2011 OLA Best Bets for Children and Young Adult

Each year the OLA Best Bets Committee selects the top Canadian picture books, fiction and non-fiction for children, and fiction for teens. Books are selected on the basis of their literary merit as well as their appeal to the intended audience. Illustrations are also considered in the case of graphic novels. The following list, which highlights books published in 2011, was featured at last week’s Ontario Library Association Superconference.


Along a Long Road
Written and illustrated by Frank Viva | HarperCollins Publishers
Original and striking illustrations capture the exhilaration and speed of a rider along on a narrow, golden road. The rider (and reader) wind through different landscapes. Rhythmic text complements the speed of the ride as it loops once around – and then begins again. First created as a 35’ long artwork.

Cinnamon Baby
Written by Nicola Winstanley | Illustrated by Janice Nadeau | Kids Can Press
A love story about two people who meet, fall in love and have a baby who just can’t stop crying! At least until Miriam thinks of cinnamon and finds the perfect way to keep their baby happy.

Dog Breath
Written by Carolyn Beck | Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan | Fitzhenry & Whiteside
The bed, some toys and lots of funny memories are left after a child’s dog is gone. A heart-warming look at the joys of having a mischievous pet.

Kitten’s Summer
Written and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes | Kids Can Press
Younger children will love Kitten and all the other animals that are met along the way. The crisp appealing illustrations and rhyming text will make this a fun read-a-loud and also a great springboard for discussion. A definite winner!

Picture a Tree
Written and illustrated by Barbara Reid | Scholastic Canada
This book celebrates the beauty and splendour of one of nature’s most enduring symbols, the tree. They decorate our landscape with their leaves and blossoms and provide food and shelter for all Earth’s creatures. Barbara Reid’s use of Plasticine is breathtaking. A beautiful picture book.

Written by Jady Ann Sadler | Illustrated by Susan Mitchell | Kids Can Press
Surrounded by a loving family, a baby grows to toddlerhood, eager to explore and learn. Baby reaches for everything while parents, siblings, aunt, uncle and grandparents cuddle and play. With gentle rhythm and child-friendly watercolours, the book reminds us to treasure each moment.

Seal Song
Written by Andrea Spalding | Illustrated by Pascal Milelli | Orca Book Publishers
Finn rescues a seal tangled in fishing nets and then a couple of days later a girl named Sheila appears in Finn’s community. Later the seal returns Finn’s favour during a storm at sea. The luminous, atmospheric illustrations are in complete harmony with the text of this book inspired by Celtic folklore.

Small Saul
Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires | Kids Can Press
Unlikely pirate Small Saul has joined the crew of The Rusty Squid, but it seems that he is not quite fitting in. Pirates only care about their ship, being tough, and treasure. Can Saul show the other pirates that there is more to life though singing, ship decor and pineapple upside down cake? You won’t want to miss this adventure on the high seas!

The Vole Brothers
Written and illustrated by Roslyn Schwartz | Owlkids Books
This wonderfully entertaining picture book features the Vole brothers, whose comedic antics to get food fill the pages. The brothers follow and outwit a cat but celebrate too soon! The characters, communicating with readers through speech bubbles, are sure to be a hit!

Wellington’s Rainy Day
Written by Carolyn Beck | Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan | Orca Book Publishers
The only witness to Wellington devouring a meatloaf and the contents of the garbage pail is his nemesis, Honey the cat. Can he stay out of trouble? While kids will enjoy the rhyming text and soft watercolour illustrations, it is the grossly satisfying ending they will savour the most.

Honourable Mentions

Can Hens Give Milk?
Written by Joan Betty Stuchner | Illustrated by Joe Wiessmann | Orca Book Publishers

Dear Baobab
Written by Cheryl Foggo | Illustrated by Qin Leng | Second Story Press

Grandpa’s Girls
Written by Nicola I. Campbell | Illustrated by Kim LaFave | Groundwood Books

Hocus Pocus
Written by Sylvie Desrochiers | Illustrated by Rémy Simard | Kids Can Press

The Little Yellow Bottle
Written by Angèle Delaunois | Translated by Barbara Creary | Illustrated by Christine Delezenne | Second Story Press

Noni Says No
Written by Heather Hartt-Sussman | Illustrated by Geneviève Côté | Tundra Books

Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party
Written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt | Kids Can Press

What Are You Doing?
Written by Elisa Amado | Illustrated by Manuel Monroy | Groundwood Books


Banjo of Destiny
Written by Cary Fagan | Groundwood Books
Jeremiah longs to play the banjo. His newly wealthy, well-meaning- if-misguided parents shower him with expensive things but forbid the banjo. So Jeremiah makes his own and teaches himself to play. It’s all about being true to oneself. A humorous book about perseverance and determination.

