CCBC October 2016 Newsletter


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Links We Love
October Book List: CCBC Award Nominees
Author Corner / Amy’s Travels in YA
Illustrator’s Studio: Dianna Bonder
Booksellers’ Picks
Now available: Canadian Children’s Book News, Fall 2016

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

Upcoming Seminar: The Business of Writing: Selling Your Books, Selling Yourself
What can authors do to promote themselves and their books? What business skills should authors have? How can you use social media to your advantage? How can you reach schools and libraries? Join us on November 26 and let our panel of experts show you the best ways to be a self-promoter!

Our panel of industry professionals will include:

  • Helaine Becker, author
  • Debbie Ohi, author-illustrator
  • Felicia Quon, Vice President, Marketing and Publicity, Simon & Schuster Canada
  • Joel Sutherland, author and children’s librarian

Click here to register!

CBC Books is where adventure begins!
cbcbooksTD and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, in partnership with CBC Books, have launched the Fan Choice contest. Young readers, aged 8 to 13, are invited to choose their favourite book from the five titles shortlisted for this year’s TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award.

The winning contestant, selected by a random draw, will receive $500. Her/his classroom will be visited by a nominated author, with books for all the students, and $2,000 will be donated to the school library. The contest is open until October 30th, 2016 at 12 pm ET, at

The TD Canadian Children’s Literature Fan Choice Award will be presented to the author of the most popular book at the Toronto gala on Nov. 17, 2016.tdbookweek

Save the date! TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2017
TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2017 runs from May 6-13, 2017. Book Week applications open October 15, 2016. Visit to apply for a Book Week visit in your school or library and find out which authors, illustrators and storytellers will be touring your area!

Finalists Announced for the 2016 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards
Last month we announced the finalists for our eight major awards for Canadian children’s books, including the $30,000 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. Click here for the full list of nominees.

Links We Love

Articles and videos of interest to educators

100 YA Books That Will Make You Proud to Be a Canadian

Printable Math Activity Mats

This Is How Many Books You Should Have In Your Home To Turn Your Kid Into A Reader

Why girls need STEM and why STEM needs girls

Dad And Kids Spend A Year Painting 1,000 Rocks For Best Game Of ‘I Spy’ Ever

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October Book List: CCBC Book Awards

This month, we are highlighting the nominated books for four of the awards administered by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre: the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction. The winners will be announced on November 17, 2016. We will be sharing our other three awards next month.

Picture Books


In a Cloud of Dust
Written by Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Pajama Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-927485-62-0
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3
In a Tanzanian village school, Anna does her homework at lunch because it will be dark by the time she gets home. When the bicycle library truck comes by, Anna is late — all the bikes are gone. She hides her disappointment, however, and cheers on her friends as they learn to ride. But her kindhearted classmates find a way to share so they can all get home.
Nominated for: Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Dušan Petričić
Tundra Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77049-613-2
IL: Ages 5-9 RL: Grades 2-3
Bill just wanted someone to pass him the potatoes. Unfortunately, no one even noticed — not his mother (a very busy woman), not his father (a very important man), not his older brother, not even his little sister. If someone had noticed, the wonderful, terrible thing that happened might never have happened. But it did. An absurd and clever take on the overlooked middle child.
Nominated for: Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Missing Nimâmâ
Written by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Clockwise Press, 2015
ISBN 978-0-9939351-4-5
IL: Ages 10 and up RL: Grades 4-5
A young mother, one of the many missing Indigenous women, watches over her small daughter as she grows up, raised by her nohkom. Together, but separated, they experience important milestones: the first day of school, first dance, first date, a wedding. A story of love, loss and acceptance told in alternating voices, this picture book conveys the human side of a national tragedy.
Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Sidewalk Flowers
Storyline by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55498-431-2
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: n/a
In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while walking with her distracted father who spends much of the time on his cell phone. Each flower she picks becomes a gift — for a dead bird, a man sleeping on a bench, a dog — and whether the gift is acknowledged or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter. This title is also available in French as Les fleurs poussent aussi sur les trottoirsi.
Nominated for: Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox
Written and illustrated by Danielle Daniel
Groundwood Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55498-750-4
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 1-2
In this introduction to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals, children, wearing masks representing their chosen animal, explain why they identify with different creatures such as a deer, beaver or moose. The author’s note explains the importance of totem animals in Anishinaabe culture and how they also act as animal guides, instructing and protecting children as they navigate their physical and spiritual life.
Nominated for: Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


