May 2021



News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends
Links We Love
May Reading List: AAPI Books We Love!
Author Corner: Marty Chan
Illustrator’s Studio: Thao Lam
Experts’ Picks

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre & Friends

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.

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!

Call for Nominations For CCBC Board of Directors

Do you believe in our organization’s mandate to support the reading and writing of books for young people? Become a member of the CCBC Board of Directors! Nominations must be received by May 14, 2021. Learn more here.

2020 Governor General’s Literary Awards finalists

The Canada Council for the Arts is celebrating the best in Canadian literature: our Governor General’s Literary Awards recognize finalists and winners in seven categories, in both official languages, for readers of all ages. The 2020 prizes were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 awards will be given out in the fall.

Learn more here.

Thousands of young readers across Canada will participate in virtual events and activities leading up to the Forest of Reading Awards in May

The Ontario Library Association presents the Forest of Reading Virtual Celebrations, the celebration and culmination of the 2021 Forest of Reading program. The Forest of Reading is Canada’s largest recreational reading program with more than 270,000 readers participating every year. It is also a readers’ choice award program — one of only a few programs in the country where the readers choose the winners.

The Virtual Celebrations include dozens of events and videos that connect young readers with Canadian authors and illustrators. Parents, schools, and libraries who have registered for the program have access to read alouds, nominee visits, author interviews, and book talks.

Learn more here.

Announcing the Top 3 Finalists for the SWCC 2020 Book Awards

The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) is pleased to announce the list of finalists for the 2020 Book Awards. Learn more here.

Register for the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award

For the first time in our 22-year history, Hackmatack is presenting a virtual festival of reading to coincide with our annual awards presentation, on May 28, 29, and 30.

We’re thrilled to present a number of 2021 French and English Hackmatack shortlisted authors. Author presentations for children will be free to attend online! There will also be presentations for authors, parents, and educators.

The theme of the 2021 Hackmatack Virtual Festival of Reading is Building Your World. We hope you will join us.

Learn more here.

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.

The 2021 Alberta Literary Awards Finalists

The Writers’ Guild of Alberta is excited to announce the finalists for the 2021 Alberta Literary Awards. Each year, the Alberta Literary Awards, the City of Edmonton and The City of Calgary recognize and celebrate the highest standards of literary excellence from Alberta authors. Learn more here.

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!

Attend the Launch of the Ibby Canada Indigenous Picture Book Collection

Join host Waubgeshig Rice for a virtual launch event celebrating the 25 titles selected for the 2021 edition of From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books. Register to attend here.

Join us for the virtual launch of Nanodimension!

Join us for the virtual launch of Nanodimension, the latest English-language Super Agent Jon Le Bon! graphic novel. Watch a video & join the livechat with creator Alex A, May 17 @ 12pm ET. Teachers, bring your classroom and your students can ask questions live! Three lucky participants will win a SIGNED copy of the book! Subscribe for a notification and don’t forget to push the bell!

Brought to you by Adventure Press & Jon Le Bon, CBC Kids and Bibliovideo. Season three of Super Agent Jon Le Bon is airing now on CBC Kids.

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 Canadian Children’s Book News Available Now!

In honour of Spring, the focus of this issue is environmental literacy. Author Jamie Bastedo is fiercely passionate about educating readers about the environment and the dangers that threaten it. In his enlightening article, Bastedo shares his career background and reveals why he writes books with environmental themes, which he hopes will one day inspire kids to become activists themselves.

Nicholas Read has spent his career writing about animals and their environment. In Jennifer D. Foster’s compelling profile, we get a closer look at Nicholas, his volunteer efforts and his dedication to educating kids and teens about animals and protecting their natural habitats.

The natural world and the environment have a special place in Indigenous culture. In her informative article, Nancy Cooper, First Nation Consultant at Southern Ontario Library Service, interviews four Indigenous authors and illustrators who speak about their craft and the importance of relationships with the natural world in their writing.

In Marylynn Miller Oke’s inspiring roundtable discussion, five children’s authors discuss their passion for writing about the environment and what compels them to help kids and the environment find their way together. In our Keep Your Eye On column we introduce you to Isabelle Groc, award-winning environmental writer and conservation photographer, who has written three books for Orca Book Publishers about conservation and endangered species. Our Bookmark! column features 20 books about the environment and natural world by Canadian authors and illustrators.

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.

65 Canadian picture books to check out in spring 2021 (CBC Books)

Cartoonists Jillian Tamaki and Gene Luen Yang discuss what draws young audiences to comics (Globe & Mail)

Your Kids Aren’t Too Old for Picture Books, and Neither Are You (The New York Times)

Manitoba author’s children’s book about Indigenous traditions of motherhood a bestseller (CTV)

Basil and Kevin Sylvester’s middle-grade novel The Fabulous Zed Watson! is about tween fun and friendship (CBC)

A Warm, Worldly Welcome to Discovery and Resilience: Nurturing a childhood fascination and a reverence for nature (CCBC)

28 Canadian YA books to check out in spring 2021 (CBC)

Children’s book by former Vietnamese refugee brings author’s story full circle (CBC)

WATCH: 10 Great Reads For Kids to Learn about Nature and Conservation (CTV)

Jon Klassen of I Want My Hat Back fame talks about the art of the picture book (CBC)

Mother-daughter duo quarantine together to pen ‘When Mom’s Away,’ a pandemic picture book for kids (Toronto Star)

Children’s Literature in Translation: Groundwood Books (Words Without Borders)

Thomas King publishing his first graphic novel — get a sneak peek now (CBC Books)

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May Reading List: Celebrate Asian Heritage Month with AAPI Books We Love

This month’s reading list is all about Asian American and Pacific Islander creators and stories to celebrate Asian Heritage Month.

