CCBC September 2015 Newsletter: Back to School


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre
September Book List: Back to School
Author Corner: Secrets Authors
Amy’s Travels in YA
Illustrator’s Studio: Rebecca Bender
Out Now: Summer 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News
Next Month…

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s So You Want to Get Published! seminar is coming up soon! What does it take to get a children’s book published? What are children’s book publishers looking for? How do booksellers pick the books they sell? This October, let our panel of experts show you what you need to do to get your manuscript published!

Our panel of industry professionals will include Tara Walker (Publisher, Penguin Random House Canada Children’s Publishing Group), Lynne Missen (Publishing Director, Penguin Canada Young Readers), Maria Martella (Owner, Tinlids Inc.), author-illustrators Ruth Ohi and Kevin Sylvester, and others.

The seminar will take place on Saturday, October 24 in Toronto, ON. Click here for more information.

The Telling Tales Festival is coming up! Join us on Sunday, September 20 at Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton, Ontario — we will have a booth there. Telling Tales is a free, one-day, outdoor festival celebrating children’s literature. Click here for more information.

The Word on the Street is also coming up in September, in five Canadian cities:

  • Halifax — Saturday, September 19, 2015
  • Saskatoon — Sunday, September 20, 2015
  • Lethbridge — Sunday, September 20, 2015
  • Kitchener — Saturday, September 26, 2015
  • Toronto — Sunday, September 27, 2015

If you’re in Toronto, join us at the TD Children’s Literature Tent and see some of Canada’s most renowned children’s authors and illustrators present some of the best children’s books of 2015.

We are excited to announce the 30 authors, illustrators and storytellers who will be touring for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2016 (May 7 – 14, 2016). TD Canadian Children’s Book Week is the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading. Click here for the full list of participants.

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September Book List: Back to School

This month, our library coordinator Meghan Howe put together a reading list for kids and teens who are looking forward to going back to school!

Picture Books

Martin on the Moon
Written by Martine Audet
Illustrated by Luc Melanson
Translated by Sarah Quinn
Owlkids Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-92697-316-6
IL: Ages 4-8  RL: Grades 2-3
An active daydreamer, Martin can’t help his mind from wandering during class. When his teacher calls him back to Earth, Martin is embarrassed about his inattention. But when his whole class laughs along with him, Martin realizes that his imagination can help him make friends and have fun at school. This title is also available in French as Xavier-la-lune.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Noni Is Nervous
Written by Heather Hartt-Sussman
Illustrated by Geneviève Côté
Tundra Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-77049-323-0
IL: Ages 4-7  RL: Grades 2-3
Noni is nervous about a lot of things, like play dates, bossy friends and global warming. But she’s mostly nervous about her first day of school. Who will she sit with? What will she wear? And worst of all — what if the teacher is mean? As Noni learns how to navigate through her first day of school, her nerves dissipate and she ends up having a great time. This title is also available in French as Ninon s’inquiète.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Ready, Set, Kindergarten!
Written by Paula Ayer
Illustrated by Danielle Arbour
Annick Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-55451-703-9
IL: Ages 3-5  RL: Grades 1-2
There are many things children need to know before their first day of kindergarten. This little girl has reached many of the milestones towards this big goal — she can dress herself, count out the plates for dinner, cut out shapes, and knows her letters! With a little help from Mom, Dad, her cat and stuffed mouse, she’s ready for her new adventure… kindergarten!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Stanley at School
Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-77138-096-6
IL: Ages 3-7  RL: Grades 2-3
Stanley knows school is for kids, not dogs. But every day he grows more and more curoius. What did the kids do in that school all day? Stanley rounds up his pals from the dog park to take a closer look. Will they find the answers they’re looking for? One thing is for certain: School + Stanley = TROUBLE!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate Fiction

