Books·My Life in Books

Essex County star Finlay Wojtak-Hissong on the lessons he learned from these 3 books

Finlay starring in the television adaptation of Essex County, based on the graphic novel by Jeff Lemire. Ahead of the show's premiere on March 19, Parker recommends 3 books she's loved throughout her life.

Essex County premieres on March 19 on CBC TV and CBC Gem

A white 11-year-old boy with curly, short brunette hair looks to his right, smiling slightly. He wears a long-sleeved striped grey and navy shirt and a red cape tied around his neck. The street and lines of trees behind him are out of focus.
Finlay Wojtak-Hissong stars in Essex County, premiering on CBC TV and CBC Gem on March 19, 2023. (Elly Dassas)

Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, who is 11, began his acting career at the age of eight. He has appeared in The Kindness of Strangers, Blood, Dreamkatcher and Robin Wright's feature directorial debut Land.

Now, alongside Molly Parker, Stephen McHattie and Kevin Durand, Wojtak-Hissong stars in the television adaptation of Essex County. The show is based on the hit graphic novel by award-winning Canadian comic cartoonist and author Jeff Lemire.

Premiering in Canada on CBC TV and CBC Gem on March 19, Essex County follows the interconnected lives of two families in a rural Ontario community. The series explores how the effects of trauma, betrayal and loss can ripple through generations.

Wojtak-Hissong plays young Lester, a boy who has moved in with his uncle Ken, a farmer, after his mother dies.

Ahead of the show's premiere, he sat down with CBC Books to discuss three books and what he's learned from them. 

Bone by Jeff Smith

The graphic novel is a comic drawing of a all-white character with a bald head and a grey backpack holding a map as they walk in between two rock walls. Behind them, a black shadowy figure with two eyes stares at them. The grey rock terrain is set against a dark navy night sky with stars. The title "Bones" is above in red bubbled font.
Bone is a graphic novel series by Jeff Smith. (Jeff Smith, Scholastic)

"It was a fun read. The main character was someone nobody in the town liked, but he ended up defending the town from monsters. At the time, I was eight or nine, so I liked the idea of him defending the town and whatnot.

"It's just kind of cool to see this fake world where different things happen outside of a normal life. It keeps you young!"

Endurance by Alfred Lansing 

Endurance by Alfred Lansing.
Endurance is a book by Alfred Lansing. (Basic Books)

"In 1914 and 1915, these 28 men, including the captain — his name was Shackleton — sailed out to the Antarctic, and they got stuck in ice. They obviously couldn't move, they couldn't go anywhere and no one knew where they were. So they tried to live on their boat for as long as they could. Eventually it started to crash because of the ice and water pouring in. So they lived on the ice floes for a year.

It was inspiring to me. Captain Shackleton managed to keep every single member alive.- Finlay Wojtak-Hissong

"Then they took the rescue boats and managed to get to an island called Elephant Island where they stayed for a long time. Then, Shackleton and some other men went to another island. They found a whaling station where they would hunt and kill whales. 

"It was inspiring to me. Captain Shackleton managed to keep every single member alive. It shows me that even through the hard times they went through — obviously stuff that happens in my life probably won't ever [be like that] — but it was inspiring because it tells me through the hard times to keep on going because it will get easier.

"It's based on a true story. I love history. I love learning about different wars but also history in terms of learning what your ancestors went through for you to be alive today. I also like learning about how your parents grew up and about different countries. It's important to keep in touch with your history."

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

The graphic novel cover has an image of five people standing in a line across the cover with their backs to the reader. The first is a man in a plaid shirt. To his right is a woman in a dress with black hair flying and then to her right is a boy in a red cape. To his right, a larger man in a number nine hockey jersey with a hockey stick in his right hand and last is a shorter person in a long coat. They stand on top of black ground. Underneath their feet is soil with the lines of tree roots. The background and the roots are turquoise blue.
Jeff Lemire is the author of graphic novel Essex County. (The Canadian Press/Cole Burston, Top Shelf Productions)

"When I was cast for the show, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the story. We went to the library and picked up the first volume. 

"What the kid, Lester, went through was just very inspiring to me. To see what Lester went through, even through losing his mom and technically losing his dad in a relationship, he managed to find his way back to his uncle. At first he really didn't like his uncle but he managed to find his way back to him.

The book taught me that if you don't let your guard down and try to trust someone, then you never will.​​​​- Finlay Wojtak-Hissong

"He's this type of character where he's built up all these walls against people because he doesn't want to be hurt again. It's very inspiring that when he lets his guard down it is because he finds a new relationship in an old relationship. 

"I felt like I could really bring that story to life. I knew when I was cast that it was going to be one of the most difficult shows that I've ever done in terms of the emotional [range] and just connecting with the character.

"The book taught me that if you don't let your guard down and try to trust someone, then you never will."

Finlay Wojtak-Hissong's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

WATCH | Introducing the five-part limited series Essex County: 


Nikky Manfredi is an associate producer at CBC Books. She is a writer, producer and fact-checker based in Toronto.

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