"Forgive me for giving you a list when you only asked for one book..." wrote Andrea Curtis in her response to our request for her to share her family's favourite children's book title in honour of Family Literacy Day, which happens on January 27 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in literacy-related activities as a family. Of course, we never consider more books than we asked for a problem at 49th Shelf, so Curtis is forgiven, as were her colleagues who also could not narrow down their favourites to less than a handful. What follows is a list of some of Canada's most beloved children's books, as selected by authors with exciting new books just out or coming up on the horizon.
Andrea Curtis's Picks
The Liszts, by Kyo Maclear
About the book: The Liszts make lists. They make lists most usual and lists most unusual. They make lists in winter, spring, summer and fall. They make lists every day except Sundays, which are listless. Mama Liszt, Papa Liszt, Winifred, Edward, Frederick and Grandpa make lists all day long. So does their cat. Then one day a visitor arrives. He's not on anyone's list. Will the Liszts be able to make room on their lists for this new visitor? How will they handle something unexpected arising? Kyo Maclear's quirky, whimsical story, perfectly brought to life with the witty, stylish illustrations of Júlia Sardà, is a humorous and poignant celebration of spontaneity.
Jane, the Fox and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
About the book: Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies—Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane's tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.
Leaving the outcasts' tent one night, Hélène encounters a fox, a beautiful creature with whom she shares a moment of connection. But when Suzanne Lipsky frightens the fox away, insisting that it must be rabid, Hélène's despair becomes even more pronounced: now she believes that only a diseased and dangerous creature would ever voluntarily approach her. But then a new girl joins the outcasts' circle, Géraldine, who does not even appear to notice that she is in danger of becoming an outcast herself. And before long Hélène realizes that the less time she spends worrying about what the other girls say is wrong with her, the more able she is to believe that there is nothing wrong at all.
This emotionally honest and visually stunning graphic novel reveals the casual brutality of which children are capable, but also assures readers that redemption can be found through connecting with another, whether the other is a friend, a fictional character or even, amazingly, a fox.
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, by Jan Thornhill
About the book: For hundreds of thousands of years Great Auks thrived in the icy seas of the North Atlantic, bobbing on the waves, diving for fish and struggling up onto rocky shores to mate and hatch their fluffy chicks. But by 1844, not a single one of these magnificent birds was alive.
In this stunningly illustrated non-fiction picture book, award-winning author and illustrator Jan Thornhill tells the tragic story of these birds that “weighed as much as a sack of potatoes and stood as tall as a preteen’s waist.” Their demise came about in part because of their anatomy. They could swim swiftly underwater, but their small wings meant they couldn’t fly and their feet were so far back on their bodies, they couldn’t walk very well. Still the birds managed to escape their predators much of the time … until humans became seafarers.
Great Auks were pursued first by Vikings, then by Inuit, Beothuk and finally European hunters. Their numbers rapidly dwindled. They became collectors’ items—their skins were stuffed for museums, to be displayed along with their beautiful eggs. (There are some amazing stories about these stuffed auks—one was stolen from a German museum during WWII by Russian soldiers; another was flown to Iceland and given a red-carpet welcome at the airport.)
Although undeniably tragic, the final demise of the Great Auk led to the birth of the conservation movement. Laws were eventually passed to prevent the killing of birds during the nesting season, and similar laws were later extended to other wildlife species.
About the book: Starting from Scratch is a manifesto on food that will help kids relate to what they eat, whether on special occasions or every day, inspiring both budding chefs and budding food lovers in the process. Beginning with an exploration of taste and the way it works, author and food activist Sarah Elton explains how ingredients have been on the move for centuries, resulting in the unique and fusion flavors we love today. She breaks down the science of food and cooking into bite-sized and easily digestible pieces of information that cover everything from the chemistry of heat versus cold, fat versus acid, and salt versus sweet.
Both practical and philosophical in its approach, Starting from Scratch demystifies food and cooking by boiling it down to the basics. Kids will be able to make sense of recipes, measure and substitute ingredients, and stock a pantry, but they’ll also discover that food is more than just a prepackaged meal. Using simple and universal examples, like how an onion is transformed when it’s boiled versus charred, caramelized versus fried, Starting from Scratch will inspire kids to eat better, try new flavors, and understand what’s on their plate.
The Bully Boys, by Eric Walters
About the book: The War of 1812 is raging: America has declared war on Britain, and American troops have invaded Canada. Tom Roberts, fourteen and too young for army service, wants nothing more than to be a part of the action—a wish that comes true when he stumbles upon some American soldiers attempting to rob the local store.
