September 29, 2023

Salma Writes a Book

Written by Danny Ramadan
Illustrated by Anna Bron
Annick Press
120 pp.
Ages 6-9
 September 2023
Young Salma, whom we first met in Danny Ramadan and Anna Bron's first picture book Salma the Syrian Chef, is pretty excited to finally meet her uncle, Khalou Dawood, who'd left Syria before her own family to attend university in Toronto before moving to Vancouver. Now he's come to visit, and she is thrilled. But when Salma asks why he has never visited before, things get very tense, and Mama says they will not talk about it.
From Salma Writes a Book, written by Danny Ramadan, illus. by Anna Bron
Though he does not stay with them, her khalou takes her for outings and plays with her, and when her mother has a dizzy spell and Salma is worried, she calls Dawood who comes to help. He is a supportive younger brother, and Salma hopes she'll be a good sibling too when she learns her mother is expecting a baby.

Salma is determined to learn the right way to be a big sister and so she decides to do her research and write her own book titled, "Salma's Guide to Being The Best Older Sibling Ever." Not only does she need to learn how to write a book, but she must also find out from her classmates what is important about being a sibling. But Salma is confused when she sees her mother and her uncle interact. They seem to be close, but Salma wants to know why they have not visited before. Then Mama gets angry when Dawood brings his husband Michael to Salma's apartment for Eid al-Adha dinner. Michael choses to leave, as does Dawood, and Salma is perplexed. 

After a fiasco with her friend Riya's mother's shawl, which the girls cover up, Salma is convinced she doesn't know anything about being a sibling.
She has to learn how to make the right decisions, and how to teach her sibling the same. She has to learn how to guide her sibling, and how to be a role model. And worse of all, she still doesn't know when it is okay to be mad at your sibling, or how to fix things after a fight. (pg. 69)
It's only by understanding their mistakes, that Salma, and even her mother, can move forward and become the siblings they want to be.

While I don't know how many bits of writer Danny Ramadan's own story are the basis of Salma Writes a Book, I do know that there are lessons here that we all need to learn. From understanding "how confusion and fear can lead to mistakes" (pg. 81) and that sometimes it takes time to resolve them. It can mean reconciling confusion between what we've always been told and a new perspective. It could mean taking responsibility and fixing things. It could mean apologizing. Danny Ramadan makes us realize that mistakes can be little things or big things but fixing them is always worthwhile. And by helping Salma see the breadth of mistakes that can be made, from damaging someone else's property, to lying, or to being rude and intolerant, Danny Ramadan has given her opportunities to learn about correcting mistakes and hopefully help her become a more compassionate and supportive older sibling.

Though an early reader with fewer illustrations than Salma's first book, Salma Writes a Book still has more than two dozen black-and-white illustrations by Anna Bron that show us the extent of Salma's experiences, with meeting her khalou and his husband, interviewing her peers, struggling to write, and being part of her family. Young readers will appreciate seeing Salma in all her joys and frustrations, knowing how she might feel as she struggles trying to learn and understand through her own confusion and fears. Fortunately, with a fourth Salma book slated for 2024–Salma Joins the Team–we won't need to wait too long to learn the lessons Danny Ramadan has had Salma learn so that she might be a fabulous big sister to baby Nora.

• • • • • • •

Salma the Syrian Chef (2020)
Salma Makes a Home (2023)
Salma Writes a Book (2023)
Salma Joins the Team (coming in 2024)

September 27, 2023

While You Were Sleeping

Written and illustrated by Briana Corr Scott
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2023

There are so many versions of families but, when a little one is born, their lives are transformed. Nova Scotian author and artist Briana Corr Scott speaks to all those families as they live, work, play and dream while those little ones, even as they age, sleep.
From While You Were Sleeping, written and illustrated by Briana Corr Scott
In rhyming verse, Briana Corr Scott shows a mother and father with baby strapped in a front-facing carrier preparing a baby's room for wallpaper and paint. As the baby continues to rest in a rocker, the parents finish the room with crib, sheets, and more. But this is but one family. Another is one visited by a trio of aunties, themselves of different skin shades, who coo and admire the child as they sleep. A street scene shows babies and young children in strollers, in front wraps, backpacks and wagons, all sleeping as their caregivers stroll. On a beach, two fathers and their sheepdog wander with their child, while two moms catch their own forty winks in between folding laundry. 
From While You Were Sleeping, written and illustrated by Briana Corr Scott
While their babies sleep, caregivers of all kinds-mothers, fathers, grandparents, and more–go to their jobs and school, do housework, and rest.

But while they sleep, those little ones are growing and they are growing up, until they make their own homes. Still the memories that were made remain.
From While You Were Sleeping, written and illustrated by Briana Corr Scott
While You Were Sleeping may be a lovely bedtime story to send your child off to slumber but I read it more as a tribute to the parents and caregivers who live, work, learn, and love behind the scenes. They are the parents who nurture and provide, who cherish and struggle, but who always keep on. Briana Corr Scott, herself a mother of three, undoubtedly knows the wonders and the challenges of bringing up a child and managing a household, a job, and more while caring for that child. And even though it is work, often requiring multitasking and asking for help, the rewards are more than sufficient.

If you know a family with a newborn, I recommend sharing While You Were Sleeping with them. Briana Corr Scott's touching words will surely resonate with them.
We went to our jobs
We woke with the dawn
We longed to be home
And we loathed being gone...
          While you were sleeping.
And her paintings, resplendent with colours and patterns, visit the homes of all types of families, from those with single parents to multigenerational ones, and include multiracial and same-sex parents. Everyone is making a family, while their children sleep, and Briana Corr Scott shows them to us. Your children may fall asleep as you read this, but I know a tear or two will venture out onto your cheeks as you do so.

