September 19, 2023

Garden of Lost Socks

Written by Esi Edugyan
Illustrated by Amélie Dubois
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2023 

Sometimes when you go looking for something that's lost, you find something else. And what's better than finding a friendship for one who looks for things with one who writes about things he finds.

Akosua calls herslef an exquirologist because she can find anything, though her family might think that what she often finds is trouble. When Akosua meets Max, he is struggling, having lost one of his favourite socks, a yellow, green, and red sock with black stars. Though Max loves finding stories from around his neighbourhood and recording them in his notebook, whether it's discovering a dog allergic to humans or a girl who would perform as a waterspout in a play, finding that missing sock has been a challenge. Fortunately, exquirologist Akosua offers to help.
From Garden of Lost Socks, written by Esi Edugyan, illus. by Amélie Dubois
The two children go in search of the AWOL sock, starting at Max's home and then venturing out to the laundromat, the barbershop, and even to the park. They find a variety of socks, some as decorations, as on a hot air balloon, and some in different versions, like as wrapping around trees. But nowhere do they find Max's missing sock.
From Garden of Lost Socks, written by Esi Edugyan, illus. by Amélie Dubois
They do find other amazing things which Max records enthusiastically. Ultimately, Akosua uses her keen observational skills to follow a clue and discover the location of the lost sock, only to realize that Max needs it less than someone else.

The convergence of Akosua and Max in Garden of Lost Socks demonstrates that sometimes things and people that appear very different are actually meant to be together. Akosua seems like a bit of a dynamo, an extrovert who puts herself out there. Max, on the other hand, seems more inside his thoughts and his words, sitting quietly on his stoop, considering his options and his stories. By questioning him, Akosua begins a conversation that brings the two together, as unlikely as that might have been originally. (And to think Akosua's brothers suggest she has difficulties finding friends.) Finding that lost sock may have been their original mission, but they find so much more in their search, from new stories to new friends.
From Garden of Lost Socks, written by Esi Edugyan, illus. by Amélie Dubois
Though many fans of CanLit will know Esi Edugyan as a two-time Giller winner, Garden of Lost Socks is her first children's picture book. But, if Esi Edugyan shows a comparable curiosity to that shown by her young characters–illustrated by Quebec's Amélie Dubois–then I foresee more heartfelt literary explorations for young readers. Esi Edugyan's story on its surface is a simple one with two children of different strengths coming together for one purpose and finding more than expected. But like the two children whose eyes see well but differently, whether with analytic or artistic sight, Garden of Lost Socks is more than a story of looking for a sock. It's a story of finding friends without looking and working with your own strengths. It's cheering for diversity in personality and in purpose.

Amélie Dubois, whose art was first seen by this reviewer in A World of Mindfulness (2020), has an incredibly light touch. Searching for a lost sock might not seem a big deal but, to a child, missing a favourite anything is a very big deal. Still Amélie Dubois does not emphasize the angst or the frantic nature of a search for a missing object but keeps it more exploratory than hunt. They walk, they look, they ask, and they delve, but they do not panic, and they are not intrusive. Instead Amélie Dubois takes us on our own journey of discovery, from a laundry where a tutu shares a line to dry with an astronaut suit and a safety suit of orange and yellow, to a doorstep where dozens of shoes rest, and to a park of flowers, knitted tree protectors, and animals. Her lines produced by the strokes of her coloured pencils emulate the movement of the kids in their own quest while giving the story an airy texture.
The world is a garden of lost socks, from a laundry to a drawer, to a park or a nest, but Esi Edugyan reminds us that finding one sock may just be the start of something far greater.

