June 2021



News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Links We Love
June Reading List: Summer Reading
Author Corner: Sara O’Leary
Illustrator’s Studio: Carmen Mok
Experts’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends

Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books

IBBY Canada and Bibliovideo are proud to present the launch of the 2021 edition of From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books.

25 of the best Indigenous picture books published in Canada between 2018–2020 were selected for this collection. Care was taken to ensure that the collection reflects the diversity of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit voices from sea to sea to sea, and that the titles are available and in print for anyone who wishes to access them.

The collection will launch on June 9, 2021, at 7:00pm EDT at a virtual event at youtube.com/bibliovideo, followed by a Meet & Greet on Zoom. The virtual event will be hosted by celebrated author and journalist Waubgeshig Rice, and will feature interviews with authors and illustrators Rebecca Thomas, Jenny Kay Dupuis, David Alexander Robertson, Leah Marie Dorion, Richard Van Camp, Monique Gray Smith, and Nadia Sammurtok. Registration details are available on Eventbrite.

Malaika’s Costume Selected as the 2021 TD Grade One Book Giveaway

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) is excited to announce the title for the 2021 TD Grade One Book Giveaway. Malaika’s Costume, written by Nadia L. Hohn and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, will be distributed to over 550,000 Grade 1 students in fall 2021. The book is the first in a series of three and is published by Groundwood Books, with the French edition (Le costume de Malaika) published by Éditions Scholastic.

Learn more here.

The Scotiabank Charity Challenge

The Scotiabank Charity Challenge unites the spirit of runners with a unique fundraising program to help support our local community. Help us reach our goals while you are achieving yours! As Scotiabank covers all the fees associated with online fundraising, 100% of the funds you raise will go directly to the CCBC. $5 of your registration goes back to the CCBC. Challenge each other and raise money to help support reading and earn cool prizes!

This year, you will be able to participate anywhere virtually across Canada. Let’s get active, come together and help support a good cause!

Sign up today at bookcentre.ca/run!


Announcing the Winners of the 2020 Governor General’s Literary Awards

The Canada Council for the Arts celebrates the best in Canadian literature. The Governor General’s Literary Awards recognize finalists and winners in seven categories, in both official languages, for readers of all ages.

The Governor General’s Literary Awards are among Canada’s oldest and most prestigious prizes. The awards, worth $25,000 each, annually recognize the best published books in Canada.

The prizes are given to seven English-language and seven French-language books in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people’s literature — text, young people’s literature — illustration, drama and translation.

Learn more here.

2021 Forest of Reading® Winners Announced at Wednesday’s Virtual Edition of the Forest of Reading Awards

The Ontario Library Association (OLA) and the Forest of Reading are excited to announce the winners of the 2021 Forest of Reading Awards, presented at the Forest of Reading Award ceremonies, a three-day, free digital event, streamed on Curio in partnership with CBC Books, hosted by Ali Hassan.

Resources for Discussing Residential Schools and Indigenous Issues

Residential school history is a difficult subject to teach kids, but it’s something that all Canadians should know – so how do we do it? Learn more here.

Winners of the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award

The winners of the 2021 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award were announced Sunday evening in an online presentation broadcast on YouTube and the Hackmatack Facebook Page. They are:

English Nonfiction: Rachel Poliquin for Beastly Puzzlesillustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

English Fiction: Angela Misri for Pickles vs. the Zombies

French Nonfiction: Karine Gottot and Maxim Cyr for Dragouilles 21 : Les Vertes de Honolulu 

French Fiction: Alexandra Larochelle for Trucs de peur tome 1: Perdues dans le noir, illustrated by Yohann Morin

Congratulations to all!

Empowering Youth, One Generation at a Time: Free Resources 

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:

  • Ready-to-use
  • Deliverable online or in the classroom
  • Developed by educators, for educators
  • Grounded in Universal Design for Learning and incorporate Differentiated Instruction Strategies

Learn more here.

