Grizzly Bears Listed for 2024 Green Earth Book Award

APRIL 16TH UPDATE: Grizzly Bears made the Short List!!

Grizzly Bears: Guardians of the Wilderness is long-listed in the Young Adult Nonfiction category for the 2024 Green Earth Book Award. The Short List will be announced in April and the complete list of winners, honorees and recommended reading will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2024.

This colourful book-cover mosaic highlights many of the contenders on the Long List. Grizzly Bears is in great company!

Beavers Shortlisted for Children’s Book Prize

Beavers: Radical Rodents and Ecosystem Engineers is on the three-book shortlist for the 2022 City of Victoria Children’s Book Prize. This $5,000 prize, established in 2008 by the late Mel Bolen of Bolen Books, is awarded annually to an author or illustrator from the Greater Victoria, BC, region.

The Children’s Book Prize and the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize (for adult books), a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies, are overseen by the Victoria Book Prize Society. The finalists for both prizes are selected by an independent jury comprised of representatives from the local literary arts community.

This year’s winners will be announced at an in-person gala emceed by CBC’s Kathryn Marlow on Wednesday, October 12, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased from the Victoria Book Prizes website.

I’m delighted and honoured to be up for a City of Victoria book prize for the third time. The first two were for the Butler Book Prize: Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver was shortlisted in 2016; Children of the Klondike was shortlisted in 2010 — and won! Here’s a photo of this happy author on that memorable night.

A New Job In a Familiar Place

A few months ago I began a new job as the associate editor of the SEJournal, the Society of Environmental Journalists‘ weekly digital news magazine. During the two decades that I’ve been a member of SEJ, I have attended annual conferences, volunteered as a mentor and developed important friendships with many other members, even some I’ve never met in person. I’m delighted to now have this opportunity to deepen my relationship with the organization and to contribute to it in a new way.

In an article announcing my hiring, SEJournal editor Adam Glenn explained that the long-vacant associate editor post was being filled as part of an effort to increase contributed features for the long-standing publication, which relaunched from a quarterly print magazine to an online weekly in 2016. The team I joined includes Adam, a staff writer and a dedicated crew of volunteer editors, along with countless contributors.

“We have been wanting to bring more of the experiences and know-how of SEJ members and other environmental journalists onto our pages,” Adam said in the article. “Frances will without doubt help us do that. She’s a standout editor, with a wealth of journalism background and strong editorial skills, but also with deep connections to environmental journalism and to the SEJ family.”

SEJ members are automatically subscribed to the SEJournal. Non-members are also welcome to subscribe, using the link on this page. Although the primary focus is environmental journalism, it’s also a great place to read about environmental issues from the journalist’s perspective. I learn new things with each story I edit, such as this one on climate attribution science and this one on the recent U.N. Food Systems Summit. Check us out!

Beavers Lauded as an Outstanding Science Book for Students

Beavers: Radical Rodents and Ecosystem Engineers is one of just 28 books selected by the National Science Teaching Association and the Children’s Book Council for their 2022 list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12. The winners were chosen from books published throughout the United States and Canada over the past 12 months.


The NSTACBC list was announced on Dec. 7, 2021, and will be published in the February 2022 issues of Science and Children, Science Scope, and The Science Teacher. At the National Science Teaching Association’s annual conference, NSTA Presidential Awardee educators will share strategies for using each of these books in the classroom. Last spring, the Children’s Book Council chose Beavers for its May 2021 Hot Off the Press list.


Beavers is also on the 2021-2022 BC Books for BC Schools, put out by the Association of Book Publishers of BC. The titles on this list are selected by teacher-librarians, who consider the books’ relevance to school curricula. The subject tags for Beavers in the catalogue include Science, Social Studies and English Language Arts.

Rethinking the Beaver on the Radio

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, writing and talking about beavers over the past ten years – ever since I started researching Once They Were Hats. And I’ve been gratified to see so much interest in this species that is so vital to our well-being. As I often say, “Beavers are trending.” But not everyone is happy about the beaver’s rebound. Sharing territory with such a gifted and persistent ecosystem engineer challenges our desire to be in control of landscapes and waterways, and we often forget that things looked very different back when North America had a full complement of beavers. With all this in mind, I decided to do some more writing about beavers, but this time for the ear. To my delight, one of my favourite CBC radio programs, Ideas, embraced my idea.

My radio documentary, Rethinking the Beaver, debuts on November 28, 2018. Tune into CBC Radio One at 9:00 p.m. local time (9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland) to listen to the broadcast. You can also listen online or download the podcast.

Capturing the sounds of a thriving beaver pond in the Alberta foothills. (Photo credit: Pierre Bolduc).



