CCBC October 2017 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: Katty Maurey
Booksellers’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends

So You Want to Get Published! Seminar

What does it take to get a children’s book published? What are children’s book publishers looking for? How do booksellers pick the books they sell? Join us this November and let our panel of experts show you what you need to do to get your manuscript published!

Panelists will include industry professionals such as Kathy Lowinger, former publisher of Tundra Books; Gail Winskill, publisher of Pajama Press; Heather Kuipers, owner of Ella Minnow Children’s Bookstore; Joel A. Sutherland, author; and Rebecca Bender, author & illustrator, and art director at Pajama Press.

The seminar will take place November 4, 2017 at 10:00 AM at the Northern District Library in Toronto, ON. Click here to register.

A Guide to Self-Publishing Your Book

FP2015_Logo BlueEvery day, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre receives questions from aspiring authors who want to try self-publishing their book. In partnership with FriesenPress, we’ve created a guide to answer some of those questions. Click here to read it!

Finalists Announced for the 2017 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.

Tour Roster Announced for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2018

We are excited to announce the authors, illustrators and storytellers who will be touring for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2018 (May 5-12, 2018). Visit for the full roster!

Win an author visit to your school! Enter the Telling Tales School Contest

Calling all teachers and educators: your class has a chance to win an incredible author experience from one of this year’s Telling Tales presenters!

How to enter: Read a book from the 2017-2018 Telling Tales Reading List for inspiration. Together as a class, use your imagination to create a picture, collage, video, song, or poem based on this year’s theme: Stories Take You Anywhere.

Visit the Telling Tales website for full contest details including registration, marking rubric, and to see the winning entries from last year. Contest deadline is January 31, 2018.

This is a great opportunity to have an author visit your school to help inspire children to create their own stories. Good luck!

Links We Love

Articles and videos of interest to educators

How I am learning to include Indigenous knowledge in the classroom

Learning diversity, one story at a time

I want my child to know the magic of the library

Dear Mrs. Trump and Dear Mrs. Trump Booklist

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October Book List: CCBC Book Awards

This month, we are highlighting the nominated books for three of the awards administered by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre: the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, and the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction. The winners will be announced on November 21, 2017. We will be sharing our other three English-language awards next month.

Picture Books

Tokyo Digs a Garden

Tokyo Digs a Garden
Written by Jon-Erik Lappano
Illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka
Groundwood Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55498-798-6
IL: Ages 5-9 RL: Grades 3-4

Cities | Nature | Natural World | Imagination | Gardens | Urban Landscapes

Tokyo lives in a small house that used to overlook forests, meadows and streams. But the city has eaten up the entire natural world. Then an old woman offers Tokyo seeds, telling him they will grow into whatever he wishes. The seeds grow into a lush forest that takes over the whole city, turning it wild, with animals roaming where cars once drove. Can a new way of living be embraced?

Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

When We Were Alone

When We Were Alone
Written by David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Julie Flett
HighWater Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55379-673-2
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 2-3

Cree First Nation | Residential Schools | Canadian History | Cultural Heritage | Resilience | Family | Language

A young girl is curious about her grandmother’s long braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing. Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? Nókom (grandmother) explains about life in a residential school long ago, where everything was taken away. A story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, of empowerment and strength.

Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate Fiction

Day of Signs and Wonders

A Day of Signs and Wonders
Written by Kit Pearson
HarperTrophy Canada, 2016
ISBN 978-1-44344-399-9
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 3-4

Friendship | Historical Fiction | Emily Carr | Hope | Grief | Growing Up

In 1881, Emily and Kitty meet on a beach near Victoria, BC. Inspired by the childhood of acclaimed artist Emily Carr, this novel is a sensitive and insightful look at friendship, family and the foundation of an artist, drawn over the course of a single day — a day in which a comet appears, an artist is born and an aching hole in one girl’s heart begins to heal.

Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Heart of a Champion

Heart of a Champion
Written by Ellen Schwartz
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77049-880-8
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5

World War II | Japanese Internment | Baseball | Historical Fiction | Courage | Friendship | Canadian History

When war is declared against Japan, everything changes for Kenny and his family. Banished to an isolated internment camp, Kenny’s hopes of becoming a star Asahi baseball player like his brother seem ended. But when he gets permission to turn a vacant lot into a baseball field, the work gives purpose to the long days. Kenny’s persistence, hard work and big dreams shape the teen he is to become.