IN MEMORIAM: Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton

It is with deep sadness that Annick has learned of the passing of author, Inuvialiut knowledge keeper, and residential school survivor Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton. She was 84 years old. Young readers all over the world have been introduced to the harsh reality of residential schools through her books with co-author Christy Jordan-Fenton: Fatty Legs: A True Story, A Stranger At Home, When I Was Eight, and Not My Girl. Margaret-Olemaun met with thousands of school children to share her experiences and to share her message of hope and survival so that future generations would understand the devastating legacy of the schools.

Purchase Our Greeting Cards and Support the CCBC!

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!

2021 Atlantic Book Awards Winners

The winners of the Atlantic Book Awards were announced on Friday May 13 at a virtual ceremony. Winners in the categories for young people were author Tom Ryan and illustrator Sydney Smith. Congratulations to Tom, Sydney and all of the finalists!

Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature
Keep This to Yourself, Tom Ryan (Albert Whitman & Company)

Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration
I Talk Like a River, Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith (ill.) (Neal Porter Books/PRHC)

Experience Stories! at the Telling Tales Virtual Festival

Aliens. So many aliens … fantastic creatures that emerge from broken crayons…a dragon riding assassin … being charming in NYC this year Telling Tales has it all!

Books have the power to transport us to different worlds, cities and places where we truly Experience Stories. In a year where we are staying home more than ever before, Telling Tales is excited to launch its 2021-22 season to bring these stories to you.

Following the success of last year, the 2021 Telling Tales season will continue as a virtual festival with an all-star line-up of authors, illustrators and storytellers sharing their stories and engaging audiences both near and far. Attendees to the Telling Tales Virtual Festival can look forward to interactive video presentations from an award-winning, diverse line-up, whose unique backgrounds and experiences reflect those of our audience. Learn more here.

Follow Bibliovideo on Social Media!

Bibliovideo, the YouTube channel all about Canadian books for young people, is now on social media! Follow on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the newest videos!

Spring Issue of Best Books for Kids & Teens Available Now!

Best Books for Kids & Teens is your guide to the best new Canadian books, magazines, audio and video for children and teens. Whether you’re stocking a bookshelf in a classroom, library or at home, every title in this guide has been given the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s stamp of approval. Expert committees of educators, booksellers, school and public librarians from across Canada have handpicked the materials listed in this guide. Committees look for excellence in writing, illustration or performance. Most importantly, these committees focus on selecting materials that will appeal to children and young adults.

Buy the issue here!

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

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Links We Love

Articles and videos of interest to educators and parents.

Books on Residential Schools, Chosen by David Alexander Robertson (Wordfest) 

WATCH: Talking to kids about Residential Schools (Monique Gray Smith)

WATCH: As Seen on CTV: 10 Canadian Kids’ Books for Pride Month (Vikki VanSickle)

WATCH: Join the TD Summer Reading Club! (Bibliovideo) 

23 books for kids and young adults to celebrate Asian Heritage Month in Canada (CBC Books)

How Canadian libraries are supporting their communities’ health and wellness (Quill & Quire)

Nova Scotia’s Wild Willie keeps landing big YouTube interviews (Saltwire)

5 Great Places to Stash Books Around Your Home to Encourage Reading (Brightly)

29 LGBTQ Children’s Books for Families to Read (Chicago Parent)

Toronto library sets world record with 8 million digital download during pandemic (CTV News) 

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June Reading List: Summer Reading

This month’s reading list is all about out favourite books to read this summer!

Picture Books

Written by Andrea Curtis
Illustrated by Kass Reich
Owlkids Books, 2021
ISBN 978-1-77147-370-5
IL: Ages 3-8 RL: Grades PreK-2

Barnaby is the story of a beautiful blue budgie who’s got it all: a golden cage, bells that jingle-jangle, and an owner who gives him all the snacks and love he could want. Until one day she brings home a friend for him: a little yellow canary. But Barnaby is not happy. When his tantrums don’t convince his owner to get rid of the new bird, Barnaby flies away and ends up hopelessly lost!