His bravery in thwarting the robbery attracts the attention of Lieutenant James FitzGibbon, and Tom soon finds himself fighting for his country alongside FitzGibbon and his notorious band of soldiers... the Bully Boys.
Andrea Curtis's new book is Eat This: How Fast Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (And How to Fight Back)
About the book: A provocative follow-up to the bestselling What's for Lunch?, Eat This! zooms in on fast food marketing to children—an immense industry worth billions of dollars.
Andrea Curtis shows how fast food companies push their unhealthy food and beverages by embedding their sales pitches in everything from Snapchat filters to movies, from videogames to school curriculum. An exploration of media literacy and food literacy, Eat this! looks at what exactly marketing is and touches on the latest strategies aimed at kids, including product placement, advergames, cartoon and celebrity endorsements and school fundraising.
On each page spread, Andrea Curtis provides research-based insights into all aspects of the fast food industry and, perhaps most importantly, offers kids examples and ideas about how they can push back—taking charge of their own health and well-being.
Rachel Giese's Picks
I Can’t Have Bannock But the Beaver Has a Dam, by Bernelda Wheeler
About the book: A boy patiently listens to his mother’s reasons for not making bannock—all the result of a beaver’s need to make a dam. Includes a bannock recipe!
What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?, by Richard Van Camp and George Littlechild
About the book: "I'm a stranger to horses and horses are strangers to me," admits the author/narrator at the beginning of this delightful tale of discovery. Members of the Dogrib nation from Canada, Van Camp's people use dogs instead of horses. Yet Van Camp has always been curious about horses. So he sets off on a playful search for "the most beautiful thing about horses," talking to family, friends, and even artist George Littlechild, who is a Plains Cree and knows something about horses. The answers Van Camp gets range from zany to profound: Horses can run sideways. Horses have secrets. Horses can always find their way home. Littlechild's bold and fanciful paintings perfectly capture Van Camp's playful vision of the world.
A Coyote Solstice Tale, by Thomas King
About the book: Trickster Coyote is having his friends over for a festive solstice get-together in the woods when a little girl comes by unexpectedly. She leads the party-goers through the snowy woods to a shopping mall—a place they have never seen before.
Coyote gleefully shops with abandon, only to discover that fi lling your shopping cart with goodies is not quite the same thing as actually paying for them. The trickster is tricked and goes back to his cabin in the woods—somewhat subdued—though nothing can keep Coyote down for long.
The Bruno and Boots books, by Gordon Korman
About the book: The book that started it all, written when Gordon Korman was only 12!
Best friends Bruno Walton and Melvin "Boots" O'Neal love sharing a dorm room at Macdonald Hall. But their practical jokes get out of hand, and Headmaster Sturgeon—they call him The Fish—separates the buddies. How will Bruno and Boots get back together?
Catboy, by Eric Walters
About the book: Taylor and his mother have moved from a small northern town to the heart of Toronto. The differences are dramatic as Taylor becomes part of a classroom of kids as diverse as the city itself. While taking a shortcut across a junkyard with his new best friend, Simon, Taylor becomes aware of a colony of wild cats that make the junkyard their home. Assisted by his classmates, teacher and the security guard, Mr. Singh, Taylor takes a special interest in caring for the cats. Suddenly there is an announcement—the junkyard is being redeveloped to become condominiums. Can Taylor and his friends save the cats of the colony from certain death?
Rachel Giese's forthcoming book is Boys: What It Means To Be A Man
About the book: What does it mean to be growing up male right now, when ideas about masculinity are in flux and power differences between the sexes are shifting? In Boys: What It Means to Be a Man, award-winning Canadian journalist Rachel Giese connects with readers on both sides of the gender divide as she investigates how we can support boys to become their fullest and most honest selves.
Blending reporting, cultural analysis and personal narrative, Giese aims to reset the conversation about gender identity, toxic masculinity and the “boy crisis.” She takes us from a boys-only sex education class to recreational sports leagues; talks to Boy Scouts and transgender activists; and plays video games with her son and studies the dynamics of male friendships. Drawing on history, pop culture and sociological and psychological research, she looks at the forces that shape how boys see themselves and how we see them. With empathy and insight, she tells stories of how boys from different races, classes and backgrounds are navigating the transition into manhood.
