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This has been a difficult year for children, but books have remained the constant – an escape, a place where imaginations can run free. Our holiday gift guide has books for every interest, from graphic novels to sports to non-fiction

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Gifts for grown-ups: 78 of the best books to give as gifts this 2020 holiday season

The activist kid

Me and Banksy
King and the Dragonflies
This Book is Anti-Racist
The Stray and the Strangers
Becoming A Good Creature
A Small History of a Disagreement

Me and Banksy, Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Puffin Canada, 10+)

Offers readers a how-to guide to creating a Banksy-style arts-based student movement when rights to privacy are under attack in a Vancouver middle school.

King and the Dragonflies, Kacen Callender (Scholastic, 8-12)

A powerful and poignant novel about how important it is to be yourself. Kingston James struggles to be the person he knows he is in the face of homophobia and hate but discovers that he’s far more courageous than he ever imagined.

This Book is Anti-Racist, Tiffany Jewell, illustrated by Aurelia Durand (Frances Lincoln, 10+)

Educator and activist Tiffany Jewell deftly explores the ways that racism underpins our society and what young people can do to confront it.

The Stray and the Strangers, Steven Heighton, illustrated by Melissa Iwai (Groundwood Books, 6-9)

Based on a true story, this book sensitively examines the plight of refugees as a stray dog befriends an orphan boy in a refugee camp on a Greek island.

Becoming A Good Creature, Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Rebecca Green (Houghton Mifflin, 4-7)

This picture book adaptation of Sy Montgomery and Rebecca Green’s memoir, How to Be a Good Creature, shows some of the surprising things that animals have to teach us about friendship and compassion and how to be a better creature in the world.

A Small History of a Disagreement, Claudio Fuentes, illustrated by Gabriela Lyon (Greystone, 7-12)

When a school decides to cut down an old monkey puzzle tree to make room for new science classrooms and computer labs, students find themselves challenging one another’s perspectives.

The kid who loves non-fiction

Maurice and His Dictionary
Girl on a Motorcycle
Canadian Women Now + Then
The Lost Spells
Plasticus Maritimus

Maurice and His Dictionary: A True Story, Cary Fagan, illustrated by Enzo Lord Mariano (Owlkids, 8-12)

Cary Fagan takes readers into the life of Maurice and the English dictionary that he lovingly protects even as he and his family flee from their home in Belgium because they’re Jews. Travelling across Europe, always just one step ahead of the Nazis, the dictionary becomes a powerful symbol of courage and resilience.

Girl on a Motorcycle, Amy Novesky, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Viking, 5-9)

This engaging picture book biography tells the story of Anne-France Dautheville, the first woman to travel around the world by motorcycle.

Canadian Women Now + Then, Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Maia Faddoul (Kids Can Press, 9-12)

What better way to look at Canadian history than by examining the lives of some of the trailblazing women who shaped our country? MacLeod cleverly pairs historical figures with the lives of women who are currently changing the face of Canada.

The Lost Spells, Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris (House of Anansi, 7+)

This exquisite sequel to The Lost Words is an evocative collection of poems that brilliantly celebrates the natural world through words and pictures. Macfarlane’s spell-poems and Morris’s watercolour illustrations take readers into a magical world that we need to protect now more than ever.

Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species, Ana Pêgo, illustrated by Bernado P. Carvalho (Greystone, 10+)

Pêgo has spent her life considering the ways that plastic has become an invasive species in lakes, rivers and oceans. The biologist decided to collect it, study it, and give it a Latin name—Plasticus maritimus—to warn people of its dangers to our planet.

Kids looking for a new series

The Barren Grounds
The Twelve
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
The Puck Drops Here
On Thin Ice

The Barren Grounds, David A. Robertson (Puffin Canada, 10+)

A powerful and beautifully written fantasy quest novel. Cree writer Robertson introduces readers to Indigenous traditional stories and culture as Morgan and Eli both struggle to reconnect with their culture, but it’s also up to them to save the world they’ve found beyond a magical door.

