• Loon Laughter: Ecological Fables and Nature Tales, written by Paul Leet Aird, illustrated by Thoreau MacDonald, edited by Celina Owen and published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside www.fitzhenry.ca.
  • ISBN:  1-55041-390-2
  • $14.95 CDN / $11.95 US / £ 3.99 UK
  • Now in its third printing

Excerpts from Loon Laughter:  Ecological Fables and Nature Tales

The Frog and the Fly

A NORTHERN LEOPARD FROG sat on the bank of a pond.  He was very hungry.  Water and air pollution were killing many insects, which made it difficult for him to find enough food to eat.

A bright green fly landed on a rusty woodsia fern beside the frog.

“You are a handsome fly,” the frog croaked.  “What kind of fly are you?”

“I am a blowfly and I am quite clever,” it buzzed.  “I know all about water pollution.  It hurts some living things but it does not hurt me, so it is not harmful.  It is the same with air pollution.  It hurts some things but it does not hurt me, so it is not harmful.  I know all about frogs, too.  Your tongue is not long enough to reach me, so you are not harmful.”

The frog took a long jump, caught the fly with his tongue, and ate it.

The King and the Royal Trees

The King had a frightful dream. He dreamt that while riding his horse through the Royal Forest, the south wind called: “Beware of falling trees! Beware of falling trees!”

Though the trees were beautiful and waved gently in the wind, the King was frightened. He turned his horse and galloped out of the forest.

The next morning the King ordered his people to cut down all the trees in the kingdom. “We do not want the trees to fall down and hurt our children,” he reasoned. “We will remove the forest and grow vegetables instead.”

The people liked the King’s idea, for now they had their pick of the finest wood in the forest to build houses and furniture, and the rest of the trees were sold at handsome prices to neighbouring kingdoms.

Once all of the trees were cut down, the King felt happy — and relieved. But the people were unhappy. They missed the trees, which had provided work for loggers and carpenters, and homes for birds. Although they sadly missed their work, they missed the birds most of all.

Soon after the trees were gone, a dry south wind began to blow. It blew day after day. The vegetable crops began to wither and die. People huddled helplessly in their houses watching the wind uproot their gardens and scatter the dead plants across the land.

The King was worried. He called for his horse and rode through the fields to inspect the damage. There were no more trees to break the fury of the wind. As the wind blew faster, it swept withered plants and soil past the King, who watched dumbly as his kingdom blew northward.

Lost in clouds of dust and drifting sand, fatigue overcame the King. Nodding asleep in the saddle, he heard the south wind call: “Beware of falling trees! Beware of falling trees!”


A Magical Book

“Aird’s tales…aim to illustrate ecological truths…They accomplish this while unfolding with a kind of pleasing logic and inevitability reminiscent of traditional fables.”  (Philip Marchand, The Toronto Star)

“The loon is the perfect Canadian symbol:  its range is Canada;  its call is the mark of the wilderness;  its fate in dying forests and lakes is our fate.  Paul Leet Aird’s fables – not only of loons, but also of wolves and trees and lakes and squirrels – are beautifully complemented by Thoreau MacDonald’s evocative drawings.” (The Globe and Mail)

Loon Laughter is the perfect Canadian book. The map of the breeding grounds of the common loon is almost exactly the map of Canada. And the sight and call of the loon is the symbol of the northern wilderness. Canada, however, is suffering the same fate as the loon populations. Our forests and lakes and now even peoples’ lives are being destroyed by ignorance and greed. Paul Aird uses his lyrical and imaginative writing to put our problems in parable form that even the youngest child not only understands but feels in the heart. The only hope for a good future for our grandchildren depends on a change of philosophy – in other words, a change of heart in our citizens. The clarity and wit of these stories strikes straight to the mark.” (Robert Bateman, prepublication review)

Paul Aird, University of Toronto Professor Emeritus, came in contact with PEN as one of our many thoughtful curriculum reviewers. And now he has kindly offered us a copy of his delightful book, Loon Laughter: Ecological Fables & Nature Tales, which we would like to share with our readers. This series of environmental fables, illustrated with the work of Thoreau MacDonald (yes, son of the Group of Seven artist).  Loon Laughter offers simple yet profound ecological truths. The stories are followed by teaching activities ideal for use in a classroom setting to stimulate environmental thinking. An excellent resource for teachers, a thought-provoking read, and an ideal gift for any friend dedicated to the spirit of environmental protection.” (The Toronto District School Board Network for Environmental and Sustainability Education.  Parents’ Environmental Network Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 3, June 1999.)

