Karen Autio

Children’s Author | Editor | Presenter | Sensitivity Reader for Disability Awareness

Second Watch

Shortlisted for the 2006-2007 BC Chocolate Lily Book Award
Second Watch cover

Sono Nis Press, 2005
ISBN 1-55039-151-8 and
ISBN 13 9781550391510

ISBN 13: 978-1-55039-224-1 (Kindle edition)
ISBN 13: 9781550391510 (Kobo edition)

Second Watch: Prologue and Chapter One

Teachers' Guide
Eleven-year-old Saara dreams of a trip to Finland to meet her grandparents. When Papa loses his job, family tensions rise and Saara’s hopes fall. How will they ever save enough for the precious tickets, or convince Papa they should go? Uncle Arvo predicted a travelling year for Saara—but her journey will take her further than anyone could have imagined.

The 1914 tragedy of the steamship Empress of Ireland, Canada’s worst nautical disaster in peacetime, provides an historical basis for this compelling tale of hardship and hope, faith and family. Spirited Saara comes to life in the vivid world of Finnish immigrant culture in northwestern Ontario. Join her as she navigates a challenging time at home, and as she seeks passage on the majestic Empress of Ireland.

"I will enjoy finishing your book! So far it is great! Thanks so much! Can’t wait for the sequel!"  Vanessa, Grade 5

"I had the mother of a boy in one of my classes (low to middling reading/writing student) tell me she can't get her son to put Second Watch down."

Eileen Holland, Teacher, Ranch Park Elementary

"YOUR BOOK ROCKS!!! I never knew about the Empress of Ireland before I read your book!" Ryan, Grade 5

SECOND WATCH is available in paperback and ebook through Sono Nis Press

To order an autographed copy Email Me

CanLit for Kids Novel Study 2005-2006

Part of CanLit for Kids Fall 2005-2006 Basic Book Package

"I read Second Watch soon after its release, after hearing that it … was a novel for children set in Canada. I found the novel engaging, historically accurate and informative. I subsequently purchased a copy for my school library and it now circulates frequently among both male and female readers. I have also incorporated the novel into a Grade 5 Social Studies unit on Immigration with great success. The story holds the interest of my students as they are intrigued by the story of Saara and her family, new immigrants to Canada, who struggle to settle in their new country. They also enjoy the factual content of the novel, the Empress of Ireland steamship and its tragic sinking."

Susan Noble, Teacher-Librarian, AS Matheson Elementary School

The idea for SECOND WATCH began when my grandmother gave me a silver sugar spoon. It had been given to her by a friend, a Finnish woman who claimed it was saved from the Titanic. That certainly got my attention! I wanted to know how and by whom. What stories were hidden in that old spoon?

I asked my family in Ontario to find out more about the woman and the spoon. To my amazement, the Titanic wasn’t the only ship to sink in her family’s history. Members of her Finnish immigrant family from Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay) died in the wreck of the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River.

I had never heard of the Empress of Ireland. I searched the library and internet for information about the steamship, and tracked down out-of-print books. The more I read, the more fascinated I became with the Empress. The origin of the spoon continued to intrigue me, as well. Like most silver spoons, mine has a hallmark of tiny symbols, numbers, and letters on the back. Researching the hallmark revealed where and when it was made. What I learned was a complete surprise! The tale of the spoon contained unexpected twists and turns before ending in mystery once again. I would never know the whole story.

There was nothing more to research about the spoon, but questions kept popping into my head. What could have happened to this spoon? Who might have owned it? What if it had been on a steamship? With my imagination sparked, I began making up answers and inventing a history for the spoon. SECOND WATCH was born. It was a story that had to be told.


Things. There is so much history in things, and not only those that have a personal relevance. Whether they are natural objects, such as pebbles or bones, or artifacts such as teapots, maps, or feather bonnets, things allow us to engage with history in a way that is far more immediate than the abstract connection offered by the written word. An old plough or an archival photograph triggers a tactile or visual response to the past. No matter how common-place, obsolete, or insignificant, an object can permit our empathy and imagination to vault the gulf of time and recapture vanished experiences.”

Charlotte Gray (The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder, p. 13)

Setting for SECOND WATCH:

The main setting is Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay, Ontario). To help me picture the setting while writing the novel, I drew a map of Port Arthur in 1914 showing points of interest to Saara.

For a peek into history, take a look at some old photographs from Northwestern Ontario. Several buildings mentioned in SECOND WATCH can be found: e.g. search for “Pagoda” or “Finnish Labour Temple.”
Empress of Ireland Artifacts

Over the years, divers have removed many items from the wreck of the Empress of Ireland. Most of these artifacts belong to private collectors. The Empress of Ireland Artifacts Committee worked hard to raise money to buy important artifacts so they could be donated for public exhibition in Canada.

When Empress of Ireland artifacts toured western Canada in 2004, Karen had the privilege of viewing the historic items. Here she is, wearing period costume, holding a third-class mineral water bottle and deep plate, both salvaged from the wreck, as well as a lime that washed ashore in a crate from the ship.

Here is a link to view additional artifacts.

Karen Autio with Empress of Ireland Artifacts
Third class deep plate from the Empress of Ireland

Third-class deep plate complete with white barnacle.
EggBoiler from the Empress of Ireland

Automatic egg-boiler
Bugle from the Empress of Ireland

Ship's Bugle
Finland Flag      Finland Facts

Not only are birthdays celebrated in Finland, but Name Days (Nimipäivät), as well. First names are assigned a date on the calendar on which to be honoured. The Nimipäivät for Saara is July 19.

Reindeer live in the northern part of Finland called Lapland.

Did you know that in 1906 Finland was the first country in Europe to allow women to vote?

The Juhannus (Midsummer) festival is the Saturday between June 20 and June 26. Midsummer’s Eve is a time for traditional food (like crepe-thin Finnish pancakes), music, dancing, and playing games by the light of a giant-sized bonfire called a kokko.

Finnish wall hanging

Finnish woven wall hanging
Finish Proverb


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