CCBC September 2016 Newsletter


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Notable Links
September Book List: Back to School
Author Corner: Helaine Becker
Amy’s Travels in YA
Illustrator’s Studio: Christina Leist
Booksellers’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

sddsThis past summer, we announced the launch of a new online edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens, the CCBC’s semi-annual selection guide to the best Canadian books for children and young adults.

Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Department of Canadian Heritage, this online database features the best titles from the previous publishing season, for readers from toddler to teen, along with extra resources for parents and educators looking for great Canadian children’s books.

The online edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens can be accessed at The print edition will continue to be available for purchase on newsstands across Canada or online at

CCBN summer_2016-1• The Summer 2016 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News is now available!

Featured in this issue: Larry Swartz and David Booth discuss teaching and writing poetry for young children, and Robert Heidbreder regales us with stories of his childhood as he and Violet Hughes introduce us to the Reading Lights initiative in Vancouver. Friends and colleagues pay tribute to Gillian O’Reilly, retiring editor of CCBN, and Sylvia McNicoll profiles Sarah Ellis, a major player in the world of kidlit. Also included is an interview with illustrator Carey Sookocheff, a list of poetry, rhyme and free verse books, and reviews of over 35 great new Canadian titles.

Get your copy in our online shop.

News from our Friends

Science Literacy Week

• Science Literacy Week highlights Canada’s outstanding scientists and science communicators from coast-to-coast. Be it as simple as a science-themed book display encouraging people to read something a little different to multi-day events, the week offers something for everyone. For one week in September, libraries, universities, museums and other partners put on a spectacular nationwide festival of science.

This year’s celebration will take place on September 19-25, 2016. Learn more about this year’s events at For a list of science-themed books recommended by the CCBC, click here.

Notable News & Links

Articles and videos of interest to educators

Chris Hadfield’s book about fear of the dark

How to Talk to Kids About Donald Trump

How Canada Publishes So Many Diverse Children’s Books

20 Books Every Canadian Should Read Before High School

Canadian girl home after travelling around the world in 80 anthems

back to top

September Book List: Back to School

With school starting again, we wanted to highlight some great Canadian books about the trials and tribulations and the ups and down of school life. Below is a selection of books for kids and teens, compiled by CCBC library coordinator Meghan Howe.

Picture Books

class clown

Class Clown
Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Scholastic Canada, 2016 ©2007
ISBN 978-0-439-93594-4
IL: Ages 6-8 RL: Grades 2-3
Leonardo has been funny since he was born: he was a funny baby, a funny toddler, a funny first-grader. Now he is in Grade 4, and Mrs. Gomez asks him to stop being funny. Leonardo tries and tries until he thinks he’s going to burst! He just can’t help it! Watercolour artwork enhances this tale about tickling the funny bone.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

mom came to kindergarten

The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten
Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Kids Can Press, 2013
ISBN 978-1-55453-698-6
IL: Ages 3-6 RL: Grades 2-3
A little girl invites her mom to spend the day in kindergarten and discovers that Mom doesn’t even know the basics about being at school. She barges into line, forgets to take her outdoor shoes off and talks all through story time. This is a great book for children who are about to start school.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

In a Cloud of Dust

In a Cloud of Dust
Written by Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Pajama Press, 2016 ©2015
ISBN 978-1-77278-000-0
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.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Sign Up Here

Sign Up Here: A Story About Friendship
(I’m a Great Little Kid)
Written by Kathryn Cole
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Second Story Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-927583-90-6
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 2-3
Dee-Dee’s classmates are busy creating clubs and it seems like every kid has joined one but her. All her friends are excluding her even though she’s a friend to all of them. Dee-Dee knows that friends shouldn’t leave each other out so she creates her own club to show her classmates how friends should treat each other.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate Fiction