Hidden Treasure
Written and illustrated by Elly MacKay
Running Press Kids , 2021
ISBN 978-0-7624-6302-2
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades PreK-2

When a young treasure hunter goes to the beach for a day of playing in the surf, she dives deep under the waves to find treasures of all kinds. Some treasures have stories to tell and others are too precious to keep. It seems treasure is everywhere, but nothing could make her feel more like a queen than a perfect day at the beach with her grandfather and furry best friend.


On the Other Side of the Forest
Written by Nadine Robert
Illustrated by Gérard DuBois
Greystone Kids, 2021
ISBN 978-1-7716-4796-0
IL: Ages 4-7 RL: Grades 2-3

Some say that wolves, ogres, and giant badgers live in the forest beside Arthur’s house. That’s why no one ever goes in there, to see what’s on the other side. But one day, Arthur’s dad has an idea—a magnificent idea! Build a tower to look over the treetops! But a magnificent idea takes a lot of work. Will the villagers join and help them? And when the tower takes shape, what will they see on the other side?


Outside, You Notice
Written by Erin Alladin
Illustrated by Andrea Blinick
Pajama Press, 2021
ISBN 978-1-77278-193-9
IL: Ages 4-7 RL: Grades 1-3

Time spent in the outdoors stirs a child’s imagination. Nature sparks wonder, wonder leads to curiosity, and curiosity brings about a greater knowledge of the world and one’s self. In Outside, You Notice, a meditative thread of child-like observations (How after the rain / Everything smells greener) is paired with facts about the habits and habitats of animals, insects, birds, and plants (A tree’s roots reach as wide as its branches).


Poem in My Pocket
Written by Chris Tougas
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Kids Can Press, 2021
ISBN 978-1-5253-0145-2
IL: Ages 4-7 RL: Grades PreK-2

A child scrambles to capture the loose words in the world around them and arrange them back into poem form, only to lose them again as a storm swoops in on a rushing wind. Eventually, the words plant themselves in the muddy ground, where they grow into something that might be even better than the original poem: a Poet-Tree.




Pride Puppy!
Written by Robin Stevenson
Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
Orca Book Publishers, 2021
ISBN 978-1-45982-484-3
IL: Ages 4-6 RL: Grades PreK-2

A young child and their family are having a wonderful time together celebrating Pride Day—meeting up with Grandma, making new friends and eating ice cream. But then something terrible happens: their dog gets lost in the parade! Luckily, there are lots of people around to help reunite the pup with his family.



Written and illustrated by Julie Flett
Greystone Kids, 2021
ISBN 978-1-7716-4607-9
IL: Ages 3-7 RL: Grades PreK-1

This wonderful bookcelebrates diversity and the interconnectedness of nature through an Indigenous perspective, complete with a glossary of Cree words for wild animals at the back of the book, and children repeating a Cree phrase throughout the book. Readers will encounter birds who chase and chirp, bears who wiggle and wobble, whales who swim and squirt, owls who peek and peep, and a diverse group of kids who love to do the same, shouting:



We Dream Medicine Dreams
Written and illustrated by Lisa Boivin
Portage & Main Press, 2021
ISBN 978-1-55379-987-0
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades PreK-3

When a little girl dreams about a bear, her grandfather explains how we connect with the knowledge of our ancestors through dreams. Bear, Hawk, Caribou, and Wolf all have teachings to share to help us live a good life. But when Grampa gets sick and falls into a coma, the little girl must lean on his teachings as she learns to say goodbye.