September 14, 2023

The Imaginary Alphabet

Written and illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
Pajama Press
64 pp.
Ages 5-10
September 2023
Though Sylvie Daigneault describes The Imaginary Alphabet in her preface as a work that started during the pandemic lockdown, she recognizes that it is a book of playfulness and unbounded imagination. It might have been a gift to have this luscious picture book to entertain children during that tenuous time, but its joyful art and interactive nature will be a welcome read anytime.
From The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault
Based on the 26 letters of the alphabet, Sylvie Daigneault has created a book of hidden pictures within. For each letter, all works of art themselves, there is a fantastical illustration filled with items that begin with that letter, as well as a quirky phrase that alludes to some of those hidden items. For example, A, a botanical piece of acorns, is accompanied with the phrase Agile Alligators Attempting an Arabesque, pointing at the alligators and the arabesque they are performing. But there are more A words to be found, like the accordion, an albatross or two, an anchor, apples, and an axe. There are even more A items and Sylvie Daigneault generously provides lists for each letter at the conclusion of her book.
From The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault
The text, like the art, is sophisticated, and children may need some adult participation to help them find all the items depicted for that letter. For example, the cover art, taken from the letter F, may have little ones finding the frog, the ferrets, the fan, the fairies, and the fire but I suspect the fascinator, fern and the flounce might be more challenging for them to pick out. For that reason, I think The Imaginary Alphabet shouldn't be limited to five- to ten-year-olds, as indicated, but a gorgeous and captivating book for all ages. (For art lovers, I could see keeping The Imaginary Alphabet on a coffee table for guests to peruse, which they will be drawn to do, when it's spotted.)
From The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault
The Imaginary Alphabet is extraordinary in its art and its premise. Sylvie Daigneault, originally from Montreal and now of Toronto, has gone beyond the illustrations she created for books like The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough and C is for Canada, and exploded into a new realm of art for children's books. Very reminiscent of Wallace Edwards's fanciful and extravagant art, Sylvie Daigneault goes all out in her pencil illustrations, giving textures and form to the incredible, and making The Imaginary Alphabet a literary feast of everything, from animals and plants to foods and landscapes. It's beyond a concept book and a search-and-find book. It's an art book that will inspire discussions, inquiry, and exploration of Sylvie Daigneault's craft, and make readers smile for lemurs with lollipops, the overdramatic ocelots, and the unicycle-riding unicorn, and that's only L, O, and U.

September 12, 2023

The 2023 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards: Finalists announced

Today, the Canadian Children's Book Centre, our nationally-renowned authority on all things related to youngCanLit, announced the finalists for the 2023 English-language Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards. (See their website announcement here with pdf here and video of shortlists on Bibliovideo.)

This year, the children's book awards include seven awards, both long-established and newly founded:
  • TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($50,000), Sponsored by TD Bank Group;
  • Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000), Sponsored by A. Charles Baillie;
  • Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction ($10,000), Sponsored by the Fleck Family Foundation;
  • Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000), Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund;
  • Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000), Sponsored by Amy Mathers' Marathon of Books;
  • Jean Little First-Novel Award ($5,000);
  • Arlene Barlin Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy ($5,000), Sponsored by Elly Barlin-Daniels;
 (n.b. The French-language award short lists will be announced on October 18th and winners celebrated on November 8.)
• • • • • • •
Here are the short lists for each award category, as announced by the Canadian Children's Book Centre:

TD Canadian Children's Literature Award


Written by Michelle Kadarusman
Pajama Press

Kunoichi Bunny
Written by Sara Cassidy
Illustrated by Brayden Sato
Orca Book Publishers 

Sitting Shiva

Written by Erin Silver
Illustrated by Michelle Theodore
Orca Book Publishers

Weird Rules to Follow

Written by Kim Spencer
Orca Book Publishers

The Witness Blanket: Truth, Art and Reconciliation

Written by Carey Newman and Kirstie Hudson
Orca Book Publishers

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

Written and illustrated by Nancy Vo
Groundwood Books

Fox and Bear

Written and illustrated by Miriam Körner
Red Deer Press

I'm Not Sydney!

Written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books

Lizzy and the Cloud

Written and illustrated by the Fan Brothers
Simon & Schuster Canada


Written and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
Simon & Schuster Canada

Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction

Better Connected: How Girls Are Using Social Media for Good
(Orca Think)
Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and Julia Kyi
Illustrated by Vivian Rosas
Orca Book Publishers

Pink, Blue, and You! Questions for Kids About Gender Stereotypes

Written by Elise Gravel with Mykaell Blais
Illustrated by Elise Gravel
Anne Schwartz Books

Sun in My Tummy

Written by Laura Alary
Illustrated by Andrea Blinick
Pajama Press

Why Humans Build Up: The Rise of Towers, Temples and Skyscrapers
(Orca Timeline)
Written by Gregor Craigie
Illustrated by Kathleen Fu
Orca Book Publishers

The Witness Blanket: Truth, Art and Reconciliation

Written by Carey Newman and Kirstie Hudson
Orca Book Publishers

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

Hidden on the High Wire
(A Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers)
Written by Kathy Kacer
Second Story Press