“Paul Aird’s Loon Laughter: Ecological Fables and Nature Tales is an excellent resource for looking at human interactions with the environment in a very succinct yet profound way through literature. The book’s 33 fables teach about wild plants and animals, incorporate morals in the form of conservation lessons. and encourage critical thinking. The late Thoreau MacDonald’s beautiful black-and-white drawings accompany these poignant tales, and 12 helpful activities for classroom use (grades 5 and up) are provided by the editor, Celina Owen.”  (Green Teacher, Vol. 58, Summer, 1999.)

“Aird’s closing fable ‘Taddle Pond’ is aimed at a university audience, being the story of elderly turtles who decree who can learn what, and from whom. What the younger turtle learns is ‘The limits of one’s mind define the limits of one’s world.’ It’s a droll and spirited ending to an engaging, thoughtful book.”  (University of Toronto Bookstore Review, Spring-Summer 1998, volume 11, number 3)

 “Loon Laughter has some thirty-three stories…all told with wit and wisdom.  These parables gently teach rather than preach.  They were written to remind us that ‘two forces shape the world – nature and human nature’.” (Chris and Pat Raible, Creemore Echo)

 “The stories in Loon Laughter combine the realistic animal story with the fable form.  Here the reader benefits from Dr. Aird’s personal years of observation, study and research on wild animals and plants.  Yes, real scientists can have a creative/artistic side as well, and that too in itself is a lesson for our students … discover these wonderful verses for yourself and enjoy the marvelous illustrations by the famed Canadian artist Thoreau MacDonald.” (Interactions:  The Ontario Journal of Environmental Education)

“The drawings come from many sources and add a special artistic dimension to an enchanting book.  The fables and stories are all drawn from the author’s knowledge and wide experience of wildlife and nature and a fertile imagination based on his many years exploring the vast wilderness areas that exist in this country.  He has produced an exciting book full of varied stories that will appeal to young and old alike, and at the same time leave the reader with a better understanding of and appreciation for the outdoors.  (Archie Jones, The Cognashone Cottager 2000)

Reader Responses

“Loon Laughter is wonderful!  A very unique idea.  I especially enjoyed your explanation of fables.”  (W.L. & N.L., Oakville, Ontario)

 “The book is beautiful and I plan to buy more copies.  We are reading it as a family.  Congratulations ― I especially love the pen & ink drawings accompanying the wonderful stories.” (M.L., Toronto, Ontario)

 “For now, my faves are ‘Last Prize’ and ‘Cheer Up, Cheer Up’.” (A.H., Guelph, Ontario)

 “I took Loon Laughter to St. Sauveur [Québec] with great results!  My family read it and enjoyed it very much ― particularly my granddaughter aged 17.” (L.F., Montreal, Québec)

 “We are thrilled with Loon Laughter!  I want to give one to each of my grandchildren, to the families of them, and to visitors coming from England.” (L.M., Maple, Ontario)

“What a lovely book this is!  We are most impressed with the stories, the message and the art.  Congratulations!” (R.W. & G.W., Windsor, Nova Scotia)

“We are enjoying Loon Laughter immensely.  Our son is enjoying discussing the morals and thinking about animal ways and people ways.” (S.G., Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario)

“It is an elegant little book.  My pulse literally went up as I peered at MacDonald’s drawings!  They are so evocative for me.” (R.B., Fulford Harbour, British Columbia)

“Your tales are thought-provoking, and the use of Thoreau MacDonald’s illustrations was an inspiration.  The format of the book itself is eye-catching.” (F.B., Toronto, Ontario)

“It is really a beautiful collection of nature tales.” (H.C., St. Donat, Québec)

“Big congratulations & respect for putting your words/beliefs in print with Thoreau MacDonalds drawings.  I use a fable at every presentation that I do ― they fit so well.  ‘Wolf Island’, ‘The Snake and the Cyclist’ and others have been read ― thanks for such beautiful stuff.” (H.K., Guelph, Ontario)

