Author Tags: Fiction, Kidlit & Young Adult, Spanish
Alex Van Tol has the bit between her teeth in recent years. In the spring of 2015 the Victoria freelance writer and editor is releasing her ninth and tenth titles in less than five years, while continuing to work on an adult novel.
Along with her third non-fiction title—this one for the Royal B.C. Museum—Van Tol, a self-described ‘recreational list maker,’ has fashioned another very serious novel for young readers; this time about an over-anxious teen named Chick who feels burdened by his father’s overbearing and impossible expectations. Chick copes by making lists, lots and lots of lists. It helps a lot to have a budding romance with Audrey on his debating team, but her advice to simply confront his father is hard to take. Never concede defeat once you’ve even raised your sword, she tells him. Chick: Lister (Orca $9.95) is for 10-14-year-olds.
The non-fiction title is Aliens Among Us: Animals and Plants in British Columbia That Don’t Belong Here (RBCM $19.95) for 8-12-year-olds. It identifies more than 50 species of animals and plants that have invaded British Columbia. Promotional material states: "Would you know what to do if Dalmatian Toadflax or Giant Hogweed landed in your neighbourhood?... Van Tol exposes the invaders, and explains both how they got here and what they’re doing to the environment. In this first-ever children’s book published by the Royal BC Museum, Van Tol has harvested the knowledge of museum biologists to alert the next generation of responsible environmentalists. Her list of serious invaders includes the colourfully named Purple Loosestrife, Violet Tunicates, Eastern Grey Squirrels and Yellow Perch, which tend to take over an area and crowd out or destroy native species. She names the creatures that can eat their way through an ecosystem, like Smallmouth Bass, Gypsy Moths and American Bullfrogs, and the vandals like Norway Rats and European Starlings that cause damage to property. Van Tol also points out the species that might cause serious harm to humans and other animals, such as Rockpool Mosquitoes, Giant Hogweed and Poison Hemlock. Some aliens, like European Wall Lizards and Giant Garden Slugs, haven’t yet posed problems in BC — at least not that we’re aware of — but they still need to be watched. And finally, Van Tol raises the alert on species that haven’t yet arrived but may be coming soon, like Northern Snakeheads, Fence Lizards and Zebra Mussels."
In Van Tol's young adult story, Knifepoint (Orca, 2010), Jill is enduring a brutal summer job on a mountain ranch, guiding wannabe-cowboys on trail rides. On a solo ride with a handsome stranger she ends up in a fight for her life with no one to help her. Knifepoint was also published in Spanish in 2011.
Her second young adult novel, Gravity Check (Orca, 2011), concerns a boy named Jamie who stumbles upon a marijuana grow-up operation during his mountain biking camp in the backcountry.
In Van Tol's third book for young readers, Viral (Orca, 2011), Mike falls in unrequited love with his best friend, Lindsay - who is suddenly part of the 'in' crowd. When she gets drunk at a party and someone films her in an uncompromising situation, the footage goes viral - and it's up to Mike to help her.
Sonia Sotomayor: U.S. Supreme Court Justice (biography) (Crabtree Publishing Company 2010)
Dolores Huerta: Voice for the Working Poor (biography) (Crabtree Publishing Company 2010)
Knifepoint (Orca, 2010) 9781554693054 $9.95
Gravity Check (Orca, 2011) 9781554693498 $9.95
Viral (Orca, 2011) 9781554694112 $9.95
Knifepoint (Published by Orca in Spanish, 2011) 9781554698639 $9.95
Redline (Orca, 2011) 9781554698936 $9.95
Oracle (Orca, 2012) 9781459801325 $9.95
Shallow Grave (Orca 2012) $9.95 978-1-4598-0202-5
Chick: Lister (Orca Currents 2015) $9.95 9781459810006 [Ages 10-14]
Aliens Among Us: Animals and Plants in British Columbia That Don’t Belong Here (RBCM 2015) $19.95 (Ages 8-12) 978-0-7726-6853-0
Food Freak (Orca 2016) 978-1-4598-1339-7
Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in British Columbia
Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in British Columbia by Alex Van Tol (RBCM $19.95)
orthern snakehead, Dalmatian Toadflax, Red-eared Slider and Giant Hogweed are not characters from Game of Thrones, but they are aliens who have entered B.C. unbeknownst to CSIS.
