CCBC May 2018 Newsletter


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Links We Love
May Book List: Canadian Jewish Heritage Month
Author Corner: Kathy Kacer
Amy’s Travels in Teen Fiction
Illustrator’s Studio: Richard Ungar
Booksellers’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends

The 2018 TD Canadian Children’s Book Week begins on May 5th and ends on May 12th; in that time 28 authors, illustrators and storytellers will give 400 readings to over 28,000 children, teens and adults in roughly 175 communities across the country. Learn more about the creators visiting your province or territory at and be sure to browse the theme guide. Check the website daily for interviews, blog posts and don’t forget to enter to win a TD Book Week prize pack at the CCBC Facebook page.

You can also bring books to life in your classroom or library with posters and bookmarks, featuring Gabrielle Grimard’s stunning illustration. Book Week materials are available now at the CCBC’s online shop. Posters are $5.95 and bookmarks are $4.95 for a set of 30. Schools and libraries with visiting authors and illustrators will receive one free poster.

Enter Formac’s Write To Win! Contest

Submissions are now open for Formac Publishing Company’s Write to Win! Contest. Atlantic Canadians aged 18 to 40 who write literary or non-fiction can enter for free. Their original unpublished work must be 20,000 to 60,000 words and written for teen or adult readers. The winner will receive $1,500 and a publishing offer. Second and third place will receive $1,000 and $500, respectively. Submissions will be judged by writers George Elliot Clarke, Sheree Fitch and Wanda Lauren Taylor. Submissions are open until June 30th, 2018.

Find more information here.

Get your copy of The Landing by John Ibbitson
978-1-5253-0025-7 $12.99 | Ages 12-14

Set in Depression-era Muskoka, this evocative and powerful Governor General’s Literary Award–winning novel follows a young musician’s awakening to the possibilities of a world beyond his borders.

The Landing is geared toward young adults, but just as easily belongs to the Canadian coming-of-age genre occupied by the likes of Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence.” — The Globe and Mail

Proceeds from this 10th Anniversary edition support the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

On sale now! Available in bookstores or through the CCBC’s online shop. Order through the CCBC and receive a FREE subscription to Canadian Children’s Book News and Best Books for Kids & Teens. Enter coupon code landing to take advantage of this limited time offer. Offer ends July 1st, 2018!

Friends of Janet Lunn Present a Celebration of the Writer’s Life

Toronto-area friends and admirers of the writer Janet Lunn will gather at Northern District Library on Tuesday, May 22. 2018, to renew acquaintance and share memories of Janet, the author of books such as The Root Cellar and The Hallow Tree.

6 pm to 8 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Northern District Library, Room 200
40 Orchard View Boulevard (Yonge & Eglinton)

Information: at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre Event Page
or here. You can also RSVP on Facebook.


IBBY Canada 2018 Illustrator in Residence at Toronto Public Library

Are you a published Canadian illustrator of children’s books? Submissions are open for the Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence program. Deadline to apply is May 18!

Find more information here.

The Spring issue of Canadian Children’s Book News is on stands now!

In the Spring issue of Canadian Children’s Book News Frieda Wishinsky interviews five authors about why they write about the amazing women they do. You’ll also find a profile of Kathy Stinson who tells Gillian O’Reilly about her writing career and how she’s managed to write in so many different genres. Our focus piece looks at what’s new in picture book titles published ten years apart (2005-2015) and we interview Gabrielle Grimard, the illustrator of this year’s TD Canadian Children’s Book Week poster.

We also introduce you to Danielle Daniel, author and illustrator of Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox, in “Keep Your Eye On…” and in our “Bookmark!” column you’ll find a selection of books that focus on strong and talented women for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Our “Red Leaf Literature” and We Recommend” columns feature reviews of some fabulous new titles in Canadian children’s literature.

Be sure to get your issue today!

