CCBC February 2017 Newsletter

ContentsBOOKHEAD

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
February Book List
Author Corner: Gloria Ann Wesley
Amy’s Travels in Teen Fiction
Illustrator’s Studio: Josée Bisaillon
Booksellers’ Picks


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This year, it takes place from February 26 to March 4, 2017.

Visit www.freedomtoread.ca for some great ideas on how to get involved. You can also find useful resources, including a database of books challenged in Canada.

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IanWallace_smallerTD Canadian Children’s Book Week will take place from Saturday, May 6 to Saturday, May 13, 2017.

In 2017, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the very first TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour. In 1977, eleven authors set out on the first Children’s Book Festival tour sponsored by the one-year-old Children’s Book Centre. This was a great venture for a fledgling industry — bringing together children and books all over the country and providing teachers, librarians, booksellers and parents with the first Our Choice guide (now Best Books for Kids & Teens) to children’s books. Frank Newfeld, famous for his illustrations for Alligator Pie, created the image for the very first Book Week poster.

Since Book Week is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday, the theme we have chosen to celebrate — Read Across Canada / Lire aux quatre coins du Canada — will encourage young readers to learn about Canada by reading books set in different provinces and locations across the country. To honour the 40th anniversary of the very first Book Week tour, the CCBC asked veteran illustrator Ian Wallace to create this year’s Book Week poster image. Ian Wallace was part of the original 12 authors and illustrators that set out on the first Book Week tour in 1977.

Ian’s striking poster illustration perfectly conveys our theme Read Across Canada. The bald eagle on the left represents the West Coast of Canada, the puffin on the right represents the East Coast and the snowy owl in the middle represents the territories to the north.

Book Week materials featuring Ian’s illustration will be available for purchase through the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, either by phone or online, starting in March 2017.

Links We Love

Encouraging a Growth Mindset for Kids

Mo Willems’s Funny Failures: How the author teaches young readers to confront problems and be resilient

The Best Ways to Build Strong Early Reading Skills

Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean to Him

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February Book List: Black History Month

In honour of Black History Month, we’ve compiled a list of relevant Canadian books for kids and teens. For more reading ideas, visit our Teachers’ Book Bank for Canadian fiction and non-fiction books about history.

Primary Fiction & Non-Fiction

Abigail's Wish

Abigail’s Wish
Written by Gloria Ann Wesley
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Nimbus Publishing, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77108-439-0
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 2-3

Birchtown, Nova Scotia | Black Loyalists | Family | Friendship | Patience

Ten-year-old Abigail Price is excited about spring in her new home in Birchtown, Nova Scotia. Spring means lots of things, like flower buds and fresh leaves and her Aunt Dinah’s new baby. She’s hoping it also means she’ll get a new dress to wear for the celebration, but new clothing, like many things, is hard to come by. Through the eyes of young Abigail, readers will learn about Black Loyalist life, and the value of friendship and patience.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Change of Heart

A Change of Heart
Written by Alice Walsh
Illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks
Nimbus Publishing, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77108-371-3
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 2-4

Lanier Phillips | World War II | Racism | Humanity | Newfoundland | Compassion

In 1941, a young African American, Lanier Phillips, tried to escape the racism and segregation of his home by joining the navy. But tragedy struck one February night off the coast of Newfoundland, and Lanier was the lone Black survivor of a terrible shipwreck. This book vividly depicts the true story of a man’s life-changing experience in Newfoundland and the healing power of kindness and humanity.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Malaika's Costume

Malaika’s Costume
Written by Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Groundwood Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55498-754-2
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 2-3

Family | Community | Celebrations | Separation | Resourcefulness | Caribbean Culture

It’s the first Carnival since Malaika’s mother moved to Canada to work and provide for Malaika and her grandmother. Her mother promised to send money for a costume, but no money arrives. How will Malaika dance in the parade? Leaving her house in tears, Malaika gets an idea… with her grandmother’s help she creates a rainbow peacock costume, and dances proudly in the parade.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Oscar Lives Next Door

Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s Childhood
Written by Bonnie Farmer
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Owlkids Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77147-104-6
IL: Ages 6-10 RL: Grades 2-3