The Case of the Snack Snatcher
(West Meadows Detectives, Book 1)
Written by Liam O’Donnell
Illustrated by Aurélie Grand
Owlkids Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77147-069-8
IL: Ages 7-9 RL: Grades 2-3
Meet Myron: a third-grader whose unique perspective from the autism spectrum makes him a top-notch sleuth. Myron doesn’t love new things and now he’s starting his first day at a new school. But when the school kitchen is burgled, Myron is on the case! Helping him are his classmates from Resource Room 15, whose creative problem-solving skills and unique talents come in handy!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

how to get awesome

How to Get Awesome
Written by Nancy Wilcox Richards
Illustrated by Mathieu Benoit
Scholastic Canada, 2016
ISBN: 978-1443148214
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 2-3
Owen’s plans for Grade 3 include buying his dream skateboard, hanging with his best friend Max, and walking his neighbour’s dog — not writing journal entries every week for a school assignment called Project Awesome. Owen hates writing. But things don’t go according to plan and Owen turns to his journal entries as an outlet for some of his thoughts and feelings. Is it possible that Project Awesome isn’t so lame?
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

sandwich thief

The Sandwich Thief
Written by André Marois
Illustrated by Patrick Doyon
Translated by Taylor Norman
Chronicle Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4521-4659-1
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5
Marin loves the sandwiches his parents make for him. One Monday, someone steals his favourite sandwich: ham-cheddar-kale. Furious, Marin begins a famished, fevered investigation to unmask the thief. But days go by and sandwiches continue to disappear… will Marin ever eat lunch again? This graphic caper is a funny school mystery exploring the high stakes of low blood sugar. This title is also available in French as Le voleur de sandwichs.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-82315-9
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 4-5
All Cameron wants from life is to avoid homework and play video games in the basement … until he almost let his house burn down. He and his buddies create a bogus school club to make it look like they are doing good deeds. Then other kids start joining, and soon underachiever Cameron is overachieving club President … roped into saving a beaver named Elvis from certain extinction.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Young Adult Fiction

born with

Born With: Erika & Gianni
(One-2-One, Book 2)
Written by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Clockwise Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-9939351-7-6
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8
Fifteen-year-old Erika has Down Syndrome and loves to dance and sing — she has three numbers in the school production of Grease! Her Best Buddy is Gianni, a 16-year-old boy who also loves to sing and dance — and is carrying a secret. Told in alternating voices, this is the story of two teens who help each other find and accept their own best selves.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


How to Win at High School
Written by Owen Matthews
HarperCollins Publishers, 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-233686-6
IL: Ages 16 and up RL: Grades 10-11
Adam Higgs wants to win at high school. He discovers an A-lister’s weak spot and strikes gold. Soon he ditches his legit job and turns to full-time cheating. Adam’s popularity soars as he unlocks high school achievements, from his first kiss to his first rebound hookup. But something is haunting him — a dark memory, driving him to keep climbing. Will he go too far?
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Written by Caroline Pignat
Razorbill Canada, 2016
ISBN 978-0-14-318757-8
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 7-8
Five teens end up together in a high school bathroom during a lockdown drill. Told in five unique voices, each student reveals pieces of their true story while they wait for the drill to end … except it isn’t a drill. There is a shooter in the school and the bathroom doesn’t seem so safe anymore. Especially when they learn one of them knows more about the shooter than they realize.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

truth commission

The Truth Commission
Written by Susan Juby
Razorbill Canada, 2015
ISBN 978-0-670-06759-6
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 7-8
Open secrets are the heart of gossip — the things that no one is brave or clueless enough to ask. Except for Normandy Pale and her friends Dusk and Neil, juniors at Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design — they are the Truth Commission. But Normandy’s passion for uncovering the truth is not entirely heartfelt. Even for a Truth Commissioner, there are some lines that cannot be crossed.
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
In many countries around the world, universal access to education is a seemingly unattainable dream; however, determined individuals with vision and drive have made this dream come true for many. This book highlights people such as Okello, a former child soldier in Uganda, who founded a school for children like him whose education was derailed by war; Chicago teen Deonte Tanner, who changed one high school’s culture from guns and gangs to talking and learning; Shannen Koostachin, a feisty 13-year-old Cree whose fight for the right of First Nations children to have proper schools endured even after her untimely death.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children’s Rights
Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Felicita Sala
Kids Can Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77138-325-7
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 3-4
Aidan and Gussie have joined the picket line to demand the chance to go to school instead of work. But when famous labour reformer Mother Jones arrives, she has an even bolder idea than a strike. She wants to lead them on a march to President Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

school days around the world

School Days Around the World
(Around the World)
Written by Margriet Ruurs
Illustrated by Alice Feagan
Kids Can Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77138-047-8
IL: Ages 5-12 RL: Grades 2-3
“What is a school? Is it a building with classrooms? Or can it be any place where children learn?” The fascinating stories that follow will expand how young readers think of school, as they learn about the experiences of real children in 13 different countries around the world. Each school experience is different in this engaging book about the many places and ways children learn and play.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

way to school

The Way to School
Written by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International
Second Story Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-927583-78-4
IL: Ages 5-9 RL: Grades 2-3
Minimal text and stunning photographs describe the remarkable, and often dangerous, journeys children make on their way to and from school. Children travel through disaster zones, cross rapids, climb mountains and maneuver on ziplines to get to school. Each image speaks to the desire for an education and the commitment children make each day as they journey to school.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

back to top

Author’s Corner: Helaine Becker

Helaine Becker Helaine Becker is an award-winning writer of books for children and young adults. She has written over 70 books, including A Porcupine in a Pine Tree and Ode to Underwear. Originally from New York, Helaine has lived in Toronto for more than 20 years. Her latest book, Don’t Stress: How to Handle Life’s Little Problems (Scholastic, 2016), offers coping mechanisms for kids who deal with stress.

How did you get started as a writer?

I started writing almost immediately after learning how to read, at about the age of four.  Even then, reading and writing seemed inextricably linked to me. I loved reading so much, I naturally wanted to create books myself.

I didn’t make a go of writing as a career until I hit 40, though. I’d quit on the idea when I was a teenager. It just seemed so … impossible. I took a stab at writing popular fiction and screenplays in my twenties, but didn’t have the confidence or grit then to handle rejection or do the hard work of revising a thousand times.

A career malfunction in my mid-thirties forced me to rethink my path, and made me realize I’d never stopped wanting to be a writer. Being a parent shifted my focus from popular fiction for adults to fun stuff for kids — and because I am 11 in my soul, it was the right fit.

Once I realized that’s where my heart lay, I got to work. Maturity gave me the grit I needed. It took four very long years to get my first sale. I have been rejected by everyone in Canadian publishing at least twenty times! But you live and learn, right? By sticking with it, polishing, learning the biz and plain old refusing to give up, the impossible became possible. I am so very grateful for this wonderful career now, and to Katherine Cole and Sheba Meland, the first publishers to say yes.

Tell us about your new book, Don’t Stress: How to Handle Life’s Little Problems. What inspired you to write it?

This was an idea that came out of a lunch date with my fabulous Scholastic editor, Tamara Sztainbok. We created the popular Quiz Book series (nine titles to date) for Scholastic Canada together, and were always chatting about other ideas we could adapt.

We got to talking about how everyone we know is so stressed. Not only us, but even the kids we know. Tamara thought this would be a ripe topic for a book. So she looked at what was out in the marketplace for kids to help them deal. She found very little — just a pocket book kind of thing dating from the ’90s. It was clearly time for an all new handbook for kids — light, easy to read, but genuinely helpful.

Don't StressI researched the heck out of this book, and every tip in there is scientifically solid. They’ve also been personally tested by Little Miss Twitchy — me.  Don’t Stress is NOT just for kids!

How can parents use the book to help their children adjust to the new school year?

I’m a parent too, and have managed to successfully get my two sons (now 22 and 24) through 19 years of school including preschool each, so some of this advice is from a Mom Emeritus:

Moms, Dads, Caregivers: chill it down yourself! That’s number one. It’s not actually all about you.

You will get no gold stars or priority seating in heaven for packing the most attractive, healthy lunch for 100 successive school days without a break. Besides, your darling will wind up trading the granola crunchy made with organic hand ground quinoa flour for a Twinkie as soon as she’s out of eyeball range anyway.

