September 2019


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Links We Love
September Reading List: Make Mental Health a Priority
Author Corner: Wesley King
YA Write with Amy Mathers
Illustrator’s Studio: Peter H. Reynolds
Experts’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends

The Shortlists for the 2019 CCBC Book Awards Announced!

We are incredibly excited to reveal the 2019 CCBC Book Awards shortlists! The nominees for our eight awards were announced on September 5 and the winners will be announced on October 15 (English) and November 7 (French). Once again, we are working with CBC to hold the Fan Choice Award/Choix du public littérature jeunesse. Young readers are invited to choose their favourite book from the titles shortlisted for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse. Find out more on the CBC website; the voting period will run from September 5 to October 3 for the English content and September 8 to October 6 for the French.

See all the nominees here! Congratulations to all nominees and thank you to our sponsors!

Every Grade One in Canada to Receive a Copy of My Heart Fills With Happiness!

Every fall we give every grade one student in Canada a free book to take home through the TD Grade One Giveaway Book program. This year’s book is My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett, published by Orca Book Publishers in Victoria, BC. Over 550,000 copies will be given to students in French and English, with each copy including text in Plains Cree. For the first time, the Children’s Canadian Book Centre (CCBC) has partnered with the CNIB Foundation to undertake a pilot project that will distribute printbraille editions of the book to grade one students who are blind or partially sighted. Printbraille copies of the book will also be available at select CNIB Foundation centres and hubs throughout Canada.

Are you a grade one teacher? Download our free activities and downloads here.

Orca Hi-Lo Author Panel with Readings and Q&A, followed by Signing with Prizes/Giveaways

Come meet Orca Hi-Lo authors Melanie Florence, Bev Katz Rosenbaum, Erin Thomas, Karen Krossing and Paul Coccia!

When: Saturday, September 28th, 2019
Time: 11AM
Chapters Scarborough
20 William Kitchen Road (401 and Kennedy Rd.)
Scarborough, ON M1P 5B7

Come Meet Us This Fall at Telling Tales and Word on the Street!

Come and say hello to us at Telling Tales (Sunday, September 15 in Rockton) and Word on the Street (Sunday, September 22 in Toronto.)  We’ll be giving out free goodies and getting the word out about who we are and what we do!  Both festivals are perfect for our literary loving  friends!

From Sketch to Story: Musings from my Drawing Table
Lecture in Toronto

Marie-Louise Gay, one of Canada’s foremost children’s book creators, speaks at the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books’ 13th Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture. From Rainy Day Magic and Any Questions? to Short Stories for Little Monsters and the best-loved Stella and Sam series, Marie-Louise Gay has won the hearts and minds of readers young and old, in Canada and beyond.

Free. Space is limited. No registration required.

Toronto Public Library – Lillian H. Smith Library, 239 College Street

For more information, please contact the Osborne Collection at 416-393-7753.

Learn  more here.

Are You an Educator? Join Red Apple Reading Today!

Red Apple Reading is an online Facebook community for Canadian librarians and educators. We wanted to create a space for educators to connect through their love of books for children and teens. Request to join today!

Children’s Book Bank to give away 10,000 books at TTC stations!

On Monday, September 16 our friends at the Children’s Book Bank will be giving out free kids’ books at Kennedy, Finch, and Islington TTC subway stations between 7–10 a.m.

The non-profit gives away free, gently used books to children and their families in need. In 2018, book bank donated 127,000 books through its storefront and various outreach initiatives.

Cut Sew Sculpt Play: the art of not drawing picture books

Picture book illustration tells a story written with lines and colour, shape and form. Instead of drawing, these illustrators use paper and plasticine, scissors and felt, glitter and glue to create the art that tells their stories.

Join The Friends of the Osborne for a panel discussion with children’s book art-makers about how and why they cut, sew, sculpt, and play. Featuring Barbara Reid (Picture The Sky), Kalpna Patel (Alis the Aviator), Thao Lam (My Cat Looks Like My Dad), Soyeon Kim (You Are Never Alone) and Lesley-Anne Green (Fox & Racoon) and moderated by Karen Li (Editorial Director, Owlkids)

RSVP here!

Coming Soon: Canadian Kids Books Take Over YouTube!

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) is taking Canadian children’s books to where youth already are: YouTube.  

Plans are underway for a YouTube channel to showcase videos and links to resources about Canadian books for children and youth. The platform will be promoted as a destination for young readers, librarians, teachers, parents, authors, illustrators, researchers and others who want to locate and learn more about great Canadian books for young people.