Nominated for: Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Mark of the Plague

Mark of the Plague
(Blackthorn Key, Book 2)
Written by Kevin Sands
Aladdin, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4814-4674-7
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6

Mystery | Adventure | Plague | Friendship | Historical Fiction | Loyalty | Suspense

In this follow-up to The Blackthorn Key, the Plague has returned to London, and a mysterious prophet predicts the city’s doom, until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure. The Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy, but when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and Tom must hunt down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

Nominated for: Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Skeleton Tree

The Skeleton Tree
Written by Iain Lawrence
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-101-91835-7
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6

Survival | Adventure | Self-Discovery | Resilience | Conflict | Alaska

When their boat sinks off the Alaskan coast, the only survivors are 12-year-old Chris and a boy named Frank, who hates Chris immediately. Chris and Frank have no radio, no flares, no food. Suddenly, they’ve got to find a way to forage, fish and scavenge supplies from the shore. As they fight for survival, the boys learn to respect each other and the harsh beauty of the Alaskan environment.

Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Young Adult Fiction

Every Hidden Thing

Every Hidden Thing
Written by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Publishers, 2016
ISBN 978-1-44341-029-8
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 7-8

Dinosaurs | Adventure | Romance | Scientific Expeditions | Rivalry | Westerns | History | Historical Fiction | Discovery

Two teens, Samuel and Rachel, unknowingly share a common goal: to find the bones of the legendary ‘rex,’ the king dinosaur hiding in the Badlands. Both are on expeditions with their paleontologist fathers — bitter rivals, each desperate to make the discovery. When their paths cross, sparks fly… Can Sam and Rachel join forces to find their quarry, or will old enmities and prejudices keep them from both the rex and each other?

Nominated for: Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Freedom's Just Another Word

Freedom’s Just Another Word
Written by Caroline Stellings
Second Story Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77260-011-7
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 7-8

Race | Social Justice | Historical Fiction | Coming of Age | Journeys | Civil Rights

In 1970, Easy (Louisiana) meets Janis Joplin and everything changes. Easy, who dreams of being a singer, has a great blues voice. When Janis Joplin passes through Saskatoon, she recognizes Easy’s talent and asks her to meet her in Texas to sing. Easy hitches a ride with two nuns headed in the right direction, and goes on an unusual and life-changing journey.

Nominated for: Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

When Morning Comes

When Morning Comes
Written by Arushi Raina
Tradewind Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-896580-69-2
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 9-10

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

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

Nominated for: Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Canada Year by Year

Canada Year by Year
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Kids Can Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77138-397-4
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 4-5

Canada | Canadian History | Canadian Heritage | Canadian Trivia

Take a tour of Canada’s fascinating history! This timely title highlights a milestone for every year from Confederation in 1867, up to our Sesquicentennial in 2017 (1880: O Canada! 1947: Alberta Oil!). Along with featured stories, the pages are filled with short biographies, important firsts, quotes and trivia. This is a compelling snapshot of the people, places and events that have shaped our country — one year at a time.

Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Fight to Learn

Fight to Learn: The Struggle to Go to School
Written by Laura Scandiffio
Annick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55451-797-8
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6

Education | Poverty | Discrimination | Violence | Social Justice

In this inspiring title, Laura Scandiffio provides a frank look at current global struggles for education. For many children around the world, war, poverty, discrimination and violence are seemingly insurmountable obstacles to going to school. But there is hope, and this book also presents uplifting stories of people who have made the dream of education come true for many young people.

Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Level the Playing Field

Level the Playing Field: The Past, Present, and Future of Women’s Pro Sports
Written by Kristina Rutherford
Owlkids Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77147-160-2
IL: Ages 11-14 RL: Grades 5-6

Women’s Professional Sports | Female Athletes | Sexism | Empowerment | History

She’s got game! The experience of being a professional athlete is very different for men and women. Many female athletes aren’t valued or recognized equally for their talent. This book explores the state of women’s sport, the pioneers who challenged the status quo and the hurdles that still remain. An important contribution to the movement for women’s acceptance in professional sports.

Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Tragic Tale

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk
Written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
Groundwood Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55498-865-5
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5

Great Auk | Extinction | Wildlife Conservation | Natural World | Ecology

For thousands of years, great auks thrived in the icy seas of the North Atlantic. But by 1844, not a single one of these magnificent birds was still alive. The tragic demise of the great auk led to the birth of the conservation movement. Laws were passed to prevent the killing of birds during the nesting season, and similar laws were later extended to other wildlife species.

Nominated for: TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Water Wow

Water Wow! An Infographic Exploration
Written by Antonia Banyard and Paula Ayer
Illustrated by Belle Wuthrich
Annick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55451-821-0
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 4-5

Science | Environment | Water | Nature | Conservation

Where did water come from before it got to Earth? Is the water you drink the same stuff that was around when dinosaurs were alive? If water can’t be created or destroyed, how can we run out? What are water footprints? Find out the answers to these and many more intriguing questions in this appealing visual exploration of an important topic.

Nominated for: Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

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Author’s Corner / Amy’s Travels in YAamycolumn

by Amy Mathers

Happy October everyone! This year’s Amy Mathers Teen Book Award nominees have been announced, and I have been spending my time re-reading some of my favourite books from 2016 —  With Malice by Eileen Cook, Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan, Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard, Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston and Shooter by Caroline Pignat. Each story challenged me as a reader, opening my eyes to diverse perspectives through authentic characters and fictional takes on (mostly) real life situations. The questions I’ve asked the authors are but a starting point for deeper conversation, and I hope you enjoy their enlightening answers as much as I did.

Eileen Cook

With MaliceWith Malice is a well-paced, multi-layered thriller that builds in intensity and keeps readers guessing to the very end. How do you lay out and prepare for writing a story like Jill’s?

If you were to see my office in the middle of writing a book you would likely think I was a tiny bit crazy. In addition to the Post-It notes with scribbled messages make sense only to me, there are also torn pictures from magazines, newspaper articles, and an outline that is usually around 12-15 pages long, all spread around and taped to the walls. I’m often pacing back and forth mumbling to myself as I try and wrangle the book into some type of order.

I typically spend two or three months outlining a new novel and every time I’m convinced that this is the time I’ve thought of everything. And every time I’m wrong. Characters take on a life of their own as the book evolves and the story takes me in new places. Once I’ve written myself into a plot corner, I then have to figure how to write myself back out. It might sound horrible, but I enjoy twisting myself up in knots as I hope the book has the same impact on the reader.

This process is completely different from how I started writing. The first couple of books I wrote I didn’t outline at all. I simply started and discovered the story and characters as I went. This is proof of what I tell new writers — there is no right way to write a book, just what works for you at the time. I do believe if you want to write a novel with lots of twists and turns, some amount of outlining will to keep the plot from spinning out of control, or at least I haven’t discovered any other way to do it. .

With the various sources you used (chatroom comments, phone texts, transcripts of interviews and TV shows, hand-written notes, etc.), many perspectives explore and dissect Jill’s experiences on her trip and her friendship with Simone whether they knew them personally or not. If you were in a position similar to Jill’s, who would you trust to have an accurate perspective of you?

Many people don’t know that the friendship between Simone and Jill is loosely based on my friendship with a girl I grew up with, Laura. We were inseparable all through school, but as we neared graduation it was clear our lives were going in different directions and we weren’t sure how to handle that. I’d always been the quiet introvert and Laura the extrovert (I swear I never would have been invited to a single social event without her.) It was hard as our roles within our friendship were changing as we knew we’d be in different places in the next year. For a few years after high school graduation we rarely spoke, then we came back together and she’s now one of my closest friends again.  For clarity, I never wanted to kill Laura and I’m pretty sure she never wanted to do me in either. But I was interested to explore how friendship can evolve, change and in some cases- turn dark.

I would completely trust Laura now, or any of my friends or family, to help me navigate a situation where I didn’t know the truth. I am very fortunate to have a small group of very trusted people in my life. Most of all I would rely on my husband, who is always there to both support me and give me a kick in the rear when I need it. And when all else fails I have two dogs that I can count on for unconditional love and to have dug holes in my backyard.