It’s our tension — adults’ own stress — that is causing all the grief for our kids. They are learning from us that life is a battle and downtime is wasted time. So stop setting your own parenting bar impossibly high (p. 53), give up some control (p 59) and give yourself a break (p. 69).

Second, let kids know that stress is part of everyday life, and like learning to tie your shoes or memorizing your times tables, we need to learn and work at developing the skills to master it. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for all people at all times; there are many, many different techniques for conquering anxiety.

By sharing this info with your kids, you acknowledge their lives are stressful. Knowing they are not the only one feeling that way goes a long way to reducing their worry and self-doubt.

Next, give them the tools and support to help them cope — without doing it for them. It’s important for kids to feel like they can soothe themselves on their own — with practice — rather than have mommy or daddy coming in and save the day when things get hairy for them. When parents helicopter like that, they are teaching kids that they are helpless. Talk about stressful!

So in concrete terms, talk with your kids about the upcoming year and encourage them to share their feelings (p. 71) about what hurdles are worrying them. Brainstorm (p. 57) ways to deal with those issues — there are dozens of tips in Don’t Stress to help you both come up with good ideas. But also ask for advice (p. 24) from other people in your life. Then build some of the solutions you come up with into your daily routines. I’ve found making our home more of an oasis (p. 80), taking the long view (p. 93) and taking naps (me!) (p. 25) worked really well for my family.

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how to incorporate this book into the classroom? Do you have any activity suggestions or examples?

I love this question! I think there are a million ways! Having a few copies of Don’t Stress around for kids to refer to when they might feel overwhelmed is a good start.  The format of the book lends itself to dipping in and out — a child might find just the right tip that they need to cope with a stressful moment if they have access to the book.

Many of the suggestions in Don’t Stress can be used by teachers, too, as part of the classroom routine.  Start out the day with simple stretching routines (p. 6), or do a basic breathing/minute meditation exercise when you switch from one class activity to another (pp. 10, 17). Add a gratitude moment to the day, where everyone can take 20 seconds to reflect on something they are grateful for (p. 28). This really does help reset the stress button and help people focus on the good things in their lives, instead of the stressors. Post a clear “Our Day” timetable in the classroom so everyone knows what to expect and when — a reliable routine also helps people feel calmer and more in control (p. 42).

Test day coming up? Help everyone lighten it up by throwing a ten minute dance party or silly song sing-along.

Put a worry basket by the door. Make your classroom a safe space for kids — and you — by stamping out gossip and modeling positive communication skills. Laugh a lot.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process, for Don’t Stress and in general?

I find writing very stressful, LOL. And it is, of course. During school visits, I often tell kids each book is like tackling the biggest, most important school project they’ve ever done! I do exactly what a student needs to do to get that project finished too.

First, I allow myself to daydream (p. 13) to let good ideas flower in my brain. Then I create a To Do list (p. 18) and break the tasks I need to do into manageable chunks (p. 21) so I don’t get overwhelmed by the scope of the project. The first chunk will usually be research. The better I know my material, the less stressful the project will feel.  (p. 78) When I have a good handle on the subject, I just do it (p. 52). I put my head down and work steadily, a little bit each day (a good outline helps!), until the job gets done. I also make sure to take plenty of breaks (p. 20) and get tons of exercise (p.65) to keep my head from exploding.

What’s next for you? Can you tell us about any upcoming books?

Deck the HallsLots of exciting things coming down the pike! Here’s what I can tell you about now:

  • Deck the Halls – the third Porcupine Christmas book in the popular series. Werner Zimmerman did a fantastic job on the illustrations in this one, folks! September 2016.
  • Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (And Thrive!) in the Real World? From KCP. Find out what scientific knowledge tells us how much you should fear Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires and three other creepy counterparts. The truth will shock you! September 2016.
  • You Can Read! A funny picture book celebrating literacy, illustrated by Mark Hoffmann, is coming from Orca Books in Spring 2017. Think: Ode to Underwear, but about books.
  • Also in Spring 2017, look for Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs, illustrated by Marie-Ève Tremblay, from KCP. It’s a picture book look at the life of the rascally Victorian who single-handedly devised the world’s most popular infographics – line graphs, bar charts and pie charts.