Music | Oscar Peterson | Friendship | Tuberculosis | 1930s | Montreal

Inspired by the real-life childhood of Oscar Peterson, this is a story of a boy forced to give up the instrument he loves — and who finds his way back to a lifelong passion for music. In this fictional account, Oscar’s friend Millie encourages him to play piano after tuberculosis robs him of his ability to play trumpet. This title is also available in French as Mon voisin Oscar: Une histoire inspirée de l’enfance d’Oscar Peterson.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Stone Thrower

The Stone Thrower
Written by Jael Ealey Richardson
Illustrated by Matt James
Groundwood Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55498-752-8
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 2-4

Football | Racism | Segregation | Chuck Ealey | Perseverance | Discrimination | Biography

African-American football player Chuck Ealey grew up poor in a racially segregated community, but his mother assured him that education was the way out. In high school, his football coach believed he could be a great quarterback. Despite the racist taunts he faced while playing, Chuck maintained a remarkable level of dedication and determination. When discrimination continued to follow him, Chuck Ealey remained undefeated.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

To the Rescue

To the Rescue! Garrett Morgan Underground
(Great Idea)
Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77049-520-3
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 2-3

Biography | Garrett Morgan | Inventors | Inventions | Determination

The son of freed slaves, Garrett Morgan wanted more. While sweeping floors in a clothing factory, he invented a stronger belt for sewing machines. Then he invented a safety hood for firefighters. By rushing his hoods to the scene of a tunnel explosion, he saved many trapped workers. Morgan’s invention came to save thousands of soldiers from chlorine gas in the trenches of World War I.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior/ Intermediate Fiction & Non-Fiction

Africans Thought of It

Africans Thought of It: Amazing Innovations
(We Thought of It)
Written by Bathseba Opini and Richard B. Lee
Annick Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-55451-276-8
IL: Ages 10 and up RL: Grades 5-7

Africa | Inventions | Innovation

From aloe vera to the xylophone, discoveries and innovations originating in Africa have spread around the world. Learn how Africa and its people have influenced the fields of hunting, agriculture, medicine, communications, games, music and many other areas. A section on Africa today and a brief timeline help students to further understand this amazing continent.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Birchtown and the Black Loyalists

Birchtown and the Black Loyalists
Written by Wanda Lauren Taylor
Nimbus Publishing, 2014
ISBN 978-1-77108-166-5
IL: Ages 7-12 RL: Grades 5-6

Black Loyalists | History | Nova Scotia | Settlement | Slavery

In this title young readers are introduced to the story of the Black Loyalists of Birchtown: from slavery to the American Revolution; to settlement and struggle on Nova Scotian soil in Birchtown; and finally to mass exodus to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Their legacy, carried on through Black Loyalist descendants, is an enduring spirit despite a history marked by hardship and loss.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Child Soldier

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War
(CitizenKid)
Written by Michel Chikwanine with Jessica Dee Humphreys
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Kids Can Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77138-126-0
IL: Ages 11 and up RL: Grades 6-7

Child Soldiers | Democratic Republic of Congo | Violence | War | Autobiography | Global Awareness

In 1993, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, five-year-old Michel and his friends were kidnapped by rebel militants and thrust into a terrifying and violent world — forced to become child soldiers. A compelling story of resilience and courage, this book is Michel Chikwanine’s account of his time in a rebel militia, his escape and his family’s new life in Canada.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Give Me Wings

Give Me Wings! How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World
Written by Kathy Lowinger
Annick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55451-747-3
IL: Ages 11-14 RL: Grades 5-6

History | Slavery | African Americans | Music | Freedom | Prejudice

A freed slave, Ella Sheppard was a founding member of the Jubilee Singers, a travelling choir that broke down barriers between blacks and whites, lifted spirits, and helped influence modern American music.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Madman of Piney Woods

The Madman of Piney Woods
Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Canada, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4431-3912-0
IL: Ages 11-14 RL: Grades 4-5

Friendship | Adventure | Prejudice | Bogeyman | Historical Fiction | Loyalty | Racism