Purchase your tickets to this year’s Festival of Trees (May 15-16, 2018)

Do you love to read? Are you ready to make some noise for books? Do you want to meet your favourite authors and illustForest of Reading Festival of Treesrators? Have you ever been to a “rock concert” for reading? This is your chance – be part of the largest literary event for young readers in Canada, the Festival of Trees!

The Festival of Trees is Canada’s largest literary event for young readers and is continuing to grow. It culminates in a two-day awards celebration for the school-aged and French-language programs of the Forest of Reading® in Toronto, with other satellite Festivals taking place across Ontario. More than 10,000 people attend the Festival in Toronto, which is co-presented by International Festival of Authors (IFOA), at the Harbourfront Centre.

CCBC Annual General Meeting 2018

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Annual General Meeting will be taking place on Thursday, June 14, 2018 at 6:30 pm. This year’s guest speaker is veteran publisher Jim Lorimer. CCBC members and public are welcome to attend. This year’s guest speaker is Jim Lorimer.

WHEN: Thursday, June 14, 2018 at 6:30 pm
WHERE: Room 200, Northern District Library
40 Orchard View Blvd.
Toronto, Ontario M4R 1B9

Find out more here.

CANSCAIP Art Show in Toronto

CANSCAIP ( Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) is holding an art show in Toronto that will feature 60 pieces of book art by CANSCAIP friends and members. The art show at the Canadian Contemporary School of Art will be open to the public and also to students at the school from May 2 to May 31.  An Opening Reception will be held Wednesday May 2 from 7:00 to 9:00. Everyone is welcome to a wine and cheese reception at the Canadian Contemporary School of Art to open the show.

Find out more here.

Enter CANSCAIP’s Writing For Children Contest

CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) is holding its 21st annual Writing for Children Contest. Submissions are open until May 31, 2018.

Two winners will be awarded $750 for a picture book/early reader entry and a chapter book/middle grade/young adult entry. Eight finalists will also be selected. CANSCAIP submits the winners and finalists to publishers Annick Press, Kids Can Press and Scholastic Canada for their consideration.

Find out more here.

49th Shelf Launches 49th Teachers

49th Shelf has launched 49th Teachers, a better way for teachers and librarians to find Canadian books for young readers. Be sure to check it out here!

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Links We Love

Articles and videos of interest to educators

A New Crop of Kids’ Picture Books Inspired by Women’s Historical Accomplishments

Kidlit Spotlight: Looking to children’s authors to change the schoolyard status quo

Can Write: Meet Mike Deas

Three of the best ways to read to kids, backed by science

Teenage Vandals Were Sentenced to Read Books. Here’s what One Learned.

18 Great Books Featuring Characters of Colour

Watch Astronauts Read Popular Kids Books from Space

An Edmonton Mother Didn’t See Somali-Muslim Experiences in children’s books so she wrote one

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May Book List: Canadian National Jewish Heritage Month

Beginning this year, May will be marked as Canadian National Jewish Heritage Month. Canadian Jewish Heritage Month is a chance  for Canadians to reflect on and celebrate the contributions that Jewish Canadians have made in Canada.  Find out more here.

To mark the occasion, we’ve compiled a reading list that focuses on Jewish history, customs and culture and can be used in classrooms and libraries.

Picture Books

The Bagel King
Written by Andrew Larsen
Illustrated by Sandy Nichols
Kids Can Press, 2018
ISBN 978-1-77138-574-9
IL: Ages 3-7 RL: Grades 2-3

Every Sunday morning, no matter the weather, Eli could count on Zaida to bring bagels from Merv’s Bakery. But one Sunday, Zaida didn’t come. This meant Eli had no Sunday morning bagels. And neither did Zaida’s friends, who had been receiving their own weekly deliveries from Zaida. Will they all go hungry for bagels on Sunday? Or is there something Eli can do?

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


A Sack Full of Feathers
Written by Debby Waldman
Illustrated by Cindy Revell
Orca Book Publishers, 2006
ISBN 978-1-55143-332-5
IL: Ages 4-7 RL: Grades 2-3

Yankel loves to tell stories, as long as they are someone else’s. He does not see the hurt that his stories cause, the way they spread and change. Then the rabbi hands him a bag of feathers and tells him to place one on every doorstep in the village. Yankel is changed by what happens and finds himself with his best story yet, one of his very own.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Something From Nothing: 20th Anniversary Edition
Written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman
Scholastic Canada, 2012 ©1992
ISBN 978-1-4431-1946-7
IL: Ages 5-9 RL: Grades 2-3

Joseph’s grandfather made him a beautiful blanket when he was a baby, but now it’s frazzled and worn, and Joseph’s mother says it is time to throw it out. Joseph doesn’t want to part with his special blanket, and he’s sure that his grandfather can fix it. Sure enough, Grandfather miraculously alters the blanket into useful items again and again. But when Joseph loses the final item, even Grandfather can’t make something from nothing. But maybe Joseph can?

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Yitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77049-812-9
IL: Ages 5-9 RL: Grades 2-3

On the eve of Hanukkah, the People of Chelm receive a giant menorah, a gift from the Mayor of Lublin. Every night, the villagers meet to watch the lighting of a candle on the menorah and they wonder how to thank the Mayor. Finally, on the last night of Hanukkah, Yitzi orchestrates the perfect surprise thank you gift

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Junior & Intermediate Fiction

Finding Sophie
Written by Irene N. Watts
Tundra Books, 2002
ISBN 978-0-88776-613-8
IL: Ages 10 and up RL: Grades 6-7

Sophie Mandel was only seven years old when she arrived in London on the first Kindertransport from Germany. She has grown up with a friend of her parents, a woman she calls Aunt Em, and despite the war and its deprivations, she has made a good life for herself in England with her foster mother. She has even stopped thinking about the parents she left behind. Now the war is over, and 14-year-old Sophie is faced with a terrible dilemma. Where does she belong?

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Ice Cream Town
Written by Rona Arato
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007
ISBN 978-1-55041-591-9
IL: Ages 8-11 RL: Grades 4-6

Sammy has learned to live by his wits on the voyage from Poland to the Jewish immigrant community that is to be his new home in New York City. It is here he discovers that the vibrant, noisy streets of New York are alive with challenge — even more of a challenge than his new school. Will it be Sammy’s wits, or his beautiful singing voice that will keep him out of trouble in the games of stickball in the rough-and-tumble streets?

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


The Sound of Freedom
Written by Kathy Kacer
Annick Press, 2018
ISBN 978-1-55451-970-5
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5

It’s 1936 and life is becoming dangerous for the Jews of Krakow. When Anna and her father barely escape from a group of violent thugs, it becomes clear that the family must leave. But how? There seems to be only one possibility. Bronislaw Huberman, a world-renowned violinist, is auditioning Jewish musicians for a new orchestra in Palestine. If accepted, they and their families will receive exit visas. Anna and her grandmother boldly write to Huberman asking him to give Anna’s father an audition, but will that be enough to save them?

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Stealing Home
Written by Ellen Schwartz
Tundra Books, 2006
ISBN 978-0-88776-765-4
IL: Ages 8-10 RL: Grades 3-5

It is 1947 and Yankee fever grips the Bronx. When Joey’s mother dies, he is sent to live with his mother’s estranged family. Joey is whisked away to Brooklyn. Though it’s just across town, it might as well be a different world. His grandfather, his aunt Frieda, and his 10-year-old cousin Roberta are not only white, they are Jewish. Joey knows nothing about Brooklyn or Judaism. The only thing that’s constant is the baseball madness that grips the community.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Young Adult Fiction

Playing With Matches
Written by Suri Rosen
ECW Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-77041-182-1
IL: Ages 13-15 RL: Grades 7-8

Sixteen-year-old Raina is expelled from her Manhattan private school and sent to live with her aunt in Toronto. In a tight-knit Jewish community, Raina finds she’s good at one thing: matchmaking! As the anonymous “Matchmaven,” Raina sets up hopeless older singles, but her double life is catching up with her! A heartwarming story about a girl finding happiness for others and redemption for herself.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Rachel’s Hope
Written by Shelley Sanders
Second Story Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-927583-42-5
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 8-9

Rachel Paskar and her remaining family members have finally made it to the safety of San Francisco. No longer facing persecution because she is a Jew, Rachel confronts different challenges. Nothing, however, will stop her from following her dream to be a journalist — not even the great San Francisco earthquake. But will Rachel ever see her childhood friend, Sergei, again?

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Stones on a Grave
Written by Kathy Kacer
Orca Book Publishers, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4598-0659-7
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

After the orphanage where she lives burns down, Sara follows clues about her parentage to Germany. There she learns about her Jewish heritage and, with the help of an English-speaking German boy, she discovers the facts of her mother’s brief existence and faces the horrible truth about her father. Ultimately, the knowledge she gains opens up her world and leads her to a deeper understanding of herself.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


What World Is Left
Written by Monique Polak
Orca Book Publishers, 2008
ISBN 978-1-55143-847-4
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

A pampered child used to having her own way, Anneke Van Raalte lives outside Amsterdam, where her father is a cartoonist for the Amsterdam newspaper. Though Anneke’s family is Jewish, her religion means little to her. Anneke’s life changes in 1942 when the Nazis invade Holland, and she and her family are deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers



Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Album
Written by Karen Levine
Second Story Press, 2012
ISBN 978-1-92692-036-8
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-6

On the 10th anniversary of the publication of Hana’s Suitcase, the beloved story now in a new book with over 60 pages of added materials. In 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children’s Holocaust education center in Tokyo, Japan, marked “Hana Brady, May 16, 1931.” The center’s curator searches for clues to young Hana and her family, whose happy life in a small Czech town was turned upside down by the invasion of the Nazis.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus
Written by Rona Arato
Second Story Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77260-018-6
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6

After surviving the Holocaust, 11-year-old Rachel Landesman, her mother and sister have boarded the Exodus, a dilapidated vessel smuggling 4,500 Jewish refugees risking their lives to reach Palestine and safety. Rachel and the other refugees refuse to give up hope when warships surround them. Their fight, and the worldwide attention it brought, influenced the UN to vote for the creation of the state of Israel.

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers



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Author’s Corner: Kathy Kacer

Kathy Kacer is an author dedicated to writing about the Holocaust in a way that is sensitive to young readers. A winner of numerous Forest of Reading Awards, as well as the Jewish Book Awards in Canada and the US, and the Yad Vashem Award for Children’s Holocaust Literature in Israel, Kathy has written unforgettable stories inspired by real events.  Her books have been translated into 20 languages.  She writes stories of hope, courage, and humanity in the face of overwhelming adversity. Kathy teaches writing at the University of Toronto, Canada (Continuing Studies). She also speaks to children in schools and libraries around the world about the importance of understanding the Holocaust and keeping its memory alive. 

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

For many years I was a Psychologist, working with troubled teens and their families. I loved that work but I always had this dream to write. And given my family background as a child of Holocaust survivors, I wanted to try and tell the survival stories of my parents and their friends and family members. And I knew that I wanted to start with a story about my mother that I had been told when I was very young. It was the story of how my mother had hidden in a cabinet in her mother’s dining room while Nazi soldiers searched through the house looking for her. I started to write that story down and sent it out to dozens of publishers. I was really lucky when Second Story Press decided to publish that story which became my first book, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser. Shortly after that, I took a break from the field of psychology, and began to write a second book. To date, I’ve written more than 20 books, and I haven’t looked back!

You write non-fiction and historical fiction set during World War II and the Holocaust. Tell us about the process you go through to research and write your books. How different is your approach when writing non-fiction?

Whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction I’m still writing about a very real time in history. So the research to understand that time period is pretty extensive. I read as much as I possibly can, I search through many websites, I look at photographs, I travel to various historical sites, and I talk to people who may have been there at the time and witnessed some of the events. I used to think I knew so much about the Holocaust, but I’m always amazed to discover new events that I’d never heard of, and so the research begins again! In historical fiction I’m able to create a fictional character and I weave the events of the Holocaust around that fictional character. When I write non-fiction, I’m usually writing about a real person. So not only does the context have to be accurate, but the events of that person’s life also have to be accurate. For those stories I spend hours and hours interviewing the subject of that book, trying to capture not only what that person had to endure, but who they are, how they think, and how they act.    

May is Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. What does this mean to you and why do you think it’s important?

Canadian Jewish Heritage month is meant to celebrate the contribution that Jewish Canadians have made to our country. I am certainly in awe of the many Holocaust survivors living in Canada who came to this country after the war with nothing, and established rich and fulfilling lives here. They raised families, found wonderful careers, gave generously to charitable causes, and contributed to the arts and to science and to so many other areas. These survivors are aging and sadly, many of them are no longer here. Canadian Jewish Heritage Month is another opportunity to honor these heroic survivors.

Do you have any tips for aspiring children’s book authors?

It sounds so simple or simplistic to say this, but honestly the best advice I can give is to just write!  Think of a character or a story-line and begin to jot down ideas, sentences, and bits of dialogue. Stories don’t necessarily have to happen in a linear way. You can write a bunch of short scenes and then find ways to sort them and string them together later. Those sentences and scenes will slowly start to merge into what could be a lovely story. I keep a journal with me all the time and I’m always writing ideas and short paragraphs. You’d be surprised to know how many of those ideas have found their way into my books.

How can educators incorporate your latest book, The Sound of Freedom, into the curriculum? Do you have any tips or activity suggestions?

The Sound of Freedom is actually the first in a four-part series of books called the Heroes Quartet. Each book focuses on a person who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The Sound of Freedom is about the celebrated violinist Bronislaw Huberman who saved about a hundred Jewish musicians and their families by getting them out of Europe at a time when the borders were closing down for Jews trying to escape. These musicians formed what became the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. The book is about a fictional girl who is the daughter of one of the musicians who was saved.

Book two in the series is about the famed mime artist, Marcel Marceau who saved about 150 Jewish children by smuggling them out of France and across the border into Switzerland. This book follows a young Jewish girl and her brother who are hiding in a convent in southern France and are saved by Marceau.

Books three and four in the series will also be about heroes, though I’m not sure who those individuals will be yet. I do know that they will be women who saved Jews.

I think the notion of “heroes” is such an important one for young people. This series of books provides an opportunity for educators to work with students to understand what it mean to be a hero — to stand up for others, to help the underdog, perhaps even to risk your own life. Then, students could look for other heroes of the Holocaust; there are so many! And finally, they could expand their search to find heroes of others wars and conflicts — or even heroes in their own neighbourhoods and communities.

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

Oh, so many books in the works! As I mentioned above, I’ve got three more books in the Heroes Quartet that will be published by Annick Press. The Marcel Marceau book will be out in March 2019. The others will follow, probably one a year. In addition, I have a lovely long-format picture book that will be published by Second Story Press based on a true story about Prince Phillip whose mother was a princess in Greece and hid a Jewish family in her residence during the war. Finally, I have a book that I wrote with the celebrated children’s author, Eric Walters. It’s called Broken Strings and will be published by Penguin Random House Canada in September 2019.

