A student from Coquitlam, B.C. is showing—and sharing—his admiration for first responders in a novel way, and he was in Cache Creek and Ashcroft on the weekend of July 6 to meet with the communties’ fire chiefs and mayors, discuss their experiences during the 2017 wildfire season, and talk about his new book, which deals with the event.
Thirteen-year-old Nathan McTaggart had already written (with his father Keven) and published two books when, in the summer of 2017, he learned about the devastating fires in the Interior of B.C. while on holiday in Ontario. Then, while at a hockey camp in the Lower Mainland, Nathan met a fellow hockey player who had been displaced from his Williams Lake home because of the fires.
Nathan had already thought that the 2017 wildfires would be a fitting subject for his third book. He combined what he learned from the Williams Lake evacuee with his love of the SuperDogs event at the PNE, did some research, and the result is Brandy and Her Super Hero, the third in his “Nathan’s Super Heroes” series.
“I’ve always liked the SuperDogs and their agility training,” says Nathan. “I like watching them.”
Keven says that when they initially approached SuperDogs about using the name in the book, the organization wasn’t sure. “But we sent them the story, and they said yes, and fully endorsed it.”
The book chronicles the adventures of Brandy, a dog who is separated from her family near Williams Lake during the 2017 wildfires. She encounters a pair of firefighters trying to save two colleagues, and uses her agility to help rescue them. Her keen sense of smell then helps the firefighters locate another lost dog. Later, at the fire camp, Brandy meets firefighters from Australia and Mexico who are there to help their British Columbia colleagues.
Incorporating international firefighters into the story was important, says Nathan. “I wanted to show that everyone came to help [in 2017]. It wasn’t just North Americans.”
Nathan’s road to becoming an author began when he was three, when he wondered what would happen if Santa Claus got stuck in a chimney. During their evening story sessions in the run-up to Christmas, father and son brainstormed ideas, with Keven suggesting that firefighters would help out.
“We started working on scenarios,” says Nathan, and the result was a story that Keven told Nathan every Christmas until his son was eight. That was when they decided they should make the story into a book, and Nathan asked if money from sales could be donated to charity (they decided on the BC Professional Firefighters’ Burn Fund).
It was a rocky road to start, with the initial publication somewhat less than attractive. “We took it to a publisher, and they said ‘Great idea, great story, great concept, this should be a series, but it’s an ugly book,’” laughs Keven.
The book—called Santa and His Super Hero—was re-done. The artwork was provided by Nathan’s fellow students in Mrs. Shinkewski’s 2015/16 class at Harbour View Elementary, and the book was published in 2017. Keven says that to date $2,500 from the sales proceeds have been donated to the Burn Fund, and another $2,000 has been donated to other organizations.
A second book—Zippy and His Super Hero—was published in 2018, with proceeds going to the Canucks for Kids Fund. The book is dedicated to Daniel and Henrik Sedin: “You were my first hockey heroes and will forever be an inspiration.”
Proceeds from the sales of Brandy and Her Super Hero—which was published this summer—will go to Firefighters Without Borders Canada and the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS). Nathan says that he is already planning a book starring Caber, a PADS therapy dog that is brought in to communities to help residents who are dealing with stress after a disaster. The book might also feature Orca, a PADS dog who helps first responders.
Then again, each dog might feature in their own distinct story; Nathan isn’t sure. He’s also planning a story about a rescue horse that becomes a “horse on the beat” in New York City and then ends up as part of the RCMP musical ride.
All three books have been illustrated by the students in Mrs. Shinkewski’s classes—first at Harbour View Elementary, now at Aspenwood Elementary—and Nathan says that he and his father go in to visit the class and brainstorm ideas about different groups of first responders.
“We have the kids come up with characters and stories, and then we come back and read the story to them,” says Keven. “Then we go away, make adjustments, and come back.”
Nathan says that since he has started writing his books, he has visited more than 100 fire halls in Canada, Washington state, New York City, and Mexico; a trophy he gave to New York City firefighters is now in the 9/11 Museum.
“I like to say thank you [to firefighters] for the work they’ve done,” says Nathan. “And I learn something new at every hall.”
All of his books have pages at the back where kids can get the signatures of the super heroes in their lives. The stops in Cache Creek and Ashcroft are part of a tour of the province that will see Nathan visiting towns around the Interior and the Okanagan, where he will meet with elected officials and firefighters.
He says that he likes riding on fire trucks, and that he is considering a career as a firefighter, but that a drawback is his fear of heights. When he adds that he was given a ride on a fire engine in Cache Creek by chief Tom Moe, White offers to take Nathan, his mother Lucie, and Keven on a ride in Ashcroft’s Engine 3.
The Journal is along for the ride, and it does not escape notice—as White pilots the engine through the bluffs past Boston Flats, along Highway 1, and back to Ashcroft along Cornwall Road through the Ashcroft Reserve, pointing out the after effects of the 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire as he drives—that it is two years to the day since the fire burst into life.
Nathan hopes to start doing workshops about writing books when he turns 16. He has already started doing author talks, in which he gives advice to budding young authors, and says that one talk he did in 2017 inspired five children to write their own books.
“We don’t do author talks to sell books,” says Keven. “We go for the education aspect, and for Nathan to talk about his experiences and inspire others. It’s a hobby, but it’s a really good job to do.”