayton Thomas-Muller. (Allen Lane, Thelma Young Lutunatabua)

    A memoir by Cree activist Clayton Thomas-MüllerLife in the City of Dirty Water covers his entire life: from playing with toy planes as a way to escape from domestic and sexual abuse and enduring the intergenerational trauma of Canada's residential school system; to becoming a young man who fought against racism and violence, but also spent time in juvenile prison; to becoming a committed activist. Along the way, Thomas-Müller remained tied to his Cree heritage and spirituality. This debut is a narrative and vision of healing and responsibility. 

    Life in the City of Dirty Water was championed by Suzanne Simard on Canada Reads 2022.

    Thomas-Müller is a member of the Treaty #6 based Mathias Colomb Cree Nation located in Northern Manitoba. He's campaigned on behalf of Indigenous peoples around the world for more than 20 years, working with numerous organizations. 

    LISTEN | Clayton Thomas-Müller talks about his latest memoir: 
    Clayton Thomas-Müller talks to Shelagh Rogers about his debut book, Life in the City of Dirty Water.

    Parasitic Oscillations by Madhur Anand

    Parasitic Oscillations is a book by Madhur Anand. (Ian Willms, McClelland & Stewart)

    Parasitic Oscillations examines a variety of philosophical and ethical dilemmas to inform and question. Set against the backdrop of ecological collapse, these poems draw on Madhur Anand's work in the arts and sciences and experience living between North American and Indian culture.

    Madhur Anand is a poet and professor of ecology at the University of Guelph. She is the author of the A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes and This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart, which won the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

      Still Hopeful by Maude Barlow

      Activist and author Maude Barlow's latest book is called Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism.
      Activist and author Maude Barlow's latest book is called Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. (ECW Press, Michelle Valberg)

      Maude Barlow counters the prevailing atmosphere of pessimism and offers lessons of hope that she has learned from a lifetime of activism. Barlow has been involved in three major movements: second-wave feminism, the battle against free trade and globalization and the fight for water justice. She emphasizes that effective activism is about building a movement and finding like-minded people rather than making the goal the focus.

      Barlow is a Canadian activist and writer. She is the bestselling author of 20 books and served as the senior water advisor to the UN General Assembly. Barlow was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right. She lives in Ottawa.

      LISTEN | Maude Barlow on CBC Radio: 
      As a leader in Canada's women's movement, Maude Barlow helped score victory after victory. But when her activism moved to combating globalization and the dominant economic narratives of our time, she had to dig deep to find hope. The author and activist joins Piya Chattopadhyay to discuss her new book Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. She shares her insights on how to build an activist movement for the long haul, and reacts to the latest damning report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released earlier this week.

      Luschiim's Plants: Traditional Indigenous Foods, Materials and Medicine by Dr. Luschiim Arvid Charlie and Nancy J. Turner

      Luschiim's Plants is a nonfiction book by Luschiim Arvid Charlie and Nancy J. Turner. (Harbour Publishing, Robert Turner)

      Cowichan Tribe Elder Luschiim Arvid Charlie passes down traditional teachings he received from his own Elders as a youth, his great-grandparents and members of their generation, in this book of regional plants and medicines. Luschiim's Plants collects over 140 plants — from algae and seaweeds to fungi and mushrooms, ferns and fern-allies and more — and includes their common, scientific and Hul′q′umi′num′ names, as well as where they are found and how to conserve them.

      The book is nominated for the 2022 Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award.

      Luschiim Arvid Charlie was born in Quamichan in 1942 and lives in the Duncan, B.C. area. He began learning about plants from Elders at a young age, and has dedicated his life to learning about the natural world and sharing traditional knowledge. In 2007, he received an honorary doctorate of letters degree from Malaspina University-College for his work in protecting the environment, teaching Coast Salish culture and preserving the Hul'q'umi'num' language.

      Nancy J. Turner is an award-winning ethnobotanist and professor emerita with the University of Victoria. She has authored, co-authored or co-edited over 30 books, many of which are collaborations with Indigenous communities to document and preserve traditional knowledge around plants, foods, materials and medicines. She has been adopted into Haida, Kwakwaka'wakw, Songhees and Nisga'a families.

      Raccoon by Daniel Heath Justice

      Raccoon is a book by Daniel Heath Justice. (Submitted by Daniel Heath Justice, Reaktion Books)

      Raccoon is a nonfiction look at the common raccoon that examines why the animal is thriving in Canadian urban environments and how the raccoon is benefiting from climate change. Raccoon explores how they have adapted to urban life and how they are seen in some Indigenous cultures as a trickster or a transformative figure.

      Daniel Heath Justice is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a professor of First Nations and Indigenous studies and English at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Badger and Why Indigenous Literatures Matter. 

      LISTEN | Daniel Heath Justice on CBC Radio: 
      Daniel Heath Justice talks to Shelagh Rogers about his book, Raccoon.

