With nearly three quarters of the world expected to live in urban areas by 2050, it’s about time we see more children’s books about living in the city. Kids in New York and Paris, of course, have had their own beloved icons for years (thank you Harriet, Madeleine and CJ from Last Stop on Market Street), but Canadian readers haven’t seen themselves represented in quite the same way. This absence is part of the reason I’ve been working with Groundwood Books on the ThinkCities series.
My third book in this nonfiction series exploring urban systems and sustainability, City Streets Are for People is coming out this week and it’s a kid-friendly manifesto about reclaiming our streets for people and transit, not cars. The series has also looked at city trees and water systems because decoding our environment will help young people live better and advocate for the health and well-being of their communities. It’s also just really fun to see the places you live in the books you read. In that spirit, here are a few titles—both fiction and nonfiction—that take on the urban jungle and its people in all their busy, complex glory.
Our 2022 Spring Preview concludes with books for young readers, including picture books, middle grade and young adult titles, by authors including Andrew Larsen, Catherine Hernandez, Marie-Louise Gay, Lawrence Hill, Eric Walters, and more, plus many exciting debuts.
Inspired by a true story, Journey of the Midnight Sun (March), by Shazia Afzal, illustrated by Aliya Ghare, reminds us that the collective dream of fostering a multicultural and tolerant Canada exists and that people of all backgrounds will come together to build bridges and overcome obstacles for the greater good of their neighbours. The cooking of a healthy breakfast moves from parent-child bonding to an eloquent conversation about energy, the growth of plants, and the miraculous ways the sun’s light nourishes us all in Sun in My Tummy (April), by Laura Alary and Andrea Blinick. Alary is also out with The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything (May), illustrated by Ellen Rooney, perfect for fans of STEM, an inspiring picture book biography telling the extraordinary story of pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell.
Karen Reczuch and I count ourselves as lucky! Most authors and illustrators do not get to work directly together on a book. An editor is usually the conduit between the two (mainly to protect the illustrator from the possibility of an overbearing author directing the art).
In our case, while we still rely on our wonderful editor, Karen and I also regularly talk about our books-in-progress, share research materials and—best of all—take fun trips to the west coast of Vancouver Island together!
It all began a few years ago with our first book, West Coast Wild, when Karen and I travelled to the spectacular west coast of Vancouver Island to do photo research. (She and I hadn’t met before—so it was a leap of faith to plan an excursion together!)
“With its muted palette and gentle text, On the Trapline is quietly profound. Robertson’s reflective storytelling coupled with Flett’s masterpiece illustrations make this picture book a must-read about the connection to language, family, the land and tradition.” – 2021 Peer Assessment Committee
David A. Robertson is the author of numerous books for young readers, including When We Were Alone (illustrated by Julie Flett), which won the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award and was nominated for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. Strangers, the first book in his Reckoner trilogy, a young adult supernatural mystery, won the 2018 Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction. He is also the author of The Barren Grounds and The Great Bear, two books in a middle-grade fantasy series called The Misewa Saga. The Barren Grounds was a Kirkus and Quill & Quire best middle-grade book of 2020, as well as a USBBY and Texas Lone Star selection, and was shortlisted for the Silver Birch Fiction Award and the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. A sought-after speaker and educator, Dave is a member of the Norway House Cree Nation and currently lives in Winnipeg.
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
You are never too old for picture books. I found a renewed interest in picture books while taking a course in children’s literature at university. As I applied what I was learning about literary theory and close reading to my study of picture books, I realized there was a depth to books for children that I had been overlooking.
The storytellers behind picture books are extremely talented. Authors learn to write with high efficiency, using fewer words to tell their stories. They develop rhythm and acoustics, utilizing sound devices to ensure books are equally enjoyable when read aloud. They work in tandem with illustrators to enhance their storytelling through visual elements. Speaking the language of children, these authors and illustrators explore complicated emotions and ideas in ways that allow even the youngest readers to learn.
Picture books are valuable resources for engaging readers of all ages. As a second …
When I first started thinking about a picture book about Mount Everest, I thought it was going to be a poetry collection. I read a lot about Everest and the Himalaya region—all kinds of books. Stephen Alter’s Wild Himalaya made me think this might be a sort of natural history of Mount Everest—in poems!
Oh, I was in love with that idea! Poems about the geology of the mountain’s formation, the people who live in the Khumbu region of Everest, the climbers, the man for whom the mountain was named, the arduous process that led to its naming, the antics of a little spider that lives above the tree-line where there’s nothing for it to eat. I was in love with all of this research. I was as lightheaded as if I were reaching the heights of Everest myself.
In fact, during that time, my husband and I did go hiking in Nepal: and in between being dizzy from the altitude and exhausted by 16-22 km of hiking daily, I was also intoxicated by the possibilities of these poems.
When we got back from that trip, I wrote 22 poems.
Here’s one of them:
Highest of …
It's September, and that means BACK TO THE BOOKS! Here are the books for young readers that will be delighting readers of all ages this fall.
