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2021 hasn’t been the easiest year for children, but books remain a constant – a place to escape, find new worlds where the imagination can run free, explore the wonders of nature or make a difference. Our holiday gift guide has books for every interest, from graphic novels to compelling non-fiction to books that are perfect to curl up with on a winter afternoon.
The graphic novel lover
Living with Viola, Rosena Fung (Annick Press, 9-12)
A stunning #Own Voices debut graphic novel from the comix artist and writer is based on her own struggles with mental health. Fung fearlessly takes young readers into the darkness of Livy’s panic, anxiety, fear and sense of being alone but, like the allies that Livy will find, is also there to guide them back into the light.
ParaNorthern And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse, Stephanie Cook, illustrations by Mari Costa (Houghton Mifflin Books, 8-12)
This will definitely cast a spell over young readers as novice witch Abby inadvertently opens a portal to the realm of the Chaos Bunnies. Can Abby and her BFFs contain this bunny crisis?
Stealing Home, J. Torres, illustrated by David Namisato (Kids Can Press, 9-12)
Readers are taken into one of the darker moments of Canadian history with Sandy Saito, one of thousands of Japanese Canadians whose lives are turned upside down after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. His family is interred in a prison camp during the Second World War, but what saves Sandy is his love of baseball.
Muddle School, Dave Whamond (Kids Can Press, 10-13)
New kid Dave has to find his way through the wild and wacky world of middle school.
Ciel in All Directions, Sophie Labelle, illustrated by Andrea Zanin (Second Story Press, 9-12)
A lively sequel that follows non-binary trans kid Ciel into high school with best friend Stephie and new pal Liam and a campaign to represent the school’s LGBT Alliance. While representing the complexity of LGBTQ+ identities, Labelle and Zanin also draw upon the kind of relatable school assignments and projects that makes Ciel’s unique experience all the more accessible.
The Wolf Mother, Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Book #5, Mother of Xsan series, Highwater Press, 9-12)
Readers are taken into the world of grey wolves and how they interact with the ecosystem as well as the lives and the traditions of the Gitxsan people. Stunning illustrations by Donovan makes these fascinating canine creatures come alive.
Cranky Chicken, Katherine Battersby (Margaret McElderry Books, 6-9)
The first book in a new series about one of the world’s crankiest chickens and the hilariously delightful friendship that Chicken forges with Speedy, a worm who wants nothing more than a best friend.
Readers looking for adventure
Willodeen, Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends, 8-12)
Something is definitely wrong in Perchance as the community suffers inexplicable fires, mudslides, droughts and fevers. Only 11-year-old Willodeen sees the connection between dwindling of the hummingbears, which Perchance is so proud of, and the horrible, smelly screechers, who have been hunted almost to extinction. She’s been taught that everything has a role in our world and it’s up to her to make a difference!
Children of the Fox (Thieves of Shadow, Book 1), Kevin Sands. Puffin Canada, 9 – 13)
A ragtag group of five young scallywags are hired to steal a heavily guarded treasure from a powerful sorcerer, each bringing a unique skill that’s essential to the success of their mission, and the promise of more money than any of them has ever dreamed. Action, magic and mystery are at the heart of the first book in a compelling new series.
Kaleidoscope, Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 10+)
Readers are asked to look into a kaleidoscope of possibilities to see the different outcomes that link two friends powerfully bound to one another but now separated. Selznick challenges readers to explore the nature of friendship, love, grief in these gorgeously illustrated interconnected stories.
Guardians of Porthaven, Shane Arbuthnott (Orca Book Publishers, 9-12)
15-year-old Malcolm Gravenhurst is preparing to take on the family mantle of being a Guardian who will protect the city of Porthaven. But when Malcolm discovers that there are dark secrets behind what the Gravenhursts are and what they do, he tries to discover what it really means to be a superhero.
The Last Cuentista, Donna Barba Higuera (Levine Querido, 10-14)
Petra Pena, her family and a group of scientists are set on a journey into the universe to colonize a new planet since Earth is about to be destroyed by a comet. But when Petra wakes, she discovers that a sinister Collective has taken over the ship, purged the memories of almost everyone aboard and is determined to completely erase all memory of humanity’s past. Petra’s memory has somehow escaped being purged and it’s up to her to save humanity’s stories in a novel that brilliantly mixes Mexican folklore with science fiction.
Urchin, Kate Story (Running the Goat, 12+)
A breathtaking mix of Newfoundland fairy lore and history as readers follow non-binary Dor– spy, adventurer, gender questioner – out into the snowy streets of St. John’s in December, 1901, when Marconi has arrived in Newfoundland to receive the first wireless trans-Atlantic radio signal and Dor’s been hired to find out what Marconi is really up to. But things go awry when the Little Strangers, the fairies, kidnap Dor’s mother and history and magic get all tangled up in this compelling novel.
The Beatryce Prophecy, Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Candlewick, 8-12)
Mixes adventure, quests and fairytale derring-do with just the right touch of the darkness of the medieval world as readers follow Beatryce, subject of a mysterious prophecy, and her goat companion, Answelica, into a dark wood and the castle of a king who wishes her dead.
