CCBC April 2016 Newsletter


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Notable Links
April Book List: STEM Books
Author Corner: Tiffany Stone
Amy’s Travels in YA
Illustrator’s Studio: Irene Luxbacher
Booksellers’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

illustration-transThis April 23, the CCBC is offering a seminar just for illustrators! What does it take to become a children’s book illustrator? What are children’s book publishers looking for? What’s the difference between illustrating fiction versus non-fiction? What are the opportunities for book covers, graphic novels and other genres? How do publishers (i.e., art directors, editors, sales and marketing people) choose illustrators for particular projects?

Let our panel of experts show you what you need to break into the children’s book illustration market!

Our panel of industry professionals will include:

  • Michael Solomon (Art Director, Groundwood Books)
  • Barbara Reid (author-illustrator)
  • Patricia Storms (author-illustrator)
  • Yvette Ghione (Editorial Director, Kids Can Press)

WHEN: Saturday, April 23, 2016, 1:45 pm to 4:30 pm
WHERE: Northern District Library, Room 200
40 Orchard View Blvd., Toronto ON M4R 1B9
PRICE: $100.00. Registration is limited. Each participant will receive a copy of the CCBC’s bestseller, Get Published! The Writing for Children Kit.

Click here to register online!

Blue-Ribbon-Logo-US• Sylvan Learning Helps to Celebrate TD Canadian Children’s Book Week

Sylvan Learning Centres across Canada are excited to participate in the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading. To celebrate this event they are sponsoring a reading contest.  You can have your students enter this contest by choosing a book written by a favourite Canadian author. Please submit entries to the nearest Sylvan Learning Centre to have a chance of winning a prize.

Primary (K-3): Students must submit an illustration of the most interesting event in the story or write three sentences why they liked the book.

Intermediate (4-7): Students must write at least five sentences explaining why they liked the book.

High school (8-12): Students must write a paragraph explaining why they would recommend this book to a friend.

Make sure to visit for the Sylvan Learning Centre nearest you.

Contest rules: All entries must be submitted by May 14, 2016. Contest winner is decided by  participating Sylvan Learning Centres and all decisions are final. Winners will be contacted by phone or email by May 31, 2016.

News from our Friends

• World Literacy Canada’s Write for a Better World contest is open to submissions from students in Grades 5-8. The 2016 Write for a Better World contest encourages students to write an original story in 400 words max, following a unique story lead. This year’s guest judge is TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award winner Jonathan Auxier. The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2016. Click here for more information.

National Canadian Film Day is coming up on April 20, 2016. Join this annual day-long celebration of Canadian film, through screenings, events, panel discussions, and conversations across the country. Visit for more information.

Notable News & Links

Articles and videos of interest to educators

Why Minecraft is the newest and coolest teaching tool in school

To attract more girls to STEM, bring storytelling to science

Three easy science experiments to try at home (or school!)

For the hesitant teacher: Leveraging the power of Minecraft

Engaging girls in STEM

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April Book List: STEM Books

This month, our library coordinator Meghan Howe recommends Canadian books with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) themes.

Picture Books

Charlie's Dirt Day

Charlie’s Dirt Day
(A Tell-Me-More! Storybook)
Written by Andrew Larsen
Illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55455-334-1
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3
Charlie and his dad follow their neighbours through the local park to a big pile of dirt! But this isn’t just dirt — this is compost. Mr. Martino tells Charlie about all the neighbourhood gardens and the delicious vegetables they grow. Charlie is determined to become a gardener as well — and grow something special to make Mr. Martino’s spaghetti sauce the best ever!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni’s Ice Machine
(Great Idea)
Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Renné Benoit
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77049-795-5
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 3-4
When Frank Zamboni, along with his brother and cousin, opened their own skating rink in 1940 in Paramount, California, it could take an hour and a half for a crew to resurface the ice. Skaters became exasperated with the wait, so Frank was determined to do something about it. Could he turn a ninety-minute job for five men into a ten-minute task for only one? For nine years, he worked on his invention, each model an improvement on the one before. Finally, in 1949, Frank tested the Model A, which “cleaned the ice in one sweep around the rink.”
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Counting on Fall

