News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Links We Love
January Reading List: #OwnVoices
Author Corner: Natasha Deen
Illustrator’s Studio: Charlene Chua
News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
The second annual celebration of Canadian children’s literature is slated for February 17, 2021. The event will be a national celebration of Canadian books for young people, with the goal of elevating the genre, and celebrating their breadth and diversity. I Read Canadian Day will take place in homes, schools, libraries and bookstores all across the country. Visit the official website to register today and be entered to win exclusive prizes!
Download our educator’s toolkit here to celebrate I Read Canadian with your class.
I Read Canadian Day is brought to you by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Canscaip, the Ontario Library Association, Forest of Reading, Canadian School Libraries, Eric Walters and Communication-Jeunesse. Thank you to our generous sponsors, A Different Drummer Books, Access Copyright, Orca Book Publishers, Scholastic Canada and Telling Tales.
Annick Announces Mentorship Program Supporting Writers Who Have Been Historically Excluded
Annick Press is announcing a new paid mentorship program designed to support writers from groups historically excluded from children’s book publishing in North America including LGBTQ2SIA+ writers, Black writers, Indigenous writers, writers of colour, and writers living with disabilities.
Canadian Children’s Book Week: Readers Take Flight/Tournée Lire à tout vent
We are excited to announce the touring creators for Canadian Children’s Book Week: Readers Take Flight. Forty-Five talented Canadian authors, illustrators and storytellers were selected to take part in this virtual tour and share a love of reading with young people in schools, libraries and homes all across Canada.
Established in 1977, this year’s national tour will take place from May 2-8, 2021. See the list of touring creators here.
The Rick Hansen Foundation School Program (RHFSP) is inspired by Rick’s belief in the power of youth and their ability to change the world. RHFSP raises awareness, challenges perceptions, and changes attitudes, through a variety of lessons and activities, empowering youth to take action on important issues.
RHFSP resources are designed for youth from K-12 and include age-appropriate lessons and interactive activities for every grade level. Free, bilingual, and connected to provincial curriculum, our resources are:
- Deliverable online or in the classroom
- Developed by educators, for educators
- Grounded in Universal Design for Learning and incorporate Differentiated Instruction Strategies
It is essential now, more than ever, for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to see themselves represented in the books they read. The Winter issue of Canadian Children’s Book News celebrates Black Canadian voices and showcases several talented authors and illustrators who are creating stories that provide this representation.
In this issue, author Nadia Hohn examines how the Canadian publishing industry has responded to #WeNeedDiverseVoices and #OwnVoices and why diversity is needed in children’s books. Ardo Omer sheds a light on the importance of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). Award-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis explains what drives him to continue writing books about Black history and illustrator Eva Campbell shares her vibrant world of oil paint and pastel on canvas and the importance of having kids see themselves in her artwork. Four Black Canadian authors also share their road to publication. Our “Keep Your Eye On…” column introduces you to Andre Fenton, an author and spoken-word artist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our Bookmark! column features 17 books written by Black Canadian authors, and as always, we have over 40 reviews of recently published books for you to enjoy.
With everyone across the country separated from their friends and families, we are all searching for ways to connect with one another. Support the CCBC and send your loved ones a greeting featuring art from past Canadian Children’s Book Week posters. Perfect for stocking stuffers, these greeting cards feature original art by illustrators Barbara Reid, Julie Flett, Ian Wallace, Wallace Edwards, Bill Slavin, Elly MacKay, Gabrielle Grimard and Eugenie Fernandes. All purchases from these packs of eight cards go towards programs like Canadian Children’s Book Week, the CCBC Book Awards and Bibliovideo. Visit our shop today!
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Links We Love
Articles and videos of interest to educators and parents.
January Reading List: #OwnVoices
#OwnVoices refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from that group. This month’s reading list features just a small selection of all the amazing #OwnVoices stories we love, featuring Canadian books for young people of all ages.
Every morning, a young girl walks her grandmother to the Aajibaichi Shala, the school that was built for the grandmothers in her village to have a place to learn to read and write. The narrator beams with pride as she drops her grandmother off with the other aajis to practice the alphabet and learn simple arithmetic. A moving story about family, women and the power of education―when Aaji learns to spell her name you’ll want to dance along with her.
Nibi’s Water Song
Nibi is searching for clean water to drink. Though faced with repeated obstacles, Nibi’s joyful and determined energy becomes a catalyst for change and action in her community and ripples out in widening circles until everyone rallies around her to make clean drinking water available for all. This title is available in French as Nibi a soif, très soif.