How to Be a Goldfish

Written by Jane Baird Warren
Scholastic Canada

The Ribbon Leaf

Written by Lori Weber
Red Deer Press

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan
Written by Salma Hussain
Tundra Books

Weird Rules to Follow

Written by Kim Spencer
Orca Book Publishers

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

Written by Zoulfa Katouh
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Red Palace

Written by June Hur
Feiwel and Friends

Road of the Lost

Written by Nafiza Azad
Margaret K. McElderry Books

TJ Powar Has Something to Prove

Written by Jesmeen Kaur Deo
Viking Books for Young Readers

Wrong Side of the Court
Written by H.N. Khan
Penguin Teen Canada

Jean Little First-Novel Award

The Grave Thief

Written by Dee Hahn
Puffin Canada

How to Be a Goldfish

Written by Jane Baird Warren
Scholastic Canada 

Scout Is Not a Band Kid

Written and illustrated by Jade Armstrong
RH Graphic

Weird Rules to Follow

Written by Kim Spencer
Orca Book Publishers

The Wolf Suit

Written and illustrated by Sid Sharp
Annick Press

Arlene Barlin Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy

Blood Scion

Written by Deborah Falaye


Written by Kenneth Oppel
Puffin Canada

The Limitless Sky

Written by Christina Kilbourne
Dundurn Press 

A Magic Steeped in Poison
(The Book of Tea, Book 1)
Written by Judy I. Lin
Feiwel and Friends


Written by Catherine Egan
Knopf Books for Young Readers


The winners of these awards will be announced on October 23, 2023 at a ticketed event in Toronto. (Tickets go on sale September 25.)

September 11, 2023

Friends Find a Way!

Written by Heather M. O'Connor
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2023
When Suze first joined Tyson's class in Heather M. O'Connor's Fast Friends (2020), there was some nervousness about a non-verbal child in a wheelchair becoming friends with a boy who couldn't slow down. But, the two children did become friends, and fast friends at that, with Suze enjoying the speed in her wheelchair as much as Tyson loved helping her race about. Now the class is heading to the zoo for a field trip and both Tyson and Suze are excited to see the cheetah, an animal known for speed.
From Friends Find a Way!, written by Heather M. O'Connor, illus. by Claudia Dávila
At the zoo, the class are buddied up–Tyson with Suze–and told to stay together. As they focus on visiting different animals, the kids help direct the class, using the map. Of course, when it's time to see the cheetah, Tyson and Suze know just where to go. But as Tyson remains enthralled with the cheetahs, the class moves on, and suddenly Tyson and Suze are on their own. Tyson hadn't been paying attention, but Suze had, and though she can't express herself verbally, she knows how to tell Tyson where the class has gone.
From Friends Find a Way!, written by Heather M. O'Connor, illus. by Claudia Dávila
While some readers may see Suze's disability as the focus of Friends Find a Way!, author Heather M. O'Connor spends less time on Suze's limitations and more on the connection that Suze and Tyson have. That friendship may have been based initially on their appreciation for speed, but it has evolved into one of camaraderie, similar interests, and cooperation. There is no judgment about who can do or can't do something but instead shows them working together to get what they both need and want. It's that working together to navigate the rambling paths of the zoo to the missing class and to get there as quickly as possible that is how this friendship works. And a story about friends finding a way, whether to rejoining their class or to making their lives fuller and better, is the way to go.
From Friends Find a Way!, written by Heather M. O'Connor, illus. by Claudia Dávila
Claudia Dávila, who illustrated Fast Friends as well as Friends Find a Way!, keeps her digital art colourful, upbeat and dynamic, just like Suze and Tyson. And her illustrations are as inclusive as Heather M. O'Connor's story. Claudia Dávila shows us people of all ages, abilities, cultures and more and makes them all part of the community. And with a delightful assortment of animals, from the sloth and red panda, Komodo dragon and kangaroos, she also takes us on a visit to the zoo alongside Suze and Tyson's class.

Friends do find a way to make things work and Tyson and Suze have found a friendship that works for them, whether at school or at the zoo. They are truly fast friends, both in the speed of their mobility and in the security of the connection, with new experiences strengthening that bond even more.

• • • • • • • 
Friends Find a Way (2023)