Junior & Intermediate Fiction

Double Foul
(Camp Average)
Written by Craig Battle
Owlkids Books, 2020
ISBN 978-1-7714-7309-5
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 3-4

It’s a new summer at Camp Avalon—which Mack and his friends still affectionately call Camp Average. After last season’s big baseball victory, camp director Winston wants to continue the winning streak. So he’s launched a competitive program for elite athletes—including a new group of girl campers. When Winston enters his charges in a high-stakes basketball tournament, Mack opts out in favor of other, less competitive activities. But Mack starts to suspect he’s being played, as one by one, his favorite camp activities all get closed for repairs.


The Fabulous Zed Watson
Written by Basil Sylvester
Illustrated by Kevin Sylvester
HarperCollins, 2021
ISBN 978-1-44346-092-7
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 3-6

—oh yeah—monsters. When Zed discovered the mystery surrounding an unpublished novel called The Monster’s Castle, they were completely hooked. Now Zed is a member of a small but dedicated legion devoted to finding the long-buried text. When a breakthrough discovery leads Zed to the route that they are sure will take them to the treasure, they know it’s time for a road trip. And with the help of their shy, flora-loving neighbour, Gabe, and his sister, Sam, a geologist who is driving back to college in Arizona, Zed and company are soon off on a wild adventure following cryptic clues.



Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets
Written by Mahtab Narsimhan
Scholastic Canada Ltd, 2016
ISBN 978-0-5457-4651-9
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5

When aspiring photographer Dylan Moore is invited to join his best friend, Rohit Lal, on a family trip to India, he jumps at the chance to embark on an exciting journey just like their Lord of the Rings heroes, Frodo and Sam. But each boy comes to the trip with a problem: Rohit is desperate to convince his parents not to leave him behind in Mumbai to finish school, and Dylan is desperate to stay in India to prove himself as a photographer and to avoid his parents’ constant fighting.




The Street Belongs to Us
Written by Karleen Pendleton Jimenez
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021
ISBN 978-1-5515-2840-3
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grade 2

In 1984 Los Angeles, Alex is a tomboy who would rather wear her hair short and her older brother’s hand-me-downs, and Wolf is a troubled kid who’s been wearing the same soldier’s uniform ever since his mom died. They temporarily set their worries aside when their street is torn up by digging machines and transformed into a muddy wonderland with endless possibilities. To pass the hot summer days, the two best friends seize the opportunity to turn Muscatel Avenue into a battleground and launch a gleeful street war against the rival neighbourhood kids.



Young Adult Fiction

Like Home
Written by Louisa Onomé
HarperCollins, 2021
ISBN 978-1-44345-994-5
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

Chinelo—or Nelo, as her best friend, Kate, calls her—is all about her neighbourhood, Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, its ride-or-die sense of community and the memories she has of growing up there. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, most of Nelo’s friends, except for Kate, have moved away. But as long as the two girls have each other, Nelo’s good. Then Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core. The police and the media are quick to point fingers, and soon more of the outside world descends upon Ginger East with promises to “fix the neighbourhood.” Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama that is unfolding on a national scale.

The Player
Written by Paul Coccia
Lorimer, 2021
ISBN 978-1-4594-1576-8
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 8-9

Freddy wants Laura Dean to stop breaking up with her. Laura Dean is popular, funny and SO CUTE… but she is also thoughtless and mean. Freddy’s heart is breaking and she’s losing her best friend and her last shred of self-respect. Fortunately, new friends and the insight of an advice columnist help Freddy through being a teenager in love.


Tremendous Things
Written by Susan Nielsen
Penguin Teen, 2021
ISBN 978-0-7352-7120-3
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grade 7

Wilbur has never been able to escape the humiliation of middle-school. His good friend Alex stuck by him, but Alex doesn’t have as much time since he started dating Fabrizio. Luckily, Wil can confide in his best friend: his elderly neighbour Sal. Also, Wil’s in the school band, where he plays the triangle. They’re doing an exchange program with students from Paris, and Wilbur’s billet, Charlie, a tall, chic young woman who plays the ukulele and burps with abandon, captures his heart. Charlie likes him, but only as a friend. So Alex, Fabrizio and Sal host a Queer Eye-style intervention to get Wil in shape and to build his confidence so he can impress Charlie when their band visits Paris.