That Squeak
Written by Carolyn Beck (Toronto, ON)
Illustrated by François Thisdale (Carignan, QC)
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55455-293-1
IL: Ages 8-11 RL: Grades 4-5
Joe and Jay were best friends. They loved to bike together and laugh at “that squeak” in Jay’s bicycle seat. Now Jay is gone, but his bike is still at school — rusty and forgotten. When the new kid, Carlos, offers to help him clean and fix it, Joe thinks he wants to steal it. But he finds an unexpected friend in Carlos, who is more than he appears.
Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


The Wolf-Birds
Written and illustrated by Willow Dawson
Owlkids Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77147-054-4
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 2-4
Deep in the wild winter wood, two hungry ravens huddle in wait for their next meal. Deep in the wild winter wood, a pack of wolves is also on the hunt. Food is scarce, so an extraordinary alliance forms. Together, wolf pack and ravens (wolf-birds) will stalk, chase, hunt and feast — all to keep starvation at bay.
Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


A Year of Borrowed Men
Written by Michelle Barker
Illustrated by Renné Benoit
Pajama Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-927485-83-5
IL: Ages 7-10 RL: Grades 2-3
When World War II “borrows” the men in seven-year-old Gerda’s family, the German government sends them, in return, three French prisoners of war who will work the farm until the war is over. Gerda knows they are supposed to treat the men as enemies, but can’t they invite them into the warm house for one meal? What harm could it do to be friendly?
Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate Fiction


Clover’s Luck
(Magical Animal Adoption Agency)
Written by Kallie George
HarperCollins Publishers, 2015
ISBN 978-1-44341-980-2
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 2-3
Clover has always felt decidedly unlucky — until she discovers the Magical Animal Adoption Agency. The M.A.A.A. rescues magical creatures: a cursed toad, fire salamanders, fairy horses, unicorns and a fiery young dragon. All of a sudden, Clover finds herself immersed in a world of magic, wizards, princesses — and a wicked witch who will test Clover’s strength, courage and luck.
Nominated for: Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


The Nest
Written by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Publishers, 2015
ISBN 978-1-44343-862-9
IL: Ages 11-14 RL: Grades 6-7
In this beautiful, menacing novel, an anxious boy becomes convinced that angels will save his sick baby brother. But these are creatures of a different kind, and their plan for the baby has a twist. Layer by layer, he unravels the truth about his new friends as the time remaining to save his brother ticks down. Evocative, disquieting illustrations enhance this journey into one boy’s deepest insecurities and darkest fears.
Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Young Adult Fiction


The Scorpion Rules
(Prisoners of Peace)
Written by Erin Bow
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4814-4271-8
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 9-10
Crown Princess Greta is a hostage to peace. These are the edicts of the Artificial Intelligence, Talis: every head of state must give a child as a hostage. Start a war? Your hostage dies. Dignified Greta is prepared to die, until Elian arrives and defies everything. His rebellion awakens Greta to the brutality of the system and her own power. Then war is declared, and the hostages are taken hostage.
Nominated for: Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


A Thousand Nights
Written by E.K. Johnston
Disney-Hyperion, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4847-2227-5
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 9-10
Lo-Melkhiin killed 300 girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. He wants the loveliest girl — her sister — but she takes her sister’s place, sure that death will follow. But each night, Lo-Melkhiin listens to her stories and she continues to live. With each tale she spins, her power grows. She dreams of more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can end the rule of a monster.
Nominated for: Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


The Unquiet
Written by Mikaela Everett
Greenwillow Books, 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-238127-9
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 9-10
Lirael is the perfect sleeper-soldier, trained to kill — and replace — a duplicate version of herself on a parallel Earth. The two Earths are almost identical in every way — but two versions of the same thing cannot exist, and Lirael’s Earth is slowly disappearing. Lirael slips seamlessly into her original’s life, waiting… but when the final order comes, will she still be willing to destroy those who love her?
Nominated for: Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers



The Art of the Possible: An Everyday Guide to Politics
Written by Edward Keenan
Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
Owlkids Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77147-068-1
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 6-7
Politics is more than just adults governing society and making laws; politics is how we make decisions. How we get along. And it is influenced by all people — even you! This book helps foster curiosity about how a government works — or doesn’t work. Readers will come away equipped with the knowledge they need to understand current events and elections, and maybe even be empowered to civic action themselves!
Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars
Written by Maria Birmingham
Illustrated by Josh Holinaty
Owlkids Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77147-045-2
IL: Ages 11 and up RL: Grades 6-7
Is it possible to live forever? People have been trying to figure out a way to escape mortality since, well, forever. This intriguing book takes readers on a fast-paced tour of some wacky and wise methods humans have used to try prolonging their lives — from ancient immortality elixirs and quests for a fountain of youth to modern-day research into cryogenics and robotics.
Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War
Written by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Kids Can Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77138-126-0
IL: Ages 11 and up RL: Grades 6-7
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.
Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat
Written by Paula Ayer
Annick Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55451-718-3
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 5-6
What do you think of when you think about food? Society’s obsession with food means we are constantly bombarded with messages about what and what not to eat. This entertaining and highly informative book provides the big picture about food — its history, science, marketing, economics, production and more. An indispensable guide for savvy teens to separate food myths from reality.
Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and You
Written by Cory Silverberg
Illustrated by Fiona Smyth
Seven Stories Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-60980-606-4
IL: Ages 7-11 RL: Grades 4-5
Re-imagining the “sex talk” for the 21st century, this inclusive comic book for children and families of all makeups, orientations and gender identities offers a funny and engaging tool for talking about bodies, gender and sexuality. Topics include safety, privacy, sexual anatomy, sex and gender, crushes, using “sexy” words and more.
Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Author’s Corner / Amy’s Travels in YA

by Amy Mathers

It’s October, which means it’s time for my favourite column of the year, my interviews with the five Amy Mathers Teen Book Award Finalists! I spent five days in a mini Marathon of Books reading 5 To 1 by Holly Bodger, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Young Man With Camera by Emil Sher and Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly to prepare my questions, and each author has enthusiastically responded with thoughtful answers that showcase exactly what I love about Canadian teen fiction. Hope you enjoy their insights as much as I did.

5 to 1 by Holly BodgerHolly Bodger

5 To 1 is speculative in nature, but also a thoughtful exploration about how the tables might turn on gender selection in the future. What first inspired you to study gendercide and imagine its ultimate impact?

As a feminist who cut her teeth on Margaret Atwood novels as a teen, I’ve always been interested in the topic of gender equality. The idea for this specific novel however, was inspired by a medical journal article that was published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). This article analyzed the effects that ultrasound technology has had on certain countries such as India and China. It was a true eye-opener for me, not because it discussed what was happening to girls (which I was at least partially aware of) but because it also discussed how this gender imbalance will affect boys in the future as well. It was the authors’ prognostications for the future that became the seeds for my setting in 5 To 1.

Your use of both free verse and prose makes for a stark contrast between the two narratives of Sudasa and Kiran. Why did you choose to represent their characters in such distinct ways?

This novel started for me in the voice of Sudasa. I saw her as a well-educated girl who had a lot of time to daydream about the world around her. I’ve often described her as having “her head in the clouds” at least in the beginning of the story, and the verse seemed to work well for this.

Kiran, on the other hand, is not well-educated and is very matter-of-fact. He is entirely focused on his goal, and doesn’t have time to dream or analyze. Because of this, he had to speak in prose to me.

Though your book is set in India, what effect do you think Canada has had on your writing?

People joke that Canadians apologize too much, but I think that is rooted in our willingness to accept—if not embrace—what it means to make mistakes. When I decided to write about the issue of gender selection, I wasn’t looking to blame another country for something they’d done. Instead, I was trying both to understand it, and to search for my own role in the cause and in the solution.

Like the issue with missing Indigenous girls and women in Canada, being unmoved by something or refusing to move in support of change can often be as bad as being part of the problem itself. I wrote this book because I wanted to do something to draw more attention to the issue.

What motivates you to write for a teen audience?

When I was 16, I wrote a poem about being immune to pain because I honestly thought I was at that age. When I look back now, I see that I was not immune to it but hyperaware. Teens notice things. They feel them. They react to them. They get excited or sad or enraged. I write for them because I think they are the group of people who connect as emotionally to my stories — and issues — as I do.

Scorpion Rules by Erin BowErin Bow

One of the many aspects that makes the epic storytelling of The Scorpion Rules work is your ability to blend established history and recent pop culture references with the future history you’ve created. What inspired you to base your fictional future on the wars and philosophers of the past?

I don’t have the imagination to start from scratch! History is so intricately interwoven. It’s hard to recreate that for a book if you don’t pull a thread forward here and there.

This book, specifically, actually started as a historical fantasy. I tried a book set in Tenochtitlán (the Aztec capital that became Mexico City) in 1521. (It was called The Teleportation of Gilbert Perez, and it was based on a real-ish historical incident: read about it here and then write the book for me?) I got about 30,000 words into my Aztec book when my carry-on bag with my notebook, my computer, and my external backup was stolen. I never could recover either the words or the thread of the novel.

But I wanted to keep one thing I’d come across in my research: the figure of the royal sacrifice, of the child raised to be royal/divine, but doomed to be a human sacrifice. That’s as much Inca as Aztec and as much myth as anything, but in the stories, at least, these children were willing sacrifices. Surely they must have been terrified. But they were willing.

I took one of those kids, and turned her into a future Canadian princess.

As for all the pop culture references, that’s something I’ve wanted to do for a bit, just for my own amusement, and haven’t been able to because my previous books were historical. But it turns out that if you set a book 500 years into the future but make one of your characters 500-plus years old, you can get away with Darth Vader jokes.

While the story of the Precepture containing the Children of Peace is largely about Greta, she is backed by a cast of memorable, authentic and distinct characters, including Talis, the AI overlord. Was it difficult to get into their various perspectives while writing and to leave Talis behind when you were done?

It was so hard to leave Greta and Talis behind that I didn’t — I wrote them a book two! It’s called The Swan Riders. They go on a road trip! With horses!

The character I had the hardest time leaving behind was Xie, Greta’s best friend and roommate and eventual lover. Xie is hereditary ruler of a good chunk of central Asia, and a smart and soft-spoken badass. I loved writing about her, and I loved writing about Xie and Greta together. The geography of The Swan Riders required Greta to be physically apart from almost all the other children in The Scorpion Rules, and Xie is the one I missed the most.

(Because of the sketchy track record media has on this point, I will note that nothing tragic happens to Xie. I have a firm rule against killing the queer girls. I feel it’s been done.)

Canada has a more obvious influence in The Scorpion Rules with its Saskatchewan setting and Greta being a Canadian princess. In what other ways would you say Canada has affected your writing?

Hmmm. I don’t think I know what Canadian-ness is, beyond a certain apologetic self-doubt and self-conscious marginalism, both of which I personally have nailed. Culturally speaking, the American Midwest (where I’m from) and Southwest Ontario (where I’ve lived for many years), are kissing cousins. You could call me a Midwestern writer or a Canadian writer, and the labels would be equally true, and mean about the same thing.

So I feel quite at home in Canada, my adopted country. But I have long been struck by one important difference between the Canadian outlook and the American outlook. Where America as a country exists to ensure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Canada exists as a country to ensure “peace, order, and good government.” Most YA dystopias lean American, in that they’re about liberty and personal happiness. The Scorpion Rules is profoundly Canadian dystopian: it’s what you get when you take “peace, order, and good government,” and go way too far.

Actually, even calling it a dystopia doesn’t quite do it justice. Like Canada itself, The Scorpion Rules is a utopia with cracks in it. The peaceful, orderly world in The Scorpion Rules is a pretty good deal, for everyone except these six particular kids at the centre of the story. I was interested in telling a story where rebellion is not the obviously right choice.

What motivates you to write for a teen audience?

First, I genuinely love teenagers. I love how they have their hearts on their sleeves; I love the way they charge ahead instead of spending years noodling about in stale jobs or relationships. I love and have huge sympathy for the high-stakes work they do to figure themselves out. I am still working on figuring myself out, and so are my characters, so writing them as teenagers is often a natural fit.

I also use teenagers as a quality control system. Teenagers will not read a book that does not tell a story. Since I love stories above all things, this suits me, and I seek most of my new reads in the YA section. I write YA because I like to read YA. Ultimately I’m writing books that I would love to read.

Truth Commission by Susan JubySusan Juby

In The Truth Commission, main character Normandy’s creative non-fiction writing project is carried largely by her strong, genuine and often humorous voice. Since winning the Stephen Leacock Medal this year, do you feel any pressure for your writing to always be funny or (given the humorous nature of the Alice books and the Woefield Farm series) it’s something that comes naturally to you?