Living in the towns of Buxton and neighbouring Chatham, Ontario, in 1901, Benji and Red aren’t friends. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. There’s a strange presence in the forest… Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real? This is the companion novel to Elijah of Buxton.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Underground to Canada

Underground to Canada
(Puffin Classics)
Written by Barbara Smucker
Puffin Canada, 2013 ©1977
ISBN: 978-0-14-318789-9
IL: Ages 9-13 RL: Grades 5-6

Underground Railroad | Slavery | Freedom

Ripped from her mother by slave traders, Julilly yearns to be free. She and her friend Liza dream of escaping to Canada, the ‘Promised Land’ of freedom. So when the Underground Railway offers to help them escape, they are ready. But slave catchers are also ready to relentlessly pursue them… This Canadian classic includes an intro by Lawrence Hill.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Young Adult Fiction & Non-Fiction

Aluta

Aluta
Written by Adwoa Badoe
Groundwood Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55498-816-7
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 9-10

Historical Fiction | Ghana | Student Movements | Political Activity

For 18-year-old Charlotte, university life is better than she’d ever dreamed — a sophisticated and generous roommate, the camaraderie of dorm living, parties, clubs and boyfriends. Most of all, Charlotte is exposed to new ideas, and in 1981 Ghana, this may be the most exciting — and most dangerous — adventure of all.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Betrayal

The Betrayal of Africa
(Groundwork Guides)
Written by Gerald Caplan
Groundwood Books, 2008
ISBN 978-0-88899-825-5
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 7-8

Africa | Foreign Relations

Gerald Caplan traces the evolution of Africa’s toxic relationship with the West from the transatlantic slave trade to the current situation of conflict, poor governance, forced subjection to the world economy and AIDS. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, list of websites and an index.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Gospel Truth

The Gospel Truth
Written by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press, 2014
ISBN 978-0-88995-493-9
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 6-7

Novels in Verse | Slavery | Friendship | Historica l Fiction | Secrets | Choices | Abolitionists | Birds | Underground Railway

Sixteen-year-old Phoebe is a plantation slave and a keen observer of the brutality that comes with being owned. Mute since her mother was sold, Phoebe has taught herself to read — an advantage and a danger. When a Canadian doctor, the ‘birdman,’ visits the plantation for bird watching, Phoebe soon realizes it’s more than birds that he is after.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Hare in the Elephant's Trunk

A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk
Written by Jan L. Coates
Red Deer Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-88995-451-9
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 6-7

Sudan | Lost Boys of Sudan | War | Refugee Camps | Survival

In 1987, soldiers from the north invade the village of Duk Padiet where Jacob Deng lives with his family. Jacob is forced to flee with thousands of others, spending months walking through deserts and crocodile-infested rivers, only to spend years living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Guided by the memory of his mother and her belief in education as the key to escaping violence, Jacob survives.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Stay Strong

Stay Strong: A Musician’s Journey from Congo
(Arrivals)
Written by Natalie Hyde
Clockwise Press, 2015
ISBN 978-0-9939351-2-1
IL: Ages 11 and up RL: Grades 5-6

Biography | Music | Refugees | Immigrant Stories | Survival | Resilience

Gentil Misigaro knew the world only as a place of loss, fear and death. For 15 years, his family moved from country to country to escape the violence that followed them from the Congo to Rwanda and Uganda. This is a timely and gripping story of a refugee who came to Canada and is using his music as a powerful force for positive change.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

When Morning Comes

When Morning Comes
Written by Arushi Raina
Tradewind Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-926890-14-2
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 9-10

South Africa | Apartheid | Soweto Uprising | Historical Fiction | Friendship | Gangs

It’s 1976, in South Africa. This is the story of four young people living in Johannesburg and its black township, Soweto, and their chance meeting that changes everything. Already a chain of events is in motion: a failed plot, a murdered teacher, a powerful police agent with a vendetta, and a secret network of students across the township. The students will rise. And there will be violence.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

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Author’s Corner: Gloria Ann Wesley

GloriaGloria Ann Wesley is the author three books of poetry and two historical young adult novels, If This Is Freedom and Chasing Freedom. Her first picture book, Abigail’s Wish, is available now. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started as an author?