Counting on Fall
(Math in Nature, Book 1)
Written by Lizann Flatt
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Owlkids Books, 2012
ISBN 978-1-926973-36-4
IL: Ages 5-7 RL: Grades 2-3
Using poetic prose and cut-paper collages, this book introduces basic math and number sense through the patterns of the seasons. Other books in the series explore patterning, sorting, data management and probability; time and measurement; and geometry, symmetry and spatial sense.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


The Most Magnificent Thing
Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-55453-704-4
IL: Ages 3-8 RL: Grades 2-3
This is a charming book about a girl who wants to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look and how it will work. But making her magnificent thing is hard, and everything she builds comes out wrong. Eventually, she gets so mad she quits. After a walk with her dog, she comes back with renewed enthusiasm and manages to get it just right. This funny, sweet story offers a perfect example of the rewards of perseverance and creativity.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Queen's Shadow

The Queen’s Shadow: A Story of How Animals See
Written and illustrated by Cybèle Young
Kids Can Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-894786-60-7
IL: Ages 5-11 RL: Grades 3-4
During the royal revelry of the Queen’s Ball, an audacious crime has been committed — the Queen’s shadow has been stolen! Mantis Shrimp, the Royal Detective, questions the guests, including Sir Chameleon, Captain Shark, Lancehead Snake, Dragonfly, Colossal Squid and Dr. Pigeon. Each explains its own version of events based on its unique eyesight, while the detailed artwork illustrates the ballroom as viewed by that animal.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

You Are Stardust

You Are Stardust
Written by Elin Kelsey
Illustrated by Soyeon Kim
Owlkids Books, 2012
ISBN 978-1-926973-35-7
IL: Ages 6-12 RL: Grades 3-4
This innovative picture book introduces the idea that every tiny atom in our bodies came from a star that exploded long ago. The book compares the way humans learn to speak to the way baby birds learn to sing and the growth of human bodies to the growth of forests. It aims to reintroduce children to their innate relationship with the natural world around them.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate Fiction and Non-Fiction

Before the World Was Ready

Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius in Science
Written by Claire Eamer
Illustrated by Sa Boothroyd
Annick Press, 2013
ISBN 978-1-55451-535-6
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5
Read about eight great scientists whose ideas changed the world and discover that their ideas were not always so readily accepted. From Copernicus’s sun-centred model of the universe in the 16th century to Rachel Carson’s warnings about the dangers of pesticides in the 20th century, people have come up with ideas the world wasn’t ready to hear. Over time, however, modern scientists have verified that their ideas were, in fact, theoretically sound.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Brilliant! Shining a Light on Sustainable Energy
(Orca Footprints)
Written by Michelle Mulder
Orca Book Publishers, 2013
ISBN 978-1-4598-0221-6
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 5-6
Readers learn about sustainable forms of energy and see how, through imagination and innovation, people have created some unusual and peculiar power sources. Author Michelle Mulder begins the book with the story of energy, which talks about the sun, fire, wind, water, steam, electricity and more, and then delves into some fascinating ways that people around the world create power without using fossil fuels, thus creating less pollution. Other topics in the series include cycling, food production, waste reduction and clean water.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


The Case of the Missing Moonstone
(The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book1)
Written by Jordan Stratford
Illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
ISBN 978-0-385-75440-8
IL: Ages 8-11 RL: Grades 4-5
Lady Ada Byron, 11, is an awkward, mildly rude genius. Mary Godwin, 14, is an adventurous, kind romantic. Together they form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency — a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals, using math, science and analytical thinking. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Dirty Science

Dirty Science: 25 Experiments with Soil
Written by Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone
Illustrated by Lorenzo Del Bianco
Scholastic Canada, 2013
ISBN 978-1-4431-1354-0
IL: Ages 9-11 RL: Grades 4-5
These fun and easy experiments will have young, budding scientists discovering all the interesting things they can do with dirt, all the while learning about the ground beneath their feet! Find out what tiny, unseen critters roam our lawns and gardens; learn how to change a pink flower to a blue one or how to grow plants without soil. Other titles in the series include Hockey Science, Scary Science and Snowy Science.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

DNA Detective

DNA Detective
Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Illustrated by Lil Crump
Annick Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55451-773-2
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6
Unravel the mystery of our genetic blueprint! This captivating book explains the basics of genetics in simple, clear language, and reveals the fascinating and frequently entertaining stories of the researchers who discovered pieces of the DNA puzzle. From genetically engineered pets to a dating app that helps Icelanders avoid marrying their cousins, the world of DNA will surprise and delight readers!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


