The first ever I Read Canadian Day is February 19, dedicated to young people reading Canadian books and celebrating the richness, diversity and breadth of our children’s literature. Here are some exciting new Canadian books to entice young readers to take part in this new national initiative.
What better way to celebrate a love of books and reading than with Clarence’s Big Secret by father-daughter team Christine MacGregor Cation and Roy MacGregor (Owlkids Books, 4-8)? It’s the true story of Clarence Brazier, who didn’t learn to read until he was nearly 100 years old. When his father was blinded in an accident, Clarence had to take over the family farm. He was only seven years old and never learned to read and spent most of his adult life keeping it a secret. But when he was nearly 100, he decided that enough was enough and began to teach himself to read with some help from one of his daughters. And once he learned, he couldn’t be stopped and shared his love of reading with kids and adults. Mathilde Cinq-Mars’s playful illustrations help bring this truly inspiring story to life.
Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell written and illustrated by Selina Alko (HarperCollins, 4-8) celebrates the life of another Canadian hero – singer, song-writer, poet and artist Joni Mitchell. Using lines from Mitchell’s songs, Alko’s lyrical text and exquisite collage illustrations beautifully tell the story of the iconic folk singer from Saskatoon, whose lyrical, powerful and passionate music has captivated listeners around the world for more than 50 years. It’s a wonderful homage to Mitchell and to all the musicians who she was inspired by and worked with, capturing both Mitchell’s outspokenness as well as the playfulness and poetry of her songs.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (Annick Press, 4-7) is not just a Canadian classic. For 40 years it has also inspired readers around the world. To celebrate the book’s 40th birthday, Annick Press has gifted us with a wonderful new edition with a note from Chelsea Clinton, a message from Ann and Robert Munsch and a preface by Francesca Segal. But all these wonderful extras are just icing on the cake because the real pleasure here is the chance to enjoy Munsch’s fantastic feminist fairy tale, as powerful today as it was when it was published in 1980, in this big beautiful new hardcover edition with new art by Martchenko (and a poster on the inside of the book jacket).
Caroline Adderson’s new picture book, Pierre & Paul: Avalanche! (Owlkids Books, 5-8) offers young readers a chance to explore the world with these two intrepid – and very hungry – young adventurers in a story told in both English and French as they tackle not just the Himalayas, but the challenge of making a truly monumental sandwich to satisfy their mountainous hunger. Alice Carter’s wonderfully boisterous pictures will help readers who are up to the challenge of following Paul and Pierre in this delightful bilingual treat.
At the Pond (Groundwood Books, 3-7) is the latest offering from one of the masters of the wordless picture book, Geraldo Valerio. It’s a poignant exploration of just how important it is for us to respect the natural world. Taking a walk with his little dog on a grey and gloomy day, a little boy discovers a pond that has several beautiful swans, one of whom offers them a ride. What follows is a world bursting with sunshine, brilliant blooms and all kinds of birds, animals and butterflies. The little boy lets his dog off his leash to enjoy a romp in this perfect paradise, but that’s when things go wrong – he puts the leash around the neck of his new swan friend and everything changes. Valerio uses a variety of mediums to create the big beautiful illustrations that he uses to tell this poignant and timely story.
One of the unique things about Canadian children’s books is that they have a long history of tackling difficult themes and two new books – Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh (Tundra Books, 3-7) and I’m Finding My Talk by Rebecca Thomas, illustrated by Pauline Young (Nimbus Publishing, 4-9) are stunning examples of how to introduce tough topics to young readers. Maclear’s poetic text and Kheiriyeh’s mixed media illustrations in Story Boat explore the continuing refugee crisis in this gentle picture book that looks at what it’s like to be displaced and to try to find somewhere new to set down roots. As we follow a little girl and boy, their families and friends as they leave their homes seeking a new life, it is small things – the softness of a blanket, the brightness of a lamp, the openness of a story – that gives them hope. In I’m Finding My Talk, Mi’kmaw poet and activist Thomas, a second-generation residential school survivor, uses Mi’kmaw poet Rita Joe’s iconic poem, I Lost My Talk to explore how vitally important language, culture and community are to Indigenous people. “I’m finding my talk/one word at a time. Kwe/ Wela’lin/Nmultes. Sometimes they are very old/Sometimes they rhyme.” Mi’kmaw artist Pauline Young’s vibrant illustrations enhance the power and passion in Thomas’s poetic text.
Bringing Back the Wolves: How a Predator Restored an Ecosystem by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Kim Smith (Kids Can Press, 8-12) explores the damage we cause when we make the assumption that what we do to the environment doesn’t have further-reaching implications than we imagine. In order to “tame” the American West, the U.S. government offered bounties to hunters to get rid of top predators so that by 1926, wolves had been hunted out of Yellowstone National Park. It wasn’t until 1995 when 41 wolves from Montana, Alberta and B.C. were transplanted to the park that experts were able to see how important wolves were to the ecosystem. Isabella and Smith offer young readers an opportunity to watch the effect on the environment of re-introducing the wolves and the vital and complex interconnections that make up ecosystems.
Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn, illustrated by Isabelle Follath (Tundra Books, 10-14) is the first book in a delightful new mystery series that re-imagines the childhood of one of the world’s most formidable crime writers, Agatha Christie. What if young Aggie Morton had had the opportunity to do some sleuthing with a little help from a young Belgian refugee, Hector Perot? Could this have inspired Aggie to put pen to paper and create her inimitable sleuths Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot? Jocelyn offers young readers a cracking good read as Aggie and Hector help solve the mystery of the body under the piano using their little grey cells.
Nevers by Sara Cassidy (Orca Book Publishers, 9-12) is part historical fiction, part fantasy and part mystery as we follow Odette and her mother, Anneline, in their quest to both find a home and discover the answer to a mysterious secret that has haunted their lives. Set in postrevolutionary France, the book offers young readers not only a young hero who is smart, resourceful and ready for adventure, but a cast of wonderful characters who aid her on her quest. It’s poignant, passionate and full of surprises.
Bloom: The Invasion by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins, 10-14) is absolutely riveting. Oppel plunges us right into the action as soon as we open the first book in his new trilogy. We watch teenage Ananya looking down from her seat in a helicopter, desperately searching for a glimpse of her father who, we assume, has gone missing. And that’s just the beginning. Part action-adventure, part thriller, the story drops us into Ananya’s world on B.C.’s Salt Spring Island. There, we watch an alien invasion take root – literally – as dangerously destructive people-eating plants take over the island and destroy crops – and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it. And not just Salt Spring but the entire world. But Ananya and her friends Petra and Seth mysteriously seem to be immune to the toxicity of these invaders – can they help find an antidote that will stop these plants from blooming everywhere? Superb storytelling, great characters and an environmental crisis will completely captivate young readers who – like me – will hardly be able to contain themselves waiting for Hatch, the second book in the trilogy, to come out this fall.
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