January 2022



News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Book Reviews
Links We Love
January Reading List: Let’s Change the World!
Author Corner: Jamie Bastedo
Experts’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends

Be a Friend, Share a Book!

Be a friend, share a book! Support the CCBC by purchasing this vintage style poster by celebrated children’s book illustrator Pierre Collet-Derby. Produced entirely in Canada, these prints are letterpressed by Everlovin’ Press and are signed by the illustrator. Proceeds go to the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Buy you copy here!

Writing Contest for Canadian Kids in Grades 1-6 from DC Canada!

If you’ve ever dreamed about seeing your words published for kids around the world to read, this is your chance! Our second ever DC Canada One Story a Day Writing Contest is underway, and if you’re in grade 1 to 6 and live in Canada, we want to see what you’ve got.

Submit your short stories by March 31, 2022, 12 p.m. EST.

Grades 1 and 2: 50 to 100 words
Grades 3 and 4: 150 to 250 words
Grades 5 and 6: 250 to 350 words

Winners in each category will receive a cash prize and be published in an illustrated storybook. The school with the most participants will also win a prize – lots of our books!

Learn more here!

Purchase One-Of-A-Kind Art to Support the CCBC!

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) is excited to announce the launch of the virtual Picture Book Gallery. Award-winning Canadian illustrators are selling original art to support the CCBC’s annual Canadian Children’s Book Week program. Illustrators are donating 60% of the value of their original art in support of the CCBC.

Visit the gallery here!

IBBY Canada named official sponsor of International Children’s Book Day 2022

IBBY Canada (International Board on Books for Young People, Canadian section) is delighted to announce that our section has been selected as the official sponsor of International Children’s Book Day 2022. Every year, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday (April 2), International Children’s Book Day is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books. IBBY International has been sponsoring the event since 1967.

Your School Can Apply To Be a Part of Canadian Children’s Book Week!

Canadian Children’s Book Week is the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading.

The upcoming tour will take place from May 1 to May 7, 2022, and will allow young readers to connect with highly acclaimed and emerging authors and illustrators. See the complete list of everyone touring here. 

Your school, library or community centre can apply to take part! Apply here to take part.

Learn more about Canadian Children’s Book Week at bookweek.ca and at communication-jeunesse.qc.ca.

Malaika’s Costume Float at the 117th Toronto Santa Claus Parade!
Students All Across Canada Have Started to Receive Their Copies of Malaika’s Costume

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) is excited for the 2021 TD Grade One Book Giveaway. Malaika’s Costume, written by Nadia L. Hohn and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, will be distributed to over 550,000 Grade 1 students in the coming months. The book is the first in a series of three and is published by Groundwood Books, with the French edition (Le costume de Malaika) published by Éditions Scholastic. Free downloads of activities and lessons are available online. Learn more here.

Take your child or classroom on an adventure with MS Read-a-Thon

With over 40 years of fun, MS Read-a-Thon is a program you may remember from when you were a kid. Now you can share your childhood memories with your own kids in with the new and updated MS Read-a-Thon program. The rules are simple – read whatever you like, as much as you can!


Kids love MS Read-a-Thon and it’s never been easier or more exciting to take part. MS Read-a-Thon is more fun than ever before with a new, interactive website that lets kids track the books they read, download colouring pages and more.

Fundraising has never been easier and will help fund vital services for the MS community. You can register now to start fundraising and be ready for the official reading period from January 27th to February 28, 2022. Time to put your reading caps on and have loads of fun!

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is Nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The CCBC is Nominated for the 2022 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Among the nominees are a full 282 names from 71 countries including some of the world’s foremost creators of literature for children and young people, as well as reading promoters. You can view the full list here.

Representing Canada are:

Isabelle Arsenault, Author/Illustrator
Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Organisation
Deborah Ellis, Author
Jacques Goldstyn, Author/Illustrator
Robert Munsch, Author/Illustrator/Storyteller
Eric Walters, Author

Nahid Kazemi, Illustrator

Canada/United States
Zetta Elliott, Author/Illustrator
Jon Klassen, Author/Illustrator


Resources for Discussing Residential Schools and Indigenous Issues

Residential school history is a difficult subject to teach kids, but it’s something that all Canadians should know – so how do we do it?

Learn more here.

First Page Writing Contest Coming Soon!

CBC Books’ national creative writing challenge for Grades 7 to 12 students is coming back!

The First Page will be open for the entire month of February 2022.

The Challenge: Write the first page of a novel (300-400 words) imagining how a current day issue or trend has played out in 150 years. The book could be from any literary genre, from mystery or thriller to literary fiction, from adventure or romance to satire or science fiction.