When You Get the Chance
Written by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson
Salaam Reads, 2021
ISBN 978-0-76249-501-6
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grade 7

Queer cousins Mark and Talia haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it. While parent-free in cottage-country, Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.



The Arts
(Pride In)
Written by Emilie Dufresne
Booklife, 2021
ISBN 978-1-8392-7083-3
IL: Ages 7-9 RL: Grades 2-4

Sometimes being who you are can be a hard thing to do. Learn about people from across the LGBTQIA+ community who celebrate who they are and never stop fighting for what they believe in. No matter who you are, inside or out, this book is here to teach you that you can be proud of who you are.


Finding Home: The Journey of Immigrants and Refugees
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
Illustrated by Drew Shannon
Orca Book Publishers, 2021
ISBN 978-1-4598-1899-6
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-6

What drives people to search for new homes? From war zones to politics, there are many reasons why people have always searched for a place to call home. In Finding Home: The Journey of Immigrants and Refugees we discover how human migration has shaped our world. We explore its origins and the current issues facing immigrants and refugees today, and we hear the first-hand stories of people who have moved across the globe looking for safety, security and happiness. Author Jen Sookfong Lee shares her personal experience of growing up as the child of immigrants and gives a human face to the realities of being an immigrant or refugee today.


The Mosquito
(Disgusting Critters)
Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel
Tundra Books, 2021
ISBN 978-0-7352-6647-6
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 1-3

Hilarious illustrated nonfiction about mosquitos perfect for beginning readers. Conversational text and silly illustrations will have you up all night reading about the most annoying bug on Earth!

Fast mosquito facts:
  Distinctive trait: Leaving annoying itchy bites
  Diet: Your blood (and nectar and plant juice)
  Special talent: Making a terrible whining sound in your ear



What Kids Did: Stories of Kindness and Invention in the Time of COVID-19
Written by Erin Silver
Second Story Press, 2020
ISBN 978-1-7726-0164-0
IL: Ages 6-8 RL: Grades 1-3

In the spring of 2020, the Covid-19 virus changed the world and made daily life much more challenging. We had to stay apart, away from work, school, and our normal routines. But, all around the world, kids came up with creative and thoughtful ways to help others. From making 3-D printed medical equipment to food bank fundraising to a neighbourhood joke stand, to creating a semi-automatic hand-washing machine, kids made a difference in their communities. In this book for kids 6+, Erin Silver tells some of their stories.


Author’s Corner: Sara O’Leary

Sara O’Leary is a Canadian children’s writer and novelist. She is the author of a number of critically acclaimed picture books including Maud and Grand-Maud, This is Sadie, A Family is a Family is a Family and When You Were Small

Her novel, The Ghost in the House, is published by Doubleday Canada.

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

I came late to children’s books. It was almost as though I had to try absolutely everything first. I attended poetry workshops as a teenager and started writing short stories while studying English at the University of Saskatchewan. I then discovered postcard stories which was to me the best of both of worlds and I stuck to those for a while, eventually publishing a collection titled Wish You Were Here.

I moved to Montreal when I got my first Canada Council grant and
wrote a collection of short stories while I was there. Then I got interested in writing plays and by the time I moved to Vancouver thought that was what I wanted to do. But while I was out west, screenwriting turned my head. I also spent some years writing a weekly literary column and it was while I was doing that that I was drawn into children’s writing and published When You Were Small. That was also the first picture book for Julie Morstad, and we went on to do another three books together.

Now I can’t believe I ever wanted to do anything other than picture books because there’s absolutely nothing like writing for children. I very much like compressed forms and the idea of creating a small world with fewer than five hundred words really appeals to me.

We’re so excited for This is Ruby! What inspired you to write a book about science and creativity?

