Books

Carla Gunn's novel about a child worried about the environment is from 2009. It's even more relevant in 2020

In this 2009 interview, the Fredericton author talks about the inspiration behind her Canada Reads-longlisted novel Amphibian.
Amphibian is a novel by Carla Gunn. (twitter.com/carladgunn, Coach House Books)

Carla Gunn is a professor at St. Thomas University. Amphibian, which she published in 2009, is her first book. It is one of 15 books longlisted for Canada Reads 2020.

Amphibian is a novel about Phineas Walsh, a nine-year-old with a love of animals and an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world. As he grapples with the damage that humanity is doing to the planet, a White's tree frog ends up in his Grade 4 class aquarium. He and his best friend Bird decide something must be done. 

In 2009, Gunn talked to CBC about Amphibian shortly after the book was published.

The final five Canada Reads books and their champions will be revealed on Jan. 22, 2020.

Unexpected inspiration

"Amphibian had a number of sources of inspiration. The idea came in a flash of insight one day when I was cycling with my younger son. He was ahead of me and he saw a plastic bag float across the bike path. He jumped off his bike, picked up the plastic bag and screamed, 'Don't people know the tortoise could choke on this!'

I wondered what it would be like to be a child overwhelmed with all of this knowledge about the natural world and about the state of the environment.​- Carla Gunn

"I wondered what it would be like to be a child overwhelmed with all of this knowledge about the natural world and about the state of the environment. Maybe they had parents who were a little unsympathetic to their knowledge and to their desire to do something about it. That's basically how the book started."

New Brunswick author Carla Gunn speaks about the inspiration behind her novel Amphibian. 10:08

Making sense of the world

"Phin uses lists as a way of dealing with his anxiety. It gives him a little bit of control over some of the things that he's dealing with. It also allows him to reframe threatening things in humorous or less threatening ways. It's his way of trying to make sense of the world.

There are a lot of kids out there who are quite disturbed by what they're seeing happen to the planet — and frustrated by the inaction of us adults all around them.- Carla Gunn

"You can't turn on the TV or the radio without hearing something about environmental degradation, pollution, resource depletion, all those sorts of things.

"Kids are like sponges, they learn everything that's coming their way. There are a lot of kids out there who are quite disturbed by what they're seeing happen to the planet — and frustrated by the inaction of us adults all around them."

We're all animals

"We're all creatures. We're human animals. When I would read nonfiction books with my sons, they would tend to focus a lot on animals. I amassed this amazing wealth of animal knowledge. What always struck me, as somebody who practices psychology, is there really isn't a distinction between animals and us. We're animals too."

Carla Gunn's 2009 novel Amphibian tells the story of an anxious 9-year old named Phineas. He worries about the future of the planet - more specifically, about an Australian tree frog he'd like to send back home. 8:01

Universal message

"I think that a lot of people who are concerned about environmental issues have experienced feelings like Phin at some point or another.

I think that a lot of people who are really concerned about environmental issues have experienced feelings like Phin at some point or another.- Carla Gunn

"Recently a woman who does work as a conservationist said to me, 'You know, you've captured how I have felt in my late teens and in my early 20s when I was struggling trying to make sense out of everything that was happening.'"

Carla Gunn's comments have been edited for length and clarity. You can read more interviews in the How I Wrote It series here.

 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.