For more information about Helaine’s work, visit

back to top

Amy’s Travels in YA


by Amy Mathers

Summer is drawing to a close and while I am greatly anticipating the 2016 list of nominees for the second Amy Mathers Teen Book Award (!), the routines of autumn are already on my mind. So, in a desperate attempt to hang on to the relaxing pace of Canada’s warmer months, here are the results of my recreational reading summer scavenger hunt. All of the books featured below are not by Canadian authors, although, in most cases, I wish they were.

The truth is, I failed in my attempts. I was so busy reading Canadian teen fiction that I barely had time to do any recreational reading besides the commitments I had for book club. I even started Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2013), probably my favourite UK teen author, and wasn’t able to finish it before I had to return it to the library. And it wasn’t because the story was dull or uninteresting, it was simply because there were too many Canadian teen fiction books I needed to read instead. While I try hard to maintain a “No teen book left behind” stance for our Canadian selections (an increasing, yet happy challenge as the years go by), it’s an impossible feat on an international level.

So while I do have international selections for my five categories, most of the books were read by me in the past five years.

  1. Read a book featuring someone who has a different disability than I do.

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (Simon & Shuster, 2014). With an interesting premise of tracking time through miles instead of minutes and Finn wondering if he exists solely as a character in his father’s book, I was surprised when I just couldn’t get into the story. Finn’s epilepsy was a side note, which may have been the only thing I truly enjoyed about the book because it normalized having a disability.

  1. Read a book set in another country.

Let’s face it, in Canada, even the books by Canadian authors are usually about other places. The real challenge is finding one that isn’t about the United States. So I’ll go with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Knopf Book for Young Readers, 2005). Set in Germany during World War II, the story is told from the perspective of Death, a key player in a country embracing war and concentration camps. While Liesel is the main character, I liked her friend Rudy and his earnest struggle to be as good a runner as Jesse Owens more. All in all though, it’s a thoughtful read and a fresh take on World War II.

  1. Read a book from the viewpoint of someone who is not heterosexual or cisgender that is not an issue book.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, 2015). When it comes to LGBTQ2 books, light and romantic is an appreciated change from the usual. Simon’s gradual falling for Blue via email correspondence is a modern take on the days of letter writing courtship. It’s the sweet and beautiful development of first love, with a hint of mystery as Blue knows Simon’s identity while Simon is left to wonder who Blue is.

  1. Read a book by a first time author.

Since Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark was published (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), she has written other books, but this one was her first, I’m just behind. Featuring a main character questioning their gender identity, it’s not so clear-cut for Brendan. Gender is instead a fluid concept, and identifying as a guy or a girl is something that is starting to chaff for Brendan. While things are complicated by a heterosexual relationship, Brendan finds support and understanding from a transwoman named Angel.

  1. Read a book in a genre I usually dislike.

As promised, I did go with horror, although not in a conventional way. Neil Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2007-2014) has been horrifying me for years, but the final installment came out in 2014 and I didn’t have time to read it because I was doing my Marathon of Books. This summer, I finally got around to it. Based on the premise that in the United States the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life movements have reached an impasse, a deal is struck allowing children up to the age of 18 to be unwound. Sort of like a retroactive abortion if the kid has behavioural problems or is simply a drain on society. With the abundance of organs and bodily tissues coming from the unwinds, transplants are an everyday occurrence and most people care little about their unwilling donors. When Connor’s parents sign the papers to have him unwound though, his subsequent escape will fuel a revolution that will change the country.

Next month I’ll be back to full Canadian strength – featuring interviews with the five nominees of the 2016 Amy Mathers Teen Book Award! I wonder who they’ll be…


Amy Mathers read and reviewed 365 YA books to raise money for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award in 2014. Read about her journey at

back to top

Illustrator’s Studio: Christina Leist

leistChristina Leist was born and raised in Germany. She worked as an Art Director in advertising, before moving to Canada in 2005. She now lives in Vancouver, where she focuses on writing, illustration and graphic design. Her upcoming books include On My Bike and On My Skis, the latest in a series that started with On My Walk (Tradewind Books, 2010), written by Kari-Lynn Winters.

