September 29, 2020

Night Walk

Written by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Ellie Arscott 
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2020

I think a lot of us have sleepless nights, nights during which we are "owl-eyed" and our heads churn. When this little girl can't sleep, her dad offers her a solution in a Night Walk.
From Night Walk by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Ellie Arscott
So pulling on boots, hat and coat over her pajamas, the child joins her father in a walk "just to be out." As might be expected, everything looks different at night, as they walk "from one island of light to the next like explorers," peeking into the lit windows of people's late-night lives. There's the variety store's sad-looking woman joyously welcoming a baby in her apartment above. There are people at restaurants or eating at home. Others are walking dogs or cycling or traveling by bus. One man plays his violin to his pets on his deck decorated with fairy lights.  Everywhere there is life and colour, sound and quiet.
From Night Walk by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Ellie Arscott

A final stop on their Night Walk takes the child and her father to the playground where she recognizes that this community of people and places, which she usually only experiences in the daylight hours, is her home and where she wants to be.

From Night Walk by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Ellie Arscott 

Sara O'Leary loves to give us a child's perspective on the ordinary which becomes extraordinary through their eyes and she has done the same with Night Walk. By seeing her community, one she passes through regularly during the day, at a different time and lit from outside by the moon and streetlights and from within by lamps, the child sees differently and is amazed. It's this wonder that Sara O'Leary, whose previous works include A Family is a Family is a Family and When I Was Small, captures in the depth and simplicity of the child's words and thoughts. They are told from her perspective and with her voice, and the fascination with this new world is unmistakable.
From Night Walk by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Ellie Arscott

This is Toronto artist Ellie Arscott's first picture book but she matches the marvel of the child's experience with illustrations that reflect the sweeping landscape of the neighbourhood. In her watercolour and ink artwork, Ellie Arscott takes the homes and businesses and people in the community from the backdrop into the all-around i.e., foreground, middle ground and background. The reader will still always be able to pick out the child in her bright red vest but Ellie Arscott makes us feel like we are seeing the world from the young girl's point of view and it is this world that is the star of Night Walk.

I hope that there will always be someone to guide a young child on a Night Walk of discovery, safe in their community and open to all the lights that shine.

September 25, 2020

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story

Written and illustrated by Thao Lam
Owlkids Books
40 pp.
Ages 6-10
September 2020
Told exclusively in the glorious collage art of Thao Lam, The Paper Boat follows the flight of a little girl and her mother away from Vietnam, a journey paralleled by an army of ants who strive for their own survival.

From The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

As the front endpapers illustrate, The Paper Boat begins amidst a history of the war in Vietnam. The conflict between South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese escalates until April 30, 1975 when Saigon falls and the South Vietnamese surrender. While a family tries to curtail an invasion of ants with sugar water, and a little girl uses her chopsticks to rescue them and send them on their way, the Vietcong tanks roll past their window. Soon the family is packing up and saying their goodbyes, with mother tearing her daughter away from her father and grandparents who have their own journeys.
From The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

As mother and daughter escape through long grass, hiding from soldiers, they follow a parade of ants in the moonlight to the water's edge. But while they wait for Vietcong patrols to leave, the mother distracts the child by fashioning a paper boat from the wrapping around their food. When their escape boat arrives, the paper boat is left behind but discovered by ants who will begin their own escape by boat.

From The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The ants endure a multitude of hardships–undoubtedly mirroring what the child and her family bear on their own boat–from limited food and water, to calamitous weather and the capsizing of the boat before making landfall. Even as they help each other, some are lost, before they come together at a new table in a new place.

From the clues in Thao Lam's story, as well as her "Author's Note," it becomes evident that The Paper Boat is based on the author-illustrator's own family history of escape from Vietnam. This tale of migration is laced with trauma and danger and, by telling it through the parallel story about the ants, Thao Lam tells us so much without the reader witnessing the horrors of their fleeing. They, like the ants, come to make a new home, with the child together with both parents and even a new little one–though a photograph with incense on a side table suggests a grandmother who did not survive–in a city teeming with families undoubtedly with some of their own stories of migration.

