Gillian Richardson became a world traveler at three months of age when she emigrated from England to Canada with her parents and older sister. After living briefly in Vancouver and Montreal, the family settled in southern Ontario.
Books can be best friends to shy kids, and they opened up the world of reading for Gillian. It turned out to be the perfect foundation for a future writer. Her favorite books were about animals, like the Thornton Burgess series of animal adventures. “One day, I found a cocoon and took it home. It hatched into hundreds of praying mantis babies. They were everywhere! That experience later inspired a picture book,” recalls Gillian.
Gillian graduated from McMaster University and St. Catharine’s Teachers’ College (Brock University). After a summer course for elementary school teacher-librarians, she found teaching positions in Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.
As an adult, her interest in nature really bloomed. With so much to discover in the PEI countryside around her home, it was natural to begin writing. “I had worked as a teacher-librarian for almost eight years when I began to wonder if my own writing skills could match those of the children’s authors I encouraged my students to read,” says Gillian.
A move to the prairies in 1982 gave her the chance to try writing seriously, which she did while working until 1997 in school libraries in Regina. She has been teaching writing to adults as an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature (Connecticut) since 2002. She is a co-founder of the Saskatchewan Children’s Writers Round Robin, a critique group that celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2009. During that time, she wrote sixteen books, and many short stories and articles for children’s magazines.
Since 1999, she has reviewed children’s books for CM, an online periodical. The review of an Annick Press book led to an invitation to write Kaboom!: Explosions of all Kinds (2009). “When I heard the topic would be explosions, I wondered how it might fit with my experiences of writing about nature. In fact, there were many links, from geysers to decomposition, from exploding seed pods to avalanche control.” Gillian had already developed a fascination with volcanoes after visiting two in Costa Rica, and Mount St. Helens in Washington to see the aftermath of an eruption first hand. Between drafts of Kaboom!, she peered into steam vents at Hawaii’s Kilauea. “Thinking back to university days when I opted to study languages (most useful for a wordsmith!), I wish science and environmental topics had also been on my list. But I’ve found that experiencing nature, and reading and writing about it, are great ways to learn, and to share. Write about what stirs your curiosity!”
Her second book, 10 Plants That Shook the World (2013), has won several awards and earned additional nominations. It is a fascinating look at plants—including papyrus, cotton, pepper, corn, and rubber—which have played an exciting role in history and have transformed our lives.
She probed history resources again for 10 Ships That Rocked the World (2015). It spotlights incidents involving ships whose outcomes had extensive impacts on people. Her latest book with Annick Press, 10 Routes That Crossed the World (Spring 2017) is a fascinating exploration of pathways, including the Khyber Pass and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that have played a vital role in shaping world history.
Gillian joined the Regina Natural History Society to find out about local wildlife when she lived on the prairies. She now enjoys hikes and the annual Christmas Bird Count as an active member of the Shuswap Naturalist Club. She’s still traveling, too. From her home near Sorrento, B.C., she and her husband regularly explore the province and northwestern states in their RV.