If: A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers
Written by David J. Smith
Illustrated by Steve Adams
Kids Can Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-894786-34-8
IL: Ages 8-14 RL: Grades 4-6
This intriguing guide to better understanding all those really big ideas and numbers children come across on a regular basis uses clever devices to scale down everything from timelines (the history of Earth compressed into one year), to quantities (all the wealth in the world divided into one hundred coins), to size differences (the planets shown as different types of balls).
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Mathemagic! Number Tricks
Written by Linda Colgan
Illustrated by Jane Kurisu
Kids Can Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-55453-425-8
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6
An introduction to the magic of math, this book will encourage even the most math-reluctant kid to take part in the fun. By learning the skills in this book kids will be computing answers at breakneck speed, guessing secret numbers tucked away in their friends’ minds and using the mysterious mathematical secrets of the ancient Egyptians.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

jerk mechanical cover.indd

On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk: A Highly Scientific Study of Annoying Behavior
Written by Alison Hughes
Orca Book Publishers, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4598-0484-5
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5
When Grade 8 science-project time rolls around, J.J. Murphy skips the beakers and the papier mâché and dives into research about jerks. Sure, the baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano would have been easier, but, by J.J.’s estimation, his science project, On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk, is groundbreaking, exhaustive, highly scientific and seriously worthy of bonus marks!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Young Adult Fiction and Non-Fiction

Pandemic Survival

Pandemic Survival: It’s Why You’re Alive
Written by Ann Love and Jane Drake
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Tundra Books, 2013
ISBN 978-1-77049-268-4
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 6-7
Delving into the history of many diseases, the authors offer an in-depth look at the causes, symptoms and often bizarre cures that were administered to the sick and dying. They also discuss the evolution of medicine and introduce readers to the pioneers who discovered vaccines, stressed the importance of cleanliness and invented antibiotics.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Source of Light

The Source of Light
Written by David Richards
Thistledown Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-897235-93-5
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 8-9
Badger and Mike, two 17-year-olds, seek answers to serious questions about Mike’s mom’s infidelity and his dad’s involvement in industrial espionage. Against a backdrop of the synchrotron, the world’s most powerful microscope, the boys and their friend Angie begin an operation that will change the lives of everyone they know.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

This Dark Endeavour

This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
Written by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Publishers, 2011
ISBN 978-1-55468-339-0
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8
Forbidden from entering the Dark Library, Victor disregards his father’s wish to find the recipe for the Elixir of Life. Needing only three ingredients, he must overcome impossible odds, dangerous alchemy and a bitter love triangle. Knowing his brother’s life is at stake, Victor must decide how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science and love and how much he is willing to sacrifice.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Written by Kate Blair
Dancing Cat Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77086-454-2
IL: Ages 12-16 RL: Grades 7-8
In an alternate-reality London, medical science has the ability to transfer diseases from human to human. Lawmakers use the technology to cure the innocent by infecting criminals. Sixteen-year-old Talia Hale, daughter of a prime-ministerial candidate, discovers that this justice has turned a once-thriving community into a slum, and made life perilous for two new friends. Will she defy her father to protect them?
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

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Author’s Corner: Tiffany Stone

tiffany-stoneTiffany Stone is an author and poet who currently lives in Maple Ridge, BC. She will be touring Quebec this May for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week. Below, she shares some great suggestions on how to engage children in poetry, just in time for National Poetry Month!

How did you get started as a writer and as a poet?

I have always loved playing with words. When I was young, my mum and I would look up definitions in the dictionary — for fun! My Grade 6 teacher and Dennis Lee’s poem “Alligator Pie” turned me on to writing poetry. (I can still recite the verse I wrote about Alligator Cake.) There was another teacher who was the first ‘real live’ author I met, which got me thinking that maybe I could be an author, too.

Though I tried my hand at other genres, making the shortlist in a national novel writing contest for teens and seeing a comedy I wrote performed at a playwriting festival in Australia, I decided poetry was really my thing.

However, before becoming a ‘real live’ author, I was an administrator at a music school, a receptionist at a veterinary clinic and did early morning prep work at a bakery. I even almost finished hairdressing school, which explains — sort of — why I now dye my hair to match the cover of my latest book.