By creating her story without text, Thao Lam invites the reader to delve into the story and make connections between the two families, one ant and one human, finding the similarities and differences in their plights and the relationships between and within. By using her collage art with images on cut paper layered to create depth and texture, Thao Lam brings us to a table, onto a boat, and into a city. Moreover, by using a limited palette, mostly sombre colours like dark blues and black with splashes of pink and golden for hopeful elements like the sun, the boats and food, Thao Lam makes us see where hope lies. Reassuringly, their new home is filled with the colour of promise.

From The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

September 22, 2020

Meet Terry Fox (Scholastic Canada Biography)

Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Mike Deas
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
September 2020

This September marks the 40th anniversary of the end of Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope run across Canada. While there have been more than several Canadian books written for young people about this impressive young man, Meet Terry Fox, the sixth and newest volume in the Scholastic Canada Biography series by Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas, is perhaps the most reader-friendly and comprehensive without being too weighty.

Though Elizabeth MacLeod begins with a snapshot of Terry's defining run, with the young man stepping and striding in pain towards his escort van, the author judiciously provides the starting points of Terry Fox's life to help young readers relate to a Canadian hero. Born in 1958, Terry was part of a sports-loving family. Terry's favourite sport was basketball and, though he was not the greatest when he started, he worked hard and excelled, sharing his school's Athlete of the Year award with his best friend, Doug Alward, who would later accompany him on his Marathon of Hope. 
From Meet Terry Fox by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
While at university, Terry was diagnosed with a type of cancer called osteogenic sarcoma and had much of his right leg amputated. Though he was still taking chemotherapy which made him feel sick, within weeks, Terry was walking on a prosthetic. Seeing the other patients who were in pain or dying, and determined to not let the loss of his leg stop him, Terry decided to raise money for cancer research.
From Meet Terry Fox by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
Regardless of the pain of blisters and sores and the need to develop a running gait that would work with his artificial leg, Terry was determined to run a marathon every day until he'd made it all the way across Canada, 8530 km. With support from the Canadian Cancer Society, a variety of sponsors, and Doug and Terry's family, Terry began his Marathon of Hope on April 12, 1980 with a step in the waters at St. John's, Newfoundland. Through there was little media attention at the onset, Terry appreciated all donations and kindnesses extended to him and Doug. But by the time he crossed from Quebec to Ontario, people knew about Terry Fox. He was honoured at countless events and the support, via donations, running companions and media, was growing.

On September 1, 1980, outside of Thunder Bay, after running 5373 km, Terry was forced to stop when the cancer spread to his lungs. He may have stopped running but Terry had not stopped dreaming of raising one dollar for every Canadian. He achieved that goal and more before he died on June 28, 1981.
From Meet Terry Fox by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
By focusing on Terry's determination and his objectives for raising cancer research funds through his running, as well as the legacy of his work, Elizabeth MacLeod spotlights the heroism and achievement of this young man. She spends little text on the cancer or his death, though she acknowledges both, instead emphasizing the enormity of his accomplishments and of his impact.
Mike Deas, whose illustrations are a blend of digital with watercolour, gouache and ink, likewise emphasizes who Terry was and what he accomplished. The visual narrative by Mike Deas is about Terry the athlete and the young man who had the courage and stamina to endure so much to become a global hero. (Terry Fox is honoured world-wide with the annual Terry Fox Run which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research and is held in many countries around the world.)
Though Meet Terry Fox will be a valuable addition to any home or school library as an illustrated biography for teaching character education, Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas have given us a great story, albeit a true one, and one that inspires as well as teaches.
• • • • • • • • •
Terry Fox is also available in the French-language version Biographie en Images: Voici Terry Fox

• • • • • • • • •

To date, the Scholastic Canada Biography series by Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas includes the following six volumes:

Meet Terry Fox (2020)

September 21, 2020

The 2020 Vancouver Writers Fest

The Vancouver Writers Fest, inaugurated in 1988, was named the best large literary festival in Canada by the Canadian Tourism Commission in 2010.  Held this year from October 19-25, 2020, though there are events that extend before and after that special week, the Vancouver Writers Fest hosts countless Canadian (names bolded below) and international authors  of books for adults and youth in interviews and panel discussions. Because the event is completely online this year, it is a great opportunity to visit a stellar writers festival without the travel. Even more special, all Youth events are FREE (or Pay-What-You-Can) to attend, though you must book a ticket at (Tickets went on sale on September 15 so don't wait to get them.)