Prizes: The winner of each category will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which delivers monthly boxes of books and literary-related goodies. The school library of each winner will also receive a donation of 50 books.

Everything you need to know about the challenge can be found at cbc.ca/thefirstpage.

Empowering Youth, One Generation at a Time: Free Resources 

The Rick Hansen Foundation School Program (RHFSP) is inspired by Rick’s belief in the power of youth and their ability to change the world. RHFSP raises awareness, challenges perceptions, and changes attitudes, through a variety of lessons and activities, empowering youth to take action on important issues.

RHFSP resources are designed for youth from K-12 and include age-appropriate lessons and interactive activities for every grade level. Free, bilingual, and connected to provincial curriculum, our resources are:

  • Ready-to-use
  • Deliverable online or in the classroom
  • Developed by educators, for educators
  • Grounded in Universal Design for Learning and incorporate Differentiated Instruction Strategies

Learn more here.

Follow the CCBC on TikTok

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is now on TikTok! Follow us, like our first video and stay tuned for more!

Order the Newest Issue of Canadian Children’s Book News!

The Winter 2021 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News looks back on all of the good things that happened in the children’s book world this year! The Fan Brothers share their collaboration process, childhood aspirations and the inspiration behind their multi-award-winning picture book, The Barnabus Project. IBBY Canada launched the second edition of From Sea to Sea to Sea, a timely and important catalogue celebrating Canadian Indigenous picture books. Author June Hur is featured in our Keep Your Eye On column. Nadia L. Hohn and Irene Luxbacher, creators of this year’s TD Grade One Book Giveaway book Maliaka’s Costume, share their excitement at having their book selected as a giveaway book. Our Bookmark! column features a list of books about COVID-19 to help a young one in your life understand the pandemic or process the feelings they are having regarding isolation or the changes in their life.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a young bookworm in your life, we asked Canadian children’s booksellers to recommend their favourite books of 2021. And, as always, our We Recommend section has over 40 new fabulous books for you to enjoy!

Buy your copy today!


Want to stay updated on the world of Canadian children’s books all month long? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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Canadian Children’s Book News Online Preview

Canadian Children’s Book News: Winter Reading

It’s time for winter reading! Published quarterly, our magazine Canadian Children’s Book News reviews books, interviews authors and illustrators, includes annotated reading lists, informs and updates readers about issues affecting children’s education and reading, and provides information and news about the world of children’s books in Canada.

We are currently featuring bonus reviews online. See them all here. 

Links We Love

Articles and videos of interest to educators and parents.

The best Canadian books of 2021 (CBC Books)

How to Start Reading Chapter Books With Your Preschooler or Kindergartner (Read Brightly)

Anne goes Gaelic: New translation revitalizes Island classic (CBC)

In ‘The Sour Cherry Tree,’ a child keeps memories of her late grandfather close (NPR)

Writers’ Trust of Canada launches program to support books by BIPOC writers launched during pandemic (CBC)

Kids’ Books of the Year: Canada’s book community shares its top 
children’s titles of 2021 (Quill & Quire)

10 Legitimately Funny Books to Read Aloud with Your Kids (Read Brightly)

January Reading List: Let’s Change the World!

Our January newsletter is all about changing the world for the better, whether that’s through activism, running for office or doing good in your community.

Picture Books

Anneliese and Peter will never be the same after the war. While wandering the ruined streets of Munich, the children discover a great hall filled with children’s books. Here, they meet the lady with the books, and she will have a greater impact on their lives than they could ever have imagined. Based on the true story of Jella Lepman. Available in French as La dame aux livres.


The Library Bus
Written by Bahram Rahman
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Pajama Press, 2020
ISBN 978-1-77278-101-4
IL: Ages 6-10 RL: Grades 2-3

It is still dark in Kabul, Afghanistan, when the library bus rumbles out of the city. Pari is starting out as Mama’s helper. The girls they visit in the village and the refugee camp are learning to read and write English. Pari is lucky because next year she will attend school. Not so long ago, girls were not allowed to go to school.


A young child tries to understand the life of a man who sleeps under a bridge. The boy’s mother patiently answers his questions and explains how people’s life paths can be very different. The child observes the things he has in common with the man and wonders where his own path will lead. Available in French as L’Homme à la barbe hirsute.