Find out more about Kathy’s work at

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Amy’s Travels in Teen Fiction


Hello Canadian teen book readers! This month I am talking to Danielle Younge-Ullman about the differences between writing for the stage and writing books, as well as the hallmarks of Canadian literature. Nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award and currently up for White Pine 2018 for Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined, Younge-Ullman offers insight into the writing process and how she challenges herself with her books. Next month, I will be talking to Christina Minaki, author of Burning the Boats. Enjoy, and happy reading! —Amy

*Any beliefs expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

In 2014, Amy Mathers read and reviewed 365 YA books to raise funds to create the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award.

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Illustrator’s Studio: Richard Ungar

Richard Ungar has written and illustrated five picture books for children. Many of his books are about Jewish traditions and holidays and are set in the fabled town of Chelm where the people are very silly and have their own brand of wisdom. He also writes middle grade fiction and had a great time writing a science fiction time travel series — Time Snatchers (Putnam 2012) and the sequel Time Trapped (Putnam 2013). For his latest picture book, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah (Tundra Books, 2016), he used the technique of watercolour monoprint to do the illustrations and  built an eight foot high pink menorah to bring to school readings!

How did you get your start as an illustrator? As an author?

I have always loved to draw. In grade school I sketched portraits of my Hebrew teachers on the last page of my textbooks (that last page was so beautifully white that it was impossible to resist). I also made bubble gum money selling drawings of Snoopy and Charlie Brown to my classmates for 5 cents each.

I kept drawing and painting all the way through university and my early years as a lawyer but it did not occur to me to try to illustrate a children’s book until one day in 1994 when I wandered into the children’s bookstore around the corner from my office, looking for a book to read to my then two-year-old son. Browsing through the books on the shelves, it occurred to me that maybe I could actually illustrate a children’s book.

Around the same time, veteran children’s book illustrator Mark Thurman was offering a night course at Central Tech on Illustrating for Children. I signed up right away.

One of our homework assignments was to illustrate a story. Since I couldn’t think of a story, I made up my own… or more precisely, I adapted a story from my childhood. The tales of the Wise Men of Chelm were always personal favourites… these stories are about a village of good-hearted fools who use their silly logic to create and solve their own problems.

I picked a story that was one paragraph long… the people of Chelm were so enamoured with the moon that they wanted to capture it so that they could gaze on it night and day… so the village elders captured it inside a rain barrel (of course it was only the moon’s reflection they had captured).

I reimagined that story with a little girl, Rachel, as the heroine, and enlarged it to include several equally silly attempts by the villagers to capture the moon before Rachel finally succeeded.

Mark liked my story so much that he encouraged me to submit it to a publisher along with my illustrations.

So I did and the stars (and the moon) must have been shining on me, because it became my first published children’s book called Rachel Captures the Moon (Tundra Books).

So, in a way, I fell into writing quite by accident… I needed some words to go along with my pictures!

Can you walk us through the artistic process for your illustrative work?

After I write the story I think about the different scenes that I want to illustrate. I don’t do a page-break at that point — except in my head. I kind of know intuitively which scenes I want to illustrate and which ones are important for the story (and I hardly ever get flack from the author on my choices… so long as I feed him chocolate, he is generally happy).

I start with a lot of small sketches called thumbnails, that are not artistically very good but help we work out the composition of the drawing. I try to vary the point of view so that not all of the final paintings will be the same middle distance which is usually my default.

After I have a composition I like, I work up the small sketch into a detailed rough drawing that I will draw with a soft pencil or conte. I work very large so sometimes the roughs are 22 inches by 30 inches.

Somewhere in between the thumbnails and the roughs I consult with my editor on the orientation of the book and therefore the illustrations (i.e., either portrait or landscape orientation).

I try to make the roughs as detailed as possible and include all elements that will be in the final painting. The roughs will go to my editor before I go final with any of them.

I often use photographic references for elements of my rough drawings. Four of my picture books are set in Chelm. Although a fictional village, Chelm is generally depicted in Jewish literature as a shtetl in Poland. Years ago I discovered the work of photographer Roman Vishniac, who, in his book A Vanished World depicts through amazing photos everyday Jewish life in Eastern Europe pre-World War II. Along with Vishniac who took many of his pictures with a hidden camera, my other favourite is Alter Kacyzne (his book of photographs is called Polyn).