• • • • • • • •

Here is the listing of YOUTH EVENTS for this year's online Vancouver Writers Fest:

Monday October 19, 2020

11 AM (PST)

This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: A Morning with Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Gr. 6-9





2 PM (PST)

Hope Matters: An Afternoon with Elin Kelsey
Gr. 8-12






Tuesday October 20, 2020

11 AM (PST)

Fatty Legs
: On Courage and Bravery with Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton
Gr. 3-6





2 PM (PST)

The Barren Grounds
: An Afternoon with David A. Robertson
Gr. 5+





Wednesday, October 21, 2020

11 AM (PST) 

Hatch & Bloom: A Morning with Kenneth Oppel
Gr. 5-9




2 PM (PST)

I Didn't Do What You Told Me with A. S. King, Sybil Lamb and David A. Robertson
Gr. 8-12



Thursday, October 22, 2020

11 AM (PST)

Yorick and Bones: A Morning with Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard
Gr. 3-6


Do check out all the offerings for adults and youth at the Vancouver Writers Fest site ( as there are many more events with well-known Canadian authors of books for adults, as well as with non-Canadian authors of some renown.

September 18, 2020

The Three Brothers

Written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
September 2020
There's something magical about going on an adventure. It's looking for the amazing and finding it. For the three little boys in The Three Brothers, the adventure is all the more wonderful for being together. 
From The Three Brothers by Marie-Louise Gay
Three brothers–Finn, Leo and Ooley–enjoy their nightly adventure stories about animals in forests and other wild areas, and decide to go on their own expedition the next morning. After careful preparations that include warm clothes–Ooley wears his bear suit–lunches, binoculars and a compass, they discover a thick blanket of fresh snow, and add pie plates to their boots as snowshoes.

From The Three Brothers by Marie-Louise Gay
Though they see a few birds, they are desperate to see some animals i.e., mammals, and anticipate what every noise might mean.
The forest was still and empty. You could almost hear a snowflake fall.
"I thought I heard a growl," said Finn, "...or a howl...I know there are some animals around. I can almost see them. Can't you?"
As they ponder where the animals might be, the older and wiser Finn recalls their grandfather's words about how the weather may be forcing the animals to leave to find food and water, and Finn and Leo discuss those taking action against climate change, without ever using words like global warming or climate. 

After losing Ooley and discovering him in a hollowed-out tree trunk, the three boys find a creative way to experience the absentee animals by putting their maker hands and piles of snow to work.

From The Three Brothers by Marie-Louise Gay

Marie-Louise Gay, creator of Stella and Sam, has always brought the wonder of children and their imaginations to her picture books. It's the wonder of what might be, what is, and what it might mean. It's seeing with open eyes and hearts and witnessing the miracles of the world. These little boys imagine the animals that might be lurking, even when only reading the stories and visualizing a bear, or a wolf, or a raccoon also listening to the story. In the woods, Marie-Louise Gay adds white outlines of creatures like deer, porcupine and bear watching the children amidst the colour of their reality. The landscapes of these children are a dreamy blend of home and the imaginary and all the richer for having both. (There is a surprise at the end as the two worlds meet.)

Marie-Louise Gay's illustrations, which have garnered her numerous awards including several Governor General's Literary Awards, blends watercolour paint with pencil, coloured pencils, water-soluble wax crayons and opaque white ink to create the evocative art of The Three Brothers. Her media and artistry conjure the inquisitiveness of children, light and detailed, colourful and full. There is happiness and watchfulness about the world and themselves that reassures. I feel joyful from the three brothers' imaginative play and closeness, and look forward to a snowy day when all children may seek out their own adventures.