Currently, the CCBC is working to collect videos for the channel. Do you have ready-made videos that relate to Canadian children’s books? You can e-mail with a title, video length and video description and she’ll include it in her database of prospective videos.

Learn more here.

Attend One of Our Seminars and Become the Next Kid Lit Star!

Are you a prospective children’s book illustrator? Or a new or upcoming creator of books for kids and teens? This November we are holding two seminars in Toronto for you! Get Published: Illustrator’s Edition will take place on Saturday, November 19 at 9:30am and features Matt James (award-winning illustrator and author), Carey Sookocheff (illustrator), Paul Covello (illustrator and Art Director at Annick Press), Tara Walker (publisher at Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers and Tundra Books) and John Martz (illustrator and Art Director at Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers and Tundra Books). The Business of Writing: Selling Your Books, Selling Yourself will take place on Saturday, November 23 and will feature Naseem Hrab (author, Associate Publisher at Kids Can Press), Kevin Sylvester (writer and illustrator), Helaine Becker (author) and Evan Munday (author, Publicity Manager at Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers).

Learn more here and reserve your place today!

Visit the CCBC’s Social Justice and Diversity Book Bank

Be sure to visit our newest book bank, highlighting Canadian titles that focus on diversity, social justice and activism. We believe that there is a dire need for more diverse stories in Canadian children’s literature and our new book bank is a way for us to support these stories while providing a tool to help readers have quick and easy access to hundreds of titles.

This book bank is perfect for teachers, librarians and parents to use in finding great Canadian content.

Visit the book bank here!

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

back to top

Links We Love

Articles and videos of interest to educators

Eight children’s books to finish up the summer with (Globe and Mail)

WATCH: Agent Binky: Pets of the Universe to premiere on Treehouse TV

Our Back to School Jitters Reading List (CCBC)

Expert Tips for Keeping Busy Kids Connected to Books (ReadBrightly)

Making and Keeping Friends: 60 Mighty Girl Books About Friendship (A Mighty Girl)

Eight ways to make time for reading during the busy-ness of the school year (CCBC)

Want to Raise Smart, Kind Kids? Science Says Read To Them Every Day (Happy You Happy Family)

30 Canadian picture books to watch for this fall (CBC)

Miss Lou’s sweet Jamaican patois speaks to a whole new generation (Toronto Star)

You Can Never Go Back: On Loving Children’s Books as an Adult (Literary Hub)

Don’t Be Afraid Of Robert Munsch’s ‘Love You Forever’ (CBC)

6 Creative Storytelling Games for Kids (Read Brightly)

30 Canadian YA and middle-grade books to watch for this fall (CBC)

Editorial: Indigenous literature gives Peterborough students a valuable new learning tool (The Peterborough Examiner)

New Releases We’re Looking Forward to this Fall (CCBC)

50 facts about the life and career of Canadian poet Dennis Lee (CBC)

Bus Driver Keeps a Bucket of Books Up Front to Encourage Kids to Read, and Not All Heroes Wear Capes (Popsugar)

Read it and weep: LGBTQ kids deserve queer-friendly books (The Berkeley Beacon)

back to top

September Reading List: Make Mental Health a Priority

Our reading list this month features books about mental health. These books can be read in the classroom, in libraries or at home.

Picture Books

Can I Catch It Like a Cold?: Coping With a Parent’s Depression 
Written by Centre For Addiction And Mental Health
Illustrated by Centre For Addiction And Mental Health
Tundra Books, 2009
ISBN 978-0-88776-956-6
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 1-3

In partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Tundra is proud to launch an important series of books for children who have to cope with adult-sized problems. Young Alex’s father had been a policeman until he began to suffer from depression, perhaps the most common mental health issue we face. Alex’s questions are those that are often asked by the children of parents who have depression: is the parent simply lazy? Does he no longer care? And is it something I can catch, like a cold?

