STU professor makes Canada Reads long list

Amphibian follows Phineas William Walsh, a nine-year-old who can't understand why environmental concerns are not taken more seriously. (Alex Dascalu/AQ)

A St. Thomas University professor’s book about a young boy taking action against climate change is gaining national attention.

STU psychology professor Carla Gunn’s Amphibian is one of 15 books listed on the Canada Reads 2020 long list. It’s her first book.

Written in the first person, the story follows Phineas William Walsh, a nine-year-old with an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world who can’t easily handle day-to-day problems or understand why environmental concerns are not taken more seriously. He decides to take action against these concerns when a White’s tree frog, a species which is on the Red List of Threatened Species, ends up in an aquarium in his fourth-grade classroom.

The book is appropriate for all ages, but Gunn said a lot of the readers have been young people, 13 and above, who have said they saw themselves reflected in the protagonist.

“The story is told from Phin’s perspective and he focuses his anxiety on this frog that is kept in his Grade 4 classroom. His goal becomes bringing back this frog to his home in Australia.”

Gunn said that her book has been integrated into school curriculums and has even been published in five other languages in the last 10 years, with a Turkish translation coming out this fall.

Although the book was published in 2009, Gunn said it is especially relevant in today’s environmental crisis as the book helps to bring attention to what is happening around us in a fun, creative way.

She said it shows us how bad the state of the earth is through the eyes of a child, which makes the reflection of the novel more of a guilt trip.

“[The book] still generates some interest … Environmental issues are on our radar now. They were not so much when the book was published. People are revisiting the book and thinking about how it might be relevant in today’s context.”

When asked about being featured on the Canada Reads long list, Gunn said she did not expect it at all due to the book being published over 10 years ago.

However, the book is still having an impact and was even adapted into a play by a group of play writers in Calgary in 2014. The derived production My Family and Other Endangered Species received multiple award nominations, including its win of the Calgary Critics’ Award for Best Play, and it was published by Playwrights’ Canada Press.

In terms of writing another book, Gunn does have plans to revisit a few old projects of hers in the future, both with environmental themes.

“I have put them aside for the last few years, but I think I’ll get back at them and see what I might be able to do with them.”