Ironically, it was a rejection from a children’s publisher that brought me back to poetry. The nature poems I wrote on my honeymoon were “too adult,” but this led to an internship with a local children’s publisher, followed by an editing position and eventually to the publication of my first book, Floyd the Flamingo and His Flock of Friends, a collection of humorous rhymed verse (Tradewind Books, 2005). Since then I’ve written two more poetry collections, Baaaad Animals (Tradewind Books, 2007) and Rainbow Shoes (Tradewind Books, 2012), co-authored another, and had poems published in children’s magazines and anthologies. And, I’ve just released my first picture book (in rhyme, of course) called Teatime (Simply Read Books, 2015).

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

My process varies slightly, depending on whether I am writing a poem for a magazine, a poem that is part of a themed collection of poetry written by me or a single poem that comprises an entire book. If I am writing a poem for a magazine, I’m usually given a topic or theme to write about so my job is to come up with a unique approach. If I’m writing a themed collection, each poem must relate somehow to the theme I have chosen. (In order to choose a theme, I have to make sure it’s broad enough to support multiple poems.) Writing a poem that’s a picture book-length story is trickiest for me because there are certain storytelling conventions I need to follow (i.e., character development, conflict, resolution, etc.) that don’t necessarily come naturally to me as a poet used to less structure.

If what I’m writing about requires any research (and, surprisingly, most of my writing does — for the title poem from Floyd the Flamingo…, for example, I had to research the parts of a flamingo’s leg), I will do that first so that I’m brainstorming from an informed place. I will also jot down potential rhymes related to the idea, often consulting an online rhyming dictionary. And then if I’m writing a book-length poem, I will do the basic plotting on paper.

Otherwise, though, a lot of the writing is done in my head and not written down until I’ve got it just right. The initial lines of my poems are the most crucial because they commit me to a particular rhyme scheme and rhythm so I will go over and over and over (and over and over and over) these in my head until I’m sure they are exactly how I want to begin. I will often also say them out loud, to make sure they sound good. Usually my kids are tired of a poem before I’ve even finished it; they’ve heard it being built line by line so many times already! I do tend to build my poems chronologically, not continuing until I’ve got the previous line the way I want it — although, of course, I will go back and edit an earlier line when the content of a later line affects it.

I always carry a notebook with me in my purse and there is always a notepad and pen by my bed for jotting down ideas, phrases and lines whenever inspiration strikes. It is not until I’ve got a finished first draft that I type everything into the computer. And then I do the final editing, often with the help of feedback from friends who are writers.

I also love to surround myself with items related to whatever I’m writing about. For instance, when I was working on Rainbow Shoes, I added a lot of colourful items to my wardrobe, from rainbow-striped socks to a t-shirt with an image of a rainbow reading a book on it. This helps make the writing process more concrete for me.

While I have a really fun and funky office (painted orange and filled with books and some of those inspirational items), I often get my best writing done while I’m walking one of our dogs on a forested trail or driving one of my three kids to a lesson… or when I’m supposed to be going to sleep!

What were your favourite books growing up?

I was a voracious reader and I don’t think there was a book I read that wasn’t my favourite at the time I was reading it. And once I was finished, I could keep the story going by making little toys of the main characters, like Ratty or Mole from The Wind in the Willows, or copying out Arrietty’s diary from The Borrowers so I could keep it forever or making myself a lottery ticket so I might win my own horse like Velvet Brown did in National Velvet.

Although I didn’t read much poetry, as I got older (Grade 6 and 7 and on), I started reading books by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, as well as other classics. Looking back, as much as I enjoyed the stories, I think I was equally in love with the challenge of the words. I have always been a word nerd!

teatimeYou are touring Quebec for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week in May! What do you have planned for the schools you are visiting? What are you looking forward to the most?

I was born in St-Jean, Quebec, but left for BC when I was two so I’m thrilled to be returning to my birthplace.

Using puppets and props in an interactive performance of a selection of my poems, I hope to get kids (and adults) excited about poetry, to show that it can be fun and accessible and something they themselves can read — and write. I don’t want to give away too many details but be ready for a Poetrypalooza!

Though I will miss my family and our menagerie of pets (two dogs, four cats, three hermit crabs and a snake), I’m very much looking forward to ‘just’ being a poet for a whole week! I am also really excited to be touring with my brand-new book, Teatime — although I still have to figure out how to make a portable version of the giant teacup I use in my reading, one that will fit in my luggage…

Do you have any tips for educators or parents looking to introduce poetry to their kids and teens? What are some good ways to get young people to engage with this form of writing?

