Former Northlander donates book proceeds to R.I.D.E.

Some people never forget their roots. Like Susan Carnes, who's doing her part to help out a small Northland nonprofit -- from more than 1,700 miles away, no less.

Some people never forget their roots. Like Susan Carnes, who's doing her part to help out a small Northland nonprofit -- from more than 1,700 miles away, no less.

That's right; despite living on an island north of Seattle, the former Wentworth, Wis., author and illustrator has decided that the profits from her latest book, "My Champion," will go to North Country R.I.D.E.

The Esko organization, started in 1982, provides therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults who are challenged by a wide variety of special needs, including physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral issues.

"In one of my adventures, I almost broke my neck, so, in thanks to the gods that be, I volunteered a year of my time working at Nat Polinsky (Rehab Center) in Duluth," Carnes said from her Washington home, pointing out that there are numerous similarities between her childhood and that of the adventurous girl in her book.

But that's not the only reason Carnes is using "My Champion" to support R.I.D.E. Its mission hits home, as her sister suffered from a serious birth defect.


"My sister gave me rides on her bike when I was very little; she had survived spinal bifida and yet she gave me rides," the author said. "That might have kicked off my interest in working with challenged kids. She was always sort of my hero. Even with physical limitations, she has gone on to do great things."

Then, of course, there is the most blatant connection between Carnes and the Esko nonprofit: She's a huge horse nut herself. Growing up, her father had teams of them to clear the region's logged acres of massive pine stumps.

"The horses were very valuable to my father, and that's another reason I wanted to write this book," she said. "Additionally, I feel there's a connection between little girls and horses; I wanted to explore that in this book. To be able to ride that kind of animal was an opportunity to go places you normally wouldn't go otherwise -- into the wilderness."

Carnes said the experience of riding a big horse is "something special," recalling a particular episode that has stayed with her through the ages.

"One night, probably late-November, we'd had a dusting of snow ... after chores, my dad and I went out," she said. "There were more than 100 white-tailed deer in the field down below us, and we could drive between them because of the horses. It was such a wonderful evening. I'll never forget it.

"That's how it is on a big horse: You can ride out right among the deer or right into places and feel fairly safe on such an animal."

That feeling is central to "My Champion," one she hopes today's kids latch onto like she did with the myriad stories she read in the Superior Public Library as a youth.

"A little element of fear and excitement is good -- I think children like to have that," she said, speaking as a former counselor. "Children today should be raised in that way, where they can have those kinds of real experiences. There's a saying that the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek, and I think that being afraid and going places and exploring is made less scary when you have a companion like a horse or a dog."


Carnes also touched on propensity of kids today to rely on virtual living. While these experiences offer some passable approximations of the themes proposed by "My Champion," she said having state parks and other public wilderness places to go and actually experience nature is of the utmost importance.

She brought up state parks because, since a very early age, she was instilled with a sense of appreciation for green spaces. Her father, a community leader, worked diligently to convert Bardon Park outside Superior into what is today Amnicon Falls State Park.

"That was one of his pet projects," Carnes said. "My father loved the wildness of the country in those days ... his great theory was that everyone should have access to the wilderness, and he wanted to be sure that those special places weren't lost."

Added up, all these experiences form the soul of "My Champion," which was recognized with a Moonbeam Children's Book Award for "inspired writing, illustrations and enthusiasm."

"I've learned things my whole life that I've wanted to pass on to kids," Carnes said. "One of the main things would be the wilderness as a teacher. If you listen [to what it has to say] and aren't afraid to be alone, the message is simple: Follow your dreams. Instead of leading a virtual life behind the computer, go out and go where you dream of going."

Susan Carnes' "My Champion," a 48-page hardcover book featuring a CD narrated by Ernest Pugh, is available for $25, with all proceeds going to support North Country R.I.D.E. Books can be purchased at R.I.D.E.'s headquarters at 180 Hatinen Road in Esko. Call 879-7608 or visit for details. (Carnes will also be in the area Aug. 4 to sign her book from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Superior Public Library.)

What To Read Next
Get Local