Rise Up and Write It
Written by Nandini Ahuja
Illustrated by Anoosha Syed
HarperFestival, 2021
ISBN 978-0-06-302959-0
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3

This picture book celebrates civic engagement with real pull-out examples of activism tools to encourage young readers to become involved. Farah Patel’s neighbourhood is looking for ideas on what to do with an empty lot. Farah wants to create a community garden, but she isn’t the only one with a plan. Can Farah bring her neighbourhood together?


This picture book autobiography tells the story of Sharice Davids, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress and the first LGBTQ2+ congressperson to represent Kansas. Raised by a single mother, Sharice had to work for everything in life. Along the way, she discovered her big voice and that everyone deserves to be seen—and heard!


Terry Fox and Me
Written by Mary Beth Leatherdale
Illustrated by Milan Pavlović
Tundra Books, 2020
ISBN 978-0-7352-6768-8
IL: Ages 6-10 RL: Grades 2-3

Doug and Terry met at middle school basketball tryouts. As they grew up, the best friends helped each other become better athletes and better people. Doug was by Terry’s side every step of the way: from the cancer diagnosis to the race of Terry’s life, his Marathon of Hope. This picture book biography honours the true value of friendship.


Nokomis Josephine Mandamin, an Ojibwe grandmother, walks to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi (water) for future generations and for all life on the planet. Nokomis has walked around all the Great Lakes from the salt waters (oceans) all the way to Lake Superior. Young readers are challenged to take the responsibility to protect our water, the giver of life.


When We Are Kind/Nihá’ádaahwiinít’íj̨go
Written by Monique Gray Smith
Illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
Translated by Mildred Waters
Orca Book Publishers, 2020
ISBN 978-1-4598-2753-0
IL: Ages 3-10 RL: Grade 2

This dual-language picture book—in English and Diné—celebrates simple acts of everyday kindness and encourages children to explore how they feel when they initiate and receive acts of kindness in their lives. Beautifully illustrated by artist Nicole Neidhardt, this book encourages children to be kind to others and to themselves.


Junior & Intermediate Fiction

Cricket McKay and her best friend, Shilo, are enjoying the last few weeks of summer vacation at Grandpa McKay’s farm when they make a disturbing discovery — dead bats! The girls learn that the migrating bats are flying into the blades of the new wind turbines. Now they need to figure out how to get the power company’s attention and save the bats!


Book Uncle and Me
Written by Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
Groundwood Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55498-808-2
IL: Ages 8-11 RL: Grades 4-5

Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle’s curbside free lending library. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin must take her nose out of her book and do something. But what can she do? With the help of friends, family and neighbours, Yasmin launches a campaign to make sure the voices of the community are heard.



The Cat at the Wall
Written by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books, 2014
ISBN 978-1-55498-491-6
IL: Ages 9-13 RL: Grades 4-5

On Israel’s West Bank, a hungry stray cat sneaks into a small Palestinian house that has just been commandeered by two Israeli soldiers for surveillance. The house appears to be empty, until the cat realizes that a little boy is hiding beneath the floorboards. Should she help him? After all, she’s just a cat. Or is she?




The Good Fight
Written by Ted Staunton
Illustrated by Josh Rosen
Scholastic Canada, 2021
ISBN 978-1-4431-6383-5
IL: Ages 9 and up RL: Grades 3-4

Toronto, summer, 1933. Thirteen-year-old Sid and his friend Plug are looking for ways to make ends meet. Their plans take them down a path they never intended and right into the centre of the city’s boiling point—the riot at Christie Pits. Sid needs to choose how far he will go to do what’s right. And he has to choose fast.



Me and Banksy
Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Puffin Canada, 2020
ISBN 978-0-7352-6691-9
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6

Dominica’s private school is covered in cameras, and someone is hacking into them and posting embarrassing moments for the whole school to see. Who has access to the school security cameras and why are they doing this? Dominica and her best friends are determined to find out and, in the process, start a Banksy-inspired graffiti campaign against cameras in the classroom.




Who is Tanksy?
(Orca Currents)
Written by Rev Katz Rosenbaum
Orca Book Publishers, 2019
ISBN 978-1-4598-2085-2
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grade 4

Fourteen-year-old Tanya hates being invisible. So, during student elections, Tanya starts secretly painting controversial images on the walls of the school. Soon everyone is talking about her artwork. The election results turn out to be a catalyst for more rebellion — from students, teachers, even the lunch ladies — tired of the principal’s authoritarian leadership. But can this revolution affect real change?