Better Than Weird
Written by Anna Kerz | Orca Book Publishers
Aaron decides he must stop being weird. But his classmates think he’s weird, and the school bully constantly insults him and beats him up. Aaron also wants to make sure that when his Dad returns after years away, he will not find anything that will make him leave again! But a surprise changes things from weird to “better than weird”.

Encore Edie
Written by Annabel Lyon | Puffin Canada
Edie is in high school now and determined to both be herself and fit in. Some of her choices lead to misunderstanding and hurt in this subtle, charming look at a girl who doesn’t give herself, or others, enough credit.

The Listening Tree
Written by Celia Lottridge | Fitzhenry & Whiteside
During the Depression, 10 year old Ellen sits high above the street getting to know her new neighbourhood by watching what goes on below. She finally engages with others when she overhears a plan to evict the family next door.

Written by Becky Citra | Orca Book Publishers
When Thea’s dad reluctantly accepts a job at an old horse ranch, Thea discovers an abused horse and is determined to gain its trust and ride again. Thea and her neighbour, Van, delve into the mysterious disappearance of a guest at the ranch decades earlier. By unearthing the past mystery of the ranch, Thea and her father must face their own past tragedy.

No Ordinary Day
Written by Deborah Ellis | Groundwood Books
Valli is a spirited and clever orphan, struggling to live on the streets of modern-day Kolkata, India. One not-so-ordinary day, fate causes her to meet a doctor who will change her life forever, if Valli can find the courage to let her. One feels an instant connection with Valli and also feels heartbreak as it is revealed that Valli is suffering from leprosy.

Racing Home
Written by Adele Dueck | Coteau Books
Erik did not want to leave his grandfather’s farm in Norway. But he must adjust as his new stepfather moves the family to the Canadian west. This is a richly detailed and engrossing portrait of pioneer prairie life seen through a young boy’s eyes.

That Fatal Night: The Titanic Diary of Dorothy Wilton (Dear Canada)
Written by Sarah Ellis | Scholastic Canada
The Titanic disaster has ripped Dorothy’s idyllic world apart. As she tries to face what happened that day by writing in her diary, she realizes that she will never look at the world the same way again. A must read!

The Tiffin
Written by Mahtab Narsimhan | Dancing Cat Books
Bombay and its dabbawallas come to life in the story of Kunal. Kunal is intrigued by the dabbawallas who devotedly deliver tiffins all over Bombay. He dreams of his birth mother and of escaping his cruel life. Although he escapes, finds friendship and a new life as a dabbawalla, not all of his dreams will come true. But he does find a happier life nonetheless.

The Whole Truth
Written by Kit Pearson | HarperCollins Canada
Since their father’s death, which is clouded in secrecy, Polly and her sister have been living with their grandmother. When an unexpected visitor shatters their new world, the girls discover that it is only when the truth is revealed that their lives can ever heal. Heartfelt and poignant.

Honourable Mentions

The Black Box: A Cassandra Virus Novel
Written by K.V. Johansen | Sybertooth Inc.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes
Written by Jonathan Auxier | Puffin Canada

Stones for My Father
Written by Trilby Kent | Tundra Books

That Boy Red
Written by Rachna Gilmore | HarperCollins Canada

Timber Wolf
Written by Caroline Pignat | Red Deer Press


50 Underwear Questions: A Bare-All History
Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi | Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird | Annick Press
Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s humourous fact-filled homage to our “unmentionables” throughout history, combined with Ross Kinnaid’s quirky illustrations and lay-out, make this a must read. You might even find out if codpieces are making a fashion comeback this year. Hilarious.