The Paper Boat
At her home in Vietnam, a girl rescues ants from the sugar water set out to trap them. Later, when the girl’s family flees war-torn Vietnam, ants lead them through the moonlit jungle to the boat that will take them to safety. Before boarding, the girl folds a paper boat from a bun wrapper and drops it into the water, and the ants climb on. Their perilous journey, besieged by punishing weather, predatory birds, and dehydration, before reaching a new beginning, mirrors the family’s own. Impressionistic collages and a moving, Own Voices narrative make this a one-of-a-kind tale of courage, resilience, and hope.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family
Written by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K Ali
Illustrated by Hatem Aly
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3Faizah has a new backpack and light-up shoes, ready for the first day of school! It’s the start of a brand-new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong. Paired with Hatem Aly’s beautiful, whimsical art, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and Morris Award finalist S.K. Ali bring readers an uplifting, universal story of new experiences, the unbreakable bond between siblings, and of being proud of who you are.Wholesalers
Junior & Intermediate Fiction
The Case of Windy Lake
Sam, Otter, Atim and Chickadee are the Mighty Muskrats — four inseparable cousins growing up on the Windy Lake First Nation. When a visiting archaeologist goes missing, the Muskrats decide to solve the mystery of his disappearance. In the midst of community conflict and environmental protests, the four cousins follow every lead — nothing will stop them from solving the case!
The Journey of Little Charlie
After his father dies, 12-year-old Charlie finds himself owing money to the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina. He agrees to clear the debt by helping track down some stolen property. When he comes face-to-face with the ‘property’ and discovers their true identities, he is torn between his conscience and his survival instinct.
Orange for the Sunsets
Asha and Yesofu never cared about their differences. Then Idi Amin announces that Indians have 90 days to leave the country. Now those differences are the only things that matter. As Asha clings to her world, Yesofu is torn between his friends, his family and a promise of a better future. The two friends find that nothing seems sure — not even their friendship.
Running Through Sprinklers
Nadine and Sara. It’s only ever been the two of them. Best friends forever — until Nadine skips a grade and goes to high school without Sara. Sara can feel their friendship slipping away. But, though the forever-friend days of running through sprinklers may be over, in their place, Sara just might discover something new and wonderful: herself.
Young Adult Fiction
If I Tell You The Truth
In this stunning sophomore novel, acclaimed writer Jasmin Kaur explores trauma, fear, courage, community, and the healing power of love in its many forms. Kiran flees her home in Punjab for a fresh start in Canada after a sexual assault leaves her pregnant. But overstaying her visa and living undocumented brings its own perils for both her and her daughter, Sahaara. Sahaara would do anything to protect her mother. When she learns the truth about Kiran’s past, she feels compelled to seek justice—even if it means challenging a powerful and dangerous man.
Learning to Breathe
Sixteen-year-old Indy has tried to live by her Grammy’s rules, but her relatives in Nassau have already labelled her trouble — she just can’t escape her mother’s reputation. Now she is hiding an unwanted pregnancy, looking for a safe place to call home. What Indy discovers is that home is not just four walls and a roof — it’s about the people she shares it with.
Like a Love Story
New York City, 1989. For three teens, the world is changing. Judy is an aspiring fashion designer. Art, an out and proud teen, is Judy’s best friend. Reza, from Iran, is terrified of being outed. Reza, dating Judy but attracted to Art, must find a way to stop living a lie that doesn’t break Judy’s heart — so he can keep the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.
This Place: 150 Years Retold
Stories of resistance, stories of overcoming, stories of surviving… Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this ground-breaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.
|#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Annick Press, 2017
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grade 8
What is it like to be an Indigenous woman or girl today? In this compelling collection of art, essays, poems and interviews, more than 50 contemporary artists come together to shatter stereotypes, reveal hurt from the past and celebrate hope for the future. This compilation showcases the strength, diversity and talent of Native American girls and women.
Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic: A Comedian’s Guide to Life on the Spectrum
Stand-up comic Michael McCreary has been told by more than a few well-meaning folks that he doesn’t “look” autistic. Or that comedy and autism don’t really go together. But autism doesn’t have a ‘look’ — or a limit. This unique and hilarious #OwnVoices memoir breaks down what it’s like to live with autism for readers on and off the spectrum.
Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle
This new edition of Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle celebrates the LGBTQ+ community’s diversity and the incredible victories of the past 50 years―but it also has a larger focus on activism, the need to keep fighting for equality and freedom around the world and the important role that young people are playing. The new edition has been updated and expanded to include many new Proud Moments and Queer Facts as well as a profile of LGBTQ+ refugees from Indonesia, a story about a Pride celebration in a refugee camp in Kenya and profiles of young activists.
Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation
Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people has suffered as a result of both the residential school system and the lack of understanding of the historical and current impact of those schools. Guided by acclaimed Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith, readers will learn about the lives of survivors and learn from the allies who are putting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into action.
Listen to Our Podcast!
NATASHA DEEN’S confession? She didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. The deeper confession? She really wanted to be a superhero. Her family moved from Guyana to Canada to escape the country’s growing racial and political violence.
She loved growing up in a country of snow and flannel, but sometimes, being the only mixed-race kid in class meant being bullied and feeling invisible because there were no reflections of her on TV or in movies, and it meant growing up feeling different from everybody. Thank goodness for books and comic books. They were full of weird, oddball, don’t-quite-fit-in characters who turned out to be amazing and cool and found their happy endings.
These days, Natasha writes for kids and teens, and she loves mixing mystery, action, and creepy with a whole lot of humour. Her books have been described as “gripping” (School Library Connection), “engaging” (CM Magazine) and “feel good” (VOYA).
First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get your start as an author?
I read a terrible book. Truly, deeply, horrendous, grievously terrible book. You know the type—dysfunction masquerading as quirks, toxic behaviour pretending to be chic and modern.
After I wrestled with the urge to toss the book (I didn’t. It’s not the book’s fault that the author failed it), I thought, “Either writing is much harder than I think, or this author doesn’t care about her readers.” Immediately after that thought came the second, “Great opinion. So easy to sit on the sidelines and judge. How about you get in there and write a book?”
So, I climbed in the ring, and I learned I was right and wrong. Writing is much, much harder than I thought and yes, the author didn’t do her due diligence. I’m often asked about books that inspire and lift me up, books that I don’t just love, I lurve. While I have an endless list of those types of books, I have to thank the author of the book that irritated me, because she taught me the most important lesson when it comes to writing, respect your reader.
This month’s newsletter is a celebration of Own Voices. Why do you think it is important for everyone to tell their own story?
When I was growing up, every spring and summer my white friends would run up to me, shoving their forearms next to mine, and crow, “Soon, I’ll be darker than you!” And I’d laugh because who doesn’t love having their skin colour reduced to a swatch patch?
These moments would push me down a tunnel to the past, when I was a child surrounded by a group of my elders, all of them clucking sympathetically, and murmuring, “It’s so sad that you’re so dark. You’ll never amount to anything.” Then—out of a genuine sense of love and protection—counselling me to adjust any big dreams to small goals based on security and survival.
The discussion about Own Voices is complex and there are no easy answers. When we talk about Own Voices, I feel that we are talking about books that are specifically focused on unique and personal experiences that imagination and research cannot match. Own Voice authors offer a nuanced view into what living their lives truly means. They catch the subtlties of behaviour, the code-switching of language, and the subtext when walking in a world that doesn’t always see or value them.
But they also understand the full breadth and depth of their lived experience. While my parents immigrating to Canada meant leaving behind everything—money, possessions, family and friends—to come to a new country with only two suitcases between four people, I understand that not every immigrant experience is like this. My story, In the Key of Nira Ghani, cannot be the only book that represents the immigrant experience.
There are many facets to our lives and they deserve space and place to be told. If we don’t encourage and celebrate all voices, all types of experiences within a category, and continue the push for Own Voices narratives, we run the risk of having a tunnel-view of what it means to be part of a specific community. It leads to pigeon-holing and harms members of that community when people outside of it begin to demand they fit unrealistic and incorrect parameters.
Dana L. Davis, and African-American actress in Hollywood and an Own Voices author, once shared a story about reading for a part. After she had finished, the director said, “You’re over-eunciating. Do it, again, but don’t over-euncaite.” In other words, she was speaking too clearly for a Black Woman. Mystified, she wondered how and why the director thought Black Women incapable of enunciating.
In the Amy Mathers’ November 30, 2020 Podcast, L.D. Crichton and Amy Mathers discussed the importance of stepping into someone else’s life and walking away with empathy, appreciation, and understanding for another person’s lived experience. S.K. Ali talked about the mosque shooting in Quebec city and how the gunman’s view of Muslims came “from the stories around him,” and the importance of “seeking out what we don’t know,” and reading the stories of people from different backgrounds to get their viewpoints and perspectives.