Young Adult Fiction

Like a Love Story
Written by Abdi Nazemian
Balzer & Bray, 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-283936-7
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 8-9

New York City, 1989. For three teens, the world is changing. Judy is an aspiring fashion designer. Art, an out and proud teen, is Judy’s best friend. Reza, from Iran, is terrified of being outed. Reza, dating Judy but attracted to Art, must find a way to stop living a lie that doesn’t break Judy’s heart — so he can keep the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

The Plain Janes
Written by Cecil Castellucci
Illustrated by Jim Rugg
Little, Brown and Company, 2020
ISBN 978-0-316-52281-6
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

In this three-part graphic novel, three girls — united by a shared name and frustration with the adults around them — form a secret club dedicated to fighting suburban apathy with guerrilla works of art. The Janes are out to prove that passion, bravery, and a group of great friends can save anyone from suburban high school hell…


Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice
Written by Debbie Levy
Illustrated by Whitney Gardner
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019
ISBN 978-1-5344-2455-5
IL: Ages 11 and up RL: Grades 5-6

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a modern feminist icon who blazed trails to the peaks of the male-centric worlds of education and law, where women had rarely risen before. The child who questioned unfairness became a student who persisted despite obstacles, who became an advocate who resisted injustice, who became a judge who revered the rule of law, who became… RBG.


Say Her Name
Written by Zetta Elliott
Disney Book Group, 2020
ISBN 978-1-3680-4524-7
IL: Ages 15 and up RL: Grades 8-9

Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these inspirational poems pay tribute to victims of police brutality and the activists insisting that Black Lives Matter. Elliott engages poets from the past two centuries to create a chorus of voices celebrating Black women and girls’ creativity, resilience, and courage.



111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl
(Citizen Kid)
Written by Rina Singh
Illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Kids Can Press, 2020
ISBN 978-1-5253-0120-9
IL: Ages 6-10 RL: Grades 2-3

This is the story of Sundar Paliwal, born in a small village in India ruled by ancient customs. Sundar grows up to make a huge difference in his community by convincing the villagers to plant 111 trees to celebrate the birth of every girl. Based on a true story, this book celebrates environmental sustainability, community activism and ecofeminism.


Be an Active Citizen in Your Community
(citizenship in Action)
Written by Helen Mason
Crabtree Publishing, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7787-2607-4
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grade 2

Good citizens take an active role in making their communities better places to live. This motivating book provides several practical examples of ways young readers can demonstrate that they care about their communities. From helping to care for community gardens to participating in neighbourhood clean-up events, readers will learn the value of becoming active citizens where they live.


Can Your Smartphone Change the World?
Written by Erin Paisley
Orca Book Publishers, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4598-1303-8
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grade 6

A 21st-century activist’s guide for anyone who has access to a smartphone. This how-to manual looks at specific ways you can create social change through the tap of a screen. Filled with examples of successful hashtag campaigns, viral videos and new socially conscious apps, the book provides practical advice for using your smartphone as a tool for social justice.



A Fair Deal: Shopping for Social Justice
(Orca Footprints)
Written by Kari Jones
Orca Book Publishers, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4598-1043-3
IL: Ages 9-14 RL: Grade 5

Fair trade is not about spending more money or buying more stuff: it’s about bringing justice to people around the world. By examining ways in which our global trade systems value some people over others, the book illustrates areas in which fair trade practices can help families all around the world and suggests ways to get involved in making the world a more equitable place.


Growing Up Elizabeth May: The Making of an Activist
Written by Sylvia Olsen and Cate May Burton
Orca Book Publishers, 2021
ISBN 978-1-4598-2370-9
IL: Ages 10 and up RL: Grades 4-5

Elizabeth May was born to be an activist. Before most people had heard about environmentalism, she was an environmentalist, living by her principle of “I have to do something.” This book tells the story of Elizabeth’s early life, what motivated her to take action and how she’s inspiring young people today to stand up for the planet.



One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet
Written by Anuradha Rao
Orca Book Publishers, 2020
ISBN 978-1-4598-1886-6
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grade 7

This book profiles Black, Indigenous and People of Colour who live and work as environmental defenders. Twenty short biographies introduce readers to activists from around the world, of many ages and ethnicities. From saving ancient trees on the West Coast of Canada, to protecting the Irrawaddy dolphins of India, this book is full of environmental role models waiting to be found.


What Kids Did: Stories of Kindness and Invention in the Time of COVID-19
Written by Erin Silver
Second Story Press, 2020
ISBN 978-1-77260-164-0
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grade 3

In early 2020, the COVID-19 virus changed the world. We had to stay apart, away from work, school, and our everyday routines. But, all around the world, kids came up with creative and thoughtful ways to help others. From making 3-D printed medical equipment to food bank fundraising, kids made a difference in their communities. This book highlights some of their stories.