At a young age, I was amused by the stories my grandmother told about her childhood. They were so vivid and animated, and she made it easy to visualize every scene. Maybe that’s why I wanted to write, to create stories as well.

In junior high school, I began writing poetry and soon had quite a collection —- several notebooks. In high school, I wrote a regular column in the local newspaper and was the editor of the school paper. At college, I met Dr. Carrie Best. She was an activist, a columnist, and had owned her own newspaper, The Clarion. After reading my poetry, she introduced me to Dr. Leo Bertly, a professor at Vanier College in Montreal, who was interested in publishing my poetry. To My Someday Child was the outcome and it has enabled me to hold the distinction of being the first published Black Nova Scotian poet (by Resolution of the Nova Scotia Legislature, 5 April 2007).

Canadian history is rich in details about the English, French and Scots, but my ancestry wasn’t mentioned in text books, nor in my home or community. I was at a loss as to how Blacks fit in.  Without a presence, I felt out of place, and being visible, I felt invisible, a reality which continues to emerge from time to time.

Chasing FreedomI am the descendant of former slaves, Black Loyalists who arrived in Nova Scotia from New York in 1783, and yet, I had no knowledge of my heritage, so I began researching my roots. It was difficult to find information, but what I collected, I shared, writing several booklets and distributing them throughout the Black communities. Even now, I find the education system, though acknowledging briefly and sporadically the history, role and contributions of Blacks, still does not address the roots of racism and the fact that all humans have a shared history. Historical novels, I thought, would address this deficiency. I wrote Chasing Freedom, and its companion novel, If This Is Freedom, to inform and also to show how stereotypes and beliefs during slavery continue to influence current attitudes and behaviours.

I love visiting schools, libraries, book clubs and events and I’ve travelled across Canada doing readings and presentations about the Black Loyalists of Nova Scotia.

What were your favourite books growing up?

My favourite books were the Bobbsey Twins’ series, Heidi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, children’s Bible stories, and Anne of Green Gables. I loved comics, especially Archie. I enjoyed teen magazines, UFO magazines and Mad Magazine, plus many other books. I read just about anything I could find, including cereal boxes.

Abigail’s Wish, your latest book, is about life for a young girl in historic Birchtown. What inspired you to write this picture book?

Little has been mentioned about the children of Birchtown and what life must have been like for them. One day I was researching clothing worn in the 1700s, and I came across a beautiful child’s dress. It suddenly registered that a child in Birchtown wouldn’t have had the pleasure of owning such a dress. This was the inspiration for Abigail’s Wish.

What was your research and writing process like?

For many years, I read and collected information and books about slavery and the Blacks in Nova Scotia. For my first novels, Chasing Freedom and If This Is Freedom, I focused on the 3,000 Black Loyalists, the African-American slaves who escaped to the British lines during the American Revolution and were evacuated by the British to Nova Scotia, specifically Shelburne and Birchtown, though they went to other areas as well.

I start my personal process by assembling information, noting specific dates and events and collecting interesting names from the original Book of Negroes. On a long sheet of chart paper taped across my office wall, I began filling in each chapter, working from my collection of notes to structure the events, time and pace of the novel. This part of the writing process literally consumes me as I wake up at all hours of the night to make changes to the chart. When the overall story takes shape and seems adequate, I begin writing the novel.

Writing an illustrated children’s book is a more simplistic process and I tend not to use this process but to create as I go, which includes many rewrites.

Abigail's WishDo you have any suggestions for teachers on how to incorporate Abigail’s Wish or your two young adult novels, Chasing Freedom and If This Is Freedom, into the curriculum? Do you have any activity suggestions?    

I encourage teachers to respect diversity, embrace it and celebrate it by incorporating lots of multicultural literature and images into their curriculum. It has its own rewards when children can see themselves valued and included.  When you stimulate all children to open their minds and understand and respect other cultures, it helps to strengthen our humanity.

Activities                           

Suggestions for Chasing Freedom and If This Is Freedom:

I developed a free Teacher’s Guide which is available here: https://fernwoodpublishing.ca/book/chasing-freedom

Suggestions for Abigail’s Wish:

My suggestions do not necessarily depend on age or grade level as they can be adapted to meet student’s needs and abilities.