Bernadette and the Lunch Bunch
(The Lunch Bunch, Book 1)
Written by Susan Glickman
Illustrated by Mélanie Allard
Second Story Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-897187-51-7
IL: Ages 7-9  RL: Grades 3-4
Bernadette is finding third grade a bit challenging. It’s only when she makes three best friends and forms the Lunch Bunch that she finds a way to survive the school lunchroom! Contains black-and-white illustrations.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
A Different Game
(Orca Young Readers)
Written by Sylvia Olsen
Orca Book Publishers, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-55469-169-2
IL: Ages 8-11  RL: Grades 3-4
In this sequel to Murphy and Mousetrap, Murphy and his three friends — Danny, Jeff and Albert — are making the transition from tribal elementary school to community middle school and trying out for the soccer team. But when Albert doesn’t play as well as he usually does, the boys begin to suspect something is wrong.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
The Hullabaloo Bugaboo Day
Written by Sheree Fitch
Illustrated by Kelly Ulrich
Nimbus Publishing, 2014 ©1977
ISBN: 978-1-77108-188-7
IL: Ages 7-10  RL: Grades 2-3
Upper Millidocket Elementary School is an exceptional school. The children are excited to learn, the teachers are excited to teach, and the school secretary holds everything together. But when Mr. Tiggle, the principal, forgets to recite his daily poem, and the secretary disappears, everything goes upside down!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!
(Macdonald Hall, Book 1)
Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada, 2011 ©1978
ISBN: 978-0-545-28924-5
IL: Ages 9-12  RL: Grades 4-5
Macdonald Hall is a grand old boarding school. Its ivy-covered buildings have housed and educated many fine young Canadians. But this year there are two students who want to shake things up a little: Bruno Walton and Boots O’Neal. They’re roommates, best friends and they know how to have fun, but soon they have to face their worst nightmares.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Young Adult Fiction

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Written by Prudence Shen
Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59643-659-6
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 4-5
Nate and Charlie have an unlikely friendship. Charlie is the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. When Nate declares war on the cheerleaders, they retaliate by making Charlie their figurehead in the ugliest class-election campaign the school has ever seen. What’s at stake? Funding that will either cover new cheerleading uniforms or a robotics competition — but not BOTH!!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Odd Ball
Written by Arthur John Stewart
Thistledown Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-897235-88-1
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 5-6
Four middle-school students attempt to change the culture of their school. Kevin refuses to accept the “geek” label; Paula is having trouble at home and has become the target for bullying girls; Jobbi, a Latvian immigrant, is the catalyst for change; and Stephanie realizes that school life is deteriorating and decides she must do something to stop that from happening.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Straight Punch
Written by Monique Polak
Orca Book Publishers, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4598-0391-6
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 8-9
Tessa McPhail’s tagging habit lands her at New Directions, an alternative school in Montreal’s toughest neighbourhood. The school is full of troubled kids, and half of every school day is devoted to boxing. The other students think boxing is cool. Not Tessa, who can’t handle violence of any kind. But when a neighbour starts a petition to have New Directions closed down, Tessa discovers something worth fighting for, both in and out of the ring.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
SuperMutant Magic Academy
Written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Drawn & Quarterly, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-77046-198-7
IL: Ages 14 and up  RL: Grades 10-11
Jillian Tamaki paints a teenage world filled with ennui, uncertainty, humour and irreverence. She deftly plays superhero and high school Hollywood tropes against what adolescence is really like: the SuperMutant Magic Academy may be a prep-school for mutants and witches but their paranormal abilities take a back seat to everyday teen concerns. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, the jokes are precise and devastating.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World
Written by Susan Hughes
Owlkids Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-926818-86-3
IL: Ages 9-13  RL: Grades 4-5
Readers will travel all over the world to visit some incredible schools and meet the students who attend them. People have come up with some innovative ways to get kids to attend school — from erecting temporary schools after natural disasters to building schools near dumps to holding school classes on boats, in the streets or in train stations. This book will have you thinking about school in a whole new way.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education
Written by Elizabeth Suneby
Illustrated by Suana Verelst
Kids Can Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-55453-816-4
IL: Ages 8-12  RL: Grades 3-5
Razia dreams of getting an education, but in her village in Afghanistan, girls haven’t been allowed to attend school for many years. When a new girls’ school opens, a determined Razia must convince her father and older brother that educating her would be best for her, their family and their community.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
School Days Then and Now
(From Olden Days to Modern Ways in Your Community)
Written by Bobbie Kalman
Crabtree Publishing, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7787-0209-2
IL: Ages 5-8  RL: Grades 1-2
Using compare-and-contrast text structure, vivid photographs and artwork, and accessible text, this exciting title shows young readers the differences between a modern-day classroom and a one-room schoolhouse from long ago. Children will enjoy comparing slates and blackboards to computers and whiteboards!
Amazon | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Shannen and the Dream for a School
(A Kids’ Power Book)
Written by Janet Wilson
Second Story Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-926920-30-6
IL: Ages 9-13  RL: Grades 4-6
Attawapiskat had nothing but a few portables where their children attended school. Shannen Koostachin was one of those children and she, along with her friends and community, decided to do something about it. They started off by making a YouTube video about the poor condition of the portables and travelled to Ottawa to speak to politicians, telling them they were failing First Nations children. Their story inspired children across the nation.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

