AUTIO, Karen




Author Tags: Kidlit & Young Adult

Having grown up in the Finnish section of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Karen Autio received a silver spoon from her grandmother that made her curious about her grandmother's Finnish friends and their links to Canada's worst maritime disaster in peacetime--the sinking of the Empress of Island on May 29, 1914. Her first juvenile novel Second Watch (Sono Nis, 2005) places an eleven-year-old heroine, Saara, on the doomed vessel as it departs in May of 1914, just one day prior to the loss of 1,012 passengers and crew from among the 1,477 people aboard. Fewer people died when the Titanic sank. Karen Autio lives in Kelowna.

[BCBW 2005] "Kidlit"

Karen Autio wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth; she started writing with one.

A gift of a silver spoon as an heirloom from her grandmother led to talks about her Finnish heritage—and recollections of how relatives died in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914. That gift and conversation inspired Autio to write her first novel, Second Watch (Sono Nis 2005), about 12-year-old Saara Mäki, en route to Finland on the doomed steamship.

About two-thirds of that ocean liner’s 1,477 passengers and crew died when the Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian ship in the Saint Lawrence River in 1914. In Autio’s second novel, Saara's Passage (Sono Nis 2008), Saara, as one of the 465 survivors, returns to northwestern Ontario only to learn her beloved Aunt Marja must move to a sanatorium in Toronto for treatment of tuberculosis.

Autio’s Finnish Canadian trilogy has been completed with Sabotage (Sono Nis 2013) based on an attempt to blow up a Nipigon River railway bridge near Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) during the First World War. As someone born in Thunder Bay, Autio had heard about the story but never believed until she undertook research for her novels and learned the 1915 incident was true.

In Sabotage, 13-year-old heroine Saara at first refuses to listen to her pesky younger John when he talks about spies in Canada. She has more important things to worry about, such as her German friend being hauled off to live in a Canadian internment camp.

But so much of Canada’s grain for Allied soldiers in Europe was being routed via Port Arthur that ultimately Saara must accept her brother's fantasies are based on a real threat. Once more the Mäki family is in jeopardy and her courage and wits will be put to the test.

Born in Thunder Bay, Karen Autio of Kelowna holds a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Waterloo. She worked as a software developer for several years before pursuing a career in children's literature.

BOOKS:

Second Watch (Sono Nis Press, 2005)
Saara's Passage (Sono Nis 2008) 978-155039-168-8
Sabotage (Sono Nis Press 2013)
978-1-55039-208-1 $10.95

[BCBW 2013] "Finnish" "Kidlit"

Saara's Passage
Review


from Portia Priegert
Saara’s Passage by Karen Autio (Sono Nis $13.95)
ages 10+

Her grandmother’ silver sugar spoon started Karen Autio on the path to two children’s novels about the history of Finnish settlement in Canada.

The spoon had belonged to her grandmother’s friend, who claimed it had been saved from the Titanic. The spoon led Autio to another story about the woman’s relatives, who died when the Empress of Ireland sunk in the St. Lawrence River in 1914.

“When I found out it was Canada’s worst nautical disaster in peacetime,” says Autio, “I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it.” She began researching the Empress of Ireland and discovered the ship had brought more than 100,000 European immigrants to Canada. “I realized, wow, there’s a lot of material here. Maybe it could be a novel.”
Seven years later, she released Second Watch (Sono Nis 2005), in which 12-year-old Saara Mäki is en route to Finland aboard the doomed Empress of Ireland—and she survives the catastrophic voyage.

In its sequel, Saara’s Passage, her return to northwestern Ontario is complicated by the necessity of having her beloved Aunt Marja move to the sanatorium in Toronto for treatment of tuberculosis, leaving Baby Sanni in need of a caregiver.

The story was inspired by the experience of Autio’s grandmother, who had to leave her baby—Karen Autio’s mother—with her husband at their farm near Thunder Bay while she was treated in a Toronto sanatorium. Her grandmother never talked about the tragedy, but Autio pieced together the story from other family members.
Her grandmother, who had emigrated from Finland only five years before, was miserable in the sanatorium and eventually discharged herself against her doctor’s orders. She returned home, living alone in a barn so no one else would be infected.

“She had to spend the next couple of years apart from my mother, watching other women care for her child,” says Autio. She eventually recovered. When she died at age 86, she left letters she had written to the baby when she expected to die from tuberculosis.

“It was just soul-bearing,” says Autio, her voice choking with emotion. “My mom translated them for me into English so I could read these letters. At that point, I had to know more about what had happened.”

Saara’s Passage provides an authentic portrayal of a bygone era in Ontario, including the socialist history of Finnish immigrants. Although the characters came from her imagination, she gleaned details about daily life from interviews with seniors as well as research at the archives of Lakehead University and the museum at Thunder Bay, where she grew up. “I am a stickler for the details and being accurate to the time period,” says Autio.

Autio studied math and computer science at the University of Waterloo, which led to jobs in software development for major corporations, including Shell Canada and MacDonald, Dettwiler, an information-services company. She moved to Kelowna in 1996, after living in Calgary and the Lower Mainland with her husband, Will, also a software developer. Her first child Annaliis is now 21. Autio started writing ten years ago when her son Stefan started school.