This is Ruby was written as a companion book to This is Sadie, and the funny thing is that readers often assume that Sadie must be me but honestly, she’s more like someone I would like to be. Ruby’s another version of that—she’s inquisitive and confident and full of projects and plans. I love the version of her that Alea Marley created. On the cover she’s standing, arms akimbo and hands on hips. There’s something so self-assured and content and joyful in her whole demeanour. I hope that young readers will see themselves in her the same way that they did with Sadie.

Percy’s Museum is a sweet book about the wonder of nature. How does the natural world impact your writing?

It’s a bit of a joke in my family at just how much of an indoors-y person I am, but when my kids were small, we moved to this beautiful place where there was a brook full of fish in their own backyard and it was amazing to see all of that through their eyes. I like the stage in children’s development where they are figuring all that stuff out. Even the fact that apples grow on trees can be such a joyous revelation at a certain age! The title of the book was originally Percy’s Museum of Natural Curiosity and the genesis of the story was that impulse to collect and categorize.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Mainly to read as much as you can. And to be sure to read widely in the genre that you are interested in writing. I think I really came into my own as a children’s writer only after I started teaching the subject and being forced to articulate what I thought made a picture book work.

And for those just finding themselves as writers, I would say just to keep writing and not to worry too much about publication or all of that until you’ve figured out what it is you really want to do.

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

This August I have a book with Qin Leng called A Kid is a Kid is a Kid. It’s a follow-up to A Family is a Family is a Family. That first book what was written with the goal of being as inclusive as we could make it. It mattered to me that there were young readers out there who needed to see their own home situations depicted in a book and we tried to make the representation open enough that there were many entry points for children to identify with. I was also trying to capture that sort of matter-of-factness that children have and that we seem to lose as we become more self-conscious as we mature.

With our Kid book I began with the idea of a child who was gender non-conforming starting at a new school who was being asked
questions around their identity. In the story, the kids on the schoolground talk about the questions they each get asked or the ways in which they feel different. Something really beautiful happened when the text was handed over to Qin because she managed to visually show this movement from isolation into acceptance and community. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen and I love it so much. The book is really a celebration of identity and I hope it has something to offer for a reader who is maybe of the age to be starting school and beginning to get a sense of their place in the world.

Find out more about Sara on her website, saraoleary.ca.

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Subscribe to Bibliovideo today to watch videos made specifically for booklovers! Don’t forget to push the bell to receive updates when new videos are uploaded.

Featured Video

Playlists to Binge Watch 

For Educators / Pour les éducateurs

Indigenous / Autochtone


I Read Canadian / Je lis un livre canadien

Telling Tales: Celebrating Stories

Illustrator Demonstrations / Démonstrations des illustrateurs

TD Summer Reading Club / Club de lecture d’été TD

Stay Home, Read Together / Lisons ensemble à la maison

Author Interviews / Entretiens avec des écrivains

Book Readings / Séances de lecture


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.


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Illustrator’s Studio: Carmen Mok

Carmen Mok is an award-winning illustrator with prior experience in product design, and graphic design. After studying studio art at University of Waterloo and design at Sheridan College, she decided to dedicate herself to children’s illustration.

She is the illustrator of Grandmother’s Visit, written by Betty Quan, and Waiting for Sophie, written by Sarah Ellis. Grandmother’s Visit was selected as the picture book honor title of the 2018-2019 Asian/Pacific American Award, and made the 2019 short list for the IODE Ontario Jean Throop Book Award. Violet Shrink, written by Christine Baldacchino and A Stopwatch from Grampa, written by Loretta Garbutt. Tough Like Mum by Lana Button and Percy’s Museum by Sara O’Leary.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get your start as an illustrator?

I have always loved to paint and to make craft since I was little, but I have never thought of becoming an illustrator. I didn’t even know there was a job called illustrator. When I studied fine art at the University of Waterloo, realistic painting wasn’t right for me, so I chose my major in ceramic sculpture. My turning point was when there was a time I worked as a graphic designer in a publishing company; I was fascinated by the beautiful editorial illustrations. It inspired me to pursue becoming an illustrator.

I realized it might take me some time to become a professional illustrator, so I worked a full-time job by day, and self-learning illustration by night. It took a couple of years until I finally felt my portfolio was ready to share to my potential clients. On one hand, my formal art education does help my illustration, on the other hand, I call myself a self-learned illustrator.

 Who or what has most influenced your illustration style?

I have influence from vintage illustrations and children’s books. I collect them from garage sales, thrift shops or used bookstores. Some books were from local and some came from my travels overseas. I love the colour palettes and the art styles from that era. Some objects such as vintage vehicles or old phones we don’t see too often, they help me to visualize a world beyond my life experience and my cultural background.

As a picture book illustrator, I see myself could also act as an interior designer, an architect, or a landscape designer – to decide the surroundings and atmosphere of a story. Or a fashion and hair stylist – to design the appearance of the characters. Besides vintage illustrations, I am constantly craving visual images from social media and online research, or from my personal observation.

 You have 3 books coming out this spring alone (Percy’s MuseumTough Like Mum and Here Babies, There Babies in Summer). How does the illustration process differ from project to project?

Since the story and the author’s writing style of these three books are so different, my visual interpretations and my making process were quite unique. The fun thing from illustrating children’s books is nothing is repeated.

Painting Percy’s Museum

Percy’s Museum (written by Sara O’Leary) is about the excitement of discovery and the wonder of nature. I like to take my art approach mixing between realistic and whimsical style. The sky is yellow, some trees are pink, flowers and mountains don’t look traditional. Percy misses his friends after moving from the city to a new home in the country, so I decided to add a cat to accompany him, which the text doesn’t tell.

Carmen’s Studio and the making of Tough Like Mum

Tough Like Mum (written by Lana Button) is about family hardship, vulnerability and a love relationship between mother and daughter. It is a sensitive topic to talk to children, so I purposely created some elements to let young readers stay hopeful. For example, their mismatched socks and patched clothing and furniture show their simple life, but the bright colour palette makes a balance to the mood. When the dark scenes appear in the second half of the story, I created a glimpse of hope by adding a candle light and some happy scenes from their book reading. I hope young readers are able to understand that tough and happy moments always coexist in our lives.

The making of Here Babies, There Babies

Here Babies, There Babies in Summer (written by Nancy Cohen) is a delightful rhythmic baby board book, the second book of the Here Babies, There Babies series. This book is for newborns to age 2, I know readers at this age mostly enjoy visual images as adults reading out loud. Therefore, I chose eye catching vivid colours for my illustrations. Then I created summer activities that babies are able to relate to such as having a picnic in a park, playing ball and hide and seek etc. I also include babies with diverse skin tones which I believe is an important voice for this book.

In general, I need quite a long time in my early process. If my publishers allow, I always hope to have two to three months to read the manuscript repeatedly and to drop down any possible ideas in my sketchbook. It takes time for me to enter the story as I am acting in a movie. My brain works randomly and actively in this stage. Sometimes images come first, other times colour palettes may come first. Ideas could pop while walking on a street, or during my cooking or in my dream at night. The experience is pretty bizarre but filled with surprises! Once the thumbnails and rough sketches are approved, I feel much more relaxed during making the final art.

What advice would you give students who are interested in perusing the arts?

On top of being able to produce good quality art, self-discipline is often listed as one of the major qualities that make a good illustrator. You need to maintain a daily or weekly routine to keep on growing. There is no one who will push you forward except yourself. Other business skills such as communication skill, time management and bookkeeping are always useful for self-employed freelancer. Since after pandemic, I also realized virtual presentation skill is a great thing to equip.

There are many nice people from the children’s book community who are happy to share their experience. The best way to learn from them is joining conferences and social gatherings. Don’t be afraid of asking questions, you will be surprised by what you learn from them that may not be found from formal art education.