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Author’s Corner: Secrets Authors

In June 1964, the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls burns down and seven orphan girls are sent out on their own to discover their past and learn more about the families they have never known. Bestselling authors Kelley Armstrong, Vicki Grant, Marthe Jocelyn, Kathy Kacer, Norah McClintock, Teresa Toten and Eric Walters each wrote a novel in this series of seven YA books, which will be out this fall. They kindly answered a few of our questions.

Eric Walters

Tell us about your book in the series. What is it about? How does it fit into the larger story?
As the title would imply, my character is very innocent, very naïve, by nature. She is told that the reason that she was placed in an orphanage is that her mother was murdered — by her father. She returns to her home town of Kingston where she rediscovers parts of her past including the fact that her father remains in prison and still proclaims his innocence.

Tell us about your experience writing the book. How was working on a collaborative series like this?
After having conceived, coordinated and written in the Seven series and the Seven Sequels I was completely prepared for this collaboration. Adding to this was that Teresa Toten and I were coordinating the Secrets series, and we had previous written The Taming together. Writing together allows you to draw on each other’s ideas and energy. In a profession that is almost, by definition, individual and working in isolation, this is a rare opportunity to work in the company of other writers.

What do you think readers will take away from reading your story and the series as a whole?
They will have a chance to experience a similar beginning in such a wide ranging number of stories that span different genres and are produced by very different writers. It certainly allows teachers to open their students reading habits and experiences.

Kelley Armstrong

Tell us about your book in the series.
Mine tells the story of Tess, a girl who has many secrets, including the fact that she sees flashes from the past. Her “clue” to her past is an address in rural Quebec, which leads her to a long-abandoned home and, yes, more secrets! My story is the only one with a fantastical element, which I was asked to include — because that’s what I’m known for — but I kept that light so it doesn’t jar too much with the other stories.

What do you think readers will take away from reading your story?
Most importantly, I hope they’re entertained. That’s always my main goal. Beyond that, I hope they learn a bit about Quebec in the sixties and the issues it faced, and the changes that came of that, which we take for granted today. I hope all the books give readers a glimpse of Canada’s past in that way.

Norah McClintock

Tell us about your book in the series.
My character, Cady Andrews, is one of seven older girls at an orphanage. Betrayed by her boyfriend and itching for her “real” life to begin, a life in which she makes her own decisions and is defined by what she accomplishes, not on the accident (or misfortune) of birth. She is determined to make her mark as an intrepid reporter like the famous late 19th- and early 20th-century reporter Nellie Bly. Cady is planning to run away when a fire decimates the orphanage, and she, along with the other seven, are thrust into the world. Each are given some scrap of their past, which may (or may not) help them should they want to find out about where they came from.