Beyond Bullets: A Photo Journal of Afghanistan
Written by Rafal Gerszak with Dawn Hunter | Photos by Rafal Gerszak | Annick Press
Poignant and moving, this is a record of time spent with both troops and civilians in Afghanistan. With journal-type entries, Polish-born Gerszak offers rare insight into all-to-real conflict situations as well as quieter (though war-torn) areas. Thoughtfully- observed and beautifully photographed with compassion for both soldier and civilian.

Canadian Money
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod | Scholastic Canada
Elizabeth MacLeod’s colourfully fast-paced and fascinating story about the history of money, especially Canadian money, will have readers searching for “spy coins” or 1911 Silver Dollars worth $1 million. If you want to find out who Canadians really are, check out our unique money.

In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up (Great Idea)
Written by Monica Kulling | Illustrated by David Parkins | Tundra Books
Book 3 in the Great Idea Series is about another lesser known inventor. Mattie Knight spent her life inventing things in an age when women just did not do such things. The story is easy to read, exciting and perfectly illustrated.

The Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War
Written by Marsha Skrypuch | Pajama Press
Tuyet has had polio and is not young so she thinks she is unlikely to be adopted. Using photos and Tuyet’s own memories, Skrypuch recreates what it felt like for an 8 year old to be taken from everything she has ever known. She does not understand what is happening and does not believe she is safe until months after she is adopted by a family in Toronto.

No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs
Written by Rob Laidlaw | Pajama Press
Dogs are often said to be man’s best friend, but this book reveals many of the ways in which dogs are mistreated by humans. An informative book that will raise awareness of puppy mills, animal abuse and neglect. This book provides information regarding maltreatment, hints and tips for owners, and highlights individuals and organizations making a difference in world for dogs.

A Stranger at Home: A True Story
Written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton | Illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes | Annick Press
Ten-year-old Margaret returns home after two years in a residential school, only to find that she herself is considered an outsider by her Inuit community. Even her mother doesn’t recognize her at first. But with time, determination, and the love of her father, Margaret is able to regain a sense of belonging amongst her people. It’s a dark chapter from Canada’s history, told with honesty, courage, and pride.

To Hope and Back: The Journey of the St. Louis.
Written by Kathy Kacer | Second Story Press3
This book is a fictionalized true account of two Jewish children fleeing 1939 Germany with their families, hoping for safe refuge in Cuba. The shameful chapter in history where this ship of Jewish refugees is turned away from a safe refuge is brought to life through children’s eyes.

Totally Human: Why We Look and Act the Way We Do
Written by Cynthia Pratt Nicholson | Illustrated by Dianne Eastman | Kids Can Press
This book aims to explain some of the weird and wonderful things we do as humans. Find out why we get hiccups, throw up, and crave junk food and why our eyes face forward. Interspersed with each question and answer are wacky pictures, interesting experiments, and fun facts relating animal behaviour to our own.

You Just Can’t Help It! Your Guide to the Wild and Wacky World of Human Behavior
Written by Jeff Szpirglas | Illustrated by Josh Holinaty | Owlkids Books
This colourful, interesting read breaks down why we’re weird into four chapters of fun: “Senses Showdown”, “In a State” (about emotions), “Say What?!” (communication), and “You + World” (about interaction). Packed with text boxes, drawings, pictures and photographs, this book will engage and entertain readers while highlighting various experiments revealing traits of human behaviour. For example: which baby’s diaper do moms think is stinkiest? Or do we cry more tears watching a sad movie or chopping onions?

Honourable Mentions

Body Works Series
Written by Liza Fromer and Francine Gerstein MD | Illustrated by Joe Weissmann | Tundra Books

Snowy Science: 25 Cool Experiments
Written by Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone | Illustrated by Patricia Storms | Scholastic Canada

Space Tourism
Written by Peter McMahon | Illustrated by Andy Mora | Kids Can Press

Record Breakers Series
Written by Blaine Wiseman | Weigl Educational Publishers


All You Get is Me
Written by Yvonne Prinz | HarperCollins Canada
A city girl with a vintage Nikon FM SLR camera and Dad’s old Mercedes sedan, is living ‘green’ values on her activist family’s organic farm in California. After witnessing an accidental driving death, she is caught in turmoil of the urban rural divide as she evaluates her personal relationships amid the local issue of migrant workers rights. Will she lead the life her father has chosen for her or follow her dreams to New York?