How did you get started as an illustrator and how did you develop your unique style?

Although I’ve always been drawing and even illustrated my own little stories as a child, I didn’t start out as an illustrator after graduating from university in Communications Design. I chose to work as an art director in advertising in Frankfurt, Germany.

After a few years of advertising life, I began questioning my decision. I needed a break from the busy ad world, went travelling, liked life in Vancouver, stayed longer and began to illustrate for fun. I had the luxury of having time to experiment without pressure and play around until I was pleased with what I was producing.

I stumbled upon people who liked my work, and soon after being introduced to some publishers, Tradewind Books had a project for me: Ink illustrations for Tiffany Stone’s Baaaad Animals. Since I love smart poetry and the challenge of being limited to black and white, I really got into my first project.

Christina’s workspace. Click to enlarge.

I ended up staying in Vancouver and have been illustrating and working as a graphic designer.

My style has developed over time and is still evolving. Most of my illustration work now is executed in colour. The types of projects I was working on in the beginning influenced my style’s evolution greatly. My first books were aimed at very young people. So I developed a style that catered to them. I limited my colour palette, chose bright colours, balanced them with muted tones and stayed away from the typical primary colour boredom. I try to keep a good balance between simplicity and detail.

Coming from an advertising background, I aim to appeal to the targeted audience of the text. Therefore my illustrations tend to get more complex for an older audience.

Can you tell us about your illustrating process? 

I am a planner. When I get a text for a book, I jot down associations, words, little sketches. It usually is messy, but gives me a good overview of options and ideas. 

If I am also the writer of the project, I might start by developing one of the story’s characters visually first, to inspire myself. I may even make a puppet.

Click to enlarge.

To develop the main character’s looks, I draw until I know that this is her or him.

The next step is messy storyboarding. In this step I am mapping-out how the story’s images will flow across the pages of the book. If I am working on a picture book, I need to know the number of spreads (two pages facing each other) the future book will hold. If it is a chapter book I am illustrating, I like to see the text layed-out. That way I can mark pivotal scenes and make sure the images are evenly distributed throughout the book.

In any case, I am making sure my illustrations feature a variety of perspectives, close-ups and landscapes, etc. At this stage my sketches are very rough. Sometimes I am the only one able to understand their meaning.

Since I need to show my publishers what I am planning on doing, I then need to create a less messy, more detailed version of the storyboard. My publisher’s feedback is based on this version and once approved, an enlarged copy will be the template for my finals.

Click to enlarge.

For the final illustrations I draw separate elements. It basically is a mix of black outlines and scraggly lines and dark blue blotches. I draw and trace until I like each element. Then I scan everything in. I create a specific colour palette for the project and mount and colourize the elements digitally. Layers upon layers make up each spread — based on the positioning of the enlarged storyboard. This way I can easily apply changes to my illustrations without having to re-do everything. It also suits the tidy artist I am, as it means zero mess on my desk. The only bad thing is that my originals look pretty boring.

Tell us about your upcoming books, On My Skis and On My Bike.

A few years back Kari-Lynn Winters and I noticed that we were working on similar creative projects. We both were collecting little scenes a toddler would observe on outings around Vancouver — we put my sketches and Kari’s writing together and pitched the idea of the On My… series to Tradewind Books who now is our publisher.

On My Skis and On My Bike are sequels to On My Walk, which came out first and was nominated for the BC Book Prize a few years back. A fourth book in the series is on the horizon as well.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 4.02.48 PM
On My Bike

In the series we get to come along on a growing family’s outings. Each book covers a different season and destination.

On My Walk takes us on a walk to the beach. It is set in Spring and introduces a toddler, his/her dog and pregnant mom.

In On my Bike we get to go for a bike ride along the Fraser River in the Fall. This time mom, dog and toddler are accompanied by a dad and a new baby.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 4.06.01 PM
On My Skis

In the Winter book On My Skis the family takes us to the ski hills atop of one of Vancouver’s local mountains.

On My Bike will be out this Fall, On My Skis will be published this Spring. And there will be a fourth book at one point, featuring sunny beach life! The books feel very personal to me, as I basically drew scenes from my extended neighbourhood.

