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Jeffrey Canton picks his Top 10 books of 2022 for the 12-and-under set.

From historic fiction to biographies of celebrated Canadian icons, this year’s best kids’ books will delight and inspire budding book-lovers.

The Possible Lives of W.H., Sailor
The Prisoner and the Writer

The Possible Lives of W.H., Sailor by Bushra Junaid (Running the Goat, 8-12)

“What truths would you utter from your mouth/If you could tell us your story” is the question artist/author Junaid asks readers to consider in her debut picture book. Using artifacts from a grave discovered in 1987 on the coast of Labrador as her starting point, Junaid creates a powerful account of the possible lives a 19th Black sailor might have lived.

The Prisoner and the Writer, by Heather Camlot, illustrated by Sophie Casson (Groundwood Books, 9-12)

Marking the 125th anniversary of “J’Accuse”, Camlot tells the poignant story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, convicted of treason in 1895, and French novelist Emile Zola whose letter, “J’Accuse,” charged that Dreyfus was a victim of antisemitism. Camlot sensitively extends her verse narrative to consider the importance of speaking out. Includes excellent support material.

When the Wind Came
As Glenn as can Be

When the Wind Came, by Jan Andrews; illustrated by Dorothy Leung (Kids Can Press, 3-7)

When a family is faced with a sudden terrifying storm, father hurries them into the root cellar for safety but they emerge to find their home destroyed. How do you cope with this kind of loss? Master storyteller Andrews’s narrative is filled with the resilience that survivors of natural disasters find in themselves in this moving and poetic story.

As Glenn As Can Be, by Sarah Ellis; illustrated by Nancy Vo (Groundwood Books, 3-7)

This exquisite picture book biography chronicles the life of celebrated Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and how important it was for him to always be completely himself. Ellis’s sprightly text is beautifully complemented by Vo’s illustrations that perfectly capture a sense of Gould’s quirkiness. Includes a fascinating author’s note and resources.

Dancing With Our Ancestors
Still this Love Goes On

Dancing With Our Ancestors, by Sara Florence and Robert Davidson; illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Highwater Press, 6-8)

Drawing on her own memories and those of her father, celebrated Haida artist Robert Davidson, Sara whisks readers back to the last potlatch where she danced with her brother, Ben. Gibbons’s illustrations burst with colours that create a sense of the excitement of this celebration of Haida culture and community.

Still This Love Goes On, by Buffy Sainte-Marie; illustrated by Julie Flett (Greystone Kids, 3-7)

Flett brilliantly brings this classic song by Buffy Sainte-Marie to life in a picture book that celebrates both the Cree worldview and the ties that bind us to the people and places most important to us. End-notes from both Sainte-Marie and Flett about their inspiration for both the song and illustrations add a wonderful personal connection.

The Wolf Suit
The Tunnel

The Wolf Suit, by Sid Sharp (Annick Press, 6-10)

Bellweather Riggwelter is sure that if he goes into the woods to pick blackberries, he’ll be eaten by wolves so he makes himself a wolf suit but being a “sheep in wolf’s clothing” has a whole new meaning in this delightful graphic novel which playfully challenges notions of conformity and how key finding community is. The illustrations are sure to be a huge hit with young readers.

The Tunnel, by Sarah Howden; illustrated by Erika Rodriguez Medina (OwlKids, 4-8)

Upset and confused by grief, a young boy digs a tunnel under his house so he can run away. But, when he looks back at his home, he discovers that it’s full of love and he needed to find some distance in order to make sense of his feelings. Medina’s greyscale illustration neatly enhance Howden’s emotionally subtle and deeply resonant text.

Shahrzad and the Angry King
A Day for Sandcastles

Shahrzad and the Angry King, by Nahid Kazemi (Enchanted Lion, 6-9).

This vibrant and vivacious retelling of the Scheherazade story from The Thousand and One Nights absolutely bursts with energy and colour as this story-loving child heroine wraps an angry king in a web of stories until he discovers, as she’s always hoped, to understand how important stories are in our lives. Whimsical and profound by turns, with just the right touch of magic realism, Kazemi perfectly balances her skills as a storyteller with illustrations that are brimming with life.

A Day for Sandcastles, by Jonarno Lawson, illustrated by Qin Leng (Candlewick, 4-8).

This wordless picture book superbly captures a day at the beach where three siblings are engaged all day building sandcastles. It’s filled to the brim with creativity, fraught with inadvertent disasters and chockablock with challenges but is a delight to the eye as Leng’s delicious watercolour illustrations are brimming with Where’s Waldo-like detail that make this hot sunny day come to life.


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