The topic of truth versus what is perceived as truth is a timely one in our world at the moment and features heavily throughout With Malice. You’ve said on your Twitter account that your characters don’t always share your view or beliefs about what is right. Were there characters in With Malice that you didn’t agree with as well?

I never know what to say when someone criticizes me online for something my characters have said or done. On one hand they’re fictional, and on the other, I am the one who is responsible for creating them. I happen to like complicated, difficult people so they show up in my books. They may not always be likable, but I find them interesting. Real people are messy and contain contradictions. Both Jill and Simone are struggling with some serious flaws, but perhaps the most challenging is that they’re not honest about what they think of each other. They’re each hiding from some ugly truths about themselves.

It’s easy to want to believe we’re always the good guy, but that isn’t always the case. Their inability to talk honestly about what they believe gets them into some serious trouble, and their unwillingness to accept all parts of themselves — to recognize that at time what they think isn’t always nice- keeps them from growing as people. That’s my main point of disagreement with them, their need to see themselves as “right” means they don’t explore their actions and thoughts that don’t fit with that image.

I worked as a counsellor for years and one thing I learned early on, is that the truth is a very elastic thing. There’s what actually happened, but that event is filtered through each of our individual experiences and pre-conceived beliefs. Any insecurity, any previous relationship dynamics, will impact what we hear and see. Hopefully as we grow we understand this happens, if not, we end up with people who are supposed to be functional adults talking about “alternative facts.”

How do you think being Canadian (and living in British Columbia) affects your writing?

I’m an immigrant to Canada and very proud to have made my home here in BC. Coming to Canada as an adult and having to pass the citizenship test made me think a lot about what makes someone Canadian and what values are important to this country. (And I’m also a whiz at Canadian history trivia games.) The two values that struck me as a writer were the need to be active in the community and the benefits of diversity.

I have the privilege of living in Vancouver which gives me the opportunity to meet and interact with people from such a wide range of different backgrounds. As a writer I try to populate my books with characters from these backgrounds, to hopefully reflect the diversity that I see in my real life. It’s not my role or place to tell someone else’s story, but I do feel it important to show a world filled with interesting people doing interesting things.

Secondly, as a writer I’ve also made a commitment to be involved in my writing community by encouraging new writers, supporting the arts, and trying to inspire young people to read and share their own stories. I truly believe that there is room on the shelves for all sorts of writers and all types of books. Supporting other writers benefits everyone. Writing and publishing isn’t a race with only one winner, we all gain when good stories are out in the world.

Catherine Egan

Julia VanishesFalling under the fantasy genre, Julia Vanishes tackles important topics such as religious freedom, discrimination, and personal responsibility through the situations faced in Spira City. At its heart though, the story is about Julia coming to terms with her past while learning she doesn’t have have all the answers. Though Julia’s adventures contain fantastical elements, what do you think everyday teens can take from her story?

Although Julia has to confront monsters, witches, and vengeful immortal siblings, she also confronts a set of fairly universal questions, the biggest ones being “Who am I? Where do I fit? What do I owe the world when everything is so morally tangled and every choice comes with a down side?”

Julia is surrounded by unconventional women — witches, thieves and revolutionaries — but when she looks around for a model of the kind of person she wants to become, she doesn’t see a clear path for herself. It’s both common and very unsettling to look around at the world of adults when you’re young and not see anyone you want to be like. We all look for models and idols to help us figure out our goals, but in the end we’re all building ourselves from scratch, and that work carries on even when we aren’t young anymore. Words and stories are the tools I reach for every morning to confront the business of being human in the world, to play with the questions that plague me and see what I can wring out of them.

The purpose of dreaming isn’t fully understood, but it’s very clear that we need to do it. Sleep disorders that affect REM sleep are seriously debilitating – humans have to dream. I feel the same way about writing. I don’t know exactly why I need it, but I do. Reading is all about getting outside of myself, but writing is about turning inward, and both are deeply satisfying. I love plotting a story out, but the plot is really the scaffolding. The heart of the story is made up of the deepest fears and joys, the knotty problems and unanswerable questions I pull out of myself when I turn inward to write. This is how I make some kind of sense of the world and of being who I am. Nothing would make me happier than to think that the book-result of this process — the How To Be Human questions that are, I think, at the core of every good book, including fantasy-thrillers — might be of some use to somebody else as well.