Do you have any suggestions for educators who would like to use your books in the classroom?

On my website one can find templates for drawing exercises associated with the books and other ideas.

What were your favourite children’s books and illustrators growing up? 

I  grew up in Germany. Therefore I wasn’t familiar with most of the North American and English classics.

I was and am a big fan of anything Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author. The Brothers Lionheart and Ronia the Robber’s Daughter have a special place in my heart.

Vitus the sock puppet. Click to enlarge.

Many of Astrid Lindgren’s books were illustrated by Ilon Wikland. Her illustrations are featuring lively characters with great expression and gestures, exciting composition and story-telling detail within the images. Many of them were drawn in ink. Ilon’s work was and is an inspiration and the reason for my love for black and white illustration.

What projects are you working on now? 

It’s a scary one: I am writing … in English. Since English is not my first language, it feels pretty choppy and uncomfortable.

But Vitus the sock puppet and some other ideas have been in the closet (literally) for too long. I simply have to get my act together and write to set Vitus and friends free.

Images courtesy of Christina Leist. Visit for more information about her work.

back to top

Booksellers’ Picks

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

Every HiddenElla Minnow Children’s Bookstore in Toronto, ON: Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins, 2016), Ages 12 and up

Somewhere in the Badlands, embedded deep in centuries-buried rock and sand, lies the skeleton of a massive dinosaur, larger than anything the late nineteenth-century world has ever seen. Some legends call it the Black Beauty, with its bones as black as ebony, but to seventeen-year-old Samuel Bolt, it’s the “rex,” the king dinosaur that could put him and his struggling, temperamental archaeologist father in the history books.

Recommended by Ella Minnow staff

Ella Minnow Children’s Bookstore : 991 Kingston Rd, Toronto, ON M4E 1T3


shooter• Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books in Ottawa, ON: Shooter by Caroline Pignat (Razorbill, 2016), Ages 12 and up

Five teens end up together in a high school bathroom during a lockdown drill. Told in five unique voices, each student reveals pieces of their true story while they wait for the drill to end … except it isn’t a drill. There is a shooter in the school and the bathroom doesn’t seem so safe anymore. Especially when they learn one of them knows more about the shooter than they realize.

Recommended by Kim Ferguson, Co-owner

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


Every Nameless• McNally Robinson at Grant Park in Winnipeg, MB: The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second, 2016), Ages 9-12

The City has been called many things — Daidu, Yanjing, Monkh, Dandao — but to those native to the sprawling houses and marketplaces, it is the Nameless City. Named and renamed over and over again, no conqueror can hold the City for long. Kaidu is new to the City, and therefore an outsider. But after grudgingly befriending the street-smart and cunning Rat, Kai begins to see the City’s charms through the eyes of those who have always called it home.

Faith Erin Hicks brings her signature style and storytelling A-game with The Nameless City, introducing a land of a endless stories, in which this is (thankfully!) just the first. Hicks’ artwork is engaging, as always, and elevated by colourist Jordie Bellaire. A story of boundless energy and dark secrets, The Nameless City is a truly excellent novel by an exceptional cartoonist. —Shanleigh Klassen, Kids Bookseller

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


A Boy Named Queen• Type Books in Toronto, ON: A Boy Named Queen by Sara Cassidy (Groundwood, 2016), Ages 8 to 11

This middle grade book is short, sweet, and terribly perfect. A very focused and tight study of that mind-shaking moment when a new friendship changes your entire worldview. Reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, but for a younger reader. —Serah-Marie McMahon, Children’s Buyer for Type Books

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


When GreenWoozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons, written by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Roaring Brook Press, 2016), Ages 5-11

Thoughtful, precise and delicately evocative poems take readers on a reflective journey through the seasons in this exquisite collaboration.  Fogliano captures the subtle flavours of the different months and seasons in poems that quietly reflect nature’s abundant miracles, big and small, while Morstad’s gentle illustrations are filled with whimsy and nostalgia, and are a joy all their own.  A very special book for children and adults to share. —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.

back to top