      Chemical Valley by David Huebert

      Chemical Valley is a short story collection by David Huebert. (Biblioasis, Nicola Davison)

      Halifax author David Huebert named his latest collection of short stories after Chemical Valley, a region in Sarnia, Ont., with a large number of plants and refineries. Many of Huebert's characters make their living from the petrochemical industry, but also see the impacts of climate change. 

      Huebert is the author of two poetry collections and two works of fiction. His first collection of short stories, Peninsula Sinking, won the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award and was shortlisted for the Alistair MacLeod Fiction Prize. He won the 2016 Short Story Prize for his story Enigma.

      LISTEN | David Huebert talks about his writing craft: 
      "Cli-fi" is a growing literary genre that, at its best, can inspire hope and spur action. Hear from Catherine Bush, Premee Mohamed and David Huebert about their new works of fiction.

      Garden Physic by Sylvia Legris

      A composite image with two panels. On the left: an illustrated book cover with a beige background, blue, yellow and orange flowers, and a bumblebee. On the right: a black and white image of a woman with dark hair and glasses with her hand resting on her chin.
      Garden Physic is a poetry collection by Sylvia Legris. (New Directions, Submitted by Sylvia Legris)

      Garden Physic is a poetry collection dedicated to the joy of tending to one's garden. Using florid language and poetic verse, Garden Physic revels in the pleasures of nature, weather and colour — and how the garden functions as a place of growth and healing. 

      Sylvia Legris is a Saskatoon poet and author originally from Winnipeg. She has published several volumes of poetry, including The Hideous Hidden and Nerve Squall, which won the 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award.

      LISTEN | Sylvia Legris shares her thoughts on poetry and writing: 
      Sylvia Legris talks to Shelagh Rogers about her poetry collection Garden Physic.

      Lurch by Don McKay

      Lurch is a poetry collection by Don McKay. (Marlene Creates, McClelland & Stewart)

      Don McKay invokes "the profane wonders of the wilderness" in his poetry, exploring the awe-inspiring, often "unsayable" natural wonders of the world — from rivers and trees to lichen and birdsong. The poetry lurches with complexity, astonishment and worry, as he contemplates the human complicity in mass extinction.

      Don McKay is the author of 14 books of poetry, including Strike/Slip, which won the Griffin Poetry Prize, Camber, Selected Poems and Angular Unconformity. McKay has taught poetry in universities across Canada. He currently lives in St. John's.

        The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

        The Annual Migration of Clouds is a novel by Premee Mohamed. (ECW Press)

        Premee Mohamed's novel takes place long after climate disasters have wreaked havoc around the globe. The Annual Migration of Clouds is set on the abandoned University of Alberta campus, where a community of survivors cobbles together an existence as they cope with an incurable disease. 

        Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and author of speculative fiction in Edmonton. Her series Beneath the Rising received nominations for the Crawford Award, British Fantasy Award, Locus Award and Aurora Award. 

        LISTEN | Premee Mohamed on The Annual Migration of Clouds
        Premee Mohamed may write about the end of the world, mysterious illnesses and climate chaos but it’s not exactly hopeless apocalyptic fiction. The scientist and author focuses on rebuilding, adaptation and the hard work of getting on with it after everything has changed. She joins guest host David Common to talk about her latest book, The Annual Migration of Clouds and the enduring power of community – for better or worse.

        Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

        Finding the Mother Tree is a memoir by Suzanne Simard. (Allen Lane, CBC)

        Biologist Suzanne Simard discovered the reality of the interconnection and intelligence of the forest. She's been able to find out that the trees are indeed whispering to each other — communicating not through the wind, but through the soil. Her new scientific memoir, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, describes her life and research. 

        Finding the Mother Tree was the grand prize winner for the 2021 Banff Mountain Book Competition and a category winner for the mountain environment and natural history award. It was also nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

        Simard is a B.C.-based author and academic who grew up in Canadian forests as a descendant of loggers. She is a professor in the department of forest and conservation sciences at the University of British Columbia. Simard championed Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Müller on Canada Reads 2022.

        LISTEN | Suzanne Simard talks about her latest work
        Suzanne Simard talks to Shelagh Rogers about her book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.

        My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi

        My Volcano is a novel by John Elizabeth Stintzi. ( John Elizabeth Stintzi, Arsenal Pulp Press)

        A series of strange ecological phenomena begin to occur around the world: a 2.5 mile-tall volcano emerges in New York City and sends media into a frenzy, a landslide of lemons leads to a juice boom for a company in California and a human being turns into a magical green and growing thing that aims to engulf everything in its path. The stories and narrators of John Elizabeth Stintzi's novel reflect on a variety of societal responses to ecological trauma — including a desire to capitalize on it.

        John Elizabeth Stintzi is a writer from northwestern Ontario, currently based in Kansas City, Mo. Their work Selections From Junebat won the 2019 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and the Malahat Review's 2019 Long Poem Prize. Their poetry collection, Junebatwas published in spring 2020. They are also the author of the novel Vanishing Monumentswhich was a finalist for the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

        Our planet is changing. Keep up with the latest happenings on the CBC News Climate and Environment page.

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