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

The Cold Little Voice
Written by Alison Hughes
Illustrated by Jan Dolby
Clockwise Press , 2018
ISBN 978-1-98834-711-0
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 1-3

What can we do when that cold little voice inside our own head tells us that we aren’t good enough or smart enough to matter? Or when the voice tells us that we’ll never succeed, that we look weird, that we’re too tall or too short, that we can’t do anything right? Sometimes all it takes is a bit of self-acceptance and love to make that cold little voice warm right up so that we can become our own best friend.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Written by Julie Pearson
Illustrated by Manon Gauthier
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-927485-85-9
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 1-3

Elliot’s parents love him, but they don’t know how to take care of him. When a social worker named Thomas comes, Elliot’s world turns upside down. His foster families are kind, but everything is strange and new, and all the changes make him cry, and yell, and misbehave. When it is clear that Elliot’s parents will never be able to take him back, Thomas finds Elliot one last home — a forever, forever home. This title is also available in French under the same name.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Margo Thinks Twice
Written and illustrated by Monica Arnaldo
Owlkids Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77147-162-6
IL: Ages 3-7 RL: Grades 2-3

Margo is an imaginative, adventurous little girl who sometimes feels nervous and uncomfortable, especially inside the wild world her imagination sometimes creates. Margo’s mind turns everyday advice into worries and worst-case scenarios. Luckily, Margo’s mom comes up with an idea to ease her daughter’s anxieties and encourage her inventive spirit in a positive way.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

The Silence Slips In
Written by Susan Hughes
Illustrated by Ninon Pelletier
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Orca Book Publishers, 2019
ISBN 978-1-45981-706-7
IL: Ages 3-5 RL: Grades 1-2

When the party’s over and the baby finally falls asleep, when the dog is all barked out and the screens are dark, the Silence pads in on soft, furry feet. A warm, comforting presence, the Silence curls up in a sun-beam like a cuddly cat and helps you read, think and be still. The Silence is friends with the Dark. Together they soothe the jagged edges left when the Noise has rolled on and gently launch the boats of your dreams into the night. When the day becomes overwhelming or other feelings become too big, the Silence slips in.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Virginia Wolf
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Kids Can Press, 2012
ISBN 978-1-55453-649-8
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3

Vanessa’s sister, Virginia, is in a “wolfish” mood — growling, howling and acting very strange. Vanessa tries everything she can think of to cheer her up, but nothing seems to work. Then Virginia tells Vanessa about an imaginary, perfect place called Bloomsberry. Armed with an idea, Vanessa begins to paint Bloomsberry on the bedroom walls, transforming them into a beautiful garden complete with a ladder and swing “so that what was down could climb up.” Before long, Virginia, too, has picked up a brush and undergoes a surprising transformation of her own. Loosely based on the relationship between author Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf is an uplifting story for readers of all ages.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Junior & Intermediate

Be My Love
Written by Kit Pearson
HarperTrophy Canada, 2019
ISBN 978-1-443-44402-6
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-7

For as long as she can remember, Maisie has spent her summers on Kingfisher Island. She and her beloved cousin Una run wild, and Maisie feels the warm embrace of her big, extended family. This summer Maisie needs that escape more than ever, as her father’s depression has changed everything at home. But now everything on Kingfisher has changed as well: Una has returned from her mainland school a sophisticated young woman too mature for childish games, and even worse, she has an all-consuming infatuation with David Meyer, both an old friend and an older man. When Maisie’s greatest attempt to maintain the special magic of her friendship with Una goes up in smoke, it seems as though all is lost. But with an enormous revelation, and a heartrending intervention, Maisie may finally discover the strength she needs to find the same peace that the island has brought her within herself.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Eight Times Up
Written by John Carr
Orca Book Publishers, 2019
ISBN 978-1-459-81861-3
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5

Ever since his mom left, Riley has been a mess. He feels nervous all the time. His heart pounds, his neck is tight, and he can’t seem to turn off his brain. His dad signs him up for aikido, hoping it will help.
In the dojo, Riley meets boys who are much rougher than he is and a girl who is tougher than all the rest of them put together. For Wafaa, aikido is not her first choice. She was disqualified from competing in judo for wearing a hijab. From the first time she steps on the mat, it’s clear she is far more skilled than anyone expected.
Through the teachings of their sensei, Riley and his classmates come to understand that aikido is not about winning or losing or about being perfect. Sensei shows them how to tap into their inner strength and find their place in the universe.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Grandfather and the Moon
Written by Stéphanie Lapointe
Illustrated by Rogé
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Groundwood Books, 2017
ISBN 978-1-55498-961-4
IL: Ages 10-13 RL: Grades 6-7

Grandfather sinks into depression when his beloved wife succumbs to cancer. His granddaughter has a different response. She enters the Who Will Go to the Moon Contest, and when she actually wins, she hopes that Grandfather will be proud of her. She embarks on the thrilling journey, which takes an unexpected turn. This title is also available in French as Grand-père et la Lune.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Written by Wesley King
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4814-5531-2
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6

