Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we will dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
During my first year of teaching, I stepped in part-way through the semester into the room of a lively bunch of ninth graders. Overwhelmed and not sure where to start, I brought out a favourite graphic novel and projected it on the screen. It caught my students’ attention and ever since graphic novels have been a beloved teaching tool in my classroom.
Graphic novels are awesome for the way they build visual literacy skills, engaging more of our brains to connect images and words. Visual supports can aid struggling readers, English language learners, and students with some learning disabilities. Reading graphic novels brings excitement into the room and engages even my most reluctant readers.
One popu …
Hey there lovely 49th Shelf readers!
Author. Illustrator. And all around nice guy, Rob Justus here. I’ve been asked to put together a humble but mighty list of Canadian creators who influenced my work, but more specifically influenced me when I was writing (and drawing!), what I can only assume is your new favourite graphic novel, Death and Sparkles.
I draw inspiration from all over the place. From television and movies, to toys and video games, but these books and graphic novels just left such an imprint on me that their awesome story powers will seep into my work for the foreseeable future.
This list is pretty all over the place, but I’d argue that Death and Sparkles is a little all over the place too. It’s a little bit of something for everyone!
So without further adieu, here’s my list.
Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton
What can I say that hasn’t been said about the comics in Hark! A Vagrant? Probably not much, I’m not that clever. Regardless, this book is absurd and hilarious. I don’t even know half of the historical people she refere …
Canada is full of incredible talent and it’s an absolute smorgasbord when it comes to the comic book industry. We produce some of the most talented writers and artists in the industry! Because comics are collaborative, sometimes not everyone on the creative team is Canadian, so for this most excellent list (in my completely biased opinion), I’ll highlight some of my recent favourites for a wide variety of audiences. There’s something for everyone in this list, and I hope that if you’re reading this, that you’ll consider picking up or checking out at least one of them.
If you’ve never read a comic before, they aren’t scary, I promise! Now is a great time to start and learn all about a new medium that blends art and writing together beautifully. If you try comics out digitally, many apps such as hoopla and ComiXology offer Guided View technology which will help navigate you through the page. But with western comics (as opposed to manga), the rule of thumb is always read left to right, top to bottom with the panels as well as the word balloons. You’ll get the hang of it quickly!
Born of a Mohawk father and an escaped-slave mother, John ‘Daddy’ Hall was a product of not one but two oppressed peoples. His gripping story is the stuff of legends—of the War of 1812, of the harsh realities slavery and of triumph in the face of adversity. Over the course of his 117-year life, Hall identified as a freeman, a scout for the British under Chief Tecumseh, a captured slave, an escapee on the Underground Railroad, a town crier in Owen Sound, Ontario, a husband and, as his nickname aptly suggests, father to an impressive number of children.
In Daddy Hall, Owen Sound-based artist Tony Miller’s 80 stark and arresting black-and-white linocuts present an unflinching portrait of a remarkable African-Canadian whose story of resilience and reinvention offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Southwestern Ontario.
Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
No matter the age, there are readers who shy away from pages filled with text. What better way to draw them in to literature than through exciting plot-driven graphic novels? These titles are able to engage uncertain readers from grades three to seven.
Beginning with grade three+, Big City Otto: Elephants Never Forget, by Bill Slavin, is the first book in a series about Otto the Elephant on a quest to find his estranged monkey pal, George. With his parrot friend, Crackers, Otto's adventure begins with him shrink-wrapped as baggage on a plane to America, ending up at the zoo, where a locked up cayman connects him with some shady characters “on the outside” (including a croc with a French accent and a hiphop gangster who uses Otto's peanut allergy to his benefit; a few big sneezes and the gangsters are busted out of the zoo.) The speech bubbles have minimal text and many ironic one-liners like: "This is America. You can't go around looking oversized (and) special."
Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
An orphan-spy-gang-sci-fi thriller. A fantasy novel as allegory. A series of funny First Nations stories. A poetic portrait of death. A guide to making movies. Each delivers its own take on the graphic form and makes for easy reading during these summer months.
Being an orphan is a crime in The Silver Six, by Al Lieberman and Darren Rawlings, and 12-year-old Phoebe's parents have died in a shuttle explosion. She survives in a futuristic urban society, where natural parks are movie sets and her domestic robot, Max, plays pre-recorded voices of her mom and dad when the landlord comes a-knocking. Phoebe's also on the run from bad-guy, Mr. Craven, who's after a secret file of her parents'. Phoebe gets nabbed by the Child Welfare Services where she meets five other orphans whose parents' deaths are suspiciously similar to Phoebe's. Together they form the Silver Six and head out of their artificially controlled world to solve the mystery. (Grades 3 to 6)
In t …
This year for Family Literacy Day, we're turning things over to an expert. Nathalie Foy, of the 4 Mothers Blog, knows books and she knows boys, and her life is rich with both of them. In this list, she recommends great reads for boys of a wide range of ages. And even better: there's no reason a boy's sister won't love these books too. Which is perfect when the very point is families reading together.
