October 30, 2020

The 2020 CCBC Book Awards: English-language Winners announced

Tonight, the Canadian Children's Book Centre, in partnership with the Toronto International Festival of Authors, broadcast its awards ceremony live from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. From impressive shortlists–see the website announcement here with pdf–the following books have been selected by juries as this year's winners.

Congratulations to all nominees and most especially tonight's winners!

Here are the six English-language awards given out tonight with details of the prize money and sponsors. (Winners of the two French-language awards will be announced on November 13.)

  • 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;
  • 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.

TD Canadian Children's Literature Award: WINNER

Written and illustrated by Julie Flett 
Greystone Kids

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award: WINNER 

Small in the City
Written by Sydney Smith 
Groundwood Books

Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction: WINNER

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

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People: WINNER

Orange for the Sunsets
Written by Tina Athaide 
Katherine Tegen Books

John Spray Mystery Award: WINNER

The Starlight Claim
Written by Tim Wynne-Jones

Reviewed here

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award: WINNER

In the Key of Nira Ghani
Written by Natasha Deen 
Running Press Teens

Congratulations to all winners and nominees!

October 29, 2020

Poesy the Monster Slayer

Written by Cory Doctorow
Illustrated by Matt Rockefeller
First Second
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
July 2020
Her parents may be typical in their frustration with a little girl who just won't go to sleep but her reason is very atypical: she has monsters to slay.

From Poesy the Monster Slayer by Cory Doctorow, illus. by Matt Rockefeller

With Halloween only days away, there may be much talk of monsters and creatures of the night. Some children will be frightened just as many already are of those horrors that tend to come out when the lights are dimmed. But for Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Russell Schnegg, whose parents use her full name the more frustrated they become with her, it's her parents who frustrate her. 

"Parents! Always with the bedtimes!"

From Poesy the Monster Slayer by Cory Doctorow, illus. by Matt Rockefeller

After her father finally leaves with a "PLEASE stay in bed tonight" Poesy is ready. She's been reading her monster book and she knows about all of their weaknesses. When the werewolf appears, she's ready with her wand and Princess Frillypants silver tiara. Of course, her father hears and chastizes her for playing with her toys. (She doesn't explain about the werewolf.)

Then there's the Great Old One who "made a noise like a frightened teakettle in a blender rolling down a hill" which she swiftly dispatches with her bubblegum perfume in its eye. This time it's her tired mom yelling at her to get back to bed.

From Poesy the Monster Slayer by Cory Doctorow, illus. by Matt Rockefeller

Kindly Poesy realizes she must "take care of the rest of the monsters more quietly" though, of course, her parents hear her as she disposes of a vampire and Frankenstein's monster. When morning finally comes around, it's her parents who look the worse-for-wear.

A prolific writer, Toronto-born Cory Doctorow is better known for his science fiction and tech non-fiction writing. Though he has written for YA readers, this is his first picture book and I suspect the premise of getting a child to bed, especially one whose name is almost identical to that of his own daughter, may be a very personal one. But with much humour, about how Poesy sees her parents–"He was so tired that he stepped on a Harry the Hare block and said some swears. Poor Daddy! Rotten monsters!– and how she slays the monsters, Cory Doctorow takes something from the scary side to the funny side. Matt Rockefeller's illustrations, rendered in pencil, graphite powder and coloured digitally, have a cheekiness to them, surprising because of the dark nature of the story. But together, words and art suggest that those monsters in the dark can be handily taken care of by a child.

Poesy the Monster Slayer will empower your little ones if they have any fears about the monsters that may lurk in their rooms after dark, though it might not hurt to ask them politely to keep the noise down so their hard-working caregivers can get some well-earned sleep.
From Poesy the Monster Slayer by Cory Doctorow, illus. by Matt Rockefeller