From The Three Brothers by Marie-Louise Gay

September 17, 2020

Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of)

Written and illustrated by Kathleen Gros
Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins)
272 pp.
Ages 8-13
September 2020
Everyone knows Louisa May Alcott’s story of Little Women, her classic novel about the March sisters set in the 1800s. There's the girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and their mother whom they call Marmee, and their father who is away in the military. There is also their neighbour Mr. Laurence and his grandson Laurie, as well as a number of family and acquaintances who visit or become part of the March girls' world. As the author and illustrator Kathleen Gros tells us in her subtitle, this is an adaptation of Little Women, sort of, but it is more.
From Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros
The story begins with thirteen-year-old Jo writing her blog about life with her family. Meg is the oldest and starting high school and tutoring a couple of younger children. The shy Beth is eleven years of age, musically-inclined, and has leukemia. The youngest is the self-centered Amy who loves to draw. Jo really wants to become a writer and, though she thinks she prefers creative writing, she joins the Newspaper Club where she meets Freddie Bhaer (another familiar name from the original Alcott story) who is the student editor. It is this relationship with Freddie that helps Jo identify as gay and come out to her family. 
From Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros

As Jo develops her writing, continuing to entertain her family with her stories while finding her journalistic voice, the other March sisters face their own challenges. Beth, of course, has her medical issue which requires medication, tests and hospital visits but she also is struggling to learn to play the flute. Meg who is crushing on a boy and wondering if he likes her is also dealing with her tutees who are always on their devices. Young Amy is frustrated with her art teacher who wants to teach the class skills like perspective when Amy would just prefer to draw. With the help of Marmee, who works as a nurse at a children's hospital, and their father with whom they have occasional video chats, as well as a host of characters, the March girls come of age in a contemporary setting.

From Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros

By modernizing the story of Little Women to include technology, LGBTQ+ characters, the all-important school milieu and more, Kathleen Gros has honoured the original but made it relevant to today's readers. Beth's scarlet fever would be easily treated by antibiotics today so leukemia, a cancer that has some forms more common to children, replaces it. Jo's original ink and paper writing is now done on computer and gets published online via blogging and in a school newspaper. Even how the Newspaper Club members introduce themselves and share what pronouns they would prefer used is exemplary of how the story is inclusive. This is Little Women but it is more real, relatable and germane for a 2020 audience. Moreover, by creating her story as a graphic novel, Kathleen Gros firmly lands Jo into the present-day, giving us colour and movement, encouraging readers to learn about the March sisters' stories in a version, sort of, that is accessible and visual. 

Much more than an adaptation of Little Women, Kathleen Gros's Jo is a modern and realistic coming-of-age story that broadens the original story and invites all readers to see themselves in it, and learn lessons about being kind and brave and being part of a family.

September 16, 2020

2020 Canadian Children's Book Centre Book Awards: Finalists announced

Yesterday, the Canadian Children's Book Centre, our nationally-renowned authority on all things related to youngCanLit, announced the finalists for the 2020 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards. (See their website announcement here with pdf here and video of shortlists here.)

The eight major children's book awards, which will be awarded later this fall, include:
  • TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($50,000) Sponsored by TD Bank Group;
  • Le Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse ($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;
  • John Spray Mystery Award ($5,000) Sponsored by John Spray of Mantis Investigation Agency;
  • Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000) Sponsored by Amy Mathers' Marathon of Books; and
  • Le Prix Harry Black de l’album jeunesse ($5,000) Sponsored by Mary Macchiusi

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 and illustrated by Julie Flett
Greystone Kids

Broken Strings
Written by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
Puffin Canada

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Tundra Books
Small in the City
Written and illustrated by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books
Reviewed here