A. Making wishes:

  1. Why do people make wishes? (For instance, to feel good about life, for motivation or to inspire hope or change).
  2. In what ways do we make wishes? (On the first evening star, blowing on dandelion fluff, tossing coins into wishing wells, catching a leprechaun, blowing out birthday candles, and wishing on a chicken’s wishbone).
  3. Who do we make wishes for?
  4. How we can make our wishes come true?

B. Immigrants:

  1. Explain why Abigail had to leave her country.
  2. Explore reasons why people flee to other countries. The Syrian refugee crisis is a current example. Scholastic has many books available about immigration. Perhaps an e-book can be displayed on a smart board, but I’m not sure.

Books on immigrants can be found here.

C. Slavery:

  1. Discussing slavery with young children may be uncomfortable, but by reading picture books about people involved in freedom and abolition, children will slowly become aware of slavery and injustice. Some popular picture books:

Up Home: Shauntay Grant (Canadian)
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books
More Than Anything Else
Freedom Summer
Looking at Lincoln
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are lots of suggestions for teaching about slavery on the Internet. [Editor’s note: for more Canadian resources, visit our History Book Bank.]

Examples:

D. Poverty:

  1. What does it mean to be poor?
  2. How does poverty affect people?
  3. In what ways are the poor treated differently? This could be related to how the poor live in separate areas within the community. How many experience injustice due to poor housing, lack of money, physical disabilities and skin colour, etc.

E. Human Differences:

  1. For example, discuss how animals or plants vary within their species. (Example: dog breeds or flowers) and then relate this to human differences.
  2. Explain to children through images that worldwide people are a colourful collage of race and ethnicity.
  3. Discuss how all people have the same needs, dreams and aspirations as everyone else.

The goal is to challenge negative attitudes that suggest people who do not look like them are peculiar or inferior and discuss how differences need not be feared.

F. Heritage:

Discuss how heritage is about things that are handed down from our parents: identity, customs, religion, etc., and how it fosters positive and negative self-concepts and how sometimes it causes bias towards others because they eat, dress, worship and do things differently.

What’s next for you? What projects are you working on now?                                                         

I’m working on an adult novel about the impact of sexual assault;  a children’s book about a soldier who served in World War I; and I’m entering into discussions about assisting in the production of a fourth book for a multicultural series: “Righting Canada’s Wrongs,” about Africville.

For more information about Gloria’s work, follow her on Facebook.

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Amy’s Travels in Teen Fiction

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Valentines Day is coming up, which means it’s the perfect time to explore finding love between the pages if it’s not happening for you in real life. Over the years, my own list of book crushes has grown, and the following are my personal top five, written by Canadian writers.

  1. Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

It seems impossible to have a book-boyfriend list without including Gilbert. So why is he at the bottom of the list? Because in the early years, he’s a bit of a jerk. While Gilbert and Anne’s love matures over the series, it’s also caught up by the restraints placed on women during the time-period. Still, Gilbert is the kind of book crush to build a dream on. His devotion to Anne is rooted by a steadfast friendship/sometimes rivalry that challenges them both.

  1. Andrew from Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson

You always remember your first book crush, and mine was Andrew — the slightly older (but still in the appropriate range), mysterious guy who has passion and a sense of duty. He’s a looker but also humble — adored by all, yet still has time to notice Norah, who usually stays in the shadows. Regardless of gender, Andrew is a perfect example of the person that makes you realize you no longer think romantic love is icky.

  1. Tournour from Tin Star and Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci

Interspecies dating, I am sure, will be something to wrap your head around in the future, but in Tula Bane’s world it is the future and she and Tournour, an alien, have a special connection. It’s not easy to describe — kind of a combination of family, friendship and romantic love, but it is clear Tournour would do anything to protect Tula and be there for whatever she needs. There’s something about Tournour’s adoration of Tula that makes you believe that any interspecies problems Tournour and Tula might encounter, they’ll be able to work them out.