Julia is supported by a cast of unique and memorable characters: Bianka with her fierceness, Theo and his endearing innocence, Dek’s creativity with weapons to name just a few – did you have a favourite character or did you like them all for different reasons?

While I do indeed love all my made-up people in different ways, my favorite is easily Pia, the ruthless, creepy assassin who oversees Julia’s spying gig in Mrs. Och’s house. I love writing complicated villains, and I found the Pia-Julia bond taking over a little more with each book and becoming central to the third (and final) book. Every scene with Pia in it was pure, weird, cathartic joy to write.

Julia Vanishes and Julia Defiant are both part of The Witch’s Child series which was preceded by your The Last Days of Tian Di trilogy. Is it challenging to keep a narrative going over multiple books? Do you plot out all of the books before writing them?

I love writing and reading series because I love having all that room for the characters to grow and for relationships to develop real weight and depth. A betrayal means so much more in book three than it could possibly mean in book one. A character or plot twist in the second book is all the more surprising. The first book also does the heavy lifting when it comes to world-building. After that, you really get to play in the world you’ve made.

That said, one of the biggest tricks is making sure you don’t box yourself into corners you can’t get out of early on. With the Tian Di books, I had rough drafts of all three before the first book was published, which enabled me to slip subtle clues throughout the first book, since I knew exactly where it was all going. For example, Eliza’s visions all mean something, and you can track down the answers and find the image-echoes in the third book. Every reveal in books two and three has corresponding hints and clues dropped in book one.

With the Julia books, I had outlined the whole series before the first book sold, but I found those books changed a lot in revision, and so I had to keep adjusting my outlines! I always knew where I was going with it, though. I don’t know if I could write a series without a clear plan for the whole thing in place.

Having also lived in Japan, China and the United States, how do you think growing up in Canada influenced your writing?

Hmm, that’s such an interesting question! I know that living abroad for so many years and having that sense of being out of context or not belonging, struggling to learn another language and adapt to an unfamiliar culture, has profoundly influenced who I am and how I think, and I assume that also creeps into my writing. The second Julia book, Julia Defiant, takes her to Yongguo, a sort of Qing-dynasty-China-with-magic analog, where she is an outsider and doesn’t speak the language, and I drew on my own experiences as a “foreigner” for that. I wonder if there are any particularly Canadian elements to my writing (besides the fact that I still spell things like colour and grey the Canadian way) — but I think I have to leave that to my Canadian readers to say!

M-E Girard

Girl Mans UpGirl Mans Up explores traditional gender roles and expression with the story of Pen, a grade eleven student who feels most comfortable dressed in her older brother Johnny’s clothes, helping him with his landscaping business. Born into a Portuguese family, however, there’s a lot of pressure on Pen to conform to her parents’ expectations of what a daughter should be. In their fraught relationship with each other, what was the most difficult scene for you to write capturing their interactions?

When it comes to the process of writing difficult scene — scenes that stir up difficult emotions or that take the writer to uncomfortable places — I can’t say any scene was particularly challenging. I knew exactly where these characters were coming from so everything they said or did just felt right to me, no matter how unfair or awkward the interaction might have been. What was a little irritating at times, though, was writing these interactions and not being able to make Pen and her parents sit down and communicate in a way that would lead to enlightenment. I’m writing the mean things this mother is saying to her daughter, the angst Pen always holds onto, the language barrier between members of a family, and I’d be thinking: If only I could sit this woman down and we could have a conversation about gender expression/presentation! I wish I could make them understand each other! How could I enroll these people in a Gender & Sexuality 101 course so they could finally have the concepts and words to allow for deeper conversations and understanding?

Pen sums up her feelings about her gender expression best when she says, “I don’t feel wrong inside myself. I don’t feel like I’m someone I shouldn’t be. Only other people make me feel like there’s something wrong with me.” Pen’s ability to see gender expression/presentation expectations as something others are putting on her allows her to take Johnny’s advice to heart and be who she is despite what others think. What questions do you hope teens will ask themselves when they read about Pen’s experiences?

