Baby beluga takes kids through Arctic journey in graphic novel about climate change

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Baby beluga takes kids through Arctic journey in graphic novel about climate change

How do you explain the risks of climate change to a three-year-old?

That question motivated Winnipeg author and illustrator Andrew Bart to frame the complex topic in a cute way that his daughter and other kids could understand.

"It's sort of a really complicated story to tell, and to tell to a young kid," said Bart, who wrote and illustrated Lumi: An Underwater Arctic Adventure.

The children's graphic novel follows the tale of Lumi, a baby beluga whale that goes on an adventure through the cold Arctic waters of the Hudson Strait and confronts the realities of climate change head-on, including noise pollution, melting sea ice and new animals drawn to the north by warming waters.

The idea began as a bedtime story Bart would tell his three-year-old daughter.

He says many of the children's books he read to her that tackle climate change were too superficial, so he decided to take things a little deeper.

"I wanted to sort of create this catchy or relatable character for kids, but dealing with a bigger issue, and climate change and animals and environmental issues like that have always been really close to my heart," Bart said.

"I think kids need to know that we have effects on the planet and there is consequences."

In the graphic novel, Lumi uses echolocation to hone in on, and feast on, Arctic cod before getting separated from her mom.

Her belly full of cod and no longer hungry, Lumi's curious nature propels her on a journey where she befriends a crab named Shrimp.

After taking the tiny bottom-dwelling crustacean on a trip to the icy surface waters, the droning propeller noise of a passing ship scrambles Lumi's echolocation and she briefly loses track of Shrimp — an acknowledgement of how increasing ship traffic in warming Arctic waters is impacting life below the surface.

Startled but still intact, the pair find each other again and head off in search of Lumi's mother.

Just as soon as the trio reunites, an unrecognizable "monster" swims into the picture and tries to hunt down Lumi's mom.

"Leave Mama alone!" Lumi yells at the massive monster, claw in fin with Shrimp by her side.

"Mind your business!" the black-and-white monster shouts, mouth open wide with rows of razor sharp teeth on display.

The fearless baby beluga and Shrimp manage to scare off the creature.

"Was that a monster?" Lumi asks.

"No, it was just a whale from far away. The ocean is changing," her mother replies.

The monster turns out to be a killer whale, a top predator that has become far more common in the waters off Manitoba's coast in recent years.

The species is coming farther into places like Hudson Bay as sea ice continues to melt earlier and form later each year, again due to climate change, and its presence is altering the marine food chain in the North.

Ultimately, Bart says he hopes the book helps kids look at the world from a different perspective, and that it gives parents a chance to start a dialogue with their young ones about the world they're growing up in.

"I didn't want to be heavy-handed with this. It's a bedtime story," Bart said.

"It's for kids to come away with maybe just more of an understanding of what's happening around them. Kids are so smart — they're way smarter than we give them credit for."

The book launch takes place Saturday night at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg.