CCBC October 2014 Newsletter: Science!


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre
October Book List: Science Books
INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair Presents Literary Fun for Children, Teachers, and Librarians!
Author Corner: Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone
Classroom Activity: Spooky Science
Amy’s Marathon of Books: October Update
Illustrator’s Studio: Karen Patkau
Fall 2014 issues of Book News and Best Books
Next Month…

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

&#8226 A friendly reminder that readers aged 5-13 are invited to enter the TD Fan Choice Contest for the chance to win a free trip to Toronto! Kids can choose their favourite among the five TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award nominees. One winner will get to fly to Toronto and attend our November 6 gala. The contest closes on October 23, 2014. Click here to enter.

&#8226 The next TD Canadian Children’s Book Week touring program will run from Saturday, May 2 to Saturday, May 9, 2015. The 2015 Book Week website is now live, and schools, libraries, bookstores and community centres can apply to host author reading. Visit for more information.

&#8226 Young writers from across Canada, in grades 4 to 12, are invited to submit their stories and/or poems (fiction or non-fiction) to the Book Week 2015 Writing Contest for Kids & Teens. Judging is done by noted writers from across Canada and one winner from each grade will receive a $250 gift certificate for the bookstore of his or her choice. Two honourable mentions from each grade category will also receive $50 gift certificates. The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2015. Click here for contest details.

&#8226 We will be at the INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair on November 13-16—come visit us at our booth! We are also presenting the following panels and sessions:

How a Picture Book is Made
Sunday, November 16 &#8226 Discovery Stage &#8226 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm
Have you ever wondered how a picture book evolves from an idea to a beautifully illustrated piece of literature? Join author/illustrator Ian Wallace, author Kyo Maclear, publisher Diane Kerner and designer Michael Solomon as they discuss and explain this fascinating process with moderator Professor Larry Swartz (OISE).

Young Adult Literature & Amy’s Marathon of Books
Sunday, November 16 &#8226 Spark Stage &#8226 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Amy Mathers is reading her way across Canada to raise funds for an award for authors of Canadian YA literature. Join Amy, authors Sylvia McNicoll and Teresa Toten, children’s book editor Hadley Dyer (HarperCollins Canada) and moderator/author Kevin Sylvester as they discuss current trends in YA literature.

Read to Remember
Friday, November 14 &#8226 TD Children’s Stage &#8226 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
With 2014 being the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, Gillian O’Reilly will moderate a panel discussion with authors Hugh Brewster, Deborah Ellis and Linda Granfield about their books on war and the importance of writing for children on this particular topic.

TD Grade One Book Giveaway
Friday, November 14 &#8226 TD Children’s Stage &#8226 1:30 am to 2:00 pm
Saturday, November 15 &#8226 TD Children’s Stage &#8226 11:30 am to 12:00 pm
TD Bank Group and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre are proud to present author David Weale and illustrator Pierre Pratt of Doors in the Air, this year’s selection for the TD Grade One Book Giveaway Program. Be sure to get your copy and have it signed by the author and illustrator following the reading at the CCBC booth (#105).

CCBC Award Winners 2014 Showcase
Sunday, November 16 &#8226 TD Children’s Stage &#8226 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Winners of the following CCBC awards will do readings, take questions and then sign books: the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award (English language), the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy and the John Spray Mystery Award. To see awards’ shortlists go to

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award Winner and Finalists Showcase
Friday, November 14 &#8226 TD Children’s Stage &#8226 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Saturday, November 15 &#8226 TD Children’s Stage &#8226 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Meet the winner and the finalists of the five children’s books that were shortlisted for the 2014 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. They will do brief readings from their books and then take questions from the audience. Authors and illustrators will be available to sign their books following this session in the book signing area.

Our friends at IBBY Canada will be leading a workshop on Reading Challenges and Options for Young People with Disabilities on Friday, November 14, 2014 from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. International and Canadian experts will discuss reading challenges and options for children and teens with disabilities, with examples from the IBBY Collection of Books for Young People with Disabilities. Click here for more information about this workship.

Visit for more information and to purchase tickets.

back to top

October Book List: Science Books

by Emma Sakamoto

This month, we are highlighting non-fiction science books. Here is a list of engaging Canadian titles, perfect for use in the classroom or at home.

Interest Level (IL) is listed by age; Reading Level (RL) is listed by grade.


Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth
Written by Mary McKenna Siddals
Illustrated by Ashley Wolff
Tricycle Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-58246-316-2
IL: Ages 4-8  RL: Grades 1-3
Want to make Compost Stew? Just follow this fun A to Z rhyme of ingredients and you’ll have a mushy mess all of your own. Paper-collage illustrations of recycled and used materials further this environmental message. Composting do’s and don’ts are included at the back of the book.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Motion, Magnets and More: The Big Book of Primary Physical Science Motion, Magnets and More: The Big Book of Primary Physical Science
Written by Adrienne Mason
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Kids Can Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-55453-707-5
IL: Ages 4-7  RL: Grade 2
A one-stop sourcebook to answer kids’ tricky questions about the physical sciences. Divided into four sections, this book is loaded with fun facts and hands-on activities designed to hold young children’s interest. The “Touch It” section covers materials, matter, mass and magnets; the “Build It” section delves into structures, systems and shapes; the “Change It” section deals with solids, liquids and gases; and the “Move It” section discusses motion, forces, friction and gravity.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Destination Human Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World
Written by Laurie Lawlor
Illustrated by Laura Beingessner
Holiday House, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2370-5
IL: Ages 6-10  RL: Grade 3
This book commemorates the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, written by pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson. While she studied nature in many adventurous ways, the bravest thing Carson did was write and publish a book pointing out the dangerous effects chemicals have on the living world. This biography depicts the life of a woman who demonstrated through the power of the written word how one person can alter the course of an entire planet.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Skink on the Brink Skink on the Brink
(A Tell-Me-More Storybook)
Written by Lisa Dalrymple
Illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-55455-231-3
IL: Ages 5 and up  RL: Grades 2-3
Stewie the Blue is a special skink with a beautiful blue tail. As he grows up, his tail starts turning grey and he decides his name just doesn’t suit him anymore. As he searches for inspiration, he realizes he misses his old habitat and returns there to find a name and a song that suit him just right. Young readers will also enjoy other books in the series like Bye, Bye Butterflies, by Andrew Larsen and Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Why? The Best Ever Question and Answer Book About Nature, Science and the World Around You Why? The Best Ever Question and Answer Book About Nature, Science and the World Around You
Written by Catherine Ripley
Illustrated by Scot Ritchie
Owlkids Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-926818-00-9
IL: Ages 3-7  RL: Grade 3
This special edition celebrates the book’s 10th anniversary and provides kid-friendly explanations for nearly 100 everyday mysteries for a whole new generation of children. Divided into six sections under the headings Bathtime Questions, Supermarket Questions, Nighttime Questions, Outdoor Questions, Kitchen Questions and Farm Animal Questions, this charmingly illustrated book will thrill inquisitive young readers and their parents.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
The Worm The Worm
(Disgusting Critters)
Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel
Tundra Books, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-77049-633-0
IL: Ages 6-9  RL: Grades 1-3
Worms have been on this earth for 120 million years… and they’re disgusting! Although silly and off-the-wall with cartoon illustrations, this book contains real information about the worm’s habitats (sometimes they live inside other animals), its anatomy (its muscle tube is slimy and gross) and its importance to farmers and gardeners. This title is also available in French as Le ver. Young readers will also want to read other titles in the series including The Fly, The Rat and The Slug.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
You Are Stardust You Are Stardust
Written by Elin Kelsey
Illustrated by Soyeon Kim
Owlkids Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-926973-35-7
IL: Ages 6 and up  RL: Grade 3
This innovative picture book introduces the idea that every tiny atom in our bodies came from a star that exploded long ago. The book compares the way humans learn to speak to the way baby birds learn to sing and the growth of human bodies to the growth of forests. It aims to reintroduce children to their innate relationship with the natural world around them.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate

10 Plants that Shook the World 10 Plants that Shook the World
Written by Gillian Richardson
Illustrated by Kim Rosen
Annick Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-55451-445-8
IL: Ages 10-12  RL: Grade 5
In this book you’ll learn about ten plants that have changed the world. You’ll meet the explorers, smugglers and profiteers who turned tea, sugar cane, cotton, cacao and potatoes into big business, find out how corn and rubber inspired new technologies and why pepper started a war. You’ll also discover how a tree called cinchona saved countless lives and how a grass called papyrus made it possible to share information through writing.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius in Science Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius in Science
Written by Claire Eamer
Illustrated by Sa Boothroyd
Annick Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-55451-536-3
IL: Ages 9-12  RL: Grade 5
Read about eight great scientists whose ideas changed the world and discover that their ideas were not always so readily accepted. From Copernicus’s sun-centred model of the universe in the 16th century to Rachel Carson’s warnings about the dangers of pesticides in the 20th century, people have come up with ideas the world was not ready to hear. Over time, however, modern scientists have verified that their ideas were, in fact, theoretically sound.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature
Written by Dora Lee
Illustrated by Margot Thompson
Kids Can Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-55453-467-8
IL: Ages 8-12  RL: Grades 3-5
A fascinating look at how human inventions are inspired by nature. Lee shows us many examples of inventions we’ve already taken from nature such as Velcro, motors and echolocation and goes on to discuss how we mimic nature in our buildings, medicine, communications, movement, pollution-free power and many other ways. Sections that discuss what we’ve learned from and will continue to discover in nature about computing, robotics, nanotechnology and sustainable living are also included.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Case Files: 40 Murders and Mysteries Solved by Science Case Files: 40 Murders and Mysteries Solved by Science
Written by Larry Verstraete
Scholastic Canada, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4431-0000-7
IL: Ages 10-14  RL: Grade 5
Learn how investigators use different fields of science to solve ancient and recent mysteries, catch murderers and even help prove innocence. The cases range from crimes and suspicious deaths to lost ships and missing persons. All kinds of science, from acoustics to zoology, are used in these interesting and thought-provoking cases, and each scientist uses different tools and methods.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Chemistry Around the House Chemistry Around the House (Chemtastrophe!)
Written by Erin Knight
Cratbree Publishing, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7787-5300-1
IL: Ages 8-11  RL: Grade 4
Chemistry has had a hand in almost every product used in your home, from the non-stick frying pan you use to make pancakes to your new purple T-shirt. This book introduces the reader to the scientific method and describes how accidents and luck have a hand to play in scientific research. Easy experiments allow budding scientists to test theories.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be
Written and illustrated by Daniel Loxton
Kids Can Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-55453-430-2
IL: Ages 10-13  RL: Grades 5-6
The amazing story of life on earth is discussed in this comprehensive introduction to the theory of evolution. Including topics from Charles Darwin to modern-day science, such frequently asked questions as these are answered: how do we know that evolution happens and, if it does, where are the transitional fossils? Enhanced with computer-generated images, illustrations and photographs, this account of how evolution works is a fascinating read.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Impossible Science Impossible Science
(Mystery Files)
Written by James Bow
Cratbree Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7787-8014-4
IL: Ages 8-11  RL: Grade 4
Humans are always reaching to make new discoveries. Science often holds the key to uncovering mysteries, yet some things remain beyond our grasp. Young readers will learn the facts about the possibilities for eternal youth, creating life, moving faster than the speed of light, alien life and time travel.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Kaboom! Explosions of All Kinds Kaboom! Explosions of All Kinds
Written by Gillian Richardson
Annick Press, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-55451-204-1
IL: Ages 10-14  RL: Grades 5-6
“You better stop, hey what’s that sound… ” Discover natural explosions on earth, in outer space, and of plants and animals. Learn about man-made explosions that are destructive, constructive and entertaining. Dramatic images heighten the topic’s excitement factor. A bibliography, a further-reading list and an index are included here.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Nibbling on Einstein’s Brain: The Good, the Bad and the Bogus in Science Nibbling on Einstein’s Brain: The Good, the Bad and the Bogus in Science
Written by Diane Swanson
Illustrated by Francis Blake
Annick Press, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-55451-186-0
IL: Ages 11-14  RL: Grade 5
Swanson equips kids with strategies on how to tell the difference between legitimate science and sketchy science. This informative book, which promotes critical-thinking skills, features artwork that lends levity to the serious content.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Destination Human Shapes in Math, Science and Nature: Squares, Triangles and Circles
Written by Catherine Sheldrick Ross
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-77138-124-6
IL: Ages 9-14  RL: Grades 4-6
Blow cube-shaped bubbles! Ace paper-airplane making! Three books in the popular Shapes in Math, Science and Nature series, Squares, Triangles and Circles, are now available in one amazing compilation. With fun illustrations, informative text and fantastic hands-on activities and puzzles, young readers are introduced to the basics of geometry and discover its myriad applications at home, at school and everywhere in between!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Sports Science Sports Science
Written by Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone
Illustrated by Dave Garbot
Photography by Stephen Ogilvy
Sterling Publishing, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-4027-1520-4
IL: Ages 9-12  RL: Grades 4-6
As children uncover the principles that underlie various sports, they’ll begin to understand how star athletes perform their famous moves and why some people do better than others at certain sports. Includes photographs, artwork, glossary and index.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods
Written by Claire Eamer
Illustrated by Sa Boothroyd
Annick Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-55451-392-5
IL: Ages 8-12  RL: Grade 2
A week’s worth of lunches provides the fodder to delve into the rich history and astonishing science of the foods kids love. Author Claire Eamer looks into stories about sandwiches, mac and cheese, hot dogs, pizza, peanut-butter-and-banana wraps and so much more. Colourful illustrations and lots of jokes will keep kids turning the pages.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Totally Human: Why We Look and Act the Way We Do Totally Human: Why We Look and Act the Way We Do
Written by Cynthia Pratt Nicholson
Illustrated by Dianne Eastman
Kids Can Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-55453-569-9
IL: Ages 9-13  RL: Grades 4-6
This book explains the many puzzling and strange things about us and the weird and wonderful things we do simply because we’re human. In this fascinating introduction to the scientific fields of evolutionary biology and psychology, children will learn that we look and act the way we do because we have inherited body parts and behaviours from our ancestors. It explains why we laugh, why we crave junk food and much more.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Zoobots: Wild Robots Inspired by Real Animals Zoobots: Wild Robots Inspired by Real Animals
Written by Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Alex Ries
Kids Can Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-55453-971-0
IL: Ages 8-12  RL: Grades 3-5
Science fiction comes to life in this riveting showcase of zoobots — robots inspired by animals! Today’s robot scientists are racing to develop robots based on actual animals. Meet Squeeze, an octobot based on the octopus; Sliver, a serpentine bot based on snakes, and 10 other fascinating robots. Intriguing and informative, this book will take young readers on a walk on the wild side of robotic engineering.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Emma Sakamoto works in Canadian publishing and has a particular love for children’s books.

back to top

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair Presents World Class Authors and Workshop Series for Teachers, Librarians and Children!

The latest celebration of all things literary is fast approaching (November 13–16) and the INSPIRE! team has released their impressive programming schedule. Full of dynamic presentations, meet & greets, signings and more, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will be transformed into a book lover’s paradise.

INSPIRE! features some of Canada and the world’s best children’s authors and illustrators, including Geneviève Côté, Deborah Ellis, Jeff Kinney, Jon Klassen, Gordon Korman, Dav Pilkey, Barbara Reid, Ashley Spires, Kevin Sylvester, Meg Tilly, Eric Walters and Mélanie Watt. INSPIRE! has a special focus on children’s programming on Friday, November 14, and there will be something for the whole family all weekend long at the TD Children’s Stage. See the full schedule online.

INSPIRE! is proud to present a world-class series of workshops with sessions for all ages and interests. Workshops designed for teachers cover a range of topics, from “Hip Hop in the Classroom” to “IBBY Collection of Books for Young People with Disabilities.” Librarians won’t want to miss the first ever all-day Children’s and Youth Blow Out presented by the Ontario Library Association. And for children, there are sessions on history and superheroes, drawing skills and even slam poetry.

Registration is open for all workshops and includes free admission to the Fair all weekend long. Join INSPIRE! for lively, interactive programming and activities (creative crafts, music, games, multicultural fun, songs, dancing) based on recent children’s books.

For more information, visit the INSPIRE! website (, tweet them at @InspireTIBF or contact Maddy Curry at

back to top

Author Corner: Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone

by Kate Abrams

Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone have been writing science books for children for over two decades. Together, they have written over 70 books, and have been recipients of numerous awards and honours for their work. Their most recent book, Dirty Science, recently won the Youth Book Award, presented by the Science Writers’ Association of Canada.

What got you interested in writing about science?

We felt that there was a lack of really great science books and that we had the ability to write books that would be more engaging. Science books twenty years ago were very different from those available today. Not only has the writing changed, but the illustrations and photographs have also changed to be more reflective of today’s society. Perhaps we played a part in the evolution of these books.

What is your typical process? Do you split up the work (if so, how), or is it collaborative?

We have been writing together for over 20 years, so we can start and finish each other’s sentences. There are a few things that Shar prefers to write and some that Leslie specializes in, but generally we just pass the text back and forth until we are satisfied.

How do you come up with or select your experiments?

Some of our experiments are classic science activities with a twist. We sometimes look at phenomena in everyday life and try to devise activities children can do to explore them.

How do you tailor your books to students of different ages and reading levels?

Several of our books have been written for a younger audience. We’ve written those books using less complex language and an abbreviated science vocabulary. Certainly the illustrations and photographs make the ideas more accessible for a wider range of readers. The experiments need to be user-friendly both for children and for parents and teachers who may not have a background in science.

Do you have any suggestions for keeping students engaged in science in class?

Students are much more engaged when they see the value of what they are learning. It is important to make the connection to their lives outside the classroom. Doing experiments or hands-on activities is a good way to do this for many students. Of course, a teacher who is enthusiastic about science is essential.

How do you like to see your books used in classrooms?

It is wonderful when students get to do experiments from our books in their classrooms. We have had teachers tell us that they have not only used the experiments with classes, but also as reading exercises. Some of our books in translation have been used in second language classes. They have also been used as reading samples for reading comprehension exams.

Not that you asked us, but let us tell you about our current project. We have tried to bridge the gap between print books and e-books. Our upcoming book What Sound Does a Seahorse Make? has hands-on experiments supplemented by video and audio files. When you read the print book you can use a smart device to scan a QR code to access the videos and audio files that support the text. Frankly—it is the coolest thing we’ve ever done.

Image above courtesy of Juanita Bawagan and taken at the Science in Society awards dinner, where the authors won the Youth Audience Book Award, presented by the Science Writers’ Association of Canada.

Kate Abrams is a freelance dramaturge and editor based in Toronto.

back to top

Classroom Activity: Scary Science

With Halloween just around the corner, we thought it would be fun to share an activity from Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone’s Scary Science: 25 Creepy Experiments. The following is an excerpt from their book.

Are you afraid of the dark? It can hide just about anything. A coat hanging on the back of a door becomes a scary intruder. A slipper left on the floor appears to be a creature coming out from under your bed. Here’s a fun way to hide something behind the blackness.

You Will Need:

  • white paper
  • a black indelible, or permanent, marker
  • a black washabale marker
  • a bucket or bowl
  • water

What to Do

1. Write a message on a piece of white paper using the black indelible marker. Something short like “Boo!” is good for your first try. Let the markings dry completely.

2. Scribble over the message using a black washable marker until you can no longer read the original message. Let the paper markings dry completely.

3. Now, give the message to your friend. Have him or her dip the message into a bucket or bowl full of water and swish it back and forth until the message is readable.

Neat! What Happened?

You hid the message behind the blackness, but were able to read the message after you rinsed the washable markings away. Washable markers use water as a solvent so most of the black colour or pigment can be removed using water. Indelible markers use other chemicals as their solvent so their pigments stay behind on the paper. Water takes a bit longer to evaporate than the solvents used in indelible markers so you may have noticed that the washable marker took longer to dry.

Experiments copyright © 2010 by Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone; illustrations copyright © 2010 by Ashley Spires. From Scary Science: 25 Creepy Experiments, published by Scholastic Canada Ltd.

back to top

Amy’s Marathon of Books: October Update

by Amy Mathers

Hello Canadian Teen Book Lovers!

Going into the final leg of my Marathon of Books as I am almost 80% done my reading and have less than 80 titles left to read! Over the past couple of months I’ve been reading mainly in Saskatchewan and Alberta, but my Alberta trip only has a week left and afterwards I will be moving on to the Territories. By the end of October, I will be reading books from the last location on my list: British Columbia!

Highlights from Saskatchewan include getting to read Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell and finally understanding what all the fuss is about. I also became a bonafide Arthur Slade fan whose work I had never read before my Marathon of Books. And I got to read some old favourites of mine like Beth Goobie, Alice Kuipers, Jeyn Roberts, Beverley Brenna… the list goes on.

Saskatchewan has a lot going on under the surface. I read several books exploring themes of the light and darkness inside us all, the nature of God, and the challenge of living off the land. With a style all its own, Saskatchewan books are often intensely contemplative, and I enjoyed being encouraged to reflect on life.

Alberta’s authors have been wonderfully supportive, adding me on Facebook and Twitter and commenting directly on my reviews of their books. I finally read three of Monica Hughes’ books and now she is one of my favourite authors. Can’t wait to see who wins the Monica Hughes Award this year at the Canadian Children’s Literature Awards Gala. I’m not sure what to write about Alberta yet because I’m still reading there, but I have loved discovering authors who were new to me like Marty Chan, Jacqueline Guest, and Marilyn Halvorson. Looking forward to seeing what the rest of the province has to offer.

For this newsletter I have come up with a shortlist of books you may not have heard of but should definitely read; all favourites of mine:

Necking with Louise by Rick Book Child of Dandelions by Shenaaz Nanji The Game by Monica Hughes

Hope you love them as much as I did!

Amy Mathers is reading and reviewing one Canadian YA book a day for a year to raise money for a new teen book award. Visit her website at

back to top

Illustrator’s Studio: Karen Patkau

by Stephanie Dror

Karen Patkau has loved books since she was just 10 months old, and her passion for the arts was firmly established in public school when she became the “class artist.” Reading through the many books that Karen has written and/or illustrated I found myself completely mesmerized by her unique collage illustration style. Using a mostly digital platform, backed up by extensive research and a passion for nature and animals, Karen brings whole ecosystems to life in her books. Her new books Who Needs a Desert?, Who Needs a Prairie? and Who Needs a Reef? use vivid colour, wonderful detail and fun facts about interesting creatures to explore and bring to life the natural world. A big thank you to Karen who agreed to collect her thoughts and answer our questions about collage, writing and illustrating Children’s non-fiction books.

Tell us a little about your story, your unique style and how you became a children’s book illustrator.

I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and started drawing at age three. I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours degree, and became interested in visual storytelling while studying for my Master of Visual Arts degree at the University of Alberta.

Fascinated with bold shapes and the textures, patterns and colours of different materials including papers, fabrics and pressed plants; I developed a mixed-media collage technique. I moved to Toronto in 1981 to teach at York University and practice graphic design. I took my illustration portfolio to publishers.

At Oxford University Press, William Toye (Elizabeth Cleaver’s editor) loved paper collage. He liked my style, my sense of humour and gave me a manuscript to illustrate. Don’t Eat Spiders by Robert Heidbreder was my first picture book. It received an Ezra Jack Keats Memorial Medal for illustration. Published in 1986, it is still in print today. I continued to work in mixed-media collage until 2000. When asked to illustrate Sir Cassie to the Rescue by Linda Smith, I decided to try something new and go digital.

It was a steep learning curve. Working by computer takes as much time and skill as traditional illustration does. It requires expensive equipment and complicated software. Once mastered though, it is much easier to experiment and make changes digitally. Besides, you don’t have to clean up messy materials at the end of the day.

You are primarily an author/illustrator who focuses on non-fiction, and in particular the science of nature. What draws you to both writing and illustrating this subject matter?

I’ve always loved animals and nature. A telling note is written by my mother, on the back of a photo of me at 10 months old – “Here is Karen looking at a book. She enjoys books, especially those with pictures of animals in them.”

A tiny fruit fly landing on a picture of a giant beetle inspired my first non-fiction book – Creatures Great and Small. Published by Tundra Books in 2006, it is about diversity in size and shape among species of the same animal group. Creatures Yesterday and Today, about living species of animals and their prehistoric ancestors, followed in 2008.

In 2009, I submitted a proposal to Tundra for Who Needs a Swamp? A Wetland Ecosystem. I wanted to foster an awareness and understanding of nature in children. For many of us, the natural world seems separate from our everyday lives. I want to show children how interconnected, diverse and vulnerable, life on Earth is.

Tundra then asked me to do a series. Who Needs a Swamp? A Wetland Ecosystem, Who Needs a Jungle? A Rainforest Ecosystem and Who Needs an Iceberg? An Arctic Ecosystem were published in 2012. Who Needs a Desert? A Desert Ecosystem, Who Needs a Prairie? A Grassland Ecosystem and Who Needs a Reef? A Coral Reef Ecosystem were published this September.