Working Toward Gaining Equality for Women
(Achieving Social Change)
Written by Cynthia O’Brien
Crabtree Publishing, 2020
ISBN 978-0-7787-7951-3
IL: Ages 11-14 RL: Grade 6

This book looks at the campaigns fought for equal rights: suffrage movements; strikes for equal pay; the fight for girls’ education; and equality for Black women. The struggle by activists continues with campaigns to end child marriage and violence against women. Links to further information help readers find out more about current campaigns and become activists themselves.




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Author’s Corner: Jamie Bastedo

Jamie Bastedo is a biologist turned storyteller who connects young readers with the wonders and needs of nature. His latest novel, Cut Off, about a cyber-addict “screenager,” earned a Kirkus starred review, Best Teen Fiction award, and was shortlisted for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award. Jamie’s skills as a nature writer brought him national honour in 2002 when he won the Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion. His outstanding contributions to promoting awareness and protection of nature also earned him the Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee Medal. Formerly from Yellowknife, Jamie now lives in a lively cohousing community in the mountains near Nelson, BC.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get your start as a nature writer and children’s author?

If I have a totem animal that first lured me into the wonders of nature, it’s got to be the humble Red-backed salamander. As a kid I spent hours prowling alone through the sugar maple forest behind my house, kicking over logs, searching for this elusive creature that, to my seven-year old brain, was undoubtedly some kind of mini dinosaur.

Sparked by those mysterious, googly-eyed salamanders, my passion for the natural world eventually led me to the wilds of northern Canada, tracking caribou over the Yukon mountains, or flying low over the Arctic tundra, searching for satellite-collared grizzly bears.

The man who opened up the north for me, and mentored me through graduate school, was a wolf biologist named John Theberge at the University of Waterloo. Besides being a first-class scientist, he was an exceptional writer who harnessed the power of story to promote wolf conservation and other environmental causes. Published widely in technical journals, John also wrote compelling articles, editorials, and books for  mainstream readers from all walks of life.

Theberge’s commitment to take science to the streets had a huge influence on seeding my own desire to write. From him I learned the power of the pen to not only connect people with nature, but empower them to rally for its protection.

I started spreading my own green gospel by writing environmental songs for kids. Soon I was doing a weekly nature column on CBC North radio and regular articles in northern magazines. Then came nature videos, ecotheatre plays, and one-man living history shows at the Yellowknife museum.

My first books were aimed at adults and included everything from hiking and river guides, to books on rocks, birds, bears, northern lights, and snow. Falling for Snow was among my adult titles, but it led to a series of “edutainment” videos aimed at middle-schoolers. Once my young daughters learned I was doing stuff for kids they declared, “No more books, Dad, unless you write a kid’s book!” I took their challenge seriously.

As I went about my work as a biologist, I began to keep my writer’s radar on high alert for a juicy adventure that young readers could sink their teeth into. I found it one day while searching for a slippery grizzly bear that was getting dangerously close to the Arctic diamond mine where I worked. When I finally spotted it leap out from behind a boulder, stand up, and shake its claws at our helicopter, I knew I’d found my story!

What sprang from that initial burst of inspiration was my first of several YA novels, Tracking Triple Seven, about a family of grizzlies struggling to survive in the shadow of a bustling diamond mine. I had no choice but to dedicate it to my daughters.

A red-backed salamander

How has where you’ve lived, formerly in Yellowknife and now in southern BC, inspired you as a creator of books about the natural world?

I believe that all Canadians carry within them what I call a “metaphysical landscape,” reflecting some external landscape that gets under our skin as we grow up. Whether we were born under the northern lights on the banks of the Yukon River, on a farm out on the sprawling prairies, or a few blocks above Halifax harbour, all of us have a special landscape for which we feel a unique resonance, even reverence, that shapes how we see and value the world.

Cottage life on the Ontario Shield. Jamie is second from the left.

For me, that landscape is the Canadian Shield. My family spent every summer at a cottage on a granite-studded, wave-washed island on Georgian Bay, Ontario. Even though the cottage slipped from our family’s hands decades ago, that ancient rocky landscape, adorned with windswept pines and lily ponds, still underpins my soul.

So, no surprise that when I moved to Yellowknife I fell instantly in love with the surrounding landscape. It too had that unmistakable “blue lake and rocky shore” feel to it that reminded me so much of the Ontario Shield I grew up on. This affection for my new natural home inspired me to learn all I could about it – from its basement bedrock to its shimmering canopy of northern lights – and share this knowledge through my writing.