Science and nature lovers
Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem, Lauren Soloy (Tundra Books, Ages 4-7)
The relationship between Charles Darwin and his daughter Etty is lovingly depicted through the walks around Darwin’s thinking path as Etty does her best to provide proof about the existence of fairies.
Conservation Canines: How Dogs Work for the Environment, Isabelle Groc (Orca Wild series, Orca Book Publishers, 9-12)
Dogs’ noses and paws are helping to troubleshoot some of the most complex environmental problems on the planet.
No More Plastic, Alma Fullerton (Pajama Press, 4-7)
Isley loves swimming and snorkelling but she’s disturbed by how much plastic she sees in the ocean around her and on the beach. When she discovers a dead whale who has died of starvation after swallowing plastic, she decides it’s time to act and convinces her family to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle, but will they stick with the program?
Inside In: X-Rays of Nature’s Hidden World, Jan Paul Schutten and Arie van’t Riet (Greystone Kids, 7-12)
This collaboration shows us how X-rays can tell us about how animals move, how they protect themselves from predators and what they look like under their skins. Schutten’s accessible text is full of fascinating facts but it’s van’t Riet’s X-rays that are the star of this exciting new way of looking at the world.
The Science of Song: How and Why We Make Music, Alan Cross, Emme Cross and Nicole Mortillaro, illustrated by Carl Wiens (Kids Can Press, 9-12)
Starting with the basic science of sound, the book adds fascinating historical details and then uses an extensive playlist to look at how we experience music and how over the years that experience has changed. A wonderful mix of science, technology, engineering and mathematics provide a new way of looking at how important music is in our lives.
My Book of Butterflies, Geraldo Valerio (Groundwood Books, 3-7)
The book begins with Valerio’s childhood in Brazil where he first became mesmerized by butterflies and then, using paint-and-paper collage illustrations, takes readers on a exciting trip around the world to see some of his favourite butterflies. There’s lots of butterfly information, too, though it’s the illustrations that will be sure to delight young readers.
Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats: Urban Ecology, Community Science and How We Share Our Cities, Cylita Guy, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Annick Press, 9-12)
Studying urban wildlife can help scientists make cities safer and healthier places to live. Through the work of a diverse group of 11 researchers, readers discover how city bees play a vital role in climate change, what we can learn from rats, bats and coyotes and how to look at wildlife in their neighbourhoods.
Readers who want to change the world
We Move Together, Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire, illustrated by Eduardo Trejos (AK Press, 6-9)
Readers follow a mixed-ability group of kids who creatively negotiate the everyday barriers they encounter. It’s a great way to talk about disability, accessibility, social justice and community.
What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns, Katherine Locke, illustrated by Anne Passchier (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 4-8)
Ari is sometimes she/her, he/him, they/them but are those the right words to use? As Ari experiments with different words, they discover that it’s important to take your time and wait for just the right words to come to you.
Thanks a Lot, Universe, Chad Lucas (Amulet Books, 10-14)
A compelling and nuanced middle-grade novel that explores how difficult it can be to make the right choices. Brian, who already suffers from social anxiety, suddenly finds himself reeling when his family begins to fall apart all around him. Ezra, on the other hand, is one of the most popular kids at school, and reaches out to him and offers him the friendship he really needs. But things are often more complex than they appear.
My Art, My World, Rita Winkler with Helen and Mark Winkler (Second Story Press, 6-9)
Rita’s world is vibrant and colourful. She also has Down Syndrome but that doesn’t stop her from holding down a job, taking yoga and folk dancing. By using her art to capture her world, Rita’s creativity helps to destigmatize disability in this joyous celebration of the power of art.
Growing Up Trans: In Our Own Words, edited by Dr. Lindsay Herriot and Kate Fry (Orca Book Publishers, 10+)
A groundbreaking anthology of stories, essays, art and poetry by trans youth that explores both the challenges and the triumphs of being trans.
I Have the Right to Culture and I Have the Right to Save My Planet, Alain Serres, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty (Groundwood Books, 4-7)
The latest additions to the “I Have the Right” series of books explore different aspects of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Readers will find that it’s as key for them to be able to speak their own languages or have access to their cultural heritage as it is to be involved in fighting for the environment whether that means becoming involved in the Climate Crisis movement, creating posters or being involved in letter-writing campaigns. This is a great way for adults to encourage children to speak up and speak out.
Readers who want to know more about First Nations
I Sang You Down From the Stars, Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Michaela Goade (OwlKids, 2-6)
Drawing on Indigenous creation stories and traditional teachings, this lyrical celebration focuses on the bond between mother and child. As mother gathers gifts for the medicine bundle that she’s creating for her new baby, she also realizes what a gift her new baby is.
Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me a Story, Aviaq Johnston, illustrated by Tamara Campeau (Inhabit Media, 2-6)
Grandfather Bowhead digs deep into his past to share some of his marvellous experiences with Arvaaq, his new grandchild. But even as he recounts some of the amazing, and surprising, things he has seen in the 200 years he’s lived, there’s been nothing quite as splendid as Arvaaq. Campeau’s illustrations bring the greens and blues of the ocean to life as a perfect complement to Johnston’s text.
Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii, Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Sk’ad’a Stories #1, HighWater Press, 6-8)
is rooted in Haida artist Robert Davidson’s own memories of going fishing with Tsinii, his grandfather, off the northern tip of Haida Gwaii. As they watch the weather, jig for halibut, and row with the tides, the boy realizes how much he learns, not only about fishing, but about his culture as they spend time together. Gibbons’s illustrations provide a wonderful sense of the drama of the experience.
Walking In Two Worlds, Wab Kinew (Penguin Random House Canada, 12+)
is Bugz’s story, an Indigenous teen caught between the struggles she faces on the rez in the real world and her alternative life as a powerful warrior in the virtual world where she’s the Queen Bee. When Feng, a teen from China, comes to live on the rez with his aunt, Bugz finds an unexpected friend who helps her to find some balance between her worlds. But when she’s betrayed in the gamer, her real life seems to be on the edge of collapsing as well.
The Great Bear: The Misewa Saga, Book 2, David Alexander Robertson (Puffin Canada, 9-12)
takes readers back to the fantasy world that Morgan and Eli discovered they could enter through the attic of the foster home where they live, back to the Barren Grounds. But this time, when they return to Misewa, nothing feels right and they decide to go back in time to see if it’s possible for them to change the future in the fantasy world and in their real lives as well.
Hunting by Stars, Cheri Dimaline (Penguin Random House, 12+)
The sequel to the award-winning and best-selling Marrow Thieves novel is everything you’d hoped a second book would be – even more thrilling, more compelling and more exciting. French and the family that he’s found are trying desperately to both survive and to find out more about the Residential Schools where Indigenous people are being imprisoned for their marrow. But, now French and his friends face a new challenge – they’re being hunted not only by government recruiters but by splinter groups that are working on their own.
Aggie and Mudgy: The Journey of Two Kaska Dena Children, Wendy Proverbs (Heritage House, 9-12)
A powerful novel based on the true story of Proverbs’s biological mother and aunt. A family photograph intrigues Maddy who wants to know who the two little girls in the picture are, and although her grandmother is reluctant, she ends up recounting the painful history of Aggie and Mudgy, two Kaska Dena sisters who were taken from their homes to attend a residential school more than 1,600 kilometres away in Central BC.
The picture book lover
Arab Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook, Karim Alrawi, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi (Tradewind Books, 8-12)
A delicious series of original stories that shares Arabic culture with young readers as each story not only takes them on a mouth-watering journey but includes a traditional recipe.
A Feast for Joseph, Terry Farish and OD Bonny, illustrated by Ken Daley (Groundwood Books, 3-6)
A touching story about the importance food plays in communities. In the refugee camp in East Africa, everyone cooked and ate together and Joseph and Mama loved that sense of community, but it’s too quiet in his new home where no one gets together for meals. When Joseph invites neighbours and relatives to come for dinner, no one accepts the invitation but he’s not willing to give up.
Chaiwala!, Priti Birla Maheshwari, illustrated by Ashley Barron (OwlKids, 3-7)
Readers are taken to Jaipur in India where one of the delights of the day is a mug of spicy chai tea. Maheshwari’s playful text is matched by Barron’s delightful collage cut-paper illustrations and is a perfect way to spend a wintry afternoon.
Lost Things, Carey Sookocheff (Kids Can Press, 3-6)
A gentle story about what happens when something is lost – sometimes it’s found by the person who lost it, other times the lost thing is found by someone else. Losing something can be very stressful but finding a lost thing can be a delightful surprise.
Time is a Flower, Julie Morstad (Tundra Books, 3-7)
A lyrical book that offers something for every reader as it explores the nature of time. Younger readers will be mesmerized by thinking about the time it takes for a flower to grow or a spider to spin its web while older readers will think about how long time seems when you’re waiting for the bell to ring at the end of a school day or how short a vacation seems. Playful one moment and sensitively meditative the next, this is a picture book that readers will return to time after time.
Catalina, Lori Doody (Nimbus, 3-8)
The latest offering from the inventive Lori Doody, Catalina has a purrfect life until the day her owners come home with three rambunctious puppies. At first, the puppies make life difficult for poor Catalina but very slowly she begins to appreciate these new friends.
The Adventures of Grandmasaurus at the Aquarium Rescue Centre, Caroline Fernandez, illustrated by Shannon O’Toole (Common Deer Press, 4-8)
Each time that a sprinkle of aquarium dust makes Grandma sneeze, she turns into a different Mesozoic Era marine reptile. It’s up to her grandchildren to track her down, stop her funny business, and make sure they still have time to finish their field trip report for Ms. Priya.
With suggestions from KidBooks in Vancouver, McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, Another Story Bookshop in Toronto, Livres Babar in Montreal, Woozles in Halifax and Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery in River John
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