In other words, we need authors, of all walks of life, to share their stories so we get a true and realistic understanding of the world. We need Own Voices so those stories are authentic and respectful to the communities from which they originate, and we need to read those stories to debuse the notion of The Other, and to see how alike we are—regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion—because it makes the world safer and brighter for us all.
In the Key of Nira Ghani was the 2020 winner of the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award. What inspired you to write this story and was it in any way based on your own experiences growing up?
Nira is a story about many things, an immigrant teen, a girl trying to find her place among her friends, a daughter seeking the right to live her dreams instead of living out her parents’ dreams, and the magic of a good cup of tea. But it’s also the origin story of a girl who will become the family’s matriarch and a story about finding agency, power, and claiming identity.
In many ways, my childhood inspired Nira’s story. My parents did have that fight over the BBQ, I did (and do) spend a lot of time explaining, “No, no, I spent my early childhood in Guyana, not Ghana,” and I did struggle with growing up among affluent kids while my family tried to recoup the financial losses of moving to a new country.
But in a lot of ways, Nira’s story is universal. We’ve all felt like the outsider, we’ve all struggled to find and claim our space and identity. I dare say that a lot of us have secretly crushed on that seemingly unattainable person and hoped they would look our way. And how many of us have had the flash of hot-cold when discovering a family secret or uncovering a new way of viewing our elders?
Nira took a long time to write, but she was worth every minute. I love getting reader feedback and hearing from people who say things like, “I’m not an immigrant, but my family struggled financially, and I really saw myself in Nira,” “I am Guyanese, and this is the first time I saw myself in a book,” “This book made me laugh,” “This book made me cry.”
That’s the wild, cool thing with being a writer, isn’t it? We pluck the threads of our lives, twine them together with the threads of other people’s experiences, add in imagination, and weave a blanket of vibrant, beautiful colours that keeps our readers warm when the nights are cold and blocks the sun when its heat is too intense.
With the beginning of a new year, it’s a good time to look ahead. What do you hope to see in the future of Canadian books for young people?
Right now, we have novels that explore the experiences of White folk, Cisgender people, BIPOCs, queer and religious communities, stories that ask hard questions about who we are as a society and as individuals. But we also have books that relish the joy of being human—the moments of laughing with friends so hard we can’t breathe, the times when that family member hugs us and it feels like all of the love in the universe is held in their arms—and still, STILL!, there are adventures on different worlds, spy thrillers, creepy horrors, and mind-boggling whodunnits that have us reading late into the night.
What gives light to this landscape is that Canadian authors, publishers, and readers aren’t satisfied with the status quo. There is a hunger for more stories of all stripes, more diversity, inclusion, and embracing of Own Voices. We continue to ask for books that represent and celebrate all facets of the human experience and the Canadian experience. I love that there are chairs being added to the table every day and that today’s readers have a vast and growing storehouse from which to pull the story they want to read.
What projects are you working on now? Can you tell us about any upcoming books?
Right now, I’m working on an early-reader book that mostly involves me begging my brain to get into gear and get some words on the page!
As for upcoming books, I’m very excited because this year is the release of Maria and the Plague, a Girls’ Survive story from Capstone books. When I was researching the Black Plague, I had no idea the world was about to experience COVID-19, and the same struggles and fears that Maria has to face, we would have to face, as well. Maria battles to survive, and through her struggles, she both gives and receives kindness, courage, and love.
I saw this mirrored in 2020. Yes, there were people fighting over toilet paper and folks arguing over masks, but there were also landlords forgiving rent, laughter during meetings when someone’s pet photobombed the camera, and neighbours dropping off care packages. In the midst of one of the most trying times for our world, there was hope, love, and laughter. Holding to those moments and seeking ways to create those moments made me feel optimistic that not only would we endure and survive, but we would thrive. I’m proud that the same light and love and the push for hope and kindness that I saw in my real-life world are mirrored in the pages of Maria’s story.
Maria and the Plague: Years of bad weather and natural disasters have choked Italy’s food supply, and the people of Florence are dying of starvation. Breadlines are battlegrounds, and young Maria has to fight for her family’s every loaf. Adding to the misery, the Black Plague is rapidly spreading through the country, killing everyone in its path. Maria has already lost her mother and sister. Will she be strong enough to save the rest of her family before it’s too late?