October 28, 2020

The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp

Written by Jonathan Auxier
Illustrated by Olga Demidova
Puffin Canada
96 pp.
Ages 6-9
October 2020
Eight-year-old Auggie lives on an island at the top of the world and has a very important job: he tends to the one-of-a-kind creatures that reside in the Fabled Stables. There's the Hippopotomouse, the Gargantula, the Long-Beaked Curmudgeon, the Yawning Abyss, and his friend Fen, a shape-shifting Stick-in-the-Mud, among others.
From Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, illus. by Olga Demidova
When the stable shakes with a "Boom" and a new stall labelled "Wisp" appears, Fen encourages Auggie to enter the moonlit swamp that stretches out into the stall and help the creature which must be in trouble. Borrowing some thread from the Gargantula's web to help him find his way back, Auggie cautiously enters the dark swamp.
Here Auggie discovers three hunters and their hounds pursuing a giggling creature with long ears, big eyes and a body that changes like the mist. She tells Auggie that she was just born that night and the people and their puppies were just playing tag with her. Sadly, she is wrong, and the hunters capture both Willa and Auggie and demand she tell them where her treasure is.
From Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, illus. by Olga Demidova

Clever Auggie is able to save Willa, though not free her from the fraught iron collar the nasty hunters placed around her neck, and returns with her to the Fabled Stables where he learns from Miss Bundt (there's also a Professor Cake who owns the island) more about the hunters and the dark group to which they belong.
From Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, illus. by Olga Demidova

Though Jonathan Auxier is better known for his weightier tomes like The Night Gardener and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster, I think he's found a new niche to which his writing will make a valuable contribution. For readers just on the younger side of middle grade, Willa the Wisp and undoubtedly the series The Fabled Stables will bridge their reading from the picture book genre into more challenging chapter books with its age-appropriate vocabulary and plentiful illustrations from Olga Demidova on every page. But it's really the telling of the story and its illustrated format that makes it such a charm to read. Jonathan Auxier has made Auggie a normal kid in a very unusual job who shows extraordinary compassion while just wanting to be a boy with friends his own age. Beyond the menagerie of remarkable animals and the magic of Auggie's world–you'll like the hanging of a ladder to the moon–Jonathan Auxier has given us a story of a boy and made us feel for him and his noteworthy endeavours.

Willa the Wisp is only the first in the new The Fabled Stables series but its ending leaves us with many questions. Who is Professor Cake and how did he know that Miss Bundt needed to make an extraordinarily long ladder? Who are the Rooks? Are more one-of-a-kind creatures in danger from them? Are the Fabled Stables in danger? Will Auggie ever find a friend his age? With the second book in the series, Trouble with Tattle-Tails, slated for release in May 2021, we may get some answers and definitely more fantastical adventure.

October 27, 2020

Underland: Book launch and Twitter takeover (Online)

We πŸ’– Pulse Point
which was Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack's first collaborative YA novel of a dystopian world in which Citizens under a dome are monitored via an implanted microchip in a forefinger and kept separate from the Primitives beyond the protective shell.
Written by Colleen Nelson with Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (Great Plains Publications)
192 pp.
Ages 12-15

 Now their sequel is launching!

Written by Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (An imprint of Great Plains)
192 pp.
Ages 12-15
October 2020

To celebrate the book's release, co-authors
 Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack 
will be taking over their publisher's Twitter account
to answer questions and 
share details about the writing of their latest book


Wednesday, October 28, 2020
             6-8 PM (Central Time Zone)
You have time (until this online launch) to enter 
to win a signed copy of Underland
(Entrant must be 13 years of age or older)
See you at the launch!

October 26, 2020

The Old Woman

Written by Joanne Schwartz
Illustrated by Nahid Kazemi
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 5-9
September 2020
As fall will soon blend into winter, The Old Woman seems a perfect read. Just as a calendar year trudges onto its end, an elderly woman and her equally-aged dog plod on in their lives, albeit in good company, never hurrying, getting where they will when they do.

From The Old Woman by Joanne Schwartz, illus. by Nahid Kazemi

When the old woman and the dog head out into the hills for a walk because she "wanted to hear the crunch of dry leaves under her feet and the wind whispering through the trees," she remembers the trees, boulder and rocks and "when she used to play outside for hours, never wanting to go in." They walk, they play–well, she tosses sticks and the dog chases them– and they rest and they appreciate what is.
From The Old Woman by Joanne Schwartz, illus. by Nahid Kazemi