To answer this question, I went way back in time and asked my elementary school-aged self what would have been my dream introduction to poetry. This is what I said (translated into ‘grown-up’ language):

  • ‘Normalize’ poetry: don’t put it off by itself on some lonely shelf. Include it the way you’d include a picture book or novel.
  • Read poetry at storytime.
  • Leave poetry books out for kids to discover on their own terms.
  • Use poems to teach curriculum subjects. For example, there are many great books of math poems.
  • Give kids the tools to interpret poems but leave the interpretation up to them, encouraging the search for personal meaning rather than a ‘right’ answer. (I love Michael Ondaatje’s quotation: “ …it only damages a poem to have a poet try to explain it.”)
  • Foster a love of words and their beauty. Introduce even young kids to the thesaurus and rhyming dictionary. There are age-appropriate versions available.
  • Put favourite words and words that are new discoveries up on a Word Wall.
  • Have a Word of the Week.
  • Don’t shy away from big words, even with little kids. They can be such fun to say!
  • Challenge kids to write tongue twisters.
  • Have kids write their own verse to an existing poem, like I did with “Alligator Pie.” This helps give them a feel for rhythm and rhyme. Extend this by having them write their own version of an entire poem. The poem doesn’t have to rhyme. In fact, for beginners, it’s better to if it doesn’t. (Rhyming is hard and can get in the way of self-expression.) William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just To Say” are great to use for this activity.
  • Most importantly, don’t be afraid of poetry yourself! If you are comfortable with it, your students or children are more likely to be, too. Humorous poems are often a good introduction for those who feel a little intimidated.

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how to incorporate your books into the curriculum? Do you have any activity suggestions?

All the suggestions I list in the answer to the previous question can be done using my poetry books, from including them as regular reading material, to selecting a related poem to introduce a curriculum topic (e.g., there are seasonal poems in Floyd the Flamingo…), to using them as starters for students to create their own poems. One classroom teacher had students use “Rainbow Shoes” (the poem) as the basis for inventing their own special kinds of shoes (e.g., rocket shoes) and then had the students write poems about them.

What projects are you working on now? Can you tell us about any upcoming books?

I have lots of manuscripts I’m looking to place with publishers, including a collection about evil vegetables (don’t worry; to defeat them you have to eat them — I’m a vegetarian, after all!) and a book-length poem about mustaches.

In May, my poem “This Poem Is Not About a Horse,” will appear in Chirp magazine and the wonderful Dianna Bonder is busy at work illustrating my poetry picture book Polly’s Pirate Poems, out later this year from Simply Read Books. Individual poems tell the story of a parrot named Polly who dreams of escaping from the pet store and becoming captain of her own pirate ship.

I can only hope that demand for poetry increases so that kids who are inspired by poetry today still have the opportunity to be poets when they grow up!

For more information about Tiffany’s work, visit

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Amy’s Travels in YA


by Amy Mathers

Way back when I was in Grade 5, I picked up a R.L. Stine Fear Street book. My first experience with young adult horror, I was struck dumb by the literary image of a villain capturing a girl and using a knife to cut her eye, the blood dripping from the wound like a teardrop.

To this day I can’t get those words out of my head. I remember being simultaneously disgusted, horrified and… captivated. While I was surprised at myself for wanting to keep reading, I couldn’t deny that urge to see what happened next and watch the madness unfold. With an outsider’s perspective on violence, I had no qualms at the time about exploring this foreign experience through literature.

It’s called “Gawk Factor.” There are some books you read because they’re like a car crash on the side of the road. As you pass by you can’t help but slow down to catch a glimpse of flashing lights and crushed cars, enthralled, and perhaps relieved it’s not you. Books for a YA audience tend to rely heavily on gawk factor for the following topics: physical violence, sexual violence, mental illness, terminal illness and physical disability. With the inherent drama already contained in each of those topics, it doesn’t take much to cross over from depicting a certain topic in a respectful manner to sensationalism, the purposeful representation of a topic in a way designed to tantalize and fascinate.