Hatch, Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins, 10+)

It hardly seems possible but the second book in the Bloom Trilogy offers even more on-the-edge-of-your seat action than the first. Though Seth, Anaya and Petra helped find a way of controlling the plants invading the planet, now they find themselves locked away in a secret government lab.

The Twelve, Cindy Lin (HarperCollins, 8-12)

Usagi has fantastic zodiac powers—she can hear a squirrel’s heartbeat from a mile away and soar over treetops in one leap, but she’s being hunted by the Dragonlord who wants to destroy anyone with zodiac gifts. But when her sister is taken prisoner, Usagi needs the help of a mystical group of warriors who once protected the land.

Tristan Strong Destroys the World, Kwame Mbalia (Disney-Hyperion, 8-12)

Tristan Strong has just returned from Alke, the land of African American folk heroes and African gods, when his grandmother is abducted. He doesn’t just have to rescue his granny but must also figure out a way to sew broken souls back together. With help from Anansi the Spiderman and his sidekick Gum Baby, will Tristan be able to save the day?

Hockey Super Six: The Puck Drops Here and Hockey Super Six: On Thin Ice, Kevin Sylvester (Scholastic, 8-12)

In this hilarious new series, six ordinary kids, who just happen to have super-duper hockey skills, are faced with using their on-the-ice abilities to fight the forces of evil.

The arts-crazy kid

Wreck This Picture Book
The Imaginaries
Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
Where Are You, Agnes?
How Art Works

Wreck This Picture Book: How to Make A Book Come to Life, Keri Smith (Dial, 5-8)

Don’t worry – no picture books will be harmed when young readers finish Keri Smith’s inventively creative kid friendly-version of her Wreck This Journal series. Smith encourages young readers to think about how books change every time we read them in this exciting and innovative exploration of the creative process.

The Imaginaries: Little Scraps of Larger Stories, Emily Winfield Martin (Random House, 8-12)

Martin shares some of her “Imaginaries,” paintings she’s created over the last decade, each one captioned with an enigmatic sentence, that she hopes will send readers on fantastic journeys of their own.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!, Jessica Kim (Penguin Random House, 9-12)

Although Yumi loves comedy and wants to spend all her time turning some of her life’s most embarrassing moments into a Netflix special, she’s stuck studying for the exams her Korean American parents want her to take to get into a super-exclusive private school. Is it possible for her to do both?

Where Are You, Agnes?, Tessa McWatt, illustrated by Zuzanna Celej (Groundwood, 4-9)

In this whimsical picture book about the great abstract expressionist artist, Agnes Martin, Tessa McWatt has Agnes’s mother ask “Where are you, Agnes?” McWatt brilliantly explores the unique vision Martin had of the world when she was a child, a world in which she often gets lost.

How Art Works, Sarah Hull (Usborne, 9-12)

What is art? Where do artists get their ideas from? How do artists make pictures look “real”? Hull acts as our gallery guide as she shows young readers how to look at art and start thinking about it for themselves.

The fairy tale and magic lover

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales
Barefoot Helen and the Giants
Lost in the Imagination
Season of the Witch

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales, Lynn Roberts-Maloney, illustrated by David Roberts (Pavilion, 3-7)

New takes on old tales are seen through the eyes of this brother-and-sister team in these three sprightly retellings of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel.

Serpentine, Philip Pullman (Random House, 10+)

In this stand alone novella, Pullman sends his hero, Lyra Silvertongue, and her daemon, Pantalaimon, back to the Far North in order to seek the help of the Consul of Witches. Lyra and her daemon desperately want to find out what the connection between them really is and hope the witches will have the answers.

Barefoot Helen and the Giants, Andy Jones, illustrated by Katie Brosnan (Running the Goat, 9-12)

Raised by bears and found by a lonely couple who always wished for a child, Helen might only have nine toes but she’s brave and certainly not willing to let giants get the better of her. Master storyteller Jones spins an outrageously hilarious story, based on classic folktales, but with wonderful twists.