September 25, 2023

My Baba's Garden

Written by Jordan Scott
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Neal Porter Books (Holiday House)
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2023
When writer Jordan Scott and artist Sydney Smith collaborated on their first picture book, I Talk Like a River (2020), a powerful storytelling partnership was created. In a subtle and nuanced story of a child who stuttered, Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith gave us a beautiful and unusual perspective. Much the same way, they take a grandmother (Baba)-grandson relationship with elements that some may see as peculiar and make them heartfelt and moving and fully synergistic.
From My Baba's Garden, written by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith
Based on his own experiences with his Baba, his grandmother who emigrated from Poland after World War II, Jordan Scott speaks of a boy who was driven daily in the early morning to her renovated chicken coop home. There she feeds him, takes him to school, and then picks him up to babysit him. But it's more than babysitting. She is his Baba, a woman who speaks little English, suffered greatly during the war, and who shows him love with her food, her caring, and her teachings.
From My Baba's Garden, written by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith
Her home is filled with food: preserves, dried, stored from the harvest, and cooking. Her wartime experiences compel her to ensure there is plenty for those she loves and to not waste anything. Even a drop of food that slips from his spoon is picked up, kissed, and returned to the bowl. And, when they walk in the West Coast rain, she gathers worms and places them in a jar of soil she keeps in her pocket. After school, she and her grandson deliver those worms to her garden.
From My Baba's Garden, written by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith
Then his Baba must leave her home and move in with the child and his family. Things change, but the child has learned well.

I must admit that I cried with the telling of My Baba's Garden. I met my own Ukrainian Baba only once when she came for a visit, but I know the importance of food from my father who immigrated to Canada after the war. Food was significant to him, and he was determined to ensure that there was always enough and that those he loved, family and friends, never went hungry. His garden was extensive, and he grew tomatoes, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, cucumbers (for pickling), and we visited friends' orchards and farms to ensure a wealth of preserves for the year. With her food, her garden, and her actions, this child's Baba showed love too. And she does so with little spoken language but great communication, teaching her grandson an appreciation for food that is grown, food that is offered, and a garden that provides. (Jordan Scott's note "My Baba" mentions that he and his children still pick up worms.) Their relationship is based on caring and compassion, and, whether at her chicken coop house or at his family's home, that relationship was solid. Jordan Scott's words are so emotive, as a child speaks of his grandmother, recognizing that she gives him everything and with few words.
There's so much to see, so much to smell, too much to eat.
That little boy and Jordan Scott honour their Babas.

Sydney Smith, award-winning illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, Small in the City and Town by the Sea, consistently tells the story from a child's perspective. This boy sees his grandmother and appreciates what she does in a greater context, including one of love for him. He does not ridicule her for her life, her intentions, or her actions, understanding far more than many would. Sydney Smith shows us a child in a bright yellow rain slicker who brings her a picture he has drawn of them. He shows a Baba taking pleasure in that artwork, in that child: she strokes his cheek, she kisses his food, and she holds his hand as they walk. Sydney Smith makes sure that we see them. His watercolour and gouache illustrations take us into that garden and house, to sit with that child as he eats breakfast, to return worms to the soil, and to trudge through the rain to school. The art is filled with love and quiet understanding.

His Baba's garden and her home were places of love and learning. Under her watchful eye, this child learned to see and to feel beyond the obvious, and to appreciate love given through food and actions. Like his Baba's, Jordan Scott's words say much, even if limited, and with great heart, and Sydney Smith brings the colour, the context, and even more feeling to them. It was a pleasure to visit My Baba's Garden and partake in this repast of intergenerational tenderness.

September 22, 2023

Benjamin's Thunderstorm

Written by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by Hawlii Pichette
Kids Can Press
23 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2023
Kids often love the rain, putting on rubber boots, splashing in puddles, and more. But Benjamin has a special connection to many elements of a storm that make thunderstorms all the more special for him.
From Benjamin's Thunderstorm, written by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Hawlii Pichette
For Benjamin, the sound of thunder, which resonated like the beating of his grandfather's drum, was the sound of the thunderbirds, piyêsiwak, beating their wings. Though Benjamin also loved the puddles, kâ-wâyipêyâsiki, and the rainbows, pîsimoyâpiya, with all their colours, he loved the beat of the thunder, the same that he experienced as a powwow dancer. And even when he gets called inside by his mother–there is lightning as well as thunder–he finds a creative way to reconnect with that outside storm.
From Benjamin's Thunderstorm, written by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Hawlii Pichette
Melanie Florence may be known for her profound stories based in experiences of Indigenous Peoples, most notably her award-winning picture books Stolen Words (2017) and Missing Nimâmâ (2015), but she takes a more whimsical approach in Benjamin's Thunderstorm. She still embeds her story in Cree language by peppering the story with Cree words for weather events and colours and offers a "Pronunciation Guide" from Dr. Arok Wolvengrey of First Nations University of Canada. But Melanie Florence's story is more about a child enjoying the sensory experience of a thunderstorm, and most notably for the cultural connections he has because of it. 

Hawlii Pichette, a Mushkego Cree urban mixed-blood artist, balances her illustrations with both the playfulness of the story and a depth of culture. The story is one of a child at play and Hawlii Pichette gives us that high spiritedness as Benjamin splashes and dances and delights in the rain. Moreover, Hawlii Pichette's Woodland style of art speaks to her own background, and that of Melanie Florence and Benjamin, giving us landscapes of heavily outlined trees and structures while her lines speak to movement and life. 

The next time there's a rainstorm Benjamin will undoubtedly be revelling in the textures of that weather event, playing outside when safe and inside when not, and appreciating it all the more for the connection he makes with his culture and his family.
From Benjamin's Thunderstorm, written by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Hawlii Pichette

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.)