At home on the Northern Canadian Shield above Yellowknife Bay.

My life in northern Canada shaped the themes, topics and issues featured in my books. For example, I wrote a couple of “cli-fi” thrillers set in the heart of a fast-changing Arctic assaulted by climate change: On Thin Ice and its sequel, Sila’s Revenge. Through the power of stories like these, I invited young readers to experience the melting sea ice and freakish thunderstorms from the point of view of a frightened polar bear. Or ride a gush of solar wind as it crashes into our planet’s magnetosphere and erupts into an aerial volcano of northern lights. Or take a literal birds-eye view of the migratory adventures of one nighthawk as it flies from the Amazon rainforest to the Arctic tundra.

Jamie’s cabin in the North West Territories

With Yellowknife as my base camp, these were the kinds of stories I was inspired to craft. Then, after living up there for 35 years, I moved to a completely different landscape, the densely forested mountains of southern British Columbia. Though nature’s glory is still on grand display not far from the towns scattered through this wild and beautiful region, it is, as one local from Nelson told me, a “managed wilderness.”

It was in my adopted southern home that I wrote Protectors of the Planet, a YA non-fiction that shines an up-close-and-personal spotlight on a dozen environmental trailblazers from across Canada. Though I’d done most of the interviews for this project before moving here, I now felt better equipped to write about things like forest fires, flooding, and loss of old growth forests because the impacts from these environmental problems are much more in your face in BC.

You may see me wearing a button on my jacket with the message: Write Local. I am a big believer in “place-based writing”. I am just beginning my adventure of befriending a whole new biome here in BC and very curious to see how this process will affect my future writing projects. Already I can tell that a kids’ book about trees is germinating inside me!

It’s easy to feel negative about the future, especially considering the frightening impacts we’re already experiencing from climate change. What advice do you have for young people who feel pessimistic about the future in regards to the environment?

In the fall of 2019, when millions of youth around the world were following Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, into the streets screaming for action on climate change, American novelist Jonathan Franzen published a super controversial article in the New Yorker suggesting that, yes, the climate apocalypse is coming, but to best prepare for it, we need to admit we can’t prevent it. In “What If We Stopped Pretending?” Franzen begins with a serious downer for anyone under thirty, declaring that they are “guaranteed” to witness the destabilization of life as we know it thanks to unstoppable climate change.

“If you care about the planet,” he writes, “and about the people and animals who live on it, there are two ways to think about this. You can keep on hoping that catastrophe is preventable, and feel ever more frustrated or enraged by the world’s inaction. Or you can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope.”

Instead of “rolling up our sleeves to try and save the planet,” Franzen, advises that our greatest hope lies in fighting smaller, more local battles – saving a wild place, a species in trouble, a stream that needs your love – “and take heart in your small successes.”

I get what Franzen is saying – but don’t agree with him. It’s true that young people who throw all their activist eggs into one global basket, are often plagued by frustration, anger, cynicism and despair. You can see that written all over Greta Thunberg’s face (she has vowed to “never be satisfied” until global carbon emissions start tipping downwards). And I appreciate that Franzen hasn’t given up completely on advocating positive action by focusing on more doable, homegrown projects.

But where do I find my greatest hope? Not kicking over logs looking for cool critters, though I still delight in that. I find hope in the lives of people doing amazing things to protect the natural world, at whatever scale. Think globally, act locally! That’s my activist’s motto and main advice to young people. All projects that fit somewhere on this spectrum, tackled with passion and smarts, work for me. Stirred together, they create a complementary mosaic of hope and possibility. That’s why I wrote Protectors of the Planet – to fuel young people’s hope and inspire them to action.

By showcasing the inspiring lives of a dozen environmental trailblazers, Protectors of the Planet offers an antidote to rampant despair which Elizabeth May, featured in the book, calls “an enormous threat” especially in children. “Hope,” she declares, “is a verb with its sleeves rolled up,” as testified by her own incredible life story.

A young Elizabeth May with her sleeves rolled up on a campaign with singer Pete Seeger

Young readers will meet some pretty awesome people. A teen activist who risked gunfire to save a forest. A young woman who fought impossible odds to pioneer giraffe research in Africa. A teenage girl who barely escaped Nazi Germany and devoted the rest of her days to greening cities. A young climate crusader who lobbies nose-to-nose with the most powerful politicians in the land. And lots more!

I asked all of these change-makers what hands-on advice they had for young people who want to make a difference. At the end of each life story I distilled their answers into “Trailblazer Tips” to help readers blaze their own trail.