Thirteen-year-old Daniel — a budding author, friend and second-string football player — is plagued by “Zaps,” triggers such as an unlucky number that compel him to repeat certain actions — rituals that leave him exhausted and positive he is crazy. His life gets weirder when Sara, a selectively mute schoolmate, sends him a mysterious note and draws him into a mystery that just might change everything.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Young Adult Fiction

Calvin has always known his fate was linked to the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. But, at 17, he is suddenly stricken by a schizophrenic episode, and Hobbes (as a large man-eating tiger he can’t quite see) is with him as a delusion he can’t control. As the hallucinations persist, Calvin struggles to regain control of his own mind and destiny — with one grand, incredible adventure.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Written by Eisha Marjara
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55152-618-8
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

The horror of becoming an adult and leaving childhood behind has broken Lila’s heart. She likens herself to a half-human faerie creature not belonging to the earthly world; in reality, she is a psychiatric patient, being treated for anorexia — her sickness driven by the irrational need to undo nature and stop time. Lila is desperate to escape her body, to set the faerie inside her free.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Kat and Meg Conquer the World
Written by Anna Priemaza
HarperTeen, 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-256080-3
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 8-9

Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people, while Meg’s ADHD makes sustaining relationships difficult. When the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos. It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship — if they don’t kill each other first.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Speak: The Graphic Novel
Written by Laurie Halse Anderson
Illustrated by Emily Carroll
Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2018
ISBN 978-0-374-30028-9
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

Because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, Melinda is friendless — an outcast — at her high school. Through her work on an art project, Melinda is finally able to face what really happened that night. But, before she can make peace with the past, she must confront the present. Only words can save her… she can’t stay silent anymore.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Anxiety: Deal With It Before It Ties You Up in Knots
(Deal With It)
Written by Joey Mandel
Illustrated by Ted Heeley
James Lorimer, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4594-0710-7
IL: Ages 9-13 RL: Grades 5-6

This accessible title helps kids understand anxiety and offers practical ideas for coping. Filled with information, quizzes, definitions and helpful hints, this book helps young people identify and deal with the different ways that anxiety is expressed, from phobias to panic attacks, in settings as diverse as home, the schoolyard and the mall. Strategies for kids coping with anxiety are included.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Depression & Other Mood Disorders: Understanding Mental Health
Written by Jon Eben Field
Crabtree, 2014
ISBN 978-0-778-70090-6
IL: Ages 11-15 RL: Grades 6-7

In an attempt to overcome social stigmas, this series takes a sincere and authentic approach in discussing different kinds of mental illness. Concise, easy-to-follow text explains the importance of social and emotional health and the symptoms and possible treatments of different mental illnesses.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty
(The World Around Us)
(Scholastic Canada Biography)
Written by Jillian Roberts, Jaime Casap
Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs
Orca Book Publishers, 2018
ISBN 978-1-4598-1617-6
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 2-3

A gentle introduction to the issue of poverty, this title explores the realities of people living with inadequate resources and addresses issues such as mental illness, homelessness and refugee status. Sidebars with insightful quotes from individuals and organizations such as UNICEF add further food for thought. Readers are encouraged to take what they have learned and make a difference.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Stress Lee: Tips and Tools To Help You Chill
Written by Helaine Becker
Scholastic Canada, 2018
ISBN 978-1-443-14870-2
IL: Ages 8-13 RL: Grades 3-4

Kids today experience high levels of stress. With so much of their daily activity charted for them, they often feel overwhelmed and out of control. In this light and fun collection, kids will find a variety of time-tested and scientifically proven methods for dealing with stress. Tips cover physical, emotional, social and just-plain-fun techniques. The breezy style that lets kids flip around in the book and choose whatever seems to suit at the moment. This companion to the highly successful Don’t Stress: How to Handle Life’s Little Problems gives kids even more tools to deal with everyday challenges.

Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

back to top


Author’s Corner: Wesley King

Wesley King is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of OCDaniel, The Wizenard series, The Vindico series and many more. His books have accumulated many awards and been optioned for film and television, as well as being translated for release worldwide. Wesley is currently refitting and sailing a 1967 classic sailboat through North Africa as part of a larger quest to sail around the world. 

First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get your start as an author? What is your writing process like? 

