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The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Eric Walters

Walters, Eric_05-26-2020

Our final chat in this year’s special Governor General’s Literature Award coverage is with Eric Walters. Eric is the recipient of the 2020 GG's Award for Young People’s Literature (Text) for The King of Jam Sandwiches (Orca Books).

According to this year’s Peer Assessment Committee, "The King of Jam Sandwiches pulls us into the unforgettable friendship of hard-working Robbie and tough-as-nails Harmony in an exceptionally honest survival story that is also compulsively readable and emotionally gripping. Walters has written a heart-wrenching novel about what it is like to grow up amidst poverty and mental illness, one that speaks to contemporary young readers and offers them hope.”

Eric Walters is a Member of the Order of Canada and the author of over 115 books that have collectively won more than 100 awards, many of which have been translated into one or more of 16 different languages. A former teacher, he began writing as a way to get his fifth-grade students interested in reading and writing. Walters is a tireless presenter, speaking to over 100,000 students each year in schools across the country. He has won the Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Fiction Award three times and the Association’s Red Maple Award four times, a Christopher Award …

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Seeds of a Story 2019: Part 1

This week, the CCBC Book Awards, celebrating the best of children's literature in Canada, will be presented in Toronto. We asked the nominees to tell us about the seeds of their stories, the places from which their inspiration grew. Here are some of their responses. Part Two appears later this week.

Read on to discover what books were inspired by an East German museum, the song "What a Fool Believes," two vibrant communities on opposite coasts, and one writer's son's important question. 


Aftermath, by Kelley Armstrong

Nominated for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award and the John Spray Mystery Award

The “aftermath” in the title is the aftermath of a school shooting and how it affected both the sister of a shooter and the brother of a victim. The story seed came from an article about the online and real-life harassment a sibling’s shooter endured. I knew parents of shooters received intense scrutiny and negative attention—I’d recently listened to an interview with one parent—but the sibling relationship was an angle I hadn’t considered. I was extremely wary of using an actual shooting in a thriller, but dealing only with the aftermath seemed like a good way to tackle a sensitive subject, and my editors agreed. 

It takes over two years for my books to go …

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The Chat with Governor General's Award Winner Jillian Tamaki

JT Photo Credit Emma McIntyre_1

Jillian Tamaki is the winner of this year’s English-language Governor General’s Award for Literature for Young People (Illustration) for her gorgeous book They Say Blue.

The peer assessment committee says "They Say Blue is a wonderful blend of words and art, a sweeping, joyous book from cover to cover. Its lively and dynamic compositions are sure to captivate both children and those who love to read to children. Wonderfully uplifting and imaginative, it spans an entire range of emotions and colours and makes one’s heart sing."

Jillian Tamaki is a cartoonist and illustrator from Calgary, Alberta, who now lives in Toronto, Ontario. She co-created the highly acclaimed graphic novels Skim and This One Summer with Mariko Tamaki, and is the creator of the teen drama webcomic SuperMutant Magic Academy and Boundless, a collection of short comics for adults. She has won many awards for her work, including a previous Governor General’s Literary Award (in 2014), a Caldecott Honor, a Printz Honor, the Eisner Award, and an appearance on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books list. A working illustrator since 2003, she has also taught students of all levels at Parsons and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.



Trevor Cor …

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The Chat with Governor General's Award Winner Jonathan Auxier

Auxier photo by Libby Hilf

Ever wonder about the life of a young Victorian chimney sweep? Jonathan Auxier is winner of this year’s Governor General’s Award for Literature for Young People (Text), for his enchanting novel Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster.

The peer assessment committee says “A tender story of what makes us human, Sweep doesn’t shy away from the risks of love and monstrousness of indifference. With an impeccable narrative, Sweep shows how love can breathe life into darkness and how hope can spark change. Auxier weaves a multi-layered masterpiece with endearing characters and gut-wrenching twists that are certain to instill readers with a sense of wonder and discovery for the miracle of storytelling."