Lost in the Imagination: A Journey Through Nine Worlds in Nine Nights, Hiawyn Oram, illustrated by David Wyatt (Candlewick, 8-12)

Join Professor Dawn Gable on nine fantastical adventures to extraordinary worlds from Asgard, home of the Norse Gods, to King Arthur’s Camelot to the ancient African city of Kor.

Season of the Witch: A Spellbinding History of Witches and Other Magical Folk, Matt Ralphs, illustrated by Nuria Tamarit (Flying Eye Books, 9-12)

Ralphs provides young readers with an insightful look at the history of witches sharing poetry, art, mythology, hexes, potions, and magic from different cultures and religions around the world.

The kid who loves graphic novels

Séance Tea Party
King of the Birds
From the Roots Up
The Magic Fish

Twins, Varian Johnson & Shannon Wright (Scholastic, 8-12)

Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends but what happens when Francine suddenly seems to want to do things that Maureen doesn’t? They’ll always be sisters but will middle school ruin their friendship?

Séance Tea Party, Reimena Yee (Penguin Random, 8-12)

Lora doesn’t want to grow up, she’s happy being a kid, but all her friends are changing and Lora doesn’t know what to do. When she befriends Alexa, the ghost who haunts her house, she thinks she’s met a kindred spirit but maybe growing up is more important than Lora thought.

Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds, Elise Gravel (HarperCollins, 6-10)

This first book in a new early graphic chapter book series chronicles the hilarious friendship that develops between brainy Arlo, a big-headed crow, and his smart-talking pal Pips. Young readers will be sure to enjoy the humour of the bird-to-bird banter and Gravel’s lively illustrations.

From the Roots Up, Tasha Spillett, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (HighWater Press, 12+)

In the second book in the powerful Surviving the City trilogy, Spillett digs deeper into the world of her teenage heroines, Dez and Miikwan. Dez struggles in foster care in Winnipeg after her grandmother’s death and also with how to come out as a two-spirit person; Miikwan isn’t sure what’s happening to her friend and how she can best support her.

The Magic Fish, Trung Le Nguyen (Penguin Random House, 12+)

Tiến loves his family but he needs to tell them that he’s gay and he doesn’t know how to do that without hurting them. He wonders if there’s a way to tell them using the fairy tale books that inspire him.

The sports fanatic kid

Becoming Muhammad Ali
The Comic Book Story of Basketball
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Planet Hockey
Breaking the Ice

Becoming Muhammad Ali, James Patterson and Kwame Alexander (Little Brown, 8-12)

The powerful story, in prose and verse, of Cassius Clay, the boy who became Muhammad Ali. With the verve and charisma of this unrivalled champion, this is a story that captures the essence of the legend.

The Comic Book Story of Basketball, Fred Van Lente & Joe Cooper (Ten Speed Press, 12+)

Readers are offered an engaging court-side seat as Van Lente and Cooper take them on a guided tour of the history of the game, from its humble beginnings in a YMCA in Massachusetts, and some of the remarkable coaches and players who are a part of the story.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, Donna Barba Higuera (Chronicle, 8-12)

Lupe Wong is determined to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. And when she’s challenged to get an A in all her classes in order to meet her favourite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her, nothing’s going to stop her.

Planet Hockey: First Star of the Game, J. Torres & Tim Levins (Scholastic, 7-12)

A love of hockey is hilariously mixed up with a wild interstellar adventure that gives a whole new meaning to playing the game when Isaac, a champion at hockey video games, suddenly finds himself the star play in a hockey tournament in outer space.

Breaking the Ice, Angie Bullaro, illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon and Schuster, 4-8)

Not only was Manon Rhéaume the first and only woman to play a game in the NHL but she was both an Olympic silver medalist and a gold-winning member of the Canadian women’s national ice hockey team. This is a story of courage, determination, and the love of hockey.

With files from staff at Vancouver’s Kidsbooks, Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson, Toronto’s Another Story Bookshop and Woozles in Halifax.

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