  1. Torwin from The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

For pure, smoldering heat, Torwin is a book crush who will keep you up nights. In love with Asha, a dragon slayer wrapped in legend, his servant status makes it forbidden for him to even touch her. Instead, he becomes her support — a helpmate during a rebellion, and a gentle agitator who shakes up what she knows. Their “friendship” practically lights the pages on fire, but what I love the most about him is how he helps Asha see how loved she is.

  1. Pen from Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Pen is at the top of my list because she’s the kind of book boyfriend I would want to be. Loyal, dependable, responsible and devoted, she has your back — and knows the meaning of romance. While she models herself after her older brother Johnny, Pen reminds you that the qualities she values should not be limited to a specific gender in a relationship. And that self-confidence (paired with humility) is sexy. Pen and Blake’s relationship has passion and dedication, making Pen a very worth book crush.

Happy reading!

—Amy

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 www.amysmarathonofbooks.ca.

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Illustrator’s Studio: Josée Bisaillon

JoseeJosée Bisaillon has illustrated more than 20 picture books and has done numerous editorial illustrations for magazines and newspapers. Her latest book is The Snow Knows, written by Jennifer McGrath. She lives in Montreal, Quebec.

How did you get started as an illustrator?

I have been making art since I was a little girl. I’ve always drawn, made collages, created some artistic installations or written stories as long as I can remember. Back then I didn’t even know that illustration could be a career! In fact, it’s like all of the artistic works that were around me were created by some magical people. I didn’t have any artists around me, so I just didn’t figure being an artist was an option; it just didn’t exist. When I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian, like my father. I soon realized that wasn’t for me. I preferred drawing animals to taking care of them. (To tell you the truth, I was too afraid of blood!!)

When I had to choose a career, I figured that being a designer would be a good fit, so I studied computer graphics in college. It felt like the right place. I discovered that I liked it and was good at it. So that’s when I decided I wanted to be a graphic designer. I really liked school, so I pursued my studies and went to the Université du Québec à Montréal in graphic design. I really like to do conceptual design and play with typography. In this program, we had to take illustrations classes. That’s where I met illustrator Michèle Lemieux, and I can say now that it changed my life! She saw something in me and she encouraged me to take illustration classes as an option. I tried probably all of the mediums that you can think of in Michèle’s classes: oil painting, watercolour, pen, ink, everything! But being able to play and mix all of this together was pure joy. After, I had the chance to have Pol Turgeon as an illustration teacher.  He pushed me to work really hard, always challenging me, encouraging me to go deeper in my explorations, and that’s when I realized I couldn’t be anything else but an illustrator. I was really into editorial illustrations (I worked for a couple of years at The Globe and Mail at the beginning of my career), but a few months after graduating, I had my first illustration assignment for a picture book (Le Vampire qui aimait le lait at Les 400 Coups). That’s where my career as a picture book illustrator began!

Can you tell us about your illustration style and how it came about? What is your illustration process and where do you find inspiration?

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

I probably tried every medium in Michele Lemieux’s classes, but none of them really was my cup of tea. One day she came to class with a bunch of picture books, and she showed us a book by Wolf Erlbruch. I fell in love with his art, so Michele suggested I try to imitate his style. That’s where I discovered collage. My style has evolved a lot since university. I used to use a lot of tape and black pastels. It was dirty and dark. Now it’s softer. But I still use the same technique. I like to explore with different mediums. I use everything that you can think of for making art: crayons, pen, ink, watercolour, pastels, cut paper, fabrics.… I draw, paint and cut by hand, then I scan everything and do the final montage digitally. I like to use Photoshop because it gives me more opportunities. For example, I can draw something bigger than it appears on the illustration, or I can change the colours.

When it comes to illustrating a picture book, my process is pretty simple. I’ll do some quick thumbnail sketches after I read the manuscript.  I then work on them and make modifications on tracing paper until I’m satisfied with the result. Once I’m happy with the thumbnails, I scan and enlarge them. I print them and do the final sketches on tracing paper with a pencil. I use the same tracing paper to transfer the illustration parts to the bits of paper I will use to do the final art pieces in collage. Once every piece is ready, I scan them and do the final montage in Photoshop.