And since one of the many purposes of books is to entertain it’s difficult to argue against sensationalism. Think of such books as Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (Simon & Schuster, 1979), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press, 2008), and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton Books, 2012). All contain at least one of the five topics I have mentioned, are bestsellers, and have some aspect of being sensational in nature.

But another purpose of books, one especially important for children and teens, is to inform — even in fiction. The best books are entertaining, meaningful and illuminating. Even books that are suspenseful in nature or are considered to fit in the horror genre are capable of achieving this. A good example is Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts (Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2011), because emotional honesty is something that has the ability to transcend all genres.

For genres not fantastical in nature though (e.g., contemporary, thrillers, sick lit, etc.), there is the added factor of credible representation at play. When authors manage both, the result is a powerful story that puts the reader right into a new perspective that may have been previously unknown to them. Instead of gawking, the reader is a participant, gaining knowledge and empathy for the various experiences of the people around them. Calvin by Martine Leavitt (Groundwood Books, 2015), All the Rage by Courtney Summers (St. Martin’s Press, 2015), and Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2015) are all excellent examples of challenging, immersive reading. (And, perhaps unfortunately, the last one is not Canadian.)

While the aforementioned R.L. Stine book was the only one I ever picked up and one I didn’t finish, I do still enjoy the occasional guilty pleasure read. I may be knowingly gawking at what I know deep down has the potential to be another’s horrifying reality, but I also know that escapism is an important part of reading, too.


Amy Mathers read and reviewed 365 YA books to raise money for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award in 2014. Read about her journey at

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Illustrator’s Studio: Irene Luxbacher

Irene Luxbacher is an author, a Governor General’s Literary Award-nominated illustrator and artist. She has had eight children’s art activity books and four picture books published. She lives in Toronto.

How did you get started as an illustrator and how did you develop your unique style?

I got started as an illustrator after working as an art teacher. I wanted to put together children’s art activity books that reflected my interest in getting kids excited about visual art. After working on several primary art books, I became curious about writing and illustrating picture books as well. I developed my style of illustrating through my impulse to combine my drawing and painting skills with my fascination for texture and pattern. I love mixing and layering different materials in what I hope are new and surprising ways.

Irene's workspace.
Irene’s workspace.

Can you tell us about your illustrating process?

I start all my illustration projects by first sketching out the look and feel of the character(s) in the book. My sketches are usually in pencil and ink, and sometimes watercolour. I then start painting lots of different textured backgrounds with acrylic paints on canvas. When I have a colour scheme I’m happy with, I scan all my drawings and paintings into my computer and start playing around with different compositions. I assemble each page digitally, arranging my drawings and paintings in different ways until I have the pages roughly laid out. I then re-draw my sketches more carefully and look for scraps of paper or fabric that I can add, to create lots of contrasting textures and patterns — scanning the art in again and arranging them digitally on my screen.

Click to enlarge images.

Malaika sketch study 7 Malaika flower and #3694CCB Malaika pg 6 rough Malaika's Garden (r#36950B8

Tell us about your new book with Nadia Hohn, Malaika’s Costume (Groundwood Books, 2016). What is it like to illustrate someone else’s work versus your own?

It’s always so much fun illustrating someone else’s work. I really enjoy submersing myself in words and stories that I could never have come up with myself. It often leads to new colour combinations and patterns that would never had occurred to me otherwise. Malaika’s Costume is filled with such lush, bold colours because of it’s setting — and the story being so heartfelt —  it really inspired me to use a lot of bright reds, oranges and yellows in my initial paintings. They seemed as passionate and lively as Malaika’s personality and made it possible for the contrasting blues and greens of her peacock costume to stand out and take centre stage in the carnival!

Do you have any suggestions for educators who would like to use your books in the classroom?

I always love using books as a starting point for an art project. Having kids make something inspired by a story really helps them empathize with the characters and create meaningful connections to new concepts and information. When kids feel what it’s like to wear a costume and dance in a carnival for example, it’s easier to remember Malaika’s story… where she lives, her favourite customs, how she might have felt not having her mother with her on such a special day… and why her mother had to go away to begin with. Stories are so rich with possibilities for important classroom discussions.

What were your favourite children’s books and illustrators growing up?

My favourite books growing up included Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. I found the idea of slipping into a world where all the characters and creatures were so strange and often mysterious — like nothing I would ever expect to see in reality — so fascinating. I still remember in Grade One, sitting cross- legged on the library floor feeling my neck hairs stand on end as our school’s librarian flipped through the pages of Where the Wild Things Are. I was mesmerized, and a little scared, but mostly amazed to think that maybe there was a place where such creatures existed!