Cady doesn’t care about her past. She is focused on her future, on her career. She makes her way to Toronto where she tries to make her dream come true. Only when she is told, firmly, that girls can’t get hired as reporters, does she open the envelope that may provide a clue to her parentage. This takes her to Indiana in the summer of 1964, where she discovers a vandalized grave, bitter accusations, and long-hidden secrets in a town that has its own dark history of racism.

What do you think readers will take away from reading your story?
I haven’t yet read the other books in the series. (Sorry, guys. I will read them. I promise.) But each of us, and I mean the Big Us, all of this planet’s inhabitants, has an origin story. Most of us have some idea of what that story is — who are parents and grandparents are, where they came from, and their stories, incomplete, about the family over time. Orphans don’t have that. These seven orphans, in that time, were not entitled to know anything about their parents, and they had no Internet and social media, not to mention computerized records in accessible databases, to even begin tracking down for themselves who they were and where they came from. But these girls want to know. They need to know, even when it starts to look as if the truth may not be easy to accept. Psychologists can no doubt explain why — there are probably dozens of theories — but, for some reason, we seem to thirst for this knowledge in order to form a complete understanding of ourselves.

Vicki Grant

Tell us about your book in the series.
Small Bones is Dot Blythe’s story. Unlike the other girls, she’s a daydreamer — goofy, naïve, disorganized — what we’d call today a space cadet. While Dot had always dreamt about finding her parents, she’d never dreamt of having to leave the Home. It was small-h home to her — safe, comfortable and constant, just the way she liked it. She feels abandoned when the matron ‘banishes’ her to a new life but, of course, that’s where the fun begins. Before she solves the secret of her birth, Dot’s going to be terrified and terrorized — and that’s just the falling-in-love part. She’s also going to do a lot of growing up along the way.

What do you think readers will take away from reading your story?
Mostly I’m just looking for my readers to get a few hours of enjoyment from the book — some laughs, some suspense, perhaps a tear or two at the appropriate moment. That’s all I’m ever really going for. I save my life lessons for my kids.

That said, your question got me thinking and I realize there is a theme here, one that pops up in a number of my books. My sub-conscience clearly has a pre-occupation with shame.

Dot falls in love with a boy named Eddie who — and this came as a total shock to me — bears a surprising resemblance to my high school boyfriend. Not physically (as adorable as he was, he wasn’t that adorable) but in his relationship to shame. Both our fathers were veterans. His father broke his back in the war. My father returned with tinnitus and a horrible thing called tic douloureux. Both of them were heavy drinkers. In my family, this was a shameful and not very well-hidden secret. The Distinguished Flying Cross didn’t count for much next to the empty bottles of rye.

My boyfriend had a totally different take on his father’s drinking. It was just part of who his dad was. No one’s perfect. You get the good with the bad. You might get mad or exasperated but you cherish him for what he is. It was a wonderful experience for me as a 16- and 17- year-old girl to live in my boyfriend’s world for a while. You can’t beat loving acceptance. I guess I wanted Dot to have a taste of it, too.

Kathy Kacer

Tell us about your book in the series.
My book is called Stones on a Grave. My girl is Sara Barry, the oldest of the seven. She has lived in the orphanage since she was an infant. She works at Loretta’s, the only diner in town. And she has a boyfriend named Luke. Most of the other girls disapprove of him — and for good reason! After the fire at the orphanage, Sara, like the other girls, is given several clues as to where she came from and who her parents might have been. The first thing she receives is a document that says she was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the Second World War; it states that her mother was Jewish. The second document is signed by a doctor in Germany and says that she was a healthy baby, fit to travel to Canada. The third thing she receives is a necklace with a gold Star of David. Using these clues, Sara abandons her life in Hope and leaves her boyfriend far behind to travel to Germany to discover who her parents really were, the circumstances of her birth, and why she was given up for adoption. Her life will intersect with the events of the Second World War and the Holocaust in ways that she could never have imagined.