Find out more about Natasha on her website, natashadeen.com.
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CHARLENE CHUA (pronounced: CHOO-ah) has illustrated many things over the years for kids of all ages. Her illustration work has won several awards, while books she has illustrated have been nominated for OLA Forest of Reading, USBBY Outstanding International Books, OLA Best Bets, Shining Willow Award, and Kirkus Best books. Charlene’s author/illustrator debut, Hug?, was published by Kids Can Press in 2020. Charlene was born and grew up in Singapore, and moved to Canada in 2007. They started work in 1998 as a web designer, and went on to become a senior designer, web producer and interactive project manager. However, what they really wanted to do was draw pictures all day. In 2003, they decided to give it a go, and after a few years, they became a full-time illustrator. When she is not making art, she enjoys cooking, reading, and playing with her cats. She now lives with her husband (and cats!) in Hamilton, Ontario.
First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get your start as an illustrator?
I always like drawing; when I was a kid I liked drawing animals. Later on I got into comics and I wanted to be a comic book illustrator. After some years working in design, I decided I wanted to try illustration. I sent out some samples to various magazines and one of them contacted me and gave me my first illustration job.
Most of the scripts I receive are beautifully written, and I work with the words to bring the story to life, adding more in the visuals where possible. With Hug?, since I wrote it myself, I visualized it from the start. So that enabled me to have very few words in the book, and I did not have to think about how the art might work with the text later.
We love the Amy Wu series! What was it like returning to Amy in the second book Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon and can we expect to see more of Amy’s adventures?
It was nice to hear they wanted a second book. It’s always a bit scary to come back to a project; especially a picture book since more than a year had passed since I drew Amy. Fortunately I kept all the character designs and sketches so it was easier to reference that for book 2. We are currently working on the 3rd book now!
I enjoy looking at the work of other picture book illustrators. I follow a lot of people whose work I like on Twitter and Instagram. I don’t think any one person influences my work at the moment.
What projects are you working on now? Can you tell us about any upcoming books?
I just finished the art for an unannounced picture book, and will be starting on the 3rd Amy Wu boook after this. I have several books I’m illustrated coming out this year – Baseball Baby by Diane Adams (Viking), Raindrops to Rainbows by John Miklos Jr (Penguin Workshop), Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild (FSG) and Oliver Bounces Back by Alison Hughes (Scholastic Canada).
Find out more about Charlene at charlenechua.com.
Canada’s independent booksellers share their recommendations for kids and teens. To find a local independent bookstore, visit findabookstore.ca.
When Cat Montgomery is sent to spend the summer with her aunt in a small town in New Brunswick, she is nervous about seeing her former friend Riley Fraser. Things hadn’t ended well between them the last time she saw him. However, now he is missing and his brother hopes that Cat can help find him. But that will involve using the supernatural “gift” that she has been trying to come to terms with. As Cat struggles to come to terms with herself, her unique gift and her relationships with the people she loves, the quest to find out what happened to Riley Fraser takes a dark turn and becomes more urgent. The author has crafted a multi-layered mystery story that also sensitively explores issues such as friendship and family dynamics, as well as identity and self-acceptance. With a satisfying touch of romance to add to the mix, it is a well-crafted narrative that appeals on many levels and to a wide range of readers.
—Lisa Doucet, Co-manager
Woozles Children’s Bookstore: 1533 Birmingham St., Halifax, NS B3J 2J1 www.woozles.com
If your independent bookstore would like to participate in this feature, please contact us.
Canadian librarians share their recommendations for kids and teens.
Bet you didn’t know that the world’s largest free-standing banana is located in Melita, Maniitoba. Or that the incandescent light bulb was invented in 1874 by two Canadians who sold their patent to Thomas Edison. Trivia hounds will find a plethora of wild and wacky information in It Seemed Like a Good Idea … Canadian Feats, Facts and Flubs, by father-son dynamic duo Ted and Will Staunton. Chapters cover uniquely Canadian topics including language (“The Eh-Tymology of How We Speak”), far-fetched food (“We Double-Dog Dare You To Eat This”), crazy crimes (“Um, No, You Can’t Do That”), and so much more. The infectious energy in the zippy text and eye-popping graphic design makes this a compulsively readable, colossally clever compendium.
—Linda Ludke, Collections Management Librarian, London Public Library
If you are a librarian that would like to participate in this feature, please contact us.
Look for our February newsletter next month, which is in honour of Black History Month.