The Northland College Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute has announced the winning books for the 2022 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (SONWA).
In the Adult Nonfiction category, a trio of books was jointly awarded the top prize: An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong (Random House); How to Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication by Tom Mustill (Grand Central Publishing); and The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants by Karen Bakker (Princeton University Press).
Commenting on the decision to make a joint award this year, reading committee member Theron O’Connor noted that “our most critical challenge is to confront and overcome our age-old glorification of ‘human exceptionalism,’” and Bakker, Mustill, and Yong “offer a transformational leap in that direction.”
Echoing O’Connor, a second reader, Clayton Russell, commented that the “messages, the lessons, the insights, the warnings from these three books speak to a more comprehensive and inclusive conception of communication and responsibility in the world.”
The three winning books also resonate with Sigurd Olson’s idea of a listening point, observed committee member Susan Hedman, for each of them expands our understanding of interspecies communication, reminding us, as Karen Bakker writes, that if “we open our ears, a world of wonders awaits.”
The winning book in the young adult category of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award–Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants (Learner Publishing)—aligns thematically with the winners of the adult award, notes reading committee member Jan Penn, for it speaks of kinship and demonstrates the ways in which all beings belong in a world of relations.
Written by Robin Wall Kimmerer (winner of a 2013 SONWA), illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt, and adapted for young adults by Monique Gray Smith, Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults weaves together indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge, comments reader Dani O’Brien, offering “readers the opportunity to appreciate the gifts and teachings all living things provide.”
In the children’s category of the Award, the winning book is Count on Us! Climate Activists from One to a Billion, written by Gabi Snyder and illustrated by Sarah Walsh (Barefoot Books). Suitable for children ages four to seven and structured as a counting book, Count on Us! begins with a single action, “one small person / taking one small step,” and then builds to a depiction of collective action, with a billion diverse people “zooming towards a better future!”
Richly illustrated with examples of taking actions that make a difference, Count on Us! offers a vision filled with hope and empowerment that emphasizes the exponential strength of collective action.
In addition to the winning books, the children’s reading committee also recognized two books for honorable mention: We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Color Protecting the Planet, written Mya-Rose Craig and illustrated by Sabrena Khadija (Magic Cat), in the young adult category, and What Do You See When You Look at a Tree? written and illustrated by Emma Carlisle (Penguin Random House) in the children’s category.
Since 1991, the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award has honored the literary legacy of Sigurd Olson by recognizing and encouraging contemporary writers who seek to carry on his tradition of nature writing.
Born April 4, 1899, Olson is recognized as one of the most influential conservationists of the twentieth century, and his books have inspired an appreciation for nature among many generations of readers.