What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently waiting for the last book I finished with Kids Can Press to be released in April, called The Not-So-Far-Away Adventure, written by Andrew Larsen.

I’ve just finished a book with Scholastic written by Emil Sher called A Mitten to Share. It is filled with lots of cool snowy colours and warm fuzzy textures and is coming out this fall (2016).

I’m also working on a book that I wrote about a girl on an ocean adventure with Groundwood Books… I won’t say what it’s called yet as the title might still change. What I can say is that I’m getting to work in lots of deep blues, purples and greens for this project… my favourite!

I’ll be starting to think about the sequel to Malaika’s Costume with Nadia Hohn as well — which is terrific. It’s a continuation of Malaika’s story but it promises to be very different visually.

Of course, I’m always working on new ideas for stories as well so I’m constantly sketching and painting and looking for stories in the images and textures I create in my spare time.

Underwater adventur#369515B

Images courtesy of Irene Luxbacher. Visit for more information about her work.

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Booksellers’ Picks

Canada’s independent booksellers share their recommendations for kids and teens. To find a local independent bookstore, visit

boundless• Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books in Ottawa, ON: The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins Publishers, 2014), Ages 10-14

The Boundless, the most magnificent train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across Canada, and Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! There’s a murder, and Will, now protecting the key that unlocks the train’s treasures, becomes the target of sinister figures from his past. With villains chasing him and sasquatches and bog hags lurking outside, Will and Maren, a young tightrope walker, must save the Boundless before someone else winds up dead. Recommended by Kim Ferguson, Co-owner

Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books: 1018 Bank St., Ottawa, ON K1S 3W8


catmonk• McNally Robinson at Grant Park in Winnipeg, MB: The White Cat and the Monk, written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books, 2016), Ages 4-8

A lone monk studies his manuscripts late into the night while his companion — a white cat named Pangur — enjoys his own pursuits in this retelling of the Old Irish Poem, “Pangur Bán.”

“Ours is a happy tale,” the monk writes, as he contemplates the simple beauty of their lives; both monk and cat searching for meaning in a time far removed from our own. Jo Ellen Bogart pays elegant tribute to this much beloved poem, while Sydney Smith illustrates this gentle adaptation with a masterful hand. —Shanleigh Klassen, Kids Bookseller

McNally Robinson at Grant Park: 1120 Grant Ave., Winnipeg, MB R3M 2A6


clothlullaby• Type Books in Toronto, ON: Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016), Ages 6-9

A sensitive tale strung together on the sparsest of plots, Cloth Lullaby is a biography of French artist Louise Bourgeois . Perhaps best known in Canada for her iconic 30-foot spider sculpture outside Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada, Bourgeois worked the themes of motherhood and nature into paintings, cloth books and tapestries.

Montreal illustrator Isabelle Arsenault has a pile of Governor General’s Literary Awards to her name, most recently for 2013’s Jane, le renard & moi (Éditions de la Pastèque). With Cloth Lullaby, she outdoes herself yet again. The illustrations are page after page of quiet detail, often literally weaving Bourgeois’ work into scenes from her life. For children who like poetic prose about swooping romantic ideas. —Serah-Marie McMahon, Children’s Buyer for Type Books

Type Books: 427 Spadina Rd. & 883 Queen St. W., Toronto, ON


gryphon• Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: If I Had a Gryphon, written by Vikki VanSickle, illustrated by Cale Atkinson (Tundra Books, 2016), Ages 3-7

Vibrant, bursting with warmth and energy, and told in rollicking rhyme that truly dances off your tongue, this book is a sweet celebration of the joys — and potential pitfalls — of pet ownership. Sam is initially not sold on her new pet hamster. But as she imagines the wonders of a more exotic pet (say a unicorn or a chimera, or perhaps a jackalope or a hippogriff) she also foresees the problems that these fantastical creatures might present as pets. In the end, she comes to this delightful conclusion about her hamster: “He may not be a gryphon, or a creature from the sea. But I am his and he is mine, and that’s enough for me.” —Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

Woozles Children’s Bookstore: 1533 Birmingham St., Halifax, NS B3J 2J1

If your independent bookstore would like to participate in this feature, please contact us.

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