It's hard to identify the mood of Joanne Schwartz and Nahid Kazemi's picture book The Old Woman.  Both the text and the art whisper of a melancholic story of an elderly woman and her vigilant canine companion. But it's not. This is a story of serenity and memory and togetherness. It has the heart that comes from many years of living, alone and together, of caring for others and contemplating the vastness of the world while appreciating the small domain created through companionship.
The Old Woman is not a story of loneliness, though some may see it that way, especially through the lens of a COVID19-inflicted society.  But it is not. The woman may be appear to be lonesome but the story is more about living each day as possible with an occasional look back to what was. It's this wistfulness that touched me. Between Joanne Schwartz's words evoking such emotional tranquility and Nahid Kazemi's ethereal illustrations of filmy chalk pastels and coloured pencils that give The Old Woman such solemnity, I cried each time I read The Old Woman.
I hope that when we all pass from fall to winter that we all have the companionship of a loyal friend and the will to appreciate what we had and have, even if more slowly.

From The Old Woman by Joanne Schwartz, illus. by Nahid Kazemi

October 23, 2020

Screech! Ghost Stories from Old Newfoundland: Virtual book launch and storytelling event

Author Charis Cotter
who has brought young readers creepy stories, true and imagined, in her numerous books
is getting everyone ready for Halloween with
 TWO spooky events.
she is launching her latest book
Screech! Ghost Stories from Old Newfoundland
Written by Charis Cotter
Illustrated by Genevieve Simms
156 pp.
Ages 8-12
August 2020
on Tuesday, October 27, 2020
8 PM NL (6:30 PM EDT)
• a reading from the story "The Ghosts of Pushthrough"
• a chat with artist Genevieve Simms about her illustrations in the books
• signed book giveaways
Although the event is free, you will need to sign up at


Charis Cotter will be telling a story from

Screech! Ghost Stories from Old Newfoundland
at the St. John's Storytelling Festival, 
Mythic Beasts
Virtual Storytelling on YouTube

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
7:30 PM NL (6 PM EDT)

You will also need to sign up for this free event at

(Note: Although these events are organized on Facebook, you don't have to be on Facebook to sign up! Just follow the links.)
Happy Halloween
courtesy of Charis Cotter!

October 22, 2020

2021 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award: Canadian nominees announced


The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (named for the beloved author of Pippi Longstocking) is the world's largest prize (SEK 5 million; about $578,000US)  for children's and young adult literature.  Even more mind-boggling is the fact that the Swedish government fully funds this award which is administered by the Swedish Arts Council.

Yesterday, the 263 nominees from 69 countries were announced online at https://alma.se/en/nomination/candidates/

Congratulations to the following Canadian authors and illustrators on their nominations!
Isabelle Arsenault

Deborah Ellis


Sarah Ellis


Jacques Goldstyn


Uma Krishnaswami


Eric Walters


Nahid Kazemi

Jon Klassen

We look forward to the announcement of the 2021 Award recipient(s) on April 13, 2021.

October 21, 2020

A Family for Faru

Written by Anitha Rao-Robinson
Illustrated by Karen Patkau
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
October 2020
After Tetenya and his mother discover a young rhino alone on the savannah, the young boy helps search for other rhinos to be family for the orphaned Faru. As they trek past giraffes and vervet monkeys, guinea fowl and more, "the entire savannah spreads out below in greens, golds, and browns" and the two companions call and listen and search. But after a cool off in a pond of mud and waterberries for lunch, the two settle down for a nap in the shade of a jackalberry tree.
From A Family for Faru by Anitha Rao-Robinson, illus. by Karen Patkau

But when they are awakened by hunters, nay poachers, Tetenya's quick thinking and liberal application of the red-staining waterberries to Fatu's horn saves the little rhino from attack. Even better is the sound of other rhinos to which Fatu is drawn. Though the adult rhinos are safely enjoying a drink at a watering hold under the protection of armed soldiers, it is hard for the two friends, almost brothers, to part company.
From A Family for Faru by Anitha Rao-Robinson, illus. by Karen Patkau

Anitha Rao-Robinson's story is one of friendship and compassion but also conservation as her final note about "Rhinos" elucidates. I don't want to know what really happened to Faru's mother but, judging by the machete in the poacher's hands, it was potentially tragic. It's reassuring not only that Faru was found and offered security with Tetenya and his mother but that they were able to protect him from dangerous hunters while they searched together for a rhino family with whom he might belong.