Humour comes very naturally to me, particularly in my writing. It’s often how I make sense of things and cope with situations or feelings. That said, I won’t use humour to replace sadness or any other mood if the story doesn’t warrant it. Often a sense of humour is the main thing standing between my characters and the abyss.

The Truth Commission‘s focus on rooting out people’s authentic truths is admirable while also being controversial and potentially damaging as Normandy and her friends soon discover. Did you ever have a truth you wanted to uncover regardless of its impact?

A: Good question! When I was younger I was keen to know everyone’s secrets and truths. Then I slowly realized that I couldn’t un-know the things I learned. As an adult, I find I sometimes appreciate having only a surface understanding of a person or a situation. It’s enough of a challenge to fully be open to the truth about myself. Still, I admire the youthful hunger for understanding.

You’re known for being part of the amazing collective of Canadian teen authors in British Columbia — how do you think your surroundings have influenced your writing?

It’s true that we have wonderful teen writers here. My time living in small- and medium-sized BC towns (Smithers and Nanaimo) has made me appreciate what is excellent and absurd and interesting about smaller communities. There’s a forced integration and a sense of humility or at least an awareness of not being at the centre that makes for intriguing dynamics. I’ve lived in Toronto and Vancouver but have never felt tempted to set my stories in those places. The resource-based town is a key part of the Canadian identity and experience.

What motivates you to write for a teen audience?

I failed myself as a teen. I was so busy trying to fit in with older people and escape from my discomfort that I missed a lot of the teen experience. Writing for teens has allowed to me revisit those times from the point of view of characters who are braver and have more integrity. Thank goodness!

mathers_young-man-with-cameraEmil Sher

With your book essentially being a literary version of a Diane Arbus photograph, did you struggle in deciding what to focus on and what to leave out?

That choice — what stays, what can go — is one that hovers over my shoulder throughout the writing process…and it often hums incessantly.  Initially, it does feel like a struggle when I feel I have to make that kind of choice, because initially I’m attached to my characters and the situations they find themselves in.  But my guiding principle whenever I write (and I write in different genres) is a simple question that anchors me: does it serve the story?  This is akin to the oft-repeated mantra to ‘kill your darlings’, to cut the phrases, the passages and, yes, the characters you feel are essential, only to discover otherwise.  So you may well love a turn of phrase or what you think is the perfect word but you owe it to yourself, to your readers, to the story to take a step back and ask yourself how it all fits into the landscape of the world you’re creating.  Very often those beloved passages and chapters are detours that lead us away from a narrative that should be moving forward from page to page.  At one point, the manuscript for Young Man with Camera was edging toward 70,000 words.  The final tally was closer to 40,000.  So it’s as if I wrote two novels but preserved but one.

T—’s photographer perspective grants readers insightful and rare views into people like Lucy and Ruby who are usually overlooked, while his own ability to remain slightly out of focus is both frustrating and captivating. Throughout his story though, he displays an extensive knowledge of his craft as he makes choices as an artist and also learns from other photographers. Does the expertise behind T—’s ability come from your personal experience with photography or thorough research?

I don’t have any real experience as a photographer but I’ve long been drawn to the medium because I do believe every photograph is its own narrative.  In other words, every picture tells us a story, and just as there’s subtext in the stories we tell — how what is unsaid can reveal as much as what’s spoken — I was intrigued by the idea of using photographs to explore this theme: for all that we see, what lies beyond the frame?  In this way, photographs become a metaphor for someone like T—, who is reduced by many (certainly his peers) to little more than his scars.  As we soon discover, T— is a layered individual, and fiction allows us to peel away layers and discover what lies beneath the surface.

What also drew me to integrate a photographer and photography into the narrative was the rich concept of perspective.  Given how T— has been marginalized and finds himself standing on the margins, he has a perspective denied to those who are in the thick of it, so to speak.  In this way, what might otherwise be considered a liability — life on the margins — can become its own gift, as T— discovers truths he might otherwise never have known.

Having grown up in Quebec and now living in Ontario, how do you think your familiarity with both French and English Canada has influenced your writing?

