Sheila Barry Best Canadian Picturebook of the Year Award Shortlist

The Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2021 Sheila Barry Best Canadian Picturebook of the Year Award:

  • The Barnabus Project
  • Nice Try, Charlie
  • I’ll See You Again
  • When Emily Was Small
  • The Story Boat

The winning book will be announced on September 7, 2021. The creators of that book will be speakers at a live or virtual event later this fall.


I Will See You Again, by  Lisa Boivin. Published by Highwater Press.

In this illustrated grief memoir author-illustrator Lisa Boivin expands the potential of the picture book genre.  Told in the form of a letter, it narrates the story of a young indigenous woman travelling to England to collect the remains of her older brother and bring them home to Canada. The sister deals with all the business that a death entails while honouring her brother’s memory and confronting her own anger and sorrow. The text is rhythmical, lean and plain.  “It felt so strange to hold your body in a small, heavy box.  A box that was once a man.  A box that was once my brother.”  What is left unsaid is eloquent. The pictures, in eye-popping colours against black backgrounds, are a combination of graphically-arresting modernistic shapes, swaths of flowers and human figures portrayed in a style that references Boivin’s Deninu Kue first nation heritage.  Together words and images add up to a portrait that is both heart -breaking and consoling.  This is an offering that challenges our preconceptions of a picture book’s subject and potential audience.

The Barnabus Project, by Terry, Eric and Devin Fan. Published by Tundra Books.

Welcome to the dystopian (if rather cozy) world of genetically-engineered pets.  Such pets as the Turtle Puff and Moop are deemed a success and are marketed through the outlet “Perfect Pets.” But what of the failed experiments? Such is Barnabus, half elephant half mouse, a doughty hero who leads a group of other “failures” to a rebellion, escaping imprisonment in the bell jars of a lab to a life of autonomy, freedom and the joys of the natural world.  For the youngest reader/listener this is an adventure of suspense and the triumph of the little guy.  Older readers will pick up on the subversive social satire, a world where “cuteness” is valued above all.  Young adults will resonate to the critique of genetic engineering. Everyone will enjoy the goofy inventive language (who could resist creatures called Lite-Up Lois and Wally the Ripple?) and the generous large-format detailed illustrations that invite visiting and revisiting, finding the embedded jokes, solving the mysteries, perusing the endpapers, dustjacket and cover for more information.

Nice Try, Charlie! by Matt James. Published by Groundwood.

Readers meet the amiable Charlie and his companions in this well-paced and revelatory stroll through their neighbourhood. In Nice Try, Charlie! the dialogue and interactions feel real – from Charlie trying to throw a ball, but missing, to him finding a car tire and making the perfect birdbath for thirsty avian friends. His proclamation that the birds are “tired” is a clever and subtle pun. The combination of cut-out art and background photographs adds richness to the story. “Does this place and do these people really exist?” However, it is his underlying sense of humanity in his search for belonging that endears readers to Charlie. Matt James follows up his debut (The Funeral) as both writer and illustrator with an equally strong story about someone who tries, even when “he finds it harder than he’d like to admit.” Without overt plot spoiling, the cover reveal is the answer to Aunt Myrtle’s question.

Story Boat, by Kyo Maclear. Pictures  by Rashim Kheiriyeh. Published by Tundra.

Where is home for a refugee child? In Story Boat, home is ‘here’ and ‘now’, shaped by imagination from objects of comfortThis elegant picture book is both a story in lyrical prose about the refugee crisis from a child’s perspective and a visual narrative describing the harsh ‘lived’ experience of the adults. Comfort to a child is found in things that are ‘here’: a cup, a blanket, a flower, a lamp.  These represent home, family, dreams, and hope. Along the journey, objects are reimagined into the uncertain future, becoming a sail boat, a ladder, a lighthouse, and a story. In contrast, the adult perspective, revealed in vivid illustrations, is a story of hardship.  A continuous line of people burdened with their belongings trudges along, resting in tents, boarding a boat, sailing a rough sea. Their faces are sad, fearful and anxious, yet hopeful and joyful in story and song.

Kheiriyeh uses a limited colour palette to create a multi-layered landscape of lines: a line of refugees, of birds, of trees, of waves on the sea, beams from the lighthouse, a constellation of stars. The colours are symbolic, stories in colour. Blue merges land and sea, orange is warmth, light and hope.

In beautifully crafted language and multi layered visual narrative about the refugee crisis, Story Boat is a powerful example of the picture book as an art form.

When Emily Was Small, by Lauren Soloy. Published by Tundra.

When Emily Was Small is a poetic burst of joy, a celebration of creative inspiration found in nature. The book imagines a day in the life of a young Emily Carr, when she wanders beyond the currant bushes. Emily feels small when her mother reprimands her. But when she dances through the garden into the wild place, she becomes Small, a creature wild and curious.  A wolf appears, Wild, perhaps an imagined part of herself. Look closely, it urges, at the ‘thousand shades of green, the sunlight in every shadow, the sun dazzled wings and clouds of flowers’.  Emily flies above it all and is inspired.

When Emily hears her mother’s voice, Wild vanishes and she is lying at her mother’s feet, small again, reprimanded for getting dirty. But Emily is changed, ‘the butterfly wings dancing to the rhythm of her own small heart.’

Soloy’s poetic text sparkles and pops: lippety, lippety, thumpety, bumpety, glitter and glimmer, fizz. It begs to be read aloud. The illustrations, primarily watercolours with bold outlines, capture the look of Emily and are reminiscent of Emily Carr’s art.

When Emily Was Small invites the reader to hurry into the wild places. Then it urges them to pause at paintings overfilling the pages, lush landscapes in many shades of green.

Save the date!

The Sheila Barry Best Canadian Picturebook of the Year Presentation. Stay tuned for more details about the the VCLR annual breakfast event this fall, featuring a talk by the winner of the award.

You can read more about last year’s winning book, Small in the City(Groundwood), by Sydney Smith the first winner of the first award here.

What do you prefer: Meeting virtually or in-person?

We are making plans for our fall breakfast event and would like to hear from you about whether your prefer an in-person event or a virtual event. Regardless of the medium, the event will take place on a Saturday morning in the fall. To help cover costs, there will be a fee to attend both events, however the fee for the in-person event will include the cost of a delicious breakfast.

Please click here to answer this one question survey:.