I hope in reading GMU, teens may feel compelled to ask themselves questions that lead to self-awareness — whatever that looks like for any particular reader. That’s pretty broad, but self-awareness is something that’s always been important to me — knowing where you’re coming from when it comes to your feelings, knowing your motives for doing or wanting something, exploring all the factors that influence the way you feel and act, acknowledging your desires and your not-so-noble motivations, etc. I hope through Pen, teens feel inspired and courageous enough to ask themselves how they truly feel about any particular subject — an aspect of their identity, a conflict, a relationship, social justice — and to assess it from all angles. I think Pen explored her feelings about her struggles pretty thoroughly. She dissected her motives to the best of her ability, considered other people’s actions and the things they had to say about her struggles, and attempted to get advice from people she trusted. She doesn’t have all the answers, but she ended up in a place where she’s given herself freedom to experience things on her journey and trust that she can act as her own compass, and I think self-awareness is a big part of that. In this story, self-awareness gave Pen strength to be herself despite those around her insisting she doesn’t know best. In the story I’m working on now, self-awareness comes in the form of the main character acknowledging her selfish motives while going after what she wants.

Running throughout the novel is also a vein of hardcore gaming knowledge that helps bring Pen and Blake together. Was that a subject you had to research or already had first-hand knowledge?

Luckily, gaming is part of my life. I’m researching some things right now for the YA story I’m working on and it’s getting in the way of my productivity. It’s so time-consuming! When it comes to creating a story, being able to incorporate a subject that you’re well-versed in makes it all so much easier. I do strive to put a lot of “write what you know” in my stories because I think it adds authenticity. In this case, gaming naturally made sense for Pen and her world. It was awesome to be able to get some of my gaming moments and observations out through Pen. The part where I talk about the epic moment that happened in the downloadable expansion for the zombie game The Last of Us — that was an epic moment in the lives of my girlfriend and me. The incorporation of retro gaming was another important element because those are the consoles and games I grew up with.

What inspired you to choose a Canadian setting with Castlehill, a fictional town set near Toronto? Do you think your choice of setting affected Pen’s story?

From the start, I knew I planned to write standalone YA stories that all take place in the same fictional suburb town of Toronto. I grew up in suburbia, and though I’ve always loved it, it’s just not the same, culturally and socially, to living in a major city. Creatively, I felt it would only add to my characterization. Growing up in the suburbs, you can feel stuck. You’re often going to school with the same kids for years, so once a role has been assigned to you, it’s hard to break free from it; you’re having to get rides from your parents to get anywhere because the transit system isn’t convenient; and you often end up hanging out at each other’s houses for lack of places to get together. I write about girls who feel like they stick out, like they’re not good enough, like they’re way too different from the norm: suburbia really accentuates those feelings. Pen wasn’t running into other girls — other people — who look like her because there wasn’t much in terms of queer spaces in Castlehill and neighboring areas for her to access. She didn’t see a whole lot of different people because she was always stuck in the same place, with the same people for years.

As for the Canadian thing, well, I’m Canadian and I’m a big fan of my country. I never considered writing anything that doesn’t take place in Canada. That was actually my one non-negotiable element when it came to putting myself out there, in the YA world, with my story. I used to say, I’ll kill Pen off before I set the story outside of Canada! As a teen, the media I consumed was largely American, and while I think it’s cool to have such easy access to American media, I feel it’s only fair for us Canadians to get our media out there and have it be consumed by Americans.

E.K. Johnston

Exit, Pursued by a BearThe Kitchener Public Library has a sticker on Exit, Pursued by a Bear that reads, “A book about an alternate world.” Indeed, the overwhelmingly supportive response Hermione receives in the wake of being raped at cheerleading camp has the feel of an alternate reality. What was the starting point that made you realise this book needed to be written?

I routinely describe Exit as the most fantasy book I have ever written, and I have: overrun Canada with dragons, turned girls into gods, rewritten the history of the British Empire, and set a book in space. In 2012, the MP from Kitchener (where I was living at the time), introduced a bill to recriminalize abortion, and I was furious. I wanted to write a book where a girl got to make a choice about her own body and wasn’t punished for it in any way at all. And that’s what makes the book so unbelievable. Because in real life, we punish girls for everything.