One of my greatest joys as a parent is to see my boys with their noses deep into a book or to hear them plead for time to read just one more chapter, one more page, one more word. We are a family of bibliophiles, and I cultivate the love of books in every way that I can. I do not take it as a foregone conclusion that boys would almost always rather do anything but read, or that books are made for boys or girls, or that boys only want to read about boys, or that you have to bribe a boy to sit down with a book, or that you have to settle for less in the literary quality department if you want to match a boy to a book. I refuse to read aloud a book that I will not enjoy myself, and I will not buy books that do not have lasting value. What the boys borrow from the library is entirely up to them, as is what they read in class at school. Between us, we manage to cove …
We're taking a look at Art Books throughout November, and so our interview with Ursula Pflug on her new book, Motion Sickness, is timely, considering its remarkable scratchboard illustrations by SK Dyment.
Ursula Pflug is author of the critically acclaimed slipstream novel, Green Music. She has published over 70 short stories in professional publications in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has also been shortlisted for the Aurora, the Sunburst, Pulp Press's 3-Day Novel, Descant's Novella Contest, and many more. Currently, she edits short fiction for The Link and teaches creative writing with a focus on the short story at Loyalist College. Her long awaited and highly praised story collection After the Fires appeared in 2008. Harvesting The Moon, a new collection, was published in 2013 from PS Publishing, a UK boutique press specializing in literary speculative fiction including the Bradbury estate. The Alphabet Stones, was also published by in 2013.
She talks to us about flash fiction, her novel's exoskeleton, how she sees with her extra eyes, and stories "on the verge of now."
49th Shelf: Motion Sickness is a flash novel, which sounds kind of like an oxymoron. You’re really deliberate in your structure—55 chapters of exac …
Each month, our resident Children's Librarian, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks.
Story and visual art are intertwined in the following titles. Whether fiction or non-fiction, each appeals to the young artist in different ways.
The picture book Mr. Gauguin’s Heart, by Marie-Danielle Croteau, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, reveals a crucial moment in the life of a young Paul Gauguin. When his family moves, taking an ocean liner from Denmark to Peru, Paul is comforted by his imaginary dog. But on the journey, his father is “carried away,” his tearful mother explains. Paul pictures him floating away holding onto a balloon. The mother tries to explain further by showing him the setting sun, slipping into the ocean. But each day Paul waits with his imaginary pup at the ship’s bow for sunrise. He meets an artist who, when they reach Peru, teaches him to paint his father in a way that he’ll always be remembered.
Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, also illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is told from the point of view of Virginia …
Each month, our children's librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks.
Bliss is a hammock in summer and a stack of graphic novels. Right on top of the pile should be This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. It’s the story of Rose and her family’s annual trip to Awago Beach—a summer spent eavesdropping on a grownup world; the cute guy at the variety store who’s rumoured to have gotten a girl pregnant; Rose’s arguing parents; her mother’s confession of a miscarriage. Cottage life is captured in the graphic details: handmade cottagers’ road signs hammered onto a pole, a shampoo bottle floating in a bucket whilst washing hair in the lake. The plot is punctuated with poetic moments, particularly of Rose swimming and there’s a wonderfully playful scene of pudgy cottage best friend Windy, aka HipHop, showing off her “krunk moves.”
The Tamaki’s first book, Skim, is similarly brilliant. Its quiet, insightful narrator, Skim, is a little on the heavy side, the kind of girl who shows up to a Halloween …
Literary awards are not everything, and they are almost always contentious, but all the same, they add a swirl of energy to the year in books. Here's a handy round up of the Canadian finalists for some of the major awards in 2013.
The Giller Prize: Lynn Coady won for Hellgoing. Finalists included Dennis Bock for Going Home Again, Craig Davidson for Cataract City, Lisa Moore for Caught, and Dan Vyleta for The Crooked Maid.
The Governor General's Awards: In fiction, Eleanor Catton won for The Luminaries, while finalists included Kenneth Bonert's The Lion Seeker, Joseph Boyden's The Orenda, Colin McAdam's A Beautiful Truth, and Shyam Selvadurai's The Hungry Ghosts. The poetry winner was Katherena Vermett's North End Love Songs; finalists were Austin Clarke's Where the Sun Shines Best, Adam Dickinson's The Polymers, Don Domanski's Bite Down Little Whisper, and Russell Thornton's Birds, Metal, Stones & Rain.
The Governor General's non-fiction winner was Sandra Djwa's Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page, among a field including Carolyn Abraham's Th …
This fall, Canadian authors and illustrators shine as bright as ever in this stellar lineup of new books for kids and young readers.
In Ella and the Balloons in the Sky by Danny Appleby and Lauren Pirie, gorgeous illustrations help tell a whimsical story of love and loss. Artist Rebecca Chaperon's Eerie Dearies is an Edward Gorey-esque alphabet book featuring 26 reasons for being absent from school. The award-winning Geneviève Côté follows up Mr King's Things (just nominated for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award) with Mr King's Castle, another fun book with an environmental theme.
A new Sheree Fitch book is always an event, and this one is extra-special. Singily Skipping Along is described as "body movement multi-sensory inventive language poem," a book about bodies and the amazing ways they move, featuring hooked-rug illustrations by Deanne Fitzpatrick. Julie Flett's Wild Berries (also published in Cree as Pakwa Che Menisu) is a story about a boy picking berries with his grandmother, and it includes a recipe for blueberry p …