The making of I Hear You, Forest

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

I am excited about making a set of final art for my next picture book When I Listen to Silence. (written by Jean E. Pendziwol) It is a charming story about a child’s imaginary world. This book will be published by Groundwood Books in the spring of 2022.

The upcoming picture book I Hear You, Forest (written by Kallie George) will be published by Greystone Books in the fall 2021. The story is about a child steps into the forest, she listens carefully and hears marvelous things. This is the first book in a series, I will soon start creating final art for the second book I Hear You, Ocean.

There are a couple of new projects on the way, I am so looking forward to share more when time is right.

Find out more about Cameron on her website, carmenmokstudio.com.

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Experts’ Picks

Booksellers’ Picks

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

Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS:

Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem, written & illustrated by Lauren Soloy (Tundra Books, 2021) Ages 4-8

World-renowned naturalist Charles Darwin was one of the most influential thinkers of his day…and of all time. His contributions to science and how we understand our world are legendary. And yet, he was also a father. In her latest picture book biography, author-illustrator Lauren Soloy depicts the loving relationship between Darwin and his young daughter, Etty as they walk Darwin’s thinking path together and ponder some very important questions. “Do you believe in fairies,” Etty wants to know. When her father says that he would require proof of their existence, his young daughter tries to oblige. Ultimately, father and daughter both learn major life lessons from this special time together. With thick-lined, lush and lavish illustrations, this book highlights some profound yet simple truths as it magnificently captures the tender bond between a girl and her beloved papa. The illustrations bring the country garden setting vividly to life and the simple exchange between father and child creates a striking portrait of both characters.



Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

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


Maya’s Big Scene, written and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Tundra Books, 2021), Ages 4-8

Little Maya is a playwright with strong ideas and big ambition for her new play, which is about feminism, equality and R-E-S-P-E-C-T for everyone in her great imagined queendom.  But when the actors try to express their own ideas for the play, will this bossy little drama queen be equal to the task of promoting equality for all?  Can good friends find a way to improve the play and convince Her Majesty to be people too?

This third book in Arsenault’s Mile End Kids Story series is once again a blend of picture book and graphic novel with charming soft charcoal drawings broken only by Maya and the other children’s bright pink costumes.  The pictures bring vivid support to the story as Maya’s bossiness flares up in pink, almost overwhelming the pages when she takes over the play, until it dissolves into bright flowers and confetti when the children celebrate finding their common ground.

Maya’s Big Scene is a perfect story to help children, and other tiny dictators, understand that nothing equals the amount of fun (and pink confetti!) to be had when everyone can participate! Despite its sparse text, this book speaks volumes about freedom, respect and the value of working together.

—Marie-Josée Sauvageau – Manager

La Maison Anglaise bookstore : 164-2600 boul. Laurier, Québec, QC, G1V4T3


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

Librarians’ Picks

Canadian librarians share their recommendations for kids and teens.

Stand Like a Cedar by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Carrielynn Victor (HighWater Press, 2021) Ages 6-9

Stand Like a Cedar, by award-winning Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx and Métis author Nicola Campbell, poetically shares Indigenous knowledge.  The young narrator reflects upon natural sights and familial seasonal experiences including paddling in a cedar canoe in spring, picking blue berries in summer, walking across the land in autumn, and returning to a favourite mountain trail in winter.  Nłe7kepmxcín and Sto:lo Halq’emeylem words, each carrying a teaching, are woven seamlessly into the sentences.  Informative back matter offers a glossary and phonetic pronunciation guide. The vibrant illustrations by Sto:lo artist and environmental consultant Carrielynn Victor radiate warmth and connection.  Expressions of respect and gratitude run deeply throughout this significant picture book: “We are grateful for all living things.”

Linda Ludke, Collections Management Librarian, London Public Library

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

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See You in September

It’s summer time! We’l return in early September. See you then!

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