Sometimes my editor will come back with comments (e.g., a character’s gloves looks different from one scene to the next) and I will adjust the rough and sometimes resubmit before going on to do the final.

The next part, the final art, is the most fun for me because I love applying colour and while the roughs are also fun they are actually quit a bit of work in the planning.

I usually work in watercolour and then refine the images with coloured pencil. I start by tracing my rough drawing onto a sheet of watercolour paper using tracing paper.

There’s no such thing as having too much fun, so I sometimes like to hide things in my paintings. In my book, Even Higher there’s a small bird that appears in each of the illustrations. In Rachel’s Library, the book that Rachel is reading on the last page is Rachel Captures the Moon.

I mostly apply colour intuitively so if it feels right to paint a horse blue I go for it. Of course, there is a limit to how wild I can go with some things since I need to make my characters recognizable from one page to the next.

For my recent book, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah, I wanted to challenge myself, so I created the final art in watercolour monoprints, a printmaking technique where you paint on glass and then, with the help of a printing press (or the back of a wooden spoon), transfer the image from the glass to a piece of watercolour paper. The effects that you can get using this technique are quite dazzling!

You have a distinct and unique art style that utilizes bright colours so beautifully. Can you tell us about your illustration style and how it came about?

Thanks for the nice words. I admit I love bright colours (maybe too bright sometimes… in Rachel’s Library I used neon colours and that book is best read while wearing sunglasses).

When I first started painting watercolours years ago I was fairly timid with my use of colour. My present style — heavy, almost pastel-like application of watercolours in a kind of folk style, evolved over a number of years. I am particularly drawn to the works of Chagall, Cezanne and Van Gogh and whenever I have an opportunity to view an exhibit showing their work I try to go.

Your Rachel series draws on Jewish folklore and Jewish culture is so prominent in your work. May is Canadian Jewish Heritage Month: what does that mean to you?

Being Jewish is an integral part of who I am. There is a rich tradition of folktales within Judaism and it is important to me and also meaningful to me as a Jew, that I contribute in my own small way to sustaining that tradition and to preserving Jewish culture. Whenever I am invited to tell one of my stories at a Jewish day school, I view it as not only an event where I can tell the kids stories and make them laugh at some of my funny antics, but also as an honour to be granted the opportunity to impart some of that rich culture and tradition to the children.

Do you have any advice for educators looking to incorporate your books into the classroom? Do you have any tips or activity suggestions?

Certainly. On one level I believe my picture books are a good way to introduce Jewish and Non-Jewish children alike to certain of the Jewish holidays and the customs associated with those holidays (i.e., Rachel’s Gift — Passover, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah — Hannukah and Even Higher — Rosh Hashanah.)

Richard built an eight foot high pink menorah to bring to his school readings!

On another level, the books can be an entry point for discussions around charitable works and acts of kindness (Rachel’s Gift and Even Higher), the true meaning of giving and receiving gifts (Yitzi and the Giant Menorah) and the importance of community in getting together to solve a problem (Rachel Captures the Moon, Rachel’s Library and Yitzi and the Giant Menorah).

Giving children a voice is also an important theme running through many of my stories. Rachel and Yitzi are the ones that come up with solutions after the adults fail to do so themselves and after they initially exclude the children from what they call “adult business”. Teacher/student discussions can be had around valuing the contributions of others, including children.

I sometimes “hide” things in my books so one possible activity for teachers using Even Higher in the classroom could be to ask the kids if they can find the small bird in each of the illustrations and then discuss why a bird might be more appropriate than say, a dog, for this story.

With Rachel Captures the Moon, one fun activity might be for kids to come up with their own ideas for capturing the moon and have them draw those ideas.