Stand on the Sky
Written by Erin Bow
Scholastic Canada

Le Prix TD de littérature pour l'enfance et la jeunesse canadienne

Les étoiles

Written and illustrated by Jacques Goldstyn
Éditions de la Pastèque

Le grain de sable : Olivier Le Jeune, premier esclave au Canada

Written by Webster
Illustrated by ValMo
Éditions Septentrion

Mon ami Pierrot

Written by Annie Gravel
Illustrated by Enzo
Éditions Planète rebelle


Written by Amélie Dumoulin
Illustrated by Todd Stewart
Éditions Québec Amérique

Quand le vent souffle

Written and illustrated by Todd Stewart
Translated by Nadine Robert
Comme des géants

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award


Written and illustrated by Julie Flett
Greystone Kids

King Mouse

Written by Cary Fagan
Illustrated by Dena Seiferling
Tundra Books

My Winter City

Written by James Gladstone
Illustrated by Gary Clement
Groundwood Books

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden

Written by Heather Smith
Illustrated by Rachel Wada
Orca Book Publishers

Small in the City

Written by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books
Reviewed here

Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction

Beastly Puzzles: A Brain-Boggling Animal Guessing Game

Written by Rachel Poliquin
Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
Kids Can Press
Reviewed here 

Cells: An Owner's Handbook

Written and illustrated by Carolyn Fisher
Beach Lane Books

Fairy Science
(Fairy Science, Book 1)
Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires
Tundra Books

Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, & Murdered Through History

Written by Serah-Marie McMahon and Alison Matthews David
Illustrated by Gillian Wilson
Owlkids Books

Picking Up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket

Written by Carey Newman and Kirstie Hudson
Orca Book Publishers

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People 

Among the Fallen

Written by Virginia Frances Schwartz
Holiday House

Be My Love

Written by Kit Pearson
HarperTrophy Canada

The Big Dig

Written by Lisa Harrington
Nimbus Publishing

City on Strike

Written by Harriet Zaidman
Red Deer Press

Orange for the Sunsets

Written by Tina Athaide
Katherine Tegen Books

Room for One More 
Written by Monique Polak 
Kar-Ben Publishing 

John Spray Mystery Award

The Athena Protocol
Written by Shamim Sarif
304 pp.
Ages 13+

Keep This to Yourself
Written by Tom Ryan
Albert Whitman & Co.
320 pp.
Ages 13+

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane
Written by Julia Nobel
320 pp.
Ages 8-12
Reviewed here

Songs from the Deep
Written by Kelly Powell
Margaret McElderry
320 pp.
Ages 12+

The Starlight Claim
Written by Tim Wynne-Jones
240 pp.
Ages 13+
Reviewed here

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

All Our Broken Pieces

Written by L.D. Crichton

The Candle and the Flame

Written by Nafiza Azad
Scholastic Press

In the Key of Nira Ghani

Written by Natasha Deen
Running Press Teens

Keep This to Yourself
Written by Tom Ryan
Albert Whitman & Company

Love from A to Z

Written by S.K. Ali
Salaam Reads


Prix Harry Black de l'album jeunesse

La case 144

Written by Nadine Poirier
Illustrated by Geneviève Després
Éditions D'eux

La corde à linge

Written and illustrated by Orbie
Éditions les 400 coups

Des couleurs sur la Grave

Written by Marie-Andrée Arsenault
Illustrated by Dominique Leroux
Éditions la Morue verte

Laurent, c'est moi!

Written by Stéphanie Deslauriers
Illustrated by Geneviève Després
Éditions Fonfon

Le poisson et l'oiseau

Written by Kim Thúy
Illustrated by Rogé
Éditions de la Bagnole

The winners of the English-language awards will be announced at a small, socially distanced event, co-hosted by the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA). There will be a free live stream of the event available on the Canadian Children's Book Centre's YouTube channel, Bibliovideo, afterwards. Leading up to the event, the CCBC and TIFA will host free panel discussions with some of the nominated creators. More event information will be available at on September 22.

The French-language awards will be celebrated as a part of Salon du livre Montreal, hosted by Communication-Jeunesse, with a virtual event announcing winners of Prix TD and Prix Harry Black in mid-November.