Knowing that every rape victim’s experience and path of survival is valid and different, were you surprised when Hermione was identified as someone whom other rape victims should emulate? What do you see as the message of your book?

I wasn’t surprised, but I was certainly disappointed. Exit came out the week the Jian Ghomeshi trial ended, and so the lead up to both was just rife with victim blaming and horrifying treatment of women who needed support and got the exact opposite of that. Seeing so many people (usually grown women) hold Hermione up as an example against her specific wishes was disheartening. The message of the book is pretty straightforward, which might be why so many people have missed it: Believe women. Support women. Believe women.

Titled after one of Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions, Exit, Pursued by a Bear is also a modern retelling of the play, A Winter’s Tale. How do you discover your own unique spin when you tell a classic story?

Usually by removing as many of the cis white dudes as possible.

With The Story of Owen series and now Exit, Pursued by a Bear, you have shown your considerable talent for capturing various aspects of the Canadian landscape. The small town feel of Southwestern Ontario clearly comes across in Palermo – do you think Hermione’s story would have been different if it hadn’t been set there or in Canada?

Hermione’s story couldn’t have happened anywhere but Canada. Our medical system isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the few in the world where the government covers abortions for people without abusing them for making their own choices (we need to improve it. In PEI, for example, it is still too difficult for people to access the healthcare they deserve, and the conditions in many First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities are beyond awful). Also, our legal system has rules about how DNA is used that allows for the scene where the boys give up samples (but generally speaking: don’t give up your DNA, kids. Wait until your parent and your lawyer are in the room with you).

Caroline Pignat

ShooterCongratulations on being the first repeat nominee for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award! You’ve proven again and again that you have your pen on the pulse of teens. What helps you write authentic teen voices?

Trying to write a teen voice is like trying to be cool or funny. The harder I try, the worse it gets. Just ask my eye-rolling kids. If I sat down to write and tried to sound like a teenager, I’d probably get writer’s block. Instead, I listen. As with any of my historical characters, I researched what mattered most to these teenagers. What are their challenges, wishes, and worries? What is their story? That is what shapes a character’s personality and voice no matter what their age.

I also draw on my high school memories. I was a nerd, a Writer’s Craft introvert, a school president, a football MVP (yes, really!) — because I think writing that resonates starts with an emotionally charged memory. Our stories may differ, but the feelings are universal. We all know what it feels like to be ignored, misjudged, or not enough.

As I researched specific topics, like what it’s like to live with autism, to be adopted, or struggling with grief and loss, I used primary sources. I read biographies, journals, blogs, and interviewed people who lived that experience. Their stories inspired those of my characters. I believe those authentic emotions and experiences are the foundation of developing an authentic voice.

Shooter tackles the serious topics of lockdowns and school shootings, while still maintaining a ‘The Breakfast Club’ feel with its cast of characters from different walks of life thrust together. Which character do you most identify with?

Like Alice, I have a mind for story. It helps me make sense of people and situations but it can also be a challenge because it always takes me to worst-case scenario. Great for fiction — not so great for worriers like us. High school me can also relate to Isabelle. I was school president, honour student, and athlete and was very hard on myself about living up to high expectations.

The contrast between Noah and Xander is stark, though they both have autism. Despite their challenges in expressing themselves and understanding social interactions, you take your reader inside their motivations and inspire empathy. What research did you do to capture their perspectives?

Dr. Stephen Shore said:  “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” As a teacher, I have worked with students who have similar needs to Noah and Xander but every person, every story, every experience is unique. To help portray my fictional characters with authenticity, I read primary sources written by authors with autism such as Temple Grandin’s The Way I See It, John Elder Robinson’s Look Me in the Eye and Naoki Hiashida’s poems in Why I Jump which gave me the idea to write Noah’s voice in free verse. Noah’s family experience was inspired through the work of authors whose loved ones have autism, such as Life Animated by Ron Suskind and Boy Alone by Karl Taro Greenfeld. Interviews with Resource Teachers and Educational Assistants gave me further insights into learning strategies and communication styles such as Xander’s social autopsies, social stories, and visual schedules.

The world has changed considerably since you were last nominated, do you think teens still have the same optimism and enthusiasm you used to see? What would you say to teens to encourage them even in the midst of frightening situations such as the one featured in Shooter?

Teens are resilient and resourceful. They are full of enthusiasm, optimism, and hope. Visit any high school and you will not only see it — you will be inspired by it. The majority of these young people are well aware of the world’s realities and the struggles society now faces — but they are also the ones with the courage and passion to speak out against injustice. They want to make a difference — and I believe they do.

Lockdown drills are a part of school life for today’s students. But that doesn’t mean everyday life should be locked down by fear. At the beginning of the novel we meet characters who are locked down in their personal lives by their fears of failure, rejection, or loss. But as they share and relate, together they find a way forward. There is tremendous power and hope found in connection and empathy. My message to teens is to remember they are not alone: look inward, reach outward, and move forward.

The winner of the 2017 Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, sponsored by Sylvan Learning, will be presented on November 21, 2017 in Toronto.

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Illustrator’s Studio: Katty Maurey

KattyKatty Maurey is an illustrator and graphic designer. She has illustrated several books, such as The Specific Ocean and Francis, the Little Fox. Her latest work is The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie. She lives in Montreal, QC.

How did you get started as an illustrator?

I’ve always known I wanted to be an illustrator. Creating worlds out of colour and shapes using paper and any art supply on hand was simply the most economical way to allow my imagination to materialize. I completed a Bachelor’s degree in graphic design and gradually found illustration work. It was a slow but steady process for me.

Man who loved librariesCan you tell us about your illustration style and how it came about?

I don’t think much of style, really. If you look at my body of work, it’s pretty fluctuating. The story dictates the medium, and that influences the style. I’m always interested in trying different pictural tricks as well as different mediums. When doing a picture book, what gets me the most excited is thinking about colour; how do I tame it? And how do I use it to take us through the entire story?

Tell us about your latest book, The Man Who Loved Libraries (written by Andrew Larsen). What was the process of illustrating it like?

When Owlkids approached me to make a biographical picture book about Andrew Carnegie, my interested was piqued! It was a challenge to find the right tone for the book. Debbie Rogosin and Jennifer MacKinnon (the lovely editors with whom I worked at Owl) and I went back and forth quite a bit with sketches in order to find the right balance between accuracy and whimsy. Then when it came time for rendering, Andrew Larsen’s writing had a luminous quality that translated well into colour for me. Gouache then just seemed like the obvious medium for this project.

Katty's Workspace
Katty’s Workspace

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

There is so much to say about Mr. Carnegie himself, I hope this book is able to introduce him to little kids. But most of all, my wish is that this encourages them to spend time in libraries, and see that they are great treasure troves.

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

When tackling an illustration, it’s easy to be self conscious and discouraged when your images are mid-process. I find the halfway point is mostly when I get anxiety over my work. Things often tend to look off.  Tell yourself it’s alright and keep going until you’ve put in the finishing touches. Trust your vision and don’t fret about style!

Images courtesy of Katty Maurey. 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

Agony of Bun OKeefe Mabel’s Fables Bookstore in Toronto, ON: The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith

This book… I LOVED! It touched on everything important without feeling like it was trying to. LGBTQ, First Nations, mental health, suicide, coming of age… ALL THE THINGS! Bun is a totally quirky young lady who finds herself in a bad way after her mother asks her to leave, but is scooped up and taken in by a great group of young people that make up a very special family. This book, quite simply, needs to be read by EVERYONE. —Erin Grittani, Kids Bookseller

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


36 QuestionsWoozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant

Can two random strangers be made to fall in love with one another by simply answering 36 questions together?   Hildy and Paul both sign up to take part in a study that seeks to answer this question, and as the two begin to work their way through the questions, all signs would initially indicate that the answer is a resounding no.  However, despite a few challenging moments (“Oh my god!  Did you just throw your fish at me?!”), the two begin to forge an unexpected and unlikely friendship.  Featuring Vicki Grant’s trademark humour and delightfully witty dialogue, sympathetic characters and an intriguing premise, this book is charming and delightful from beginning to end. —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.