Although I grew up in an English-speaking neighbourhood in Montreal I was, of course, keenly aware that it was but a patch in the larger fabric of a French-speaking province.  And so I was aware of living in a world where there were differences: a different language, a different culture, a different perspective.  In the wrong hands, differences can be wielded as threats.  In the rights hands, they can be revealed in ways that enrich us.  Part of a writer’s responsibility is to see beyond one’s own perch, to see the world through a lens beyond the one you know.  In this way, it was invaluable to be raised in a city where the gap between cultures proved to be fertile ground.  In some ways, every book is its own bridge as characters strive to connect with others, or themselves.

Young Man With Camera is your first book for a teen audience. What motivated you to try writing for teens?

Writing a novel for young readers felt like a very natural progression from all the writing I had done for young audiences. I have written several plays for children, creating works for kids of all ages.  And while I love how theatre invites audiences into a world unlike any other, there is something about the relationship between a single reader and a story that appealed to me, not least because I know what it’s like to curl up with a book and cloak yourself in the images, the moments, the characters that you weave with the words an author gives you.  And it’s not just teens I hope to connect with through the written word. I have written two board books and two picture books, and the experience of working with an illustrator to engage young minds is rewarding, well, beyond words.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie TromlyStephanie Tromly

While a mystery about the abduction of a four-year-old and the disappearance of a teenage girl, Trouble is a Friend of Mine is also a character-led story with wonderfully comical moments and situations. Did putting a humorous angle on serious events come naturally or was it something you needed to work to find?

Sadly, I’m not one of those lucky people to whom writing comes easily so it’s all work and it’s all super hard. I agonize over every word I write. I would say, though, that in my own life, when absurdly bad things happen to me, I often find that the only response I come up with is often itself absurd. I may have a sad clown thing going on…

The friendship between Digby and Zoe is unique in its quick strength and loyalty. Though Digby is hardly someone that can be ignored or put off, he and Zoe both benefit from their companionship, able to ask for what they need and protect each other from their blind spots. What was the inspiration behind this compelling friendship?

I draw heavily on my own relationships when I write about Zoe and Digby. In high school, I used to despair that I wasn’t part of a big squad (we didn’t call it that back then but that’s what they were). As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve realized that really, I’m more of a one-on-one kind of person. Now, I have a few core ride-or-die relationships where I have the kind of intimacy people respond to when they see it depicted on the page. It’s a huge privilege and I’m grateful to have such good people around me.

It’s not all just drawn from real life, though, and I’m very aware that when I’m writing Digby and Zoe’s scenes, I’m participating in a long tradition of buddy comedies. Well, a classic buddy comedy with updates. I have to make a conscious effort not to let Digby’s manic energy overwhelm Zoe and I have to fight the tendency to have her more normal, less naturally risk-taking character slide into the role of the straight man. All that is hard work because I find that when I take my hand off the wheel even for just a little bit, characters get sucked into their pigeonholes.

From your bio it sounds like you’ve lived in many places and experienced many countries. Do you think living in Canada has influenced your writing? If so, how?

Anyone who’s lived in Winnipeg will recognize the geography of the city in the River Heights I depict in the book. I should also mention that I used things like the real cult across the street from me when I was putting together the plot. I mean, I wrote this book while trapped inside the house with my newborn kid during a brutal Winnipeg winter. I stared out my window and fabricated tall tales about my perfectly nice neighbours because I had severe cabin fever.

But, while Canada itself is physically in the book, it’s in the overall mood of the story that you can really tell a Canadian wrote it. Let’s just say: garrison mentality, Zoe equals Canada, Digby’s overwhelming energy equals the United States, and Zoe’s sense of River Heights’ not-New Yorkness is her fear of the vast emptiness of the landscape. I can feel my Can Lit professor sending me all the love right now.

What motivates you to write for a teen audience?

My own teenage years were emotionally tumultuous. I was the new girl in a clique-driven school in a very different culture. I’d never been in school with boys before and I’d never been in an English-only classroom…it was a lot to deal with and I was awkward and miserable. Maybe I’ve set my first few books in my teenage years because I wanted to tell my readers, GOOD NEWS YOU WILL SURVIVE!

The winner of the 2016 Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, sponsored by Sylvan Learning, will be presented on November 17, 2016 in Toronto.

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Illustrator’s Studio: Dianna Bonder

dianna-bonderDianna Bonder was born in Kamloops, BC, and worked as a commercial artist before finding her way into children’s books. Her books include The Pacific Alphabet, Accidental Alphabet, Three Royal Tales, Digging Canadian Dinosaurs, and ABSea: A Deepsea Symphony. This month, she will be the 2016 Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence at the Stanley A. Milner Library in Edmonton. Dianna lives on Gabriola Island, BC.