978-1-55039-167-1
     
[By Portia Priegert / BCBW 2009].

Sabotage by Karen Autio (Sono Nis $10.95)
Review (2013)


from BCBW 2013
Karen autio wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth; she started writing with one.
A gift of a silver spoon as an heirloom from her grandmother led to talks about her Finnish heritage—and recollections of how relatives died in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914. That gift and conversation inspired Autio to tell the tale of 12-year-old Saara Mäki, en route to Finland on the doomed steamship, for her first novel, Second Watch (Sono Nis Press, 2005).

About two-thirds of that ocean liner’s 1,477 passengers and crew died when the Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian ship in the Saint Lawrence River in 1914. In Autio’s second novel, Saara's Passage (Sono Nis 2008), Saara, as one of the 465 survivors, returns to northwestern Ontario only to learn her beloved Aunt Marja must move to a sanatorium in Toronto for treatment of tuberculosis.

Autio’s Finnish-Canadian trilogy has been completed with Sabotage, which is based on an attempt to blow up the Nipigon River railway bridge near Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) during the First World War. As someone born in Thunder Bay, Autio had heard about the story but never believed it until she undertook research for her novels and learned the 1915 incident was true.

In Sabotage, 13-year-old heroine Saara at first refuses to listen to her pesky younger brother John when he talks about spies in Canada. She has more important things to worry about, such as her German friend being hauled off to live in a Canadian internment camp.

But so much of Canada’s grain for Allied soldiers in Europe is being routed via Port Arthur that ultimately Saara must accept that her brother’s fantasies are based on a real threat. Once more the Mäki family is in jeopardy and her courage and wits will be put to the test. 978-1-55039-208-1


Kah-Lan the Adventurous Sea Otter (Sono Nis $9.95)
Review (2015)


from Alex Van Tol
You know you’re stuck on a story when it stays in your head for three decades and it won’t let go. Such was the case for Karen Autio and her fourth book for children, Kah-Lan the Adventurous Sea Otter.

After moving to Vancouver to attend Regent College in 1984, Autio and her husband Will soon bought aquarium passes. For hours at a time, she would park her lawn chair outside the sea otter enclosure, observing, wondering, and developing a story about two, almost-mature, wild sea otters getting swept away by a powerful ocean current.

The story persisted in her mind as she shifted her focus to raising her children and writing three historical novels. Over the years Autio kept fine-tuning the balance of her otter story between natural history and a quest story. “I was not only smitten with sea otters,” Autio says, “I was also fascinated by their survival skills in the Pacific Ocean.”

While Autio’s admiration for otters shaped the plot, the manuscript was passed through a string of biologists to ensure naturalistic accuracy. Dripping with ecological facts yet without a whiff of didacticism, Kah-Lan the Adventurous Sea Otter weaves the natural environment into the myriad challenges that otters contend with—from orcas and riptides to food scarcity and fishing net entanglement.

Kah-Lan and his pal Yamka must contend with human encroachment, hide from orcas, dive for ever-scarcer food in their home kelp bed and avoid periodic grouchy cuffings from the Grand Otters living in their raft.

The young otters describe humans and human-made objects in zoomorphic terms such as sea-trees, furless ones and—my personal favourite—not-rock (kelp forests, humans and an old glass bottle, respectively).

Reminiscent of the invented words in Richard Adams’ Watership Down, the language in Kah-Lan is nonetheless easy for young readers to discern without a glossary—although there is one provided.

“I played with language to express Kah-Lan’s perspective,” says Autio, “and to immerse the reader in his watery world. Kalan is a zoological term for sea otter and the spelling Kah-Lan helps readers know how to pronounce it.”

At the end of the book, readers will find several pages of information about sea otters, including their role in keeping our kelp forests healthy so that they, in turn, can support a diversity of sea life.

Engaging text, quick pacing and illustrations by Sheena Lott put the reader at eye level with the demands of life in our shallow coastal waters, while present-tense narration lends a sense of urgency to the otters’ experiences.

Targeted mainly for readers ages seven to twelve, Kah-Lan is a story with cross-generational appeal because it will lead to conversations about the health of our oceans, the necessity of maintaining biodiversity of the maritime environment and the importance of keystone species—such as the sea otter. 978-1-55039-244-9

***

Having grown up in the Finnish section of Fort William (now part of Thunder Bay), Karen Autio received a silver spoon from her grandmother that made her curious about her grandmother’s Finnish friends and their links to Canada’s worst maritime disaster in peacetime—the sinking of the Empress of Island. Her first juvenile novel Second Watch (Sono Nis, 2005) placed an eleven-year-old heroine, Saara, on the doomed vessel as it departs in May of 1914, just one day prior to the loss of 1,012 passengers and crew from among the 1,477 people aboard. Fewer paid passengers died when the Titanic sank. In Autio’s second novel, Saara’s Passage (Sono Nis, 2008), Saara, as one of the 465 survivors, returned to northwestern Ontario only to learn her beloved Aunt Marja must move to a sanatorium in Toronto for treatment of tuberculosis. Autio’s Finnish Canadian trilogy was completed with Sabotage (Sono Nis, 2013) based on an attempt to blow up a Nipigon River railway bridge near Port Arthur during the First World War.

Alex Van Tol’s new book is Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in B.C. (Royal B.C. Museum).