Each character in the book forged completely unique paths. Yet their tips for young people revealed many common themes:

Follow your passion.

Find your voice.

Trust in your wisdom.

Do what you love.

Do your homework.

Never give up.

Keep hope alive.

Embrace mentors.

Tell a story.

Capture the heart (the hand will follow).

Celebrate victories.

Stay positive.

Never forget that you are not alone.

Trust that you’re at least headed in the right direction.

Oh yes, and one of my favourite tips:

Get outside!

Whatever one’s passion, from wolves to whales, and whatever the scale, from local to global, the risk of activist fatigue and burnout is often just around the corner – the next rally to plan, speech to deliver, politician to lobby, or campaign to launch. In the thick of your overflowing to-do list, it’s easy to lose sight of the raison d’être of any environmental cause: to protect healthy, life-supporting ecosystems on which we all depend.

For environmental activists, both young or old, occasionally putting down the placard and pen, and spending some quality chill time outside is one of the best ways to recharge your batteries, refuel your hope, and reconnect with the natural world you are ultimately serving. As wolf biologist John Theberge advises in Protectors of the Planet, “Go roll in a bog, camp by a stream, or just walk in a park to connect with nature and regain perspective.”

Don’t forget to recharge outdoors!

“Get outside!” I say whenever I’m coaching young activists. Take the time to unplug from any AWFUL news about looming ecocatastrophes and plug into nature any way you can. Open yourself to its AWE-FULL wonders and magic, whether gazing out at a vast wilderness from the top of a mountain or simply enjoying an amazing sunset from the balcony of your 10th story downtown apartment.

When you can’t get outside or crave a place that’s much bigger and wilder than your own backyard, the right books can take you there. Either experience – from the trail or from the page – can help you emerge refreshed and ready to roll up your sleeves once again to serve the planet in your own special way.

How can parents and educator’s use your books to promote activism in young people?

Soon after I started writing for children, I was hit one morning with an epiphany that revealed the whole point of my work. I awoke with this job description ringing in my head: To promote environmental literacy through the power of story!

I saw that by always putting the magic of story first – above the facts of nature or environmental issues – I’d discovered a creative mix between two important dimensions of environmental literacy. I call them the “M & Ms” and the “N & Ns”: the Magic and Mystery and the Names and Numbers, or if you like, the heart stuff fostering affection for the natural world, and the head stuff fostering awareness of how it all fits together.

I also saw the need to tweak these dimensions to conform to the age and aptitudes of young readers. Here’s how Earth-shaking environmentalist and writer Rachel Carson put it in The Sense of Wonder: “I sincerely believe that, for the child, it is not half so important to know as to feel.” Putting emotional connections first – the heart stuff – she stressed the importance of paving the way for children “to want to know rather than putting them on a diet of facts they are not ready to assimilate.”

And these days, those facts are pretty scary, with much of the news blaring how the natural world is falling apart!

Galvanized by a gnawing sense of urgency and 2019’s colossal “Youthquake” when millions of young people marched to protect the planet, I added a third arrow to my environmental literacy quiver. I call it the “P&Ps” for Placard and Pen. This is the hands-on stuff to help young Earthlings build a more sustainable future, whether in their own backyards, their community, or on the global stage.

Yes, we need to nourish young readers hearts with the M&Ms that reinforce their inborn connection with nature. And, when they’re old enough, we can dial up the N&Ns to help their heads decipher the natural world. But now, like never before, the stories we write or select for children – when they’re ready for it – should help engage their hands in activism.

In my books I like to play with these three dimensions of environmental literacy, dialling them up or down according to the target age. For instance Free as the Wind is a picture book about how one boy helps to save the wild horses of Nova Scotia’s Sable Island. This story begins by cultivating a strong connection with this magical place, then introduces a stirring but relatively simple threat to its wild horses (turning them into dog food!) which the child protagonist ultimately conquers.

At the other end of my target audience is Protectors of the Planet. From the get-go this book dives headlong into Big Environmental Issues, explicitly exhorting teenagers to help solve them. But this treasury of compelling biographies is much more than a young activist’s handbook. As I write in the introduction, “In following the trails blazed by these remarkable people, may you discover excellent adventure, deep inspiration, practical advice, and rekindled hope for the future—as I have.”

Whether aimed at pre-schoolers or high-schoolers, whether fiction or non-fiction, my stories for young people are propelled by central characters bent on making the world a better place: a young boy who saves wild horses, a teen climate change crusader from the high Arctic, a city-slicker kid who becomes a defender of grizzly bears, a “screenager” who finds deliverance on a wild northern river. And of course the colourful cast of real-life characters in Protectors of the Planet – all ordinary people doing extraordinary things to safeguard life on Earth and preserve its magnificence.