After reading Yitzi and the Giant Menorah, one activity could be to think up different acts of kindness as a way of saying thank you rather than the giving a “material” gift.

What is next for you? What projects are you working on now?

I am quite excited about the projects I am working on now. My biggest (i.e., most time-consuming) one is a middle-grade adventure/fantasy novel set partly in Nepal and partly in an alternate world. The others are picture book manuscripts including a story about a magical sukkah, another about pigeons coming to the rescue of a homeless man and a third about a grumpy prince who can’t stand being around happy people. The stories seem to be pouring out of me! I’m also doing a lot of sketching in pen and ink and looking forward to taking a course in pastels this summer.

I will also  be showing two of my original paintings from my books at the CANSCAIP art show. More than 60 pieces of children’s book art by CANSCAIP Members and Friends will be exhibited in May 2018 at the Canadian Contemporary School of Art at 109 Vanderhoof Avenue (Eglinton E & Brentcliffe) in Toronto. Find more information here.

Images courtesy of Richard Ungar. Find out more about his work at

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Booksellers’ Picks

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

Munro’s Books in Victoria, BC: The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby (Penguin Teen Canada, 2018), Ages 12 and up.

Our pick will have to be Susan Juby’s The Fashion Committee. Several of our staff have read and loved this book. Set on Vancouver Island, it is also near to our hearts in that way.

Charlie Dean’s world is dedicated to becoming an internationally known fashion designer (she is already working on her French). In the meantime, she is determined to win a scholarship to a private arts high school — just so long as she can sidestep the chaos that her father (a recovering drug addict) brings in his wake. Also vying for the prize is John Thomas-Smith, a boy who makes metal sculptures and knows nothing about fashion. These two divergent personalities narrate a hilarious and touching story about clothes, art and the commitment to succeed, whatever the consequence. — Kirsten Larmon, Children’s Book Buyer

Munro’s Books: 1108 Government St., Vancouver BC V8W 1Y2

Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: EveryBody’s Different on EveryBody Street by Sheree Fitch, illustrated by Emma Fitzgerald (Nimbus Publishing, 2018), Ages 4-8

This is a reissue of a poem that Sheree was asked to write as a fundraiser for the Nova Scotia Hospital, and this latest version features art by Emma Fitzgerald.  It is a magnificent pairing!  Fitch’s rollicking verse is lively and energetic as it reminds us that we are all unique and wonderful, even while there are so many fundamental ways in which we are so very much the same.  She reminds us that we all have our own struggles, and some struggle deeply, painfully in ways that we may never understand, but we must never stop trying to recognize how profoundly interconnected we all are.  Fitzgerald’s busy and detailed illustrations are playful and sprightly, and they deftly depict the bustle of daily life.  They are filled with motion and with feeling.  It is a beautiful, important book with a message that will never cease to be relevant. — Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

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

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

Staff Pick

We’re surrounded by books at the CCBC; we practically live off of children’s books! Here’s what we recommend this month.

A Day With Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Julie Flett (Tradewind Books, 2017), Ages 3-7.

With spring finally here, this book about a family on an outing to gather plants and mushrooms seems like the perfect book to be read in May. Set in the Nicola Valley in British Columbia, A Day With Yayah follows an Indigenous family who speak Nłeʔkepmxcín, a language that is considered endangered. The story follows the children as they spend the day with Yayah, their grandmother, who shares with them her love for the earth and her language.  Yayah patiently teaches the children words for rhubarb, celery, potatoes and sunflower and the uses for the plants that they find. Julie Flett’s artwork captures the happy family with beautiful simplicity. Depicting an Nłeʔkepmx Indigenous family doing simple things — speaking their language, foraging for mushrooms, tanning deers hides— that were once forbidden to them makes this beautiful story also a powerful one. — Emma Hunter, CCBC Marketing and Website Coordinator

Next Month

Look for our June newsletter early next month: it’s all about Pride Month and we’ll have featured interviews from author Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Emma Fitzgerald.