I got my start as per the vast majority of published authors: rejection, existential crisis, repeat. I came out of Carleton University as a journalism graduate who far preferred fiction. I wrote a story, was rejected by a bunch of agents, and tried to form a publishing company without any money because I was ambitious, young, and, more importantly, an idiot. It wasn’t confidence. It was just that I had to write and wanted to make it a job. Shockingly, Flock Publishing House didn’t fly, so I knuckled down on a story idea I had been kicking around for a while about some teenage supervillains. I wrote said novel and proceeded to be rejected again: 24 agent rejections in I stumbled by fortune onto the world’s greatest agent, a then-brand-new Brianne Johnson at Writers House, and from there we were both rejected by a bunch of publishers. After a year or so of accumulating mostly-nice rejection letters later, I was completely out-of-money and fairly directionless. Then I got the best phone call of life. G.P Putnam’s Sons wanted to purchase both The Vindico and a sequel, which gave me the proverbial foot-in-the-door and enough money to, you know, not live in a car. The Vindico was fairly successful and I was off… I have been writing and publishing constantly since and release books 10 and 11 next year.

In terms of my writing process, it is fairly free-flowing. No outlines. No plan. I write like I am reading a book, and therefore it is usually a quick process: my first drafts often take about a month. I wrote one book in a week. Of course, everything varies, but I do a very extensive editing ritual that takes far more time than that… probably because every first draft I have ever written has been a complete disaster. Now I write between a lakefront home in Nova Scotia and a classic steel ketch I am sailing around the world… thankfully my writing options have changed a bit since the days of that ill-fated publishing house in my parent’s basement. You got lucky, Random Penguin House/Intergalactic Empire.

What was your inspiration for writing OCDaniel and the upcoming prequel, Sara and the Search for Normal

OCDaniel was based on my own experiences growing up. I had, and have, OCD, and at Daniel’s age, I had absolutely no idea what it was. I was performing rituals for five or six hours a night. Brushing my teeth until my gums bled. Pulling out my hair. Praying until I couldn’t stand up anymore. I was afraid of my own brain, and in turn the forces I blamed for it: alien genetics, God, demonic possession… I ran through the whole gauntlet. OCD people are very creative in their self-destruction. It was deeply lonely. So I wrote OCDaniel for my 12-year-old self, and for every person who is facing the same journey and provide any hope that I could.

Sara is the next level of the story. It’s a prequel, and Sara is undoubtedly one of my favourite characters across any story I have ever written. The story deals with different aspects of anxiety and depressive disorders, and in some ways delves a bit deeper into the true effects on our outlook and indentity. But as before, the inspiration was to provide a hopeful story for readers… and I couldn’t be happier with the result. It was an emotional write. It’s funny and challenging and raw, and I can’t wait to share it. The last page sums up just about everything I want to tell those who are suffering.

Do you think books like OCDaniel can help equip teens with the tools to cope with the challenges they’re faced with?

Absolutely… to an extent. I hear from readers everywhere I go about how much the book helped them: teens, middle-grade readers, and adults. But I always caution that I want the book to encourage readers to talk to loved ones and professionals, and not to go self-diagnosing or considering the book itself is a lesson. It is simply a story about coping with our difficulties, and more so, a pointed reminder that we are not alone in facing them. And that message has been very helpful for a lot of people. The fact that it has reached so many people is the proudest part of my writing career. I wish I could have told my 12-year-old self where all that suffering was leading.

What was it like working with Kobe Bryant on The Wizenard Series: Training Camp?

It was (and continues to be) an incredible experience. Book two is out in the spring, and there are plenty more in the works. I already knew about Kobe’s infamous work ethic, but I didn’t know he was so passionate about storytelling. The guy is a nerd (like me), a visionary, and the world’s greatest dad who wants to tell stories for his daughters. We geek about Harry Potter and Game of Thrones and share the same vision of stories that are magical and fun but also real and inspiring for readers of all levels. The response has been crazy. Obviously my first #1 New York Times Bestseller, big sales overseas, and perhaps a few more exciting things to come. Our writing process is crazy: I fly down, we brainstorm, flip around ideas, write drafts, and repeat again and again until it’s right. Everything is researched and analyzed to make sure it is authentic. I have been to inner-city Chicago and met international leaders on child psychology and more. Every sentence in the book is there for a reason.

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

Well, clearly I should have read ahead. So, of course, The Wizenard Series: Season One comes out in Spring 2020. Sara and the Search for Normal follows in May 2020. I have another Wizenard book planned for 2021, I am working on a much darker story revolving around a sailboat (writing while I am aboard), and also diving into an OCDaniel screenplay between all that. Much of this while trying to sail along the Maghreb and across the Atlantic and I guess not sink on the way. Which might be a nice tie-in to end this interview: It started with broke me getting rejected by every agent in the world and their mother, and now I get to sail and write awesome stories and see some stuff headed for the screen. Maybe the lesson is to be stubborn about your passions. I don’t know. You’re talking to a guy who tried to start a publishing company with $47 in his bank account. But hey, if you’re going to be an idiot about something, it might as well be about wild ambitions. That, at least, has never changed a bit.

Find out more about Wesley on twitter @WesleyTKing

back to top

YA Write with Amy Mathers

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

back to top

Illustrator’s Studio: Peter H. Reynolds

Peter H. Reynolds is the award-winning author and illustrator of The North Star, The Dot and Ish. He also illustrated the bestselling Someday by Alison McGhee, Tess’s Tree by Jess M. Brallier, and the bestselling Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald. Peter is the founder and CEO of FableVision, an educational company that produces animated films, books, and software. He lives in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get your start as an illustrator and author? 

There are so many influences that lead me to where I am today. I owe most of it to that initial spark fo passion for putting pencil to paper. I like to say that I got my start because I didn’t stop. By about fourth grade I noticed that a lot of the kids around me had put their pencils down. I was still drawing on any piece of paper I could get my hands on. My brother. Paul would sift through my school backpack to review all the art I had done that day. I wish my teachers had appreciated my art as much as my twin did. Most teachers told me to do my drawing on my own time and to pay attention. 

I self-published The North Star in 1997. It was a story of a boy lost in a swamp and discovering the “map” he had had all along: the stars. It is an allegory about the learning journey – about life. Mary Lee Donovan at Candlewick Press got hold of a copy. She took me to lunch and shared that she liked my sensibilities and offered me contact to illustrate a book called “Judy Moody.” I didn’t realize that it was to become an New York Times bestselling series with spinoffs and a movie. 

At another lunch with Mary Lee and my art editor, Ann Stott, I was asked if I had any of my own stories I’d like to share. I said I had a mission to keep kids from putting down their pencils and brushes — to be brave and develop their own strong and positive voice. I told them about three stories I had written: The Dot, Ish and Sky Color. They immediately said they wanted to publish all three. I coined a name for that collection of three books about creativity: The Creatrilogy.

Each one of your books seems to draw inspiration from real life. What or who has impacted you the most as a creator?

Again, it is hard to pinpoint a specific person or event, but I think that the house I grew up in had the right “creative climate control” that nurtured my art and story-crafting.  It was a busy house with seven people — born in four different countries. Dinner was always a family experience filled with story. Our parents were left-brained — by day doing accounting and financial work — but at home, Dad was busy in the garden and his woodworking shop. Mum was busy sewing and crafting. We had loads of art supplies around the house. Drawers filled with pens, markers, tape and glue. 

At school, for the most part, I had to wait for art class to get the creativity flowing. As I mentioned before, most teachers felt that my drawing in their class was not appropriate and most asked me to stop. My seventh-grade math teacher, Mr. Matson, saw me drawing and challenged me to write and illustrate a story to teach math to kids! That was such a delightful suprise for 12 years old me to hear coming from a math teacher. I went home and created a comic book. when I brought it in, Mr. Matson he asked me if I knew what I had created. 

“A comic book?”

“Well, yes, it is a comic book, but it is also called a storyboard. It is what filmmakers use to plan out their movies. Would you like to make a film from your storyboard?”

That was actually one of those life-changing moments. That film inspired me in many ways — connecting me to my mentor media makers, Jim and Jean Morrow, and a first job when I graduated from university as an art director for an educational media company started by an innovative teacher, Tom Snyder. 

Your books truly speak to children. How do you keep the natural joy of childhood alive in your stories?

I like to think that I write for “children of all ages.” My messages are certainly enjoyed by children, but many of the big ideas in my stories are good reminders for grown ups: balance, bravery, resilience, creativity, empathy among others. 

I have two children, Sarah and Henry, who keep me inspired, as well as owning a bookshop I opened the same year that my book, The Dot was published: 2003. The Blue Bunny Book & Toy Store is a good example of a space that is intentionally designed to have great “creative climate control.” It is a space to discover, to rest, to think, to sip, to draw, to write and to play. It looks very much like the inside of my brain. I take that energy and imbue it into the characters of my books. I want Jerome, Vashti, Marisol, Ramon, Raj, and the others to show what creative spirit looks like. I want them to model bravery, self-advocacy, and kindness. I also pay tribute to the power of great teaching and parenting. 

How do the books you write and/or illustrate help equip children with the tools to cope with the challenges they’re faced with?