The successes of the feminist movement have led to greater opportunities for girls and women, as well as a broadening in our understanding of what it means to be female. While boys and men have travelled alongside this transformation, what it means for them is not always clear. Boys aims to make sense of this moment of confusion, backlash and sometimes even rage. Might boys one day be free of stifling expectations about manhood and masculinity? With lively reportage and clear-eyed analysis, Giese reveals reasons to feel hopeful for our young men, and shows that this emerging new gender reality has the potential to liberate us all.
Liz Harmer's Pick
Night Cars, by Teddy Jam
About the book: It is late at night in the city. From his father's shoulder, a sleepless baby watches the snow drift down from the sky onto the busy street below. What are all those noises? What are all those lights? His tired but patient father explains everything, from the bustle of taxis swishing through the slush to the grinding and slamming of the early-morning garbage trucks.
Teddy Jam’s lyrical prose and Eric Beddows’s detailed illustrations cast Night Cars in that magical light between sleep and waking. This classic baby book, now available in a board book format, is a perennial favorite.
Liz Harmer's forthcoming book is The Amateurs
About the book: In the style of Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, and The Walking Dead, The Amateurs is a post-apocalyptic examination of nostalgia, loss and the possibility of starting over.
PINA, the largest tech company in the world, introduces a product called port. These ports offer space-time travel powered by nostalgia and desire. Want to go back to when your relationship was blossoming? To when your kids were small, or when your parents met? To Elizabethan England? To 1990s Seattle? Easy. Step inside the port with a destination in mind, and you will be transported. But there is a catch: it's possible that you cannot come back. And the ports are incredibly seductive, drawing in those with weaker wills...
Nearly everyone buys the ports, and soon, nearly everyone is gone. Those who are left attempt to sort out how to survive in this world nearly devoid of humans. Animals are increasing in numbers, roads are degrading, the Internet is down, and gasoline is running out. The survivors are also left with numerous unguarded ports, which are as mysterious as they are threatening.
In this world we follow a motley crew camped out in the abandoned mansions and stately church of a former steel-town that has seen its own share of collapse and growth. The group of about thirty adults and children are looting and surviving on what food they can find. But the harsh winter is fast approaching—do they make the choice to head south as a group, or wait to see if their loved ones will return through the ports?
Stephen Henighan's Picks
Little You, by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett
About the book: Richard Van Camp, internationally renowned storyteller and bestselling author of the hugely successful Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, has partnered with award-winning illustrator Julie Flett to create a tender board book for babies and toddlers that celebrates the potential of every child. With its delightful contemporary illustrations, Little You is perfect to be shared, read or sung to all the little people in your life—and the new little ones on the way!
The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch
About the book: This bestselling modern classic features a princess who rescues a very snooty—and ungrateful—prince.
Stephen Henighan's forthcoming book is Blue River and Red Earth
About the book: These eleven short stories cover a wide range of territory—from Toronto to Cuba to Eastern Europe. And, wide-ranging over geography as they are, they also cover an array of characters and situations that can only be situated in the twenty-first century.
Michael Hingston's Pick
The Jasper John Dooley series, by Caroline Adderson
About the book: At last, it's Jasper John Dooley's turn to be Star of the Week at school. Unfortunately, nothing turns out as planned. His Show and Tell falls flat. A new baby at his friend Ori's house steals his spotlight. And worst of all, the new baby has only-child Jasper wondering if his own family is too small. When Jasper decides to build himself a brother (named Earl) out of wood, Earl's schoolyard shenanigans send Jasper to the principal's office! But with a little help from family and friends, things turn around for Jasper. And by the time Friday arrives, he is once again sure that he has what it takes to be a star.
Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week is the first in a series of chapter books featuring a charismatic and funny central character. An only child with active, loving parents (and a most impressive lint collection), Jasper John Dooley is a true original.
Michael Hingston's forthcoming book is Let's Go Exploring: Calvin and Hobbes
About the book: The internet is home to impassioned debates on just about everything, but there’s one thing that’s universally beloved: Bill Watterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Until its retirement in 1995 after a ten-year run, the strip won numerous awards and drew tens of millions of readers from all around the world. The story of a boy and his best friend—a stuffed tiger—was a pitch-perfect distillation of the joys and horrors of childhood, and a celebration of imagination in its purest form. In Let’s Go Exploring, Michael Hingston mines the strip and traces the story of Calvin’s reclusive creator to demonstrate how imagination — its possibilities, its opportunities, and ultimately its limitations—helped make Calvin and Hobbes North America’s last great comic strip.