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Click to enlarge.

My inspiration really comes from everywhere. I read a lot — it gets my imagination going. I like to take a walk when I need to think about new ideas. I also find inspiration in movies and photos when the time comes to choose different perspectives. I like to see my work on a picture book as a short film. It needs to have different points of view, different perspectives, and a narrative that is similar to a movie. Music is also a big part of my inspiration (like in a movie). Listening to different kinds of music while I’m working has a big effect on my work. I’ll choose the mood I want to give to the book and will find the music that fits well with it. I’ll listen to this playlist during the whole process.

You’ll be touring Newfoundland during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week in May. Have you been to Newfoundland before? What are you looking forward to the most, and what can students expect from your presentations?

It will be my first time in Newfoundland and I’m so excited about it! I’m looking forward to meeting the kids and teacher and sharing my work with them. Hopefully, I’ll have some time to visit a bit and I expect to do a lot of sketchbook illustrations of the beautiful landscapes.

Teachers and students will learn more about my process. People are always curious to see how I work in collage, so I’ll make sure to bring some original art. I’ll share with them the mediums I use. They’ll also see that ideas don’t come to me like magic; I’ll show them how I get my imagination going in my sketchbooks. My presentations are always casual and relaxed, and I hope the kids will want to create something of their own after seeing my presentation.

Do you have any activity suggestions or tips for teachers who would like to use your books in the classroom?

Teachers can ask their students to create something using only paper, glue and scissors. Using scissors helps students create something different than what they are used to. Kids are sometimes afraid of mistakes, and when they use pencils, they tend to keep erasing their drawings until they feel they’re perfect. They cannot do that with cut paper, and it makes them think differently.

Mom DadUsing Mom, Dad, Our Books, and Me (also available in French: Papa, maman nos livres et moi), I’m encouraging teachers to talk about the different ways of reading with their students. Kids can describe their favourite reading spots and then recreate them in collages, using old magazines to include some printed text in the art.

Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s book illustrators?

The thing with illustration is if you don’t work hard you won’t get anywhere. It’s not enough to be good at drawing. You need to work hard (really, really hard). And find your own style. It’s good to look at what other illustrators or artists that you like are doing. Try to find out how they do it and find your own way of doing it. And it doesn’t need to be perfect, because imperfection is good; it makes the art alive. So explore, work hard and be nice to people!

Images courtesy of Josée Bisaillon. Visit www.joseebisaillon.com 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 findabookstore.ca.

When We Were Alone• McNally Robinson at Grant Park in Winnipeg, MB: When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (HighWater Press, 2016), Ages 4-8

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything was taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.

Recommended by Shanleigh Klassen, Kids Bookseller

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

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Optimists• Type Books in Toronto, ON: Optimists Die First, by Susin Nielsen, (Tundra Books, 2017), Ages 12+

Petula’s funny, and a crafting genius, but no social star at high school, and it doesn’t help that she’s isolated herself after her adored toddler sister died. Petula feels responsible for this death, though her parents say it was a tragic accident. No one’s fault. Now, Petula sees danger everywhere: every activity and every bite of food could kill you. Then a new boy, Jacob, joins Petula’s group in the school’s lame art therapy program; he has a prosthetic arm and darkness behind his sunny surface. Petula and Jacob become friends, then, something more. But a secret behind why he’s in the group could derail them.

Recommended Serah-Marie McMahon, Children’s Buyer for Type Books

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

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The Lotterys• Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: The Lotterys Plus One, written by Emma Donoghue (HarperCollins , 2017), Ages 14+

My new favourite family in all of children’s literature!  The Lotterys are a big, boisterous, loving and warmhearted family consisting of four parents (two dads and two moms) and their seven children (some biological, some adopted).  Theirs is a very diverse, multicultural household, where the children are homeschooled and in spite of the general chaos, they respect one another and embrace non-traditional forms of learning and living.  Then Grumps, a previously unknown grandfather, is diagnosed with dementia and comes to live with them, and Sumac (the story’s narrator) discovers that she still has something to learn about acceptance and what it means to be a family. —Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

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

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