These books are an introduction to ecosystems for young children. I’ve made them as informative, entertaining and beautiful as I could, so that readers will make a positive emotional connection with nature. I hope children will gain a basic understanding and appreciation of these different areas. I hope they will learn the important roles ecosystems play in the well-being of the planet and how we all need to take part in protecting them.

When creating information books, research is critical. Fortunately, I love doing it. For all facts, I use at least two sources of information from scientific expertise. For each illustration, I gather and organize a variety of visual references. I take photographs, search the Internet, study nature programs and books. I visit zoos, aquariums, and refuges dedicated to animal conservation and care. For the Ecosystem Series, I tried to visit the places I described. Being surrounded by my subject matter helps me understand it better.

How do you imagine that your illustrations of animals and nature, apart from or with their texts, might be both enjoyable and educational in the classroom? Do you have any fun suggestions for teachers or parents?

Students could do an environmental project, based on one of the ecosystem books. The class would paint the background scene for a mural. Each student would choose a plant or animal to research and write a paragraph or poem about. Then everyone would illustrate his or her species and paste it into the mural.

I do a PowerPoint Presentation for Grades 2 to 5: “WHO NEEDS AN ECOSYSTEM?” … And take students on an illustrated journey to discover how every remarkable ecosystem is a community of living things interacting with their environment; a habitat for unique plants and animals; a provider of food and shelter for residents and a contributor of life-sustaining services for the whole planet.

I’ve made a student activity sheet for each book. Curriculum links are available for teachers.

I’ve also developed an “Ecosystem Survival Game.” Students enter an imaginary ecosystem and become a herbivore, omnivore or carnivore. Always searching for “food and water,” each animal must struggle to stay alive in its treacherous home environment.

For more information about my school presentations, please visit

Kari-Lynn Winters, PhD lead a session teaching librarians strategies for book talks in schools. Creatures Great and Small and Creatures Yesterday and Today were used for her “Sculpting Hand Charades. ” A librarian, teacher, or student stands up front and becomes the “magic hand” leader, who sculpts a movement. Another student becomes “clay.” This child allows him/herself to be shaped by the magic hand. For example, the magic hand positions the child’s hand and then moves another body part. Once the student’s body is sculpted, the audience guesses the creature. The librarian or teacher then reads details about that creature from the book.

This strategy was linked to learning styles: bodily/kinaesthetic, visual, interpersonal and spatial/mathematical.

What projects are you working on now? Anything you are particularly excited about?

For the past few years, I’ve been busy writing and illustrating my ecosystem books. I’ve also illustrated several other books including One Hungry Heron by Carolyn Beck, Fitzhenry & Whiteside – a wetland counting book due for publication in November 2014. Now, like a squirrel with nuts stored up for winter, I have a stockpile of ideas for new projects I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

Karen very kindly shared the images below, showing her illustration process from Creatures Yesterday and Today (Tundra Books, 2008).

Stephanie Dror has a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature. She is the Membership Secretary for IBBY Canada, a founder and blogger at The Book Wars and a book reviewer for CM: Canadian Review of Materials and The Ottawa Review of Books.

back to top

Out Now: Fall 2014 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News

Dynamic writing duos, Black Canadian stories and more in the Fall 2014 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News:

  • How does a successful author partnership work? Four dynamic writing duos explain.
  • Teacher and writer Nadia L. Hohn looks at the Black Canadian experience and asks: “Who will write our stories?”
  • With 25 books in five years, artist Qin Leng is a very busy illustrator.
  • Plus Book Week updates, a Halloween reading list, early chapter books for the classroom, reviews of the latest books and much more.

Canadian Children’s Book News can be purchased at select bookstores or in our online shop.

Coming November 2014: Fall 2014 issue of Best Books for Kids & Teens

The Fall 2014 edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens, the CCBC’s semi-annual selection guide, will be released at the beginning of November. All of the titles in Best Books for Kids & Teens have been handpicked by expert committees of educators, booksellers and school and public librarians from across Canada. The reviewed materials include picture books, junior/intermediate fiction, graphic novels, and powerful teen fiction, in addition to a wide array of non-fiction, magazines and audio/video resources.

back to top

Next Month…

Our November newsletter will be highlighting Canadian graphic novels for kids and teens. Do you have any feedback or suggestions for future newsletters? Email us your ideas!

back to top