My hope is that the themes of my books will become tools for my readers’ journeys.  Life is a lot easier if you have the right tools in the toolkit. Story is still one of the most powerful forms of “technology” to share information and inspiration. Picture books are especially powerful. Big ideas can get dipped into art and words and easily shared and understood. Not just understood, they become indelibly inscribed in a person’s thinking. They recharge the human soul. 

You own The Blue Bunny Book & Toy Store just outside of Boston and we know that you support and collaborate with schools, community organizations, and non-profits in the area. What type of things do you do to support these groups? 

I love helping organizations that are helping children and communities to develop their full potential. There are so many groups I love being able to support with my time, my art for auctions, and my own money. LitWorld, The Horizons School, The Walker School, The Georgie Badiel Foundation are among the many great organizations I admire and support. We welcome schools to visit my bookshop in Dedham, MA where I will meet them and share my stories and encourage them to share their voices with the world, in whatever way feels right for them: through art, through their words, or through action. 

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

I just wrapped up an animated film version of The World Collector. Jerome comes to life in this production created by Scholastic Weston Woods and my own studio, FableVision in Boston, MA. We have now begun a film version of Say Something!

Be You! is my latest. I nicknamed it a “Handbook for Amazing Human Beings.” It is a reminder that we are capable of being so many things — brave, curious, kind, and original, but that being true to yourself is not always easy. If you find the people who truly love you for who you are then the journey becomes much easier. 

I still have a lot of things to share. As I get older, I feel the urgency of getting these stories written and shared. Of course, every year that goes by is another year filled with new experiences, ideas, and often times, hard-earned wisdom. My hope is that my own journey can inspire others on their own wonderful journeys. 

Find out more about Peter and his work at

back to top

Booksellers’ Picks

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

Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (Groundwood Books, 2019) Ages  14 and up

With magnificent illustrations and authentic dialogue, this book relates Freddy Riley’s heartache and anguish as she wrestles with her tumultuous relationship with cool girl Laura Dean.  Her circle of friends all see Laura Dean for what she is: completely self-absorbed and manipulative, not at all the right person for introverted, sensitive Freddy.  Even Freddy can see that Laura Dean isn’t kind.  But she can’t help being drawn to her, and to feel lucky that Laura Dean sees something in her.  Ultimately (after letting her best friend down in a major way), Freddy recognizes the painful truth that she doesn’t like the person she becomes when she is with Laura Dean.  The stunning black and white artwork, with occasional splashes of pink, are detailed and expressive, poignantly depicting a wide range of emotions.  This story is a tender and true depiction of teen relationships, friendship, self-esteem, and self-discovery.

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, written by Jon-Arno Lawson, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi (Enchanted Lion Books, 2019) Ages 4 and up

In prose that is elegant and spare, this exquisite and thoughtful picture book gently ponders big life questions about self and others, about loneliness even when surrounded by others, about finding oneself and discovering joy while also being open to change.  The lush, mixed-media illustrations are bursting with life, richly evocative and enticing readers of all ages to pore over each page.  This is a quietly beautiful story, profound in its simplicity and deliberately open to interpretation, an invitation to ponder, to reflect on mysteries great and small.  Lawson is a true master of precision when it comes to words and crafting few words into powerful statements of truth and beauty.  This is a further testament to that skill. —Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

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

McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, MB: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads, 2019) Ages 14 and up

Zayneb is looking to stop her Islamophobic teacher, but after a misunderstanding with the principal which results in her suspension, her parents give her an early spring break with her aunt in Doha, Qatar. Still determined to figure out how to stop her teacher while she is overseas, the last thing she expects is to meet Adam, a boy trying to figure out how to tell his dad that he has been diagnosed with MS.

Both on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, together they seek out the marvels and oddities of every situation they encounter. Love From A to Z hits every topic it covers right on the nose. Highly recommended for teens looking for a good contemporary reading experience. —Sabrina, bookseller at McNally Robinson

McNally Robinson at Grant Park: 1120 Grant Ave., Unit 4000, Winnipeg, MB R3M 2A6

Mabel’s Fables in Toronto, ON: Chase by Linwood Barclay (Puffin Books, 2017) Ages 9-12

Chase is a heart-stopping, middle-grade thriller about a genius dog named Chipper who’s on the run from the lab that wired him as a super-dog. Even with his brilliance, Chipper’s dog side wins over at the site of a squirrel or ball, which is bad news for him because now the white-coat scientists are trying to pull the plug early on the furry fellow. Chipper is on the run, and he’s heading straight for a young boy named Jeff. Unbeknownst to Jeff, he’s just the person Chipper needs because this border collie is about to reveal secrets of a bone-chilling, multi-million dollar experiment that will require both human and dog to solve. Chase is the first book I selected for my middle-grade book club at Mabel’s Fables. It’s the one and only book that every child unanimously loved. They still talk about how fun it was and ask if there’s another in the series. The answer is yes, it’s called Escape! Linwood Barclay has seamlessly transitioned his knack for mystery thrillers to the middle grade world, and it’s a hit! — Nicole Abi-Najem, Bookseller

Mabel’s Fables: 662 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto, ON M4S 2N3

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

Librarians’ Picks

Canadian librarians share their recommendations for kids and teens.