B Negative (Orca Soundings)
Written by Vicki Grant | Orca Book Publishers
Have you ever known someone who rubs you the wrong way? That is how Paddy feels about his stepfather Anthony. After a heated argument Paddy decides to join the army and follow in the footsteps of his father, even though he is uncertain about the decision. However, a routine blood test at the physical reveals that Paddy may not know everything about himself.

Charlie’s Key
Written by Rob Mills | Orca Book Publishers
Charlie will never give up the key his dying father gave him and runs away from the authorities and his uncle, an ex-con. While they are pursuing him, Charlie discovers the shocking truth about his family and the mysterious key. A gripping read.

The Fifth Rule
Written by Don Aker | HarperCollins Canada
Following up with the characters from The First Stone, Reef is back in Halifax for the funeral of his mentor Frank Colville, and he keeps thinking about Leeza. Leeza is still living at home, has started university and continuing with her recovery. Even though Reef knows he cannot see Leeza because of a restraining order, events draw them together. Both Reef and Leeza are challenged to make choices about themselves, and their relationship.

Written by Liane Shaw | Second Story Press
Solitary Sadie identifies as “Fostergirl a.k.a. Grouphomegirl”. She learns that it is impossible to stay invisible. Chatty Rhainnon, who befriends her and the do-gooder school counsellor who engages her potential, gradually force her to explore her options. A startling revelation about her past threatens to derail her. Will her new found confidence and academic curiosity be enough?

Written by Edeet Ravel | Annick Press
Accomplished writer Ravel’s depiction of a girl in a hostage situation is both thought-provoking and moving. 17-year old Chloe’s state of mind, changing emotions, bouts of terror and deepening feelings for her humane captor are captured with fine nuance and understanding. Media coverage of the kidnapping and negotiations are interspersed, providing a different perspective. The book ends with another, aching, violation of her rights. Not to be missed.

She Said/She Saw
Written by Norah McClintock | Orca Book Publishers
She is the only survivor of a double murder, but Tegan says she did not see anything. However, no one believes that she is telling the truth–not students at school, the police, or her family. Kelly, her sister, is also trying to unravel the events leading up to the murders and what happened that night. Pressured by family and friends to confess what she saw, Tegan makes a decision regarding what she will say about that evening that will change everything.

The Switch
Written by Trish Cohen | HarperCollins Canada
Ever wish you could trade places with someone else? That’s exactly what happens in this novel, when both Andrea, an honours student and all around “good girl”, and Joules, the wild and rebellious daughter of a rock star, wish they had different lives! Find out what happens when each girl wakes up in the other’s life and learns what it’s really like to walk in someone else’s shoes – literally.

Written by Lena Coakley | Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Two young men live vastly different lives in countries that have always been enemies. One believes in magic but thinks he has none. The other scorns what he believes are witches with no power. This is an adventure story set in an immediately believable fantasy world.

Honourable Mentions

All Good Children
Written by Catherine Austen | Orca Book Publishers

Blood Red Road
Written by Moira Young | Doubleday Canada

Blink and Caution
Written by Tim Wynne-Jones | Candlewick Press

Drummer Girl
Written by Karen Bass | Coteau Books

Empire of Ruins
Written by Arthur Slade | HarperCollins Publishers

First Descent
Written by Pam Withers | Tundra Books

Haunting Violet
Written by Alyxandra Harvey | Walker & Company

Written by Cathy Ostlere | Puffin Canada

Money Boy
Written by Paul Yee | Groundwood Books

True Blue
Written by Deborah Ellis | Pajama Press

Written by David Skuy | Scholastic Canada

What Happened to Serenity?
Written by PJ Sarah Collins | Red Deer Press

Yellow Mini
Written by Lori Weber | Fitzhenry & Whiteside

The Yo-Yo Prophet
Written by Karen Krossing | Orca Book Publishers

NOTABLE NON-FICTION – The young adult committee does not review non-fiction but came across the following book and felt it deserved a mention.

Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives
Written by Marthe Jocelyn | Tundra Books