Tell us about your experience writing the book.
It was a pretty remarkable experience — and quite seamless! I have to say that Teresa and Eric had already done a lot of work figuring out many details before the group came together. The first few months were spent mapping out the common ground of our stories — the orphanage where we had grown up, the fire, where everyone was going after the fire, the other people who lived in the town of Hope, and the relationships that the seven had shared over their lifetime. Some writers wanted their girls to take off immediately after the fire; others wanted their girls to hang around for a few days. We had to make sure that the time lines were accurate for all. Someone couldn’t have a conversation with another character if that girl had already left! Once we all agreed on the starting point, we were then free to go off and write our own individual stories, drawing on our own styles, writing interests and backgrounds. It was also up to each individual writer to reach out to any one of the other writers if we wanted our “girl” to have an ongoing relationship or communication with any other girl. For example, Sara is an accomplished sewer. So was Dot (Vicki Grant’s girl). Vicki and I decided that Sara and Dot’s stories would come together around that common interest — and would continue throughout our stories. Similarly, Sara and Malou (Marthe Jocelyn’s girl) have a particular moment that comes to light after Sara receives the envelope with her documents and necklace.

What do you think readers will take away from reading your story?
As a whole, the series brings together seven unique writers with different writing styles, preferred genres and backgrounds. The stories include mystery, historical fiction, fantasy and humour. It’s about as eclectic as you can get which I think is a huge plus for readers; pick and choose, or read them all! And I think the notion of uncovering a secret, which is present for every girl character in the series, is something that will be equally appealing and compelling to our readers. For me personally, I was thrilled to be able to bring my personal commitment to telling stories of the Holocaust to this series.

Marthe Jocelyn

Tell us about your book in the series.
The only brown face Malou has ever seen is her own. She was raised, beloved, among dozens of white girls in an orphanage. But in 1964, even in rural Ontario she knows that a brown girl in the big wide world faces scary challenges. When the orphanage burns down and Malou receives a clue to her identity — a baby’s hospital bracelet — she heads off to the tiny town of Parry Sound to discover where she came from. The dark-skinned population there is bigger than what she grew up with, but still a community treated with suspicion and disrespect. As Malou becomes friends with several teenagers, the truth about their connected lives takes a weird turn.

The book is about Malou finding a place to be in the world where she is not an outsider — and maybe that is with other outsiders?

Tell us about your experience writing the book.
We had a group meeting before any of us began to write, to set the common foundation of setting and shared characters. After that, we just went away and wrote our own stories. I was fresh from collaborating with Richard Scrimger on Viminy Crowe’s Comic Book, so I was hoping for more cross-writing amongst the authors than actually happened. There is some overlap between my character, Malou, and Kathy Kacer’s character, Sara, because Sara’s boyfriend bullies Malou in a small racial incident. Kathy and I went back and forth to refine scenes that appear in both our books. I’d love the opportunity to write again with a partner or a team. There are so many possibilities…

What do you think readers will take away from reading your story?
Readers of A Big Dose of Lucky will hopefully enjoy a story with a bit of mystery and a touch of romance — as well as an introduction to the lesser-known arenas of sperm donors and lesbian parenting in the “olden days” of 50 years ago! They will also be reminded that the need to hide certain things often lessens as cultural expectations shift. Actions or lifestyles that were considered perilous family secrets in 1964 are now part of everyday life.

Teresa Toten

Tell us about your book in the series.
Toni has always been plagued by nightmares of fire and shattering glass. Are they just nightmares or do they mean something? Toni’s quest for the truth takes her to Toronto and Yorkville right at the beginning of the music, café and drug revolution. She takes several wrong and dangerous turns in trying to find out who she really is. As wildly different as each of the orphans journey is — I believe that Toni, like all of the orphans, grapples with the concepts of trust, adventure and most importantly “What makes a family?”