How did you get started as an illustrator?

When I was a little girl, I completely immersed myself in children’s books and dreamed of becoming a children’s illustrator or writer. My love of books started with my mother, an elementary school teacher, who wanted to be a writer. She never realized her dream of being an author, however, she instilled a love for books in me at a very early age. As a young adult, I studied Fine Arts and Fashion Design and Illustration in college and eventually found myself working in the advertising industry. After a few years working as an illustrator for commercial work, I grew really tired and unfocused by the work I was doing. So in looking for another avenue for my artwork, I found myself looking towards children’s books again.

The more I immersed myself into children’s literature, the more fascinated I was by it. I found myself really drawn to working in this genre. My first book was a Pacific Alphabet written by Margriet Ruurs, and it went on to be a bestseller selling 60,000 copies in BC alone, partly due to a kickstart to reading program for all kindergarten children in BC. After the success of that first book, I have gone on to write and illustrate 13 more titles. I am now working on my 14th picture book with the Vancouver Public Library. With more ideas than I can possibly ever execute, I often find myself in the position of having too many ideas and just too little time!

This October, you will be the 2016 Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence at the Stanley A. Milner Library in Edmonton (Oct. 17 to Nov. 10). Can you tell us about what you have planned for the month?

386As the chosen illustrator for this year’s Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence Program, I am truly honoured to be given the position at the Edmonton Public Library (EPL). This is the very first year that the EPL has hosted this program so it’s an exciting new adventure for everyone involved!! This residency has been developed by Joanne’s family and IBBY Canada. It provides Canadian children’s illustrators the opportunity to share their work with the communities that they are immersed into but it also provides those communities access to information that they might not otherwise have available.

For my one-month residency, I plan to offer programs to elementary school students, high school students, adults, as well as one-on-one portfolio reviews for anyone interested in pursuing a career in illustration. The children’s programs are specifically aimed at teaching kids about creating pictures with various mediums and various styles. We will also have discussion workshops where we simply talk about creating picture books and the process involved. The adult programs will be more specific with information about pursuing careers as an illustrator or writer and there will be some hands-on workshops. I also have the opportunity to work with disabled adults at the Nina Haggerty Arts Group where we will explore a variety of mediums and tools. The schedule is going to be busy and each day will be packed with a lot of information and a lot of fun!! I think it’s going to be a great month at the EPL.

img_2920Can you tell us a bit about your writing and illustrating process?

As an illustrator, my process varies quite a bit. Typically however, when I’m given a story idea, I flush out the story in very, very rough thumbnail sketches. I organize my thoughts and very simple, quick sketches based on the text. From there I will flush out the rough concepts into more detailed concepts which I will then provide to my publisher for editing and approval. Any changes that might need to be made from there will be reworked into final full-blown illustrations in pencil on watercolour paper or illustration board. I then work in watercolours and coloured pencils.

786Another method that I use is a medium called polymer clay. This is a sculpting and etching technique that I’ve developed to create very vivid three-dimensional illustrations. These images are then photographed to be printed in the book. I also work in acrylic paints in a similar fashion to watercolour illustrations. Between these various mediums I will choose the medium that I feel best suits the book project that I’m endeavouring to illustrate. A book project can take me anywhere from six months to two years, and alphabet books (which is something I am known for) can take considerably longer. The polymer clay process is particularly time consuming and a book made from that material could take me could take me from three to four years. Much of my newer work is being created in polymer clay!

955This past spring, you were chosen to illustrate Vancouver Public Library’s first ever children’s picture book. Can you tell us more about that project? When will the book be available?

My newest book is with the Vancouver Public Library (VPL). This is a book project they are endeavouring to do on their own in order to cater to their early literacy clientele. It was written by Els Kushner, an employee at the VPL. The story is written in rhyme and in a way which will teach children how the sounds and actions are all a part of learning and reading. The project is titled the “Reading Tree” which will introduce children to trees, flora and fauna and animals which are indigenous to BC. My role is specifically to bring these rhymes to life through my whimsical and warm illustrations. The tree is the central figure on each page accompanied by the various animals going about their day. I was chosen by the VPL through a long and thorough selection process, so I feel very honoured to be a part of such an amazing and forward thinking book project.