Jonathan Auxier writes strange stories for strange children. His debut novel, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes was a Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award Honour Book, and was also shortlisted for both the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Diamond Willow Award. His New York Times Best Seller The Night Gardener was a finalist for a Governor General's Literary Award, as well as winner of the Silver Birch Award, Monica Hughes Award, the TD Bank Children’s Literature Award, and the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year Award. …

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The Chat With Governor General's Award Winner Martine Leavitt


As we wrap up our special coverage of the 2016 Governor General's Awards for Literature, we are pleased to be in conversation with noted young adult author Martine Leavitt. Martine is this year’s English-language Governor General’s Award winner for Young People’s Literature (Text) for her book Calvin.

“In Martine Leavitt’s Calvin,” writes the jury, “A boy newly diagnosed with schizophrenia makes a pilgrimage across a frozen Lake Erie. Told in spare, beautiful prose, this transcendent exploration of reality and truth is funny, frightening and affirming. Calvin is an astonishing achievement.”

Martine Leavitt is the author of ten novels for young readers. My Book of Life by Angel, which received five starred reviews, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the CLA Young Adult Book of the Year. Other titles include Keturah and Lord Death, finalist for the National Book Award; Tom Finder, winner of the Mr. Christie's Book Award; and Heck Superhero, finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Her novels have been published in Japan, Korea, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands. Martine teaches creative writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.



How was Calvin born?

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The Chat With 2016 Governor General's Award Winners Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka

JELAPPANO HEADSHOT by Robert Scarborough_1

K_HATANAKA_HEADSHOT by Kiersten Hatanaka_1

The next chat with this year’s English-language Governor General’s Award winners is a conversation with Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka. Jon-Erik and Kellen won this year’s award for Young People’s Literature (Illustrated Books) for their book Tokyo Digs a Garden.

Tokyo Digs a Garden marries text and illustration in a richly ornamented dream landscape that simultaneously suggests a digital and an organic world,” states the jury. “Kellen Hatanaka’s illustrations are inventive and groundbreaking and the hypnotic text by Jon-Erik Lappano conveys its message in a darkly humourous and elegant manner. A book for any age.”

Jon-Erik Lappano is an environmental educator, storyteller, and creative producer with curiosity and love of all things wild. He lives in Guelph, Canada, with his young and growing family. This is his first book.

Kellen Hatanaka is a designer and illustrator who lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Kiersten. He is also the author and illustrator of Work: An Occupational ABC and Drive: A Look at Roadside Opposites …

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Picture Books We've Read to Pieces

Pile of Picture Books

Family Literacy Day comes each year on January 27, a national initiative spearheaded by the non-profit ABC Life Literacy Canada to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. And this year to mark the occasion, we're thinking about the picture books we've read to pieces, sometimes quite literally—see the photo above. The books we never tire of, the ones we've read a million times, from the time our kids were babies, and now they're reading alongside us. Although who are we kidding? Nobody's reading. All of us know these stories off by heart.

These are the books that my family has loved until their bindings broke. What are some of yours? 


Book Cover Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

We love everything illustrated by Jon Klassen, from his Governor General's Award-winning Cat's Night Out (with Caroline Stutson) to his Caldecott-winning creation This is Not My Hat. But if pressed, I'd choose Extra Yarn as my favourite, because of its amazing subversive protagonist and her amazing year-bomb …

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Negotiating a Black Vernacular in Children’s Literature

Book Cover Up Home

Talking History focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, and it consists of articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts. Our contributors use the power of narrative to bring the past to life and to show how it is not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today. "Talking History" is a series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Shauntay Grant is a writer and storyteller from Nova Scotia, and served as Halifax's Poet Laureate from 2009-2011. 


nanny made blueburry duff
today afta’ schoo’

had a bigole bag a burry’s
leftova from las summa
frozen cole

she ga’e me two great big dumplin’s
an’ enough sauce to cova’ de bowl

she didn’ haf none doe 

say she need to watch ha sugah’s
e’er since christmas
when she caught diabetics
offa mum's lemin loaf

About a dozen grade 6 students at Nelson Whynder Elementary School in North Preston sit in small clusters: working groups of three or four, huddled around square tables, dissecting a sample from my newest collection of poems.