Anitha Rao-Robinson's text evokes the camaraderie of rhino and boy in their companionable activities, whether it be collecting waterberries or hiking or resting and it's Karen Patkau's extraordinary digitally-rendered art that takes us to the savannah. Whether conjuring the acacia and jackalberry trees or the wildlife of Fatu and Tetenya's home or the warmth of the grasslands habitat with her organic shapes and earthy colours, Karen Patkau's illustrations take young readers to a land where a rhino can be protected by a boy and the bad guys can be thwarted by a clever child and a handful of berries.

From A Family for Faru by Anitha Rao-Robinson, illus. by Karen Patkau

October 19, 2020

Trapped in Hitler's Web

Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
240 pp.
Ages 8-12
October 2020
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch first addressed the impact of World War II on Ukraine and its people by the Soviets and then the Nazis in her series which included Stolen Child, Making Bombs for Hitler and Underground Soldier. With Don't Tell the Enemy (alternate title Don't Tell the Nazis), she began a different story, one of protecting Jewish friends in the Ukrainian village of Viteretz after the Nazis began to show their true colours. In Trapped in Hitler's Web, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch takes us beyond Viteretz, following Maria and Nathan after they've run away in the effort to keep Nathan's Jewish identity hidden and survive.

When the occupying Nazis started killing Jews in their village, eleven-year-old Maria Fediuk leaves her mother and older sister Krystia, whose story is told in Don't Tell the Enemy, to save her friend Nathan Segal from imminent death. Using the identity papers of a boy killed by the Soviets, Nathan becomes Bohdan Sawchuk, and the two sign up for work in the Reich, believing the promises of pay, food and shelter. Heading to Austria with others who'd been captured as slave labourers, their hope for safety is shattered when the two are separated in Salzburg, Nathan taken for bridge building while Maria is sent to the Huber farm near Innsbruck. 

The Huber farm is currently run by Frau Huber and her parents, Frau and Herr Lang. Frau Huber's husband and son are both fighting for the Reich and her fourteen-year-old daughter Sophie is a staunch Hitler Girl. Soon enough Maria learns that she and Bianka, a Polish girl captured two years earlier, are little more than slave labourers, sleeping in the barn and allotted minimal food, though not as badly off as the Ukrainians labelled as Ostarbeiters who return to a slave camp nightly. Though Frau Huber and her parents show kindness when they can, they are very cautious as their harvest is monitored, their actions are regularly scrutinized by Blockleiter Doris Schutt and they fear that the inexorable Sophie might betray them.

Realizing that her plan to help Nathan escape and to send money home to her mother and sister has failed, Maria does what she must to survive, knowing that she may be better off than some, but that she must find a way to make things right for Nathan and her family. Coming to realize that there are many trapped in Hitler's organization of cruelty and propaganda, from the Jewish people, to slave labourers, farmers, and even soldiers, Marie watches and listens and learns what she must to persevere and help those she cares about do the same.

As historical fiction, Trapped in Hitler's Web, like its companion novel Don't Tell the Enemy, is tragically honest and heartbreaking. The story is even more anguished as it is inspired by real events and people. But it is a telling story, from the perspective of a brave child who endured excruciating physical and emotional hardship, driven by hope to help those dear to her. It's also revelatory about the many victims of the Reich, borne in a manufactured hierarchy of discrimination. Hearing Maria and others referred to as "subhumans" and starved and abused is crushing. Still Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch writes to reveal another story of WWII, specifically about Ukrainians, and she does so with much heart and compassion, reminding us that there are sometimes more than two sides to a story and to war itself.
• • • • • • • 

Don't forget the virtual book launch coming up for Trapped in Hitler's Web.  Teachers and their classes are encouraged to attend for an opportunity to listen to Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch speak about her newest book of historical fiction. Register for this free event at the Brantford Public Library.

October 18, 2020

Trapped in Hitler's Web: Book launch (Online)

Join award-winning writer  
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

for the virtual book launch of
the companion book to
 Don't Tell the Enemy (Don't Tell the Nazis)
Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic Canada
184 pp.
Ages 10-14

Trapped in Hitler's Web
Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
240 pp.
Ages 8-12
October 2020
Review to follow
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
1-2 p.m. EST
Presented through the Brantford Public Library, 
register for this free event 
Everyone is welcome. Teachers are especially encouraged to sign up their classes to hear Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch speak about her newest book of historical fiction and engage in a discussion about the book.