The Worst Book Ever,
written and illustrated by Elise Gravel (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019) Ages 6 – 10

In Elise Gravel’s hilarious metafictional romp, a stupendously abysmal fairytale unfolds. The story of  Barbarotte (a “beautiful prinsess”) and Putrick (a “handsome prinse”) is chock full of every writing faux pas imaginable, including spelling mistakes, a ho-hum plot with worn-out tropes, dull dialogue, and even a coffee cup stained page.  These literary transgressions are called out by a spider, a lumpy blob, and a spiky creature who offer pithy editorial advice: “Boobiloops isn’t even a word. It’s not in the dictionary”; “Come on, Barbarotte!  It’s not 1850! You don’t need a man to save you!”; “That’s the ending? That’s not an ending! It’s an absolute cliché!” Brilliantly bad on purpose, The Worst Book Ever provides belly laughs along with cleverly covert lessons in critical thinking.

Linda Ludke, Collections Management Librarian, London Public Library

Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray (Elements of Genius), written by Jess Keating, illustrated by Lissy Marlin (Scholastic Press, 2019) Ages 8-12

Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray is an action-packed ride! Nikki Tesla is a young genius excited by her newest invention: her Death Ray! Unfortunately, her trigger-happy pet ferret wanted to try it out, destroying her bedroom in the process. This explosion attracts the attention of the Genius Academy: a boarding school for exceptionally intelligent youngsters. When Nikki’s Death Ray is stolen, it’s up to Nikki and her fellow geniuses to get it back and save the world! Keating’s humorous, conversational style and the fast pace will keep readers engaged. A great choice for lovers of the Spy School series.

Meghan, Collections Librarian–Youth, Hamilton Central Library

Stand on the Sky, written by Erin Bow (Scholastic Press, 2019) Ages 9-12

Stand on the Sky is an empowering read about a village coming together to help a girl that feels differently about what her future can be. Aisulu lives in Mongolia, in a world of nomadic tribes and eagle hunters. When she finds a baby eagle while climbing the mountains with her brother, she has dreams of becoming an eagle hunter even though she knows it is impossible – there has never been a female competitor at the Eagle Festival. Still, no one can deny her close relationship with the eaglet and soon she starts the hard journey of training with the help of many in her village. A lot of personal research went into Stand on the Sky and readers will be immersed in Aisulu’s journey and rooting for her to succeed!

Kat Drennan-Scace, Manager, Red Hill Branch, Hamilton Public Library

Clover’s Luck (Magical Animal Adoption Agency), written by Kallie George and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, (HarperCollins, 2015) Ages 7-10

Clover feels unlucky, especially about pets. But when she goes on a walk into the forest (known for being strange and perhaps magical) she sees a Help Wanted sign: The Magical Animal Adoption Agency needs an assistant! Clover isn’t sure what that means, but she wants to find out, so the next day she goes to find the MAAA and discovers a wonderful place where dragons, unicorns, and other magical animals wait for their ideal owner. When the director of the MAAA has to go away, Clover is left in charge, and finds herself in trouble, when an evil witch tries to steal the magical animals!

Polly Ross-Tyrell, Children’s Librarian, Aurora Public Library

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

back to top

Staff Picks

Small in the City 
by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books, 2019), Ages 4-7

Small in the City is Sydney Smith’s debut as a writer after proving himself as an award-winning illustrator. On a snowy day in Toronto, a small boy wanders through the streets of the city looking for something lost. Smith’s watercolours perfectly capture the atmosphere and, for anyone like me lives a big city, this book feels like home. As always, the illustrations are amazing and the text itself is simple; the sparse words are the perfect fit for the illustrations. — Emma Hunter, CCBC Marketing and Website Coordinator

Next Month

Look for our October newsletter early next month, which will be all about STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math! Look forward to interviews with author Jess Keating and illustrator Soyeon Kim!

back to top