Four centuries of fur-trade trapping nearly wiped beavers off the North American map. Now they’re back, big time, and we’re discovering that sharing the landscape with such tenacious ecosystem engineers isn’t always easy. We’re also learning that there are compelling reasons to try to coexist with this iconic species. Contributor Frances Backhouse explores how two control freaks — humans and beavers — can get along.


Women of the Klondike headed for the big screen

Award-winning writer-director Kate Melville has big plans for Women of the Klondike. At the recent TIFF film festival in Toronto, she announced that her production company, Snitch Pictures, has optioned my book, in association with Hawkeye Pictures. I’m excited about Kate’s goal of adapting it into what she describes as a “feminist western.”

In a press release put out by Snitch Pictures, Kate says: “Women of the Klondike is bursting with characters so vividly drawn, I was up all night reading it like a novel. Many different women lived in Dawson: Salvation Army missionaries, vaudeville performers, cooks, laundresses, women who panned for gold themselves, Tagish and Tlingit locals, society wives and nuns. Reading about these bold, adventurous characters, I wondered what their version of ‘frontier justice’ might look like. I’ve always loved Westerns, and these forgotten women from Gold Rush history deserve a movie of their own.” I couldn’t agree more!

Writer-director Kate Melville (photo courtesy of Snitch Pictures).

Snitch Pictures is known for Kate Melville’s directorial debut feature Picture Day, which premiered at TIFF in 2012, and won the Borsos Prize for Best Feature at Whistler and a 2013 ACTRA award for Maslany. Hawkeye Pictures is a Toronto-based production company working with some of Canada’s most exciting talents. Its latest feature, Mary Goes Round premiered at TIFF17. Bell Media’s Harold Greenberg Fund is supporting the project through the Script Development Program.

Second time around on the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize list

I’m not sure whether I was more surprised when I won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for Children of the Klondike in 2010 or when I found myself on the shortlist again in 2016. Although Once They Were Hats didn’t carry the day this time (so far, no one has won this prize twice), I was honoured to be among the finalists and appreciative of the jurors’ citation, which says: “Backhouse not only restores the dignity and grandeur of Canada’s national symbol, but along the way—through exhaustive research, fine writing, an eye for the telling anecdote—she tells a story as informative as it is entertaining.” As always, the gala was a wonderful celebration of writers and writing and a reminder of Victoria’s vibrant literary scene.

Reading at the 2016 Victoria Book Prize gala.

“Once They Were Hats” Shortlisted for the Lane Anderson Award

I’m delighted and honoured to announce that Once They Were Hats has been shortlisted for the Lane Anderson Award. This award celebrates the best Canadian science book of the year in two categories: Adult and Young Reader. The winners will be announced on September 30, 2016.

Tweet the title of your favourite finalist with the hashtag #laneandersonaward for a chance to win all four finalists in either the Adult or Young Readers category. Feel free to tag me – @franbwrites – when you tweet. The contest closes on Sept. 29, 2016.

The Lane Anderson Award was created by the Fitzhenry Family Foundation, a private charitable foundation devoted to the promotion of human rights and education, animal welfare, culture, and the protection of the earth and its resources from overzealous development.

The Calgary Stampede Hat Tradition

It’s Stampede time in Calgary and cowboy hats are everywhere. To celebrate this annual tradition, “Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers” turns to the hat-making chapter in Once They Were Hats, with this blog post. While you’re there, check out lit-blogger Shaun Hunter’s complete Calgary Reading List: a wagon-load of nonfiction, fiction and poetry works that bring Calgary to life on page from a multitude of perspectives.

The Smithbilt Hats factory, Calgary, Alberta (© Frances Backhouse)

The Smithbilt Hats factory, Calgary, Alberta (© Frances Backhouse)

When I visited Smithbilt Hats in 2011, while researching my book, I watched master hatter Brian Hanson craft a beaver-fur felt hat using vintage equipment (some of the machines and hat blocks are more than 100 years old) and skills that have almost died out. The day before, he had put the finishing touches on a pair of white cowboy hats, made of rabbit-fur felt, to be presented that week to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.

A beaver hat in the jam blocker at Smithbilt Hats (© Frances Backhouse).

A beaver hat in the jam blocker at Smithbilt Hats (© Frances Backhouse).

Once They Were Hats: “a must-have book to take to the lake”

Ottawa Magazine has declared Once They Were Hats to be one of the four books everyone should take to the lake this summer. Their round-up story on essential cottage reading says: “Frances Backhouse’s much-praised book will tell you more than you ever imagined about beavers, from their prehistoric past as two-metre-long rodents to their popularity as hat material, their elevation as national symbol, and their huge influence in reshaping the Canadian landscape. Every true-blue cottager should study, if not memorize, Backhouse’s writings. Amaze your neighbours with beaver trivia. Surely you don’t want to discuss just septic tanks and rotting deck boards.”

OTWH beach chair