What projects are you working on now?

Currently I’m working on the VPL book and the Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence for the month of October and November. Once these two things are completed, I will put my focus back onto a book called Polly Parrot’s Pirate Poems, written by Tiffany Stone. I am hoping to have that completed for fall 2017. From there I plan to continue working on my book called Sunday Morning which is a wordless picture book created entirely with polymer clay. That particular project I anticipate taking me a couple of years to complete as it requires a great deal of my focus and energy. As well, I will continue to do commissions and show my work and participate in school presentations and workshops in the coming year.

Images courtesy of Dianna Bonder. Visit for more information about her work.

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Booksellers’ Picks

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

darkest-dark• Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books in Ottawa, ON: The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield (Tundra Books, 2016), Ages 3-7

Chris loves rockets and planets and pretending he’s a brave astronaut, exploring the universe. Only one problem — at night, Chris doesn’t feel so brave. He’s afraid of the dark.

But when he watches the groundbreaking moon landing on TV, he realizes that space is the darkest dark there is — and the dark is beautiful and exciting, especially when you have big dreams to keep you company.

Recommended by Kim Ferguson, Co-owner

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


minrs2Mabel’s Fables Bookstore in Toronto, ON: MiNRS 2 by Kevin Sylvester (McElderry Books, 2016), Ages 8-12

This amazing sequel to MiNRS is action packed from the first page and will engage readers right away. After the cliffhanger ending from the first book, readers will get the answers they have been waiting for as we journey with Christopher and the other surviving kids as they try to finally take down the Landers. I’m already wanting MiNRS 3 — Sylvester better get writing! —Erin Grittani, Kids Bookseller

Mabel’s Fables Bookstore: 662 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S 2N3


king-baby• McNally Robinson at Grant Park in Winnipeg, MB: King Baby written and illustrated by Kate Beaton (Levine/Scholastic, 2016), Ages 3-8

King Baby rules his kingdom with a demanding, pudgy hand. Though he bestows giggles and smiles upon his subjects, this benevolent monarch knows his adoring public would be lost without his guidance, leadership, and gurgles. It is good to be the king. This humorous follow-up to Kate Beaton’s Princess and the Pony introduces the adorable tyrant in all his swaddled-and-crowned glory. Great for kids, but their parents may get more out of this one. —Shanleigh Klassen, Kids Bookseller

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


the-liszts• Type Books in Toronto, ON: The Liszts written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (Tundra Books, 2016), Ages 5 to 9

The Liszts make lists. They make lists most usual and lists most unusual. They make lists in winter, spring, summer and fall. They make lists every day except Sundays, which are listless. Mama Liszt, Papa Liszt, Winifred, Edward, Frederick and Grandpa make lists all day long. So does their cat. Then one day a visitor arrives. He’s not on anyone’s list. Will the Liszts be able to make room on their lists for this new visitor? How will they handle something unexpected arising?

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

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


pandas-on-the-east-side • Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: Pandas on the Eastside, written by Gabrielle Prendergast (Orca Book Publishers, 2016), Ages 9-12

An earnest, tender story of young Journey Song who lives on Vancouver’s Eastside. Journey is well aware that she lives in a neighbourhood that many consider a slum, but she sees the beauty in her home and its inhabitants that others don’t always see. She also sees the misery that exists in the world, especially as the Vietnam War rages overseas. But when she becomes aware of the plight of a pair of Pandas that are being housed in an Eastside warehouse, she seizes the opportunity to involve her friends and family in her efforts to save them. A beautiful, timeless and deeply touching tale for young readers, or anyone at all. —Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

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

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

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Now available: Canadian Children’s Book News, Fall 2016

ccbn-fall-2016-1The importance of non-fiction books for young readers and much more in the Fall 2016 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News!

Jan Thornhill talks about her years of work in the field as an author and illustrator while industry experts discuss the creation of Canadian non-fiction books for young readers. Joel Sutherland profiles the witty and prolific Helaine Becker, and we chat with Kira Vermond about breaking into the kidlit scene. Our library coordinator has created a list of high-quality non-fiction titles for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12; you’ll find books about kids who have had to fight for the right to an education in “The Classroom Bookshelf”; and you can read over 30 reviews of great new Canadian titles.

Click here to purchase copies!