My hope is that young readers can see themselves in these characters, real or imagined, and that, ultimately, they serve as role models, showing kids and teens how they too can make the world a better place when they really care about something. In that spirit, I often sign my books, “Believe in the power of one!”

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

While holding fast to the primacy of story – in my case outdoor adventure stories – my impulse to dive into a new book project always springs from some environmental issue that I care deeply about. Examples from my children’s books to date include climate change, endangered wildlife, the decline of migratory birds, and the impact of digital technology on our relationship with nature.

In the case of my most recent book, Protectors of the Planet, the underlying theme is, ‘How do we find hope and empowerment in our rapidly darkening world?’

An issue that’s grabbed me lately, especially since moving to BC, is our often-troubled relationship with forests and how we can better take care of them.

I remember while on a canoe trip many years ago, stopping on a portage to admire a white pine tree clinging to a sliver of soil on a rocky cliff high above a gorgeous lake. Wow! I thought. What would it be like to spend your entire life right here on this incredible spot?

As a nature writer committed to portraying animals accurately, one of the most challenging and fun things I like to do is enter into the first-hand experience of the non-human world. The points of view inhabited in my books include a grizzly bear, polar bear, nighthawk, turtle – even a wallaby – to name a few of my animal heroes. Often I will flip perspectives from animal to human then back again to cultivate more engagement and empathy in the reader.

So heck, why not inhabit a tree? Or a forest?

On mountain trail in BC thinking about a tree book

I used to create kid songs about trees in the early days of my writing career. Given what we’re learning about the miraculous interconnections within and below forests, and how quickly they are falling down or burning up, I feel like I’m in the right time and place to write an empowering kids book about trees.

Whatever I end up writing down the road, my top priority will always be to help nourish environmentally literate children – their hearts, heads and hands – through the magnetic power of story. This goal drives me even more since the birth of our first grandchild, whose very presence on this troubled planet tangibly changes my sense of the future, and the urgency to do what I can to make it rosier. 

For a complete listing and reviews of Jamie’s books see here

For more on Jamie’s ideas for promoting environmental literacy through the power of story, see his feature article in the Spring 2021 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News. 

For the full text of Jonathan Franzen’s controversial article, “What if we stopped pretending” (This could lead to some very interesting discussion or debate in the classroom!) click here.

You can send Jamie an email at cygnus@theedge.ca or follow him on Twitter: @JamieBastedo

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Experts’ Picks

Booksellers’ Picks

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

Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS

The Bear House, written by Meaghan MacIsaac (Holiday House, 2021) Ages  10-14

Aster Lourdes and her older sister Ursula are a pair of spoiled princesses who simply are not fit to rule a kingdom. But when their uncle commits a terrible act of betrayal (and treason!) their lives change dramatically. Ursula is captured by uncle Bram while Aster and their kingdom’s High Beast and the beast’s keeper flee and rally the heirs of several neighbouring kingdoms. Together, an unlikely and ragtag group of youngsters, each burdened by their own sorrows, grief and guilt, conspire to defeat the traitor and reunite their fractured realm. With a unique and complex mythology and political structure that is based on the constellations, this book features skillful world-building, an action-packed and fast-paced plot, and a magnificent cast of characters that each shine in their own right.



—Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

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

Librarians’ Picks

Canadian librarians share their recommendations for kids and teens.


I Love You More, written by Emil Sher, illustrated by Barbara Reid (Scholastic Canada, 2022) Ages birth – 8

The poetic wordplay of award-winning playwright and author Emil Sher, paired with the dazzling modelling clay artwork of Barbara Reid, are a perfect match in I Love You More.  Inspired by a game Sher played with his now-grown daughters, this heart-swelling picture book offers lovely ways to say you care: “I love you more than erasers love mistakes”; “I love you more than syrup loves pancakes.”  Detailed scenes follow a young boy as he makes his way through a busy day in his vibrant, downtown neighbourhood.  Small moments of kindness, connection and continuity can be found throughout, from a door held open, to a sweet note tucked inside a lunch box.  An author’s note includes an irresistible invitation to join in the word game: “All you need is a few words, and a lot of love.”  A swoon-worthy classic.





—Linda Ludke, Collections Management Librarian, London Public Library

If you are a librarian that would like to participate in this feature, please contact us.



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See you in February for our next issue, all about living with kindness!

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