With I Read Canadian Day happening on Nov. 8, here are some contenders for kids, all written by Canadian authors and illustrators:
Weird Rules to Follow, Kim Spencer (Orca, 9-12). So far this year, Weird Rules has won the IODE Violet Downey Book Award, the Geoffrey Bilson Historical Fiction Award, the Jean Little First-Novel Award and the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and it’s been shortlisted for the 2023 Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature. Set in Prince Rupert, B.C., in the 1980s, Spencer’s exquisitely written novel focuses on the friendship between 11-year-old Mia and her best friend, Lara, as it sensitively explores not just growing up and growing older but also racism, discrimination, classism, addiction as well as the importance of family and culture in Indigenous communities.
The Wolf Pup, Etua Snowball, illustrated by Emma Crossland (Inhabit Media, 6-8) gives young readers a unique look into living on the land in Nunavut. Snowball shares his own memories of a wonderful friendship he had with an Arctic wolf pup he encountered at the remote camp his family spent their summers at when he was a child. It’s a book that quietly celebrates Inuk culture and is sure to delight young animal lovers.
When You Can Swim, Jack Wong (Scholastic, 4-8) has been shortlisted for the 2023 Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustrated Books and allows young readers to really immerse themselves in the delights of swimming – both indoors and outdoors. But it does more than that. Wong sensitively points out some of the challenges that might make children feel afraid of taking that first dip. This joyfully lyrical book, accompanied by breathtaking pastel-and-watercolour illustrations, also includes a wonderful account of the author/illustrator’s own learning-to-swim journey.
Skating Wild on an Inland Sea, Jean Pendziwol, illustrated by Todd Stewart (Groundwood, 4-7) The water theme continues with this poetical celebration of skating on Lake Superior. Young readers follow our two intrepid skaters through a wonderfully wintry world, one that comes to life in Stewart’s vivid illustrations (his blues particularly evoke the cold), onto the frozen surface of a lake that seems almost to sing as the ice expands and contracts.
Benjamin’s Thunderstorm, Melanie Florence, illustrated by Hawlii Pichette (Kids Can Press, 4-7) Benjamin adores thunderstorms – he loves splashing in puddles and listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops, but they also remind him of his Indigenous culture and traditions. Thunderstorms connect Benjamin to drumming, dancing and powwows in this wonderful way of looking at summer storms.
When the Stars Came Home, Brittany Luby, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Little, Brown, 4-8) Moving to a city for the first time is hard for Ojiig – he misses his grandparents, his place in his community on the reserve and, most of all, the stars in the night sky. But Ojiig’s mother has an idea and involves him in a quilting project, each piece connecting him to stories of his ancestors. When they’re all pieced together, they become a magnificent star blanket. It’s a story sure to resonate with children who have immigrated to Canada or made the same kind of move that Ojiig and his family made – from a rural environment to an urban one.
Salma Makes a Home and Salma Writes a Book, Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron (Annick, 6-9) Salma, the imaginative and inventive heroine of Danny Ramadan’s award-winning picture book, Salma the Syrian Chef, now is the heroine of her own series of first novels that are sure to delight young readers too. In Salma Makes a Home and Salma Writes a Book (Illustrated by Anna Bron, Annick, 6-9), Ramadan explores the world of an immigrant refugee child who is caught between fading memories of the world she left behind and the delights of her new home. Salma is creative and sensitive and aware of the in-between spaces that makes up her world. She faces the challenge of trying to find ways to make her father, finally joining his family in Canada two years after they left Damascus, love Vancouver as much as she does and being the best older sister ever when she’s told a new baby is coming, even when she discovers being a good sibling isn’t always easy.
When The Owl Calls Your Name, Alan Syliboy (Nimbus, 6+) Probably the most exquisite picture book created to date by this talented Mi’kmaw artist, musician, filmmaker and writer. It’s also a book that might help parents and caregivers talk about death and dying with young children. Based on his original popular song, The Owl Song, Syliboy sensitively explores Mi’kmaw traditions of death, grieving and mortality. The gentle text is accompanied by luminous illustrations that draw both on Syliboy’s incorporating Mi’kmaw petroglyphs with contemporary Indigenous art and designs. Syliboy offers an author’s note that explores Indigenous spirituality.
The Golden Apples, Dan Yashinsky, illustrated by Ekaterina Khlebnikova (Running the Goat, 6+) Decades ago, the author heard renowned Cape Breton storyteller Joe Neil MacNeil share this wonder tale at the Toronto International Storytelling Festival and it became a favourite. But in typical Yashinsky fashion, this sprightly retelling offers a blend of old world folk tale magic with some absolutely hilarious contemporary twists. Khlebnikova’s illustrations perfectly complement this delightful story.