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 Môki, 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 Môki family is in jeopardy and her courage and wits will be put to the test.

One of the first publications from Vancouver-based Crwth Press, Growing up in Wild Horse Canyon (Crwth Press, 2018) is Karen Autio's story of a place where syilx/Okanagan people trapped wild horses. Living in Kelowna, Autio develped a fascination for the Wild Horse Canyon and she began researching the area, quickly getting hooked on what had happened there over the past two centuries. Weaving together First Nation history, European settler accounts and natural history, Autio?s storyline coalesced when she began imagining a ponderosa pine tree growing in the canyon for the past 200 years. Maps, old photos, and illustrations by Loraine Kemp complement the text.

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.


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
Growing up in Wild Horse Canyon (Crwth 2018) $25.95 978-1-77533-190-2

[BCBW 2018] "Finnish" "Kidlit"