Local author and illustrator team bring nature mindfulness to life for kids in new book


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Photo by Miranda Leybourne
The illustrator Emily MacDonald (left) and author Jessie Klassen (centre) presented a copy of The Sapling to Debbie Unger (right) at the Neepawa Public Library.

Miranda Leybourne
Neepawa Banner & Press

Jessie Klassen has always felt a strong connection to nature. Growing up on her parents’ farm near Tenby, Man., she learned to look towards the natural world for peace and inspiration. Now, Klassen spends her time on her family farm with her husband and three children, writing for various newsletters as well as her blog (jessieklassen.com). And now, Klassen can add published author to her list of accomplishments: just before Christmas, her book The Sapling, illustrated by Minnedosa artist Emily MacDonald, was published. “A tiny maple seed had blown in on the breeze and happens to land beside a great big Maple Tree.

The Maple Seed feels very small in a big world as she becomes the Sapling. There is much that she doesn’t understand and she has many questions and fears about growing up. But with wise advice from her friend, the Big Tree, the Sapling overcomes her fears and grows into the Tree she is meant to be,” reads a description of the book found on Klassen’s blog. Klassen says the story came to her when she was spending time among the trees on her property.
“I can’t just sit down and make myself write,” she explains. “It has to come very organically. I just really felt like this had come from the trees, and that it’s something that they want kids to know.” Klassen has long practiced nature communication, and credits nature with giving her all the inspiration she needs - not just for her writing, but for all aspects of her life. She says that she hopes that her book, which is not just a wonderful story but also contains activities that she practices herself with her kids out in nature - will bring nature communication and mindfulness to the forefront for kids and families everywhere.
“Nature wants that connection with us as badly as we want it with nature,” she attests. “Some people have gotten to the point where they think nature doesn’t need people, that it’d probably he happier if we weren’t even here, but my experience is that nature wants our connection, our touch: it really does.”

When it came to finding an artist to bring that sacred connection with nature to life, Klassen says she found illustrator Emily MacDonald in a very serendipitous fashion. She got in touch with Inspire Art Studio in Minnedosa, and was eventually introduced to MacDonald, who as it turns out, was looking for a creative project to work on.
“I was feeling like I needed something more to work on. I work a 9 to 5 job, and I needed a creative outlet. I had felt that way for a while,” the illustrator explains. “I hadn’t even read the story yet and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do." Klassen sent MacDonald the story, and from there, it grew organically - mirroring nature, Klassen and MacDonald were quick to point out. “I just started sketching what I saw in my mind, and then when Jessie and I got together, we went through the sketches. We tweaked some things here and there, and I did a couple of different versions that got a little more refined,” MacDonald remembers. Finally, after two years of writing, illustrating, and finally self-publishing, the book was complete - the first in the Nature Child children’s book series that Klassen and MacDonald have planned. Klassen says that the whole experience of putting the book together from start to finish was an unforgettable experience.

“The story is full of wisdom,” she explains. “I didn’t realize I’d have to learn every single one of those lessons. I didn’t realize when I wrote it that I would have to live through every single one.” Klassen and MacDonald hope that the book will sell worldwide and bring a love of nature to all who read it. “We were all born with a gift to share,” Klassen notes. “But to truly share it, you need to get over the fear of judgement. Especially when you’re putting something out into the world, when you’re opening yourself up. But you’re also opening yourself up to so much beauty.” The Sapling has been met with very positive reviews from readers as far as France. Klassen and MacDonald have also partnered with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), and a portion of the book’s sales are donated to both the NCC and TreeSisters, a non-profit organization whose aim it is to accelerate tropical reforestation by engaging the feminine consciousness.
The book is available locally at Herbs for Health and the Art and Soul Artists’ Loft in Neepawa, at the Preisentanz General Store in Glenella and Inspire Studio of Fine Arts in Minnedosa; as well as on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Kobo E-Books, and Smashwords E-Books.