Uzma Jalaluddin's Pick
Big Red Lollipop, by Rukhsana Khan
About the book: Rubina has been invited to her first birthday party, and her mother, Ami, insists that she bring her little sister along. Rubina is mortified, but she can't convince Ami that you just don't bring your younger sister to your friend's party. So both girls go, and not only does Sana demand to win every game, but after the party she steals Rubina's prized party favor, a red lollipop. What's a fed-up big sister to do? Rukhsana Khan's clever story and Sophie Blackall's irresistible illustrations make for a powerful combination in this fresh and surprising picture book.
Uzma Jalaluddin's forthcoming book is Ayesha At Last
About the book: Ayesha Shamsi is a secular Muslim who lives with her boisterous extended family in Toronto. She wants to be a famous spoken word poet, but dreams won’t support family or pay off debts. So she takes the stable (but boring, as her friend Clara reminds her) path of substitute teaching. She’s never had a boyfriend, and though she’s lonely, she wants no part of an arranged marriage. But when she begins working with Khalid, a conservative, handsome young Muslim man, on a fundraiser for the mosque, she has to deal with both her attraction to him and her irritation with his complacency. Once her gorgeous young cousin becomes engaged to him, however, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and her suspicions about his wealthy family. Taking it upon herself to investigate rumours about them, she finds she has to deal with not just what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth of what she realizes about herself.
Khalid Mirza yearns for less complicated times. Before he was asked to organize a singles mixer at his local mosque. Before he was put in charge of the website for a lingerie company. Definitely before he fell for the electrifying poet he accidentally first met at a bar that he didn’t want to be at in the first place. He misses the old days, when everyone puzzled over his traditional clothes, and assumed, rightfully, that his super-controlling mother was arranging his marriage. It’s no wonder he stumbles on the path paved for him by tradition . . .
Rachel Lebowitz's Pick
The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier
About the book: This much-anticipated follow-up to Jonathan Auxier’s exceptional debut, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, is a Victorian ghost story with shades of Washington Irving and Henry James. More than just a spooky tale, it’s also a moral fable about human greed and the power of storytelling.
The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making.
Rachel Lebowitz's forthcoming book is The Year of No Summer
About the book: On April 10th, 1815, Indonesia's Mount Tambora erupted. The resulting build-up of ash in the stratosphere altered weather patterns and led, in 1816, to a year without a summer. Instead, there were June snowstorms, food shortages, epidemics, inventions, and the proliferation of new cults and religious revivals.
In these linked lyric essays, Lebowitz not only charts the events and effects of the apocalyptic year, but also weaves in history, fairytale, mythology, and memoir to ruminate on weather and the natural world, motherhood, transformation, war, the human appetite for destruction, and our search for God and meaning in times of disaster.
Jen Sookfong Lee's Pick
Lizzy's Lion, by Dennis Lee
About the book: Dennis Lee has created a magical word in verse, recounting the story of Lizzy and the very real and grownup pet Lion she keeps in her bedroom.
Novelist Jen Sookfong Lee's new book is the children's nonfiction title Chinese New Year
About the book: From its beginnings as a farming celebration marking the end of winter to its current role as a global party featuring good food, lots of gifts and public parades, Chinese New Year is a snapshot of Chinese culture. Award-winning author and broadcaster Jen Sookfong Lee recalls her childhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, and weaves family stories into the history, traditions and evolution of Chinese New Year. Lavishly illustrated with color photographs throughout.
Picks by JC Sutcliffe:
The Subway Mouse, by Barbara Reid
About the book: Nib lives deep beneath the city, in a subway station the mice call Sweetfall. By day, the trains thunder past. At night, the old mice tell stories of the mythical land known as Tunnel's End, where the air is sweet and the nests are soft, but where scary, mouse-eating monsters roam. One day, Nib sets out on a quest to find Tunnel's End. Along the way he faces danger, finds a friend . . . and discovers a place more wonderful than he ever dreamed.
The Olden Days Coat, by Margaret Laurence
About the book: Ten-year-old Sal is disappointed when she and her parents spend Christmas at her grandmother’s house, instead of at home, like they did before Grandpa died. In order to pass the time, Sal explores the contents of an old trunk. Searching through the old photographs she comes across a little girl’s winter coat, tries it on, and finds herself transported into the past where she makes an unexpected connection to her heritage and her grandmother.