"You wouldn’ say last, we would say las—without pronouncing T," a girl tells me. She sounds each letter with clear certainty.


"I don’ sink so," a boy pipes up in …

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Seeds of a Story: Part One

On Thursday, the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards will be presented in Toronto. We asked the nominees to tell us about the seeds of their stories, the places from which their inspiration grew. Here are some of their responses. Part Two appears tomorrow. (Update: you can find it here!)


Graffiti Knightby Karen Bass

Nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

"Graffiti Knight started over a cup of coffee. I had driven out to a friend’s farm for a visit, and we were discussing the progress of the novel I was currently revising. Talking about a young adult novel must have triggered the thought, because my friend mentioned that her father had been a teenager in Leipzig, Germany, during and after World War II. The conversation veered to other things. I knew that Leipzig had been in what was called the Soviet Zone, and over the following year, the idea took root that a teenager in post-WWII Leipzig could make a great YA story. When my friend’s father agreed to let me interview him, the story took off."


Brothe …

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Middle-Grade Mojo, by Jeff Norton

Jeff Norton's new middle-grade novel, Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie, is a hilarious adventure narrated by Adam Meltzer—pre-teen, worrywart, and now zombie. In this post, Jeff explains how he came to be a reader (hint: divine luck via a good teacher and librarian and an inspirational author).


Middle grade can make or break a reader.

I went into middle school in sixth grade as very reluctant reader, well behind the curve of my friends, and escaped after eighth grade with a reading proficiency that set me up to enjoy (vs. resist) reading for pleasure.

I was lucky.

It was 1985, and my sixth grade teacher spotted my disinterest in books. Television, video games, and films were much more interesting to me than anything I could find in book form. Pineland Public School’s librarian collaborated with my teacher to introduce me to books that might catch my eye and hold my attention. I was reluctant, but they kept at it.

Finally, two genres helped transform me: thrills and laughs. The thrills hooked me, but the laughs reeled me in.

And there was one author who propelled me into a life of reading: Gordon Korman.

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Fun Poetry for Kids

As National Poetry Month begins to wind down, let's take a moment to highlight the poetry collections that tend to be read most voraciously, collections that are read and reread, whose poems are memorized and then recited through the decades. ("Suzy grew a moustache, a moustache, a moustache …"). Here is a list of Canadian poetry from Fitch to Fitch, and everything in-between is just as great. Some of the collections are classic and others brand new, but all are excellent introductions for young readers to the power of the poem. 

If I Had a Million Onions by Sheree Fitch is a word-bending, tongue-twisting, rollicking delight. Yayo's art is a perfect complement to Fitch's whimsy, and while these poems tend toward silly good fun ("Vaness Vanastra's/ A walking disastrah./ She fell in a  bowlful/ Of noodles and pasta."), if you look, you will find their serious edge. Fitch is a poet as attuned to the world's shadows as she is to its light, and many of these poems are pleas for young readers not to forget what they know as they head into the sometimes far more childish world of adulthood. Fitch is a wise woman, dispensing sage advice like, "Sing a song of doodledang,/ Dance an hour away./ My excellent advice is this:/ Read a poem a day."

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"We Need to Keep Talking About Our Rights": Ken Setterington on Freedom to Read Week

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This year is the 30th anniversary and there are more than 50 events taking place across Canada.

49th Shelf spoke to author and children's librarian Ken Setterington about his own experiences with censorship, and the broader issues behind the Freedom to Read campaign. 

See Also: Freedom to Read List of Challenged Books in Canada


Ken Setterington

49th Shelf: As an author and a children’s librarian, can you explain your own connections to the issues surrounding Freedom to Read Week and why these issues are important to you?

Ken Setterington: As someone who cares about children I have long been a supporter of Freedom to Read Week. Quite simply I know the pleasures and rewards that children and youth discover through reading. Reading makes children think and imagine—and as a children’s librarian I know that is something that I want. We want children to see their ow …

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