When the world gets too loud and chaotic, a young boy’s grandfather helps him listen with wonder instead in Thunder and the Noise Storms (October), by Jeffrey Ansloos & Shezza Ansloos, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. Young train enthusiasts will delight in Listen Up! Train Song (August), by Victoria Allenby, exploring sound and language. Chaiwala! (October), by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illustrated by Ashley Barron, is a sensory celebration of family, food, and culture. A boy befriends a baby gargoyle in Anthony and the Gargoyl (October), a graphic-novel style wordless book from award-winning creators Jo Ellen Bogart and Maja Kastelic. Neighbours try to figure out why a child is walking a banana on a leash, while the child tries to make them understand that the banana is really a dog (named Banana!) in A Dog Named Banana (September), by Roxane Brouillard, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola. And the second in the Charlie's Rules series, following Pasture Bedtime, from bestselling author Sigmund Brouwer, Ruff Day (September) is sure to delight young animal lovers.
How do you create a sense of satisfaction in a story’s finale? The following books pull it off by covering the gamut of techniques—concluding with an important action or image, repeated text, dialogue, or one final word. Some come full circle with whole story reminders.
Reading aloud just the beginning and final sentences of each book allows students to feel the full impact of each type of ending.
Salma and the Syrian Chef, by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron, begins with Salma, in Vancouver, missing the rain in Syria. She longs to hear her mom’s laugh again, likening it to the sound of bicycle bells in the streets back home. She tries making a Syrian dish but her attempts to buy ingredients are thwarted by her lack of English. Salma “feels like an umbrella in a country with no rain,” so she draws her list of vegetables for the grocer instead. Then she draws a picture of her home, making it purple because “it’s okay to add new colours to my memories.” The final image in the book is that of a bike ride with her new friends (other refugees from the Welcome Centre), ringing their bells beneath a purple sky.
We continue our special coverage of this year’s Governor General's Literature Award winners in conversation with the acclaimed Fan Brothers (Terry Fan, Eric Fan, Devin Fan), co-winners of the 2020 GG's Award for Young People’s Literature (Illustration) for The Barnabus Project (Tundra). The 2020 GG Award Peer Assessment Committee says The Barnabus Project is,
“A twisty-turny adventure story that travels from the deep underground to the starry skies, featuring a gang of friends, aka ‘Failed Projects,’ who show the power of solidarity and non-conformity. This sweet and surreal ode to sticking together radically breaks from typical storylines to deliver a manifesto for mass escape from any system that demands perfection, sameness and compliance. Stunningly and intricately illustrated, this book pays cinematic attention to pacing and detail. Like Barnabus, the Fan Brothers have broken the mold.”
Terry, Eric, and Devin grew up in Toronto, where they continue to live and work. Recipients of the prestigious Sendak Fellowship, Kate Greenaway Medal nominees, and Governor General’s Literary Award nominees, Terry and Eric are the author/illustrators of the critically acclaimed books The Night Gardener and Ocean Meets Sky, and the illustrators of the best …
Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
These are books highlighting Asian heritage for the month of May.
Awakening the Dragon: The Dragon Boat Festival, by Arlene Chan, illustrated by Song Nan Zhang, is nonfiction in picture book form. It describes the history and rituals surrounding the race which happens on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar in order to protect against misfortune. It also explains race preparation, rules, team makeup—the pacers in the front, the engine in the middle and the rockets in the rear. It captures the process: “Paddles Up! Race Ready!”—boaters' hearts racing, knowing the first powerful strokes count. (Grades 1 to 6)
In Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng, Hana visits her Ojiichan’s (grandfather) home in Japan, complete with shoji screens and tatami mats. Having played in the Kyoto orchestra, he performs for Hana and her brothers on the porch, making his violin sound like crickets or rain on pap …
My new picture book, What The Kite Saw, illustrated by Akin Duzakin, shares what a young boy feels and does after soldiers seize control of his town and take his father and brother away. War has a brutal impact on children whenever adults (nations) resolve a conflict through military force. I gave this story a universal setting because, sadly, it could happen anywhere.
Children have their own unique ways of facing a crisis. Yes, they need protecting, but they are also resilient. They have inner resources, spunk and imagination. The young protagonists in the stories I’ve chosen face their crisis in ways I find inspiring with an idea they’ve imagined themselves. No adult guides the child. Regardless of the situation, these stories reflect a respect for the dignity of children.
Fatty Legs, by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak is determined to learn to read and ignores her father’s warnings that residential schools are terrible places. After Margaret leaves the safety of …
Written by York Region District School Board Teacher Librarian Geoffrey Ruggero
Picture books are often written with young children as their intended audience. In Tough Like Mum, Lana Button provides adults with important messaging that we need to be reminded of.
Kim’s mum is tough. She works hard to provide for her daughter and keep her happy. But sometimes, Kim can tell her mum is not feeling well, as Kim must step up and take care of them both. Other parents in the neighbourhood say that Kim is strong just like her mother, even though she is just a child. Whether it’s making meals, getting ready for school, or just putting on a brave face, Kim shows that she can handle it.
Educators and parents often say they know how children are feeling. But do we? Sure we were once that age, but a lot has happened since then. Do we really remember what it was like to experience things for the first time? Do we really remember what it was like to deal with adult problems at such a young age? The world is different, how can we truly say that we know how the children of today are feeling?
Lana Button writes most of her picture books to “show the perspective and situation of a child that might be going unnoticed.” For educators, we try our best to get to know each one of ou …