This model tale of time travel was one of Margaret Laurence’s few forays into children’s literature and has remained a favourite of children of all ages. New art by the original illustrator makes this a beautiful book for Christmas and for all seasons. A special treat for Margaret Laurence fans.
Jillian Jiggs, by Phoebe Gilman
About the book: No one can keep up with Jillian Jiggs. With boundless energy and imagination, Jillian rushes from game to game. One minute she's a robot, the next minute she's a tree. How can she take time to clean up her room when there are so many wonderful things to make and do? No one knows what Jillian will think of next—especially not her mother!
About Document 1: Tess and Jude live in small-town Quebec and spend their time travelling all across North America—using Google maps—which provides them the luxury of adventure while remaining in the comfort of their own home. But Tess and Jude are dreamers, and their online adventures eventually give rise to a desire to actually travel somewhere. They settle on Bird in Hand, Pennsylvania, and begin scheming to raise the cash they'll need for the trip.
After a series of hilarious ideas that never pan out, they turn to a local experimental author (who has a major crush on Tess) and convince him to apply for an arts council grant on their behalf. But when they actually receive the grant money, can the pull it all together for a real adventure?
Funny, smart and wonderfully human, Document 1 is a tragicomic tale of two dreamers and their quest for adventure, as well as a satirical take on the world of letters.
About Mama's Boy: Winner of the 2016 Grand Prix littéraire Archambault
Written with gritty humour in the form of a confession, Mama's Boy recounts the family drama of a young man who sets out in search of his mother after a childhood spent shuffling from one foster home to another. A bizarre character with a skewed view of the world, he leads the reader on a quest that is both tender and violent.
A runaway bestseller among French readers, Mama's Boy is the first book in a trilogy that took Quebec by storm, winning the 2016 Grand Prix littéraire Archambault, and selling more than twenty thousand copies. Now, thanks to translator JC Sutcliffe, English readers will have the opportunity to absorb this darkly funny and disturbing novel from one of Quebec's shining literary stars.
Picks By Claire Tacon:
When You Were Small, by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad
About the book: All children like to hear stories about when they were small. In this charming picture book by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad, a young boy and his father reminisce together before bedtime. For chidren there is a whole period of their life that they can not remember and, for all they know, it could have been the most magical time of their life.
Goodnight Sweet Pig, by Linda Bailey and Josee Masse
About the book: Poor pig number one may never get to sleep! In this swine-stuffed count-along bedtime book, one ham-bunctious pig after another comes crowding into her bedroom—each with its own special way to keep the poor little pig awake. Pig number two turns on the light. Pig number three likes to watch TV all night. Four's a juggling boar—and there are still six more! With new hogs arriving by the minute, pig number one's bedroom is wall-to-wall pig-demonium. Will this weary little pig ever hear the Bard's immortal words: “Goodnight, sweet pig”?
Here is a counting book that uses irresistible rhymes to send children off to sleep, night after night.
Kamik Joins the Pack, by Darryl Baker and Qin Leng
About the book: Jake can't wait for his uncle to meet Kamik, and to see what an obedient puppy he is becoming. Jake's uncle is a great musher, who has won many dog sledding races, and if Kamik is good enough, Jake hopes today might be the day that Kamik finally gets to run with a dog team!
Following Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story and Kamik's First Sled, Kamik Joins the Pack continues the story of Jake and his puppy Kamik as they learn from their elders everything they need to know to some day be part of a winning sled dog team.
Claire Tacon's forthcoming book is In Search of the Perfect Flamingo
About the book: When Henry Robinson's first daughter, Starr, is born with Williams Syndrome, he swears to devote his life to making her happy. More than twenty years later, we find Henry working at Frankie's Funhouse, where he repairs the animatronic band that Starr loves, wrestling with her attempts at living outside the family home. His wife, Kathy, wishes he would allow Starr more independence, hoping that Henry will turn his attention a little more to their own relationship and to their other daughter, who is pregnant. As tensions mount Henry's young co-worker, Darren, reveals he needs to get to Chicago Comic Con to win back his ex-girlfriend, so Henry packs Starr (and her pet turtles) and Darren (still dressed as Frankie the mascot) into the van for a road trip no one was prepared for.
Told in multiple points of view, we hear from Henry, Darren and Starr as they all try to find their place in the world. In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo is a charming, tender and often funny story of a father struggling to let his daughters grow up and of a family struggling against hard odds, taking care of each other when the world lets them down.