Tell us about your experience writing the book. How was working on a collaborative series like this?
I imagine it was quite different from my end and Eric’s as well. I basically hammered out the premise and coordinated the development of the “bible” for the series. The bible was our common origin story for all of characters. It had to be both compelling and freeing so that each author could take off and explore their creative interests. Once the bare bones were laid out we had a couple of meetings followed by a few thousand “reply-all” emails developing every aspect of the backstory and making sure that we weren’t stepping all over each other with our own character’s quest. This went on until first draft, when we handed the whole beast over to Sarah Harvey at Orca to tame.

Each of us had to make a myriad of little compromises to our storylines because we may have tripped into another author’s storyline. The fascinating thing is that when a “problem” was met and solved — the storyline actually got stronger in each case! The Secrets series represents a blockbuster wealth of talent and it was a thrilling challenge to be a part of it!

What do you think readers will take away from reading your story?
Well, they’re going to find out some rather shocking historical facts about the recent past. There was considerable research that went into each novel. Each story is a singular adventure. Each story highlights the grit and determination of the character in the face of considerable adversity. In other words, I think that each story is about Girl Power!

For more information about the Secrets series, visit You can also learn more about the series in the Book Bits column in the Fall 2015 of Canadian Children’s Book News (October, 2015).

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Amy’s Travels in YA

by Amy Mathers

As summer draws to a close and the routines of school and work begin again, my reading shifts from relaxation to gearing up for change. When it comes to reading, the books I enjoy most are the ones that have challenged me in some way. They stick in my mind, causing me to revisit the new perspectives and ideas time and time again.

Three hundred and sixty-five books later, here are some of the stories I am still thinking about from my Marathon of Books.

The Darkest Corner of the World by Urve Tamberg (Dancing Cat Books, 2012).
A compelling picture of Estonia during World War II, this historical fiction novel tells the story of Madli, a teen girl caught between two of the world’s most evil forces at the time. Struggling to survive, Madli is confronted continually with the cost of integrity, the role of luck, and quest for freedom.

Pluto’s Ghost by Sheree Fitch (Doubleday Canada, 2010), Ink Me by Richard Scrimger (Orca Book Publishers, 2012) and the Wild Orchid Trilogy by Beverley Brenna (Red Deer Press, 2005-2012).
Different approaches to the similar topic of having a narrating character with a learning disability or Asperger’s syndrome, each book is wildly creative and puts the reader right into the character’s shoes, challenging them to experience what life with interpretation disorder is like.

The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011-2012).
Contrasting good versus evil, human nature and impulse versus control and restraint, all while being a prequel to one of the most well-known science fiction books (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley), Oppel shines with this adventurous series about how far Victor Frankenstein’s lust for power will go and whether he can save his twin brother from death.

Big, Big Sky by Kristyn Dunnion (Red Deer Press, 2008).
Speculative fiction at its best, Dunnion submerges her reader into a patriarchal future where teen girls are used to maintain the status quo. In this future, however, control is an illusion as the girls begin genetic transformations into various beings and fall in love. It ends up being a beautifully dark tale.

The Game Trilogy by Eve Silver (Katherine Tegan Books, 2013-2015).
Trapped playing in a game fighting aliens, Miki is in a situation she has no control over. Through the science fiction genre, Silver brings Miki’s character growth full circle by the end of the trilogy in a mind-blowing conclusion.

Me, Myself and Ike by K.L. Denman (Orca Book Publishers, 2009).
A powerful, well-written look at one teen boy’s experience with mental illness, this story also explores the family experience of seeing their loved one in trouble and not being able to help. It’s a startling read, difficult at times as the situation spins out of control, but well worth it for the insight it carries.

Next month’s column is going to be on one of my favourite topics, the first nominees for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award!

Till then, keep reading!