“Wonderful b&w drawings, but the fables stand alone.  Do I have a favourite? ― I do like ‘The King and the Royal Trees’ and ‘The Acorn and the Oak Tree’, but there are many others as delightful.” (R.A., Almonte, Ontario)

“It is a delightful book and we have been looking for something like this at our Visitor Center.” (P.S., East Tawas, Michigan)

“What a delightful book!  Congratulations, Paul.  Thoreau MacDonald’s sketches are priceless.” (R.K. & J.K., Thornbury, Ontario)

“I have heard some excellent stories told from Loon Laughter by various storytellers.  It is a wonderful publication.” (J.T., Toronto, Ontario)

“Our son learned to read with Loon Laughter.  We are delighted with the book.” (R.B. & D.C., Caledon, Ontario)

“I was so pleased when “The Hybrids” was selected as part of the final reading and writing examination for all Grade 6 students in Ontario.” (D.R., Toronto, Ontario)

“At first I started reading the tales & fables in Loon Laughter all at once ― then I thought I should treat your book like a good box of chocolates and make it last longer by reading one everyday.  I’ve even shared it with others by reading some aloud around the coffee room table at work.  Well done.” (L.H., Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia)

Loon Laughter … I’m passing copies around to my friends and work colleagues who are also very impressed with your work.”  (L.L., Langley, British Columbia)

I was pleased that you agreed to trade books.  Loon Laughter is enhanced by Thoreau’s black and white artistry.  I am a happy owner.  I will be proud to show your book to my family, my friends and my publisher.  (I.C. Toronto, Ontario.)

“I think we may claim with confidence that Loon Laughter represents a new and unique genre, and we are proud to be able to add such a timely work to our Canadiana Collection.” (L.M., Toronto, Ontario)

Just read your book again, and found it even better than I had remembered.  Well done!  (J.P., Kingston, Ontario)

Your fantastic book! – It has made such good reading.  A mood grows through the book and one can feel the wisdom & richness of the Canadian landscape and natural world. (J.H., Palmyra, Western Australia)

On Fables

Loon Laughter is a book of fables and tales written about wild plants and animals, from an ecological perspective.  It presents a suite of images of people and nature interacting in our North American landscapes.

The traditional fable is a short fictitious story.  It leads to a single and obvious conclusion designed to teach a moral or practical lesson, in a creative or amusing way.  It consists of two connected parts – the story and the moral, which may be likened to the wolf and its howl.

In most fables, animals talk instead of people.  Can a snake be more persuasive than a human?

Fables thrive on brevity and simplicity.  The use of animals or other organisms helps to maintain the simplicity of a fable.  To the writer, reader, or listener, the wolf is always a wolf and the fox is always a fox.  We don’t need a description of size, colour, age or temperament to distinguish between them.  Instead, we know or learn that the wolf always has long fangs, the fox is always clever – though sometimes too clever, the owl is always wise and the tortoise is always slow and steady.

In the traditional fable, the animals represent humans.  In Loon Laughter the animals represent themselves.  The thirty-three stories in Loon Laughter combine the realistic animal story with the fable form.  They are ecological stories based on personal observation, study and research of wild animals and plants.  

Table of Contents


A Letter to Thoreau MacDonald

The Frog and the Fly

The Bison Jump

Last Prize

The Salmon Smolt

Scarecrow Jig

The King and the Royal Trees

The Farmer and the Bobolinks

Boulder Creek

Wolf Island

The Smart Ones

Cheer Up, Cheer Up

The Taste Test

The Acorn and the Oak Tree

Hawk Haven


Concrete Thinking

Mountain King

The Lifeline


Two Habitats

The Hawk and the Chickadee

The Hybrids

The Ploughers

The Winterberry Shrub

The Wolf Hunt

Polar Bear Reflections

Loon Laughter

Salmon Park


The Snake and the Cyclist

The Trilliums and the Bear

Caribou Crossing

Taddle Pond

Loon Laughter Activities, Celina Owen

Biography of Paul Leet Aird

Biography of Thoreau MacDonald (1901-1989)

Biography of Celina Owen

Emblems Drawn and Printed by Thoreau MacDonald

Copyright © 2005 Paul Aird, Inglewood, Ontario.  All rights reserved.