Along with the cute Eastern Grey Squirrel and ubiquitous Himalayan Blackberry, Alex Van Tol has outlined more than 50 animals and plants for Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in British Columbia.
Not all invasives are unwelcome. We use English Holly at Christmas; English Ivy twines its way through gardens and up the sides of stately old homes; some people enjoy the trilling of Starlings; the Drumming Katydid goes about its foot-tapping business to no ill effect.
But many alien invasives are pushing native species out.
The American Bullfrog was imported by the thousands in the late 1940s for the restaurant industry. When the market for frogs’ legs proved to have no legs whatsoever, they were released into the wild. Now our freshwater lakes are festooned with these big burpers—which can sometimes grow as large as a dinner plate—as they chow down on everything from mice and birds to hatchling turtles and our own native frogs. They lay up to 20,000 eggs at a time.
Scotch Broom smells so pretty in spring, but its yellow blooms are dastardly to eradicate. Not long after Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant arrived at Fort Victoria in 1849, Grant gave his neighbour John Muir three bushes of Scotch broom that had come from the Sandwich Islands. These fast-spreading plants were a gift to Grant from the British Consul in Honolulu, who in turn had bought them in Tasmania. “That,” Muir said later, “may explain why they proliferated in the devilish way they did.”
Purple Loosestrife was first planted in a Port Alberni garden in 1916. It has subsequently elbowed its way across stream banks, ditches and marine estuaries, setting down its greedy roots in pretty much any wetland habitat where the sun shines. Gorse and English Ivy are also alien plants.
The Norway Rat is a multiplying menace. It produces up to seven litters a year, each with eight to twelve pups. Having first washed ashore when European ships sank off the West Coast in the 19th century (with a few more stealing down the gangplanks of ships), rats live anywhere they can find shelter, inside your walls or your unused barbecue.
Rapid reproduction is just one of three characteristics experts use to classify an alien species as invasive. The second is a species’ ability to thrive in its new home and to displace native species as a result. The final characteristic that denotes an alien species as an invader is a relative scarcity of predators or diseases that serve to keep that species’ population in check.
The Brown Bullhead Catfish made its way into the wilds of B.C. when a Vancouver Island restauranteur decided he no longer wished to have the foot-long fishes in his aquarium and instead elected to throw them—from a train window, no less—into Elk Lake. As the spines on its dorsal and pectoral fins are too sharp for the herons and cormorants to bother with, there’s not a lot of predation pressure on this particular species.
The voracious Green Crab first landed on the New England coast in the late 1800s. It immediately set to work ruining the clam, scallop and soft-shell crab industries there. Ballast water carried it to San Francisco in 1989, and it was first spotted in B.C. in 1998. Fond of snails, mussels and clams, the Green Crab also isn’t afraid of taking down a lunch that’s the same size as itself. It can even eat a juvenile Dungeness Crab.
Science and mother nature don’t have an immigration policy. So what is really native to B.C.? Who decides? Grizzly Bears arrived from the east, across the Rockies. Where’d the Sockeye come from? Is Western Red Cedar really western?
It’s a tricky business, determining which plants and animals “belong” and which don’t. We tend to see invasive species as evil things to be stopped, rather than as representatives of a necessary and expected evolutionary trajectory. There’s a strong counter argument to be made that the inexorable forward march of invasive species is just evidence of Earth doing her thing. Evolving.
Which is not to say you should go planting Carpet Burweed in Stanley Park. Don’t dump your pet goldfish into lakes or ponds. Don’t buy exotic turtles at the pet store. Don’t feed the raccoons. And please wash the felt soles in your waders before you change rivers so you don’t spread algae.
For more tips on how to slow the spread of aliens into British Columbia, visit the Royal BC Museum or check out Van Tol’s sometimes humorous, sometimes sobering, always enlightening compendium.
Alex Van Tol’s other new book is Chick: Lister (Orca Currents $9.95) for ages 10-14. A self-described ‘recreational list maker,’ she has written a novel about an over-anxious teen named Chick who feels burdened by his father’s overbearing and impossible expectations. Chick copes by making lists, lots and lots of lists. It helps a lot to have a budding romance with Audrey on his debating team, but her advice to simply confront his father is hard to take.
Van-Tol’s biography of the actor who played Gale in The Hunger Games, Liam Hemsworth (Crabtree $8.95), is another installment in the Superstars! series that traces the careers of celebrities from their first breakthroughs and challenges to their current superstardom.