– Amy

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Illustrator’s Studio: Rebecca Bender

Rebecca Bender is an illustrator and author living in Burlington, Ontario. Her first book, Giraffe and Bird, was published in 2010 and won the OLA Blue Spruce Award. Her second book, Don’t Laugh at Giraffe, was a Blue Spruce Honour Book. We asked Rebecca a few questions about her books, how she got started and her illustration process.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as an illustrator?
I must have been an easy child because nothing made me happier than a blank sheet of paper and something to draw with — I would be content for hours if I had enough paper! Completely lost in my fabricated worlds populated with magical characters, stories would spin around in my head as I plotted away. I even made up a comprehensive package to send to Walt Disney as a pitch, confident it would be given some serious consideration. Needless to say I have pursued this path in one guise or another my entire life. Studying illustration at OCAD, freelancing, taking in-house art jobs in greeting cards and in children’s publishing, have all helped to launch my career — along with a fair share of lucky breaks.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing and illustrating process?
I wish I could say I have a foolproof, disciplined routine, but usually my creative process goes something like this:

A. Scratch down the drifting curiosity or intriguing thought in a barely legible fashion, and doodle a drawing or two to go with it. I do this as quickly as I can in my sketchbook or nearby sheet of paper. Sometimes this is a visual idea, and sometimes it’s a piece of a storyline, character trait or plot twist, etc.

B. Procrastinate. Go back to my design work, cook, play with my kids or go for a walk, which (I rationalize) allows the thought to percolate. Sometimes it fades away, but sometimes it nudges me and I get the urge to write and explore the concept more fully.

C. When I get really stuck on my story, I switch my focus to the artwork. I will paginate the story so I can work on the lay out, and do thumbnail sketches to see how the pacing is looking. Then generally it is a back-and-forth between the story and the art, aided by invaluable advice from my husband, family, friends and editor, until things start to take off.

Click to enlarge.

What inspired you to create your Giraffe and Bird series?
Originally these two characters came to me while doodling in my sketchbook for a class assignment. About a year later I went back to them as subjects for a children’s story and pondered their unlikely friendship. I gravitated to a tenuous relationship of teasing and quarrelling, held together by love, which was inspired by my childhood with my siblings.

How do you see your books being used in the classroom? Do you have any fun suggestions for teachers or parents?
Many teachers and parents have thanked me for helping them deal with relationship issues they’ve had to manage between squabbling children. One parent told me that because I signed her boys’ names in the front of the book, they take the message about getting along very seriously (in their minds it is a cautionary tale written for them specifically. They really see themselves in Giraffe and Bird!).

I always want to inspire children to write and draw, so I try to get them to come up with their own pairing of oddball characters that they would find interesting to brainstorm about: who are they, what do they do together, how do they agree or disagree?

I would also like to encourage teachers and parents to send me letters from their students and children, directed specifically to Giraffe and/or Bird. Giraffe and Bird plan to answer these questions in an interactive way, starting this fall… so stay tuned! My email is:

Last but not least, giraffe sock puppets are fun to make! I’ve posted instructions my website:

What projects are you working on now? Anything you are particularly excited about?
Lately, I’ve been enjoying some time between my last book (Giraffe Meets Bird) and my next project, which is yet to be announced. I’m taking advantage of the time by playing around with different art media and working on some freshly brewed story ideas.

Click to enlarge.

Images courtesy of Rebecca Bender. Visit for more information about Rebecca’s work.

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Summer 2015 edition of Canadian Children’s Book News

Graphic Novel Fun in the Summer 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News!

The Summer 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News is still available. Featuring: Versatile, layered reading for all — graphic novels have evolved into a staple of young people’s literature. Dr. Beverley Brenna and her team explore the changing perception of this genre. Author Liam O’Donnell and illustrator Mike Deas explain the fascinating process of creating their graphic novel series and their new hybrid novel/graphic novel. And our “Bookmark!” list looks at the latest books in this genre.

Click here to purchase a copy!

Coming soon! The Fall issue of Canadian Children’s Book News will be out in October 2015.

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Next Month…

Next month, we will be covering the nominees of the 2015 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards! Stay tuned.