Picture Books

Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon
Written by Kat Zhang
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Simon & Schuster Canada, 2020
ISBN 978-1-5344-6363-9
IL: Ages 4-10 RL: Grades 2-3

Amy loves craft time at school. But when her teacher asks everyone to make their own dragon, Amy feels stuck. Her friends don’t think her dragon is a real dragon. Then she makes dragons like theirs, but none of them feels quite right…None of them feels like hers. After school, a story from Grandma sparks new inspiration, and Amy rounds up her family to help her. Together, can they make Amy’s perfect dragon?


Grandmother School
Written by Rita Singh
Illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Orca Book Publishers, 2020
ISBN 978-1-4598-1905-4
IL: Ages 6-8 RL: Grades 2-3

Based on a true story from the village of Phangane, India, this picture book tells the story of a school just for grandmothers. Every morning, a young girl walks her grandmother to the Aajibaichi Shala, the grandmother’s school. The girl beams with pride as she drops her grandmother off with the other aajis to learn to read and write.


When I Found Grandma
Written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books, 2019
ISBN 978-1-77306-018-7
IL: Ages 4-7 RL: Grades 2-3

Maya is delighted when her grandma comes for a visit. But her excitement doesn’t last — Grandma talks too loudly, her prayer bells wake Maya up, and she cooks with strange ingredients. Still, Grandma and Maya try to get along. Then, on a special trip, Maya loses sight of her family… and Grandma helps her find the way back.


It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Tundra Books, 2019
ISBN 978-1-101-91859-3
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3

Gyo Fujikawa’s iconic children’s books are beloved around the world. Now it’s time for Gyo’s story to be told — a story of artistic talent that refused to be constrained by rules and expectations. In the 1960s, Gyo created a picture book with a diverse cast of babies… black babies, Asian babies, all kinds of babies. Had it ever been done before? Not yet…


My Day with Gong Gong
Written by Sennah Yee
Illustrated by Elaine Chen
Annick Press, 2020
ISBN 978-1-7732-1429-0
IL: Ages 4-7 RL: Grades PreK-2

May isn’t having fun on her trip through Chinatown with her grandfather. Gong Gong doesn’t speak much English, and May can’t understand Chinese. She’s hungry, and bored with Gong Gong’s errands. Plus, it seems like Gong Gong’s friends are making fun of her! But just when May can’t take any more, Gong Gong surprises her with a gift that reveals he’s been paying more attention than she thought.




Ocean Meets Sky
Written and illustrated by Terry and Eric Fan
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018
ISBN 978-1-4814-7037-7
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3

Finn remembers the stories his grandfather told him about a place where the ocean meets the sky — where whales soar and castles float. Now that his grandfather is gone, Finn decides to honour him by building his own ship and sailing out to find this magical place! And, maybe, he’ll find something he didn’t know he was looking for.



Ojiichan’s Gift
Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Genevieve Simms
Kids Can Press, 2019
ISBN 978-1-77138-963-1
IL: Ages 4-10 RL: Grades 2-3

When Mayumi was born, her grandfather created a garden out of stones for her. Every summer, when Mayumi visits her grandfather in Japan, they tend the garden, raking the gravel. But then one summer, everything changes. Ojiichan has gotten too old to care for his home and garden. Can Mayumi find a way to keep the memory of the garden alive?



Ten Little Dumplings
Written by Larissa Fan
Illustrated by Cindy Wume
Tundra Books, 2021
ISBN 978-0-7352-6619-3
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 1-2

If one son is lucky, then ten must be great luck indeed! But where does that leave an only daughter? Based on a true family story, this inspiring picture book about a different perspective tells the tale of a girl determined to be seen, who finds her own voice and makes her own luck.



Junior & Intermediate Fiction

Embrace the Chicken
(Orca Currents)
Written by Mahtab Narsimhan
Orca Book Publishers, 2019
ISBN 978-1-4598-1973-3
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 3-4

Even though her family only left Mumbai recently, Shivani is fitting in — she already has a best friend. But when her mother volunteers to cook for her new school’s annual fundraiser, Shivani is sure she will completely embarrass her. What if she cooks one of the ‘stinky’ dishes that Shivani loves but is too ashamed to eat in front of her friends?


A Grain of Rice
Written by Nhung Tran-Davies
Tradewind Books, 2018
ISBN 978-1-926890-33-3
IL: Ages 11-14 RL: Grades 6-7

Thirteen-year-old Yen and her family have survived the ravages of the Vietnam War and the ensuing famine and persecution. Her father has been taken away for re-education. After a flood destroys their village, her mother decides to take the ultimate risk on the high seas for a chance at a better life.



Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field
Written by Angela Ahn
Illustrated by Julie Kwon
Tundra Books, 2021
ISBN 978-0-7352-6824-1
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5

Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a palaeontologist. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust. Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy.




Yasmin in Charge
Written by Saadia Faruqi
Illustrated by Hatem Aly
Picture Window Books/Capstone, 2019
ISBN 978-1-5158-4272-9
IL: Ages 6-8 RL: Grade 2

In four different adventures, Yasmin takes charge of some sticky situations! At home, school or out and about, Yasmin faces challenges head on with creativity and quick thinking. Whether she’s creating a new recipe, finding a way to help a friend, or calming down monkeys (and classmates!), a clever solution to any problem is just around the corner!



Young Adult Fiction

Hunted by the Sky
(The Wrath of Amber)
Written by Tanaz Bhathena
Penguin Teen Canada, 2020
ISBN 978-0-7352-6702-2
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

Fifteen-year-old Gul is a magus — a human with magical abilities — born with a star-shaped birthmark on her arm. According to an ancient prophecy, a magus girl with such a mark will someday kill the king. After her parents are murdered, Gul is taken in by Sisters of the Golden Lotus who train her in warrior magic. Now Gul wants one thing: revenge.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Groundwood Books, 2019
ISBN 978-1-77306-363-8
IL: Ages 14 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.


Made in Korea
Written by Sarah Suk
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021
ISBN 978-1-5344-7437-6
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grade 7

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him, he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover… What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now Valerie’s biggest competitor.


Saints and Misfits
Written by S.K. Ali
Salaam Reads, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4814-9924-8
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grade 7

There are three kinds of people in Arab Indian-American Janna Yusuf’s life: saints, misfits and monsters. Janna sees herself as a misfit, belonging neither to her father’s new family, nor with her closely connected mother and brother. Between a saint, who reveals himself to be a monster, and her crush, a non-Muslim boy, liking her back, Janna has a lot to deal with.



Chinese New Year: A Celebration for Everyone
(Orca Origins)
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
Orca Book Publishers, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4598-1126-3
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 4-5

From its beginnings as a farming celebration marking the end of winter to its current role as a global party featuring lots of food, gifts and public parades, Chinese New Year is a snapshot of Chinese culture. Award-winning author and broadcaster Jen Sookfong Lee weaves family stories into the history, traditions and evolution of Chinese New Year. Illustrated with colour photographs throughout.


Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom
(People Who Shaped Our World)
Written by Teresa Robeson
Illustrated by Rebecca Huang
Sterling Children’s Books, 2019
ISBN 978-1-4549-3220-8
IL: Ages 7-12 RL: Grades 2-3

Although Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago when most girls did not attend school, her parents encouraged her love of science. Wu Chien Shiung battled sexism and racism to become the ‘Queen of Physics’ for her work on beta decay. She earned the admiration of other scientists and became the first woman instructor at Princeton University, amongst other honours.


Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan
Written by Rui Umezawa
Illustrated by Mikiko Fujita
Groundwood Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-55498-723-8
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 6-7

A samurai who makes the ultimate sacrifice, a cold-hearted husband, a monk who mistakes desire for piety, a fraudulent merchant who meets his match in a supernatural river otter — these strange, eerie and unforgettable stories take their inspiration from Japanese storytelling traditions. Master storyteller Rui Umezawa revisits eight Japanese folktales, delving beneath their plot lines to highlight the psychological motivations behind the characters’ actions.



Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family
Written by Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Pajama Press, 2018
ISBN 978-1-77278-066-6
IL: Ages 8-12 RL: Grades 3-4

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, four-year-old Van wakes up to find that her mother and siblings have fled the new communist regime in Ho Chi Minh City. Van is too young — and her grandmother too old — for the dangerous journey, so they are left behind. One day her family will be reunited. But Van wonders… will that day ever come?


Author’s Corner: Marty Chan

Marty Chan writes books for kids, plays for adults, and tweets for fun. He’s best known for his Marty Chan Mystery series (Thistledown Press), which was inspired by his childhood experiences growing up in a small Alberta town. In his newest novel, Haunted Hospital (Orca Book), a group of teens sneak into an abandoned hospital to learn the truth behind the rumours of its hauntings. He works and lives in Edmonton with his wife Michelle and their cat Buddy.

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

I can pinpoint the exact moment I was inspired to become an author. My grade 11 language arts teacher, Mr. Nigro, gave our class an assignment. We had to imagine that we won the lottery and could spend all our winnings on anything, but he wanted us to describe how we’d use the money to renovate our bedrooms. I was a lazy teen, so I decided to use the money to build my bed on a giant elevator. That way, I could do all the things I wanted to do without ever leaving my room. The top level was where I slept. Below that were levels that housed a library, a movie theatre, a video game arcade, a kitchen, and an indoor swimming pool. Ironically, during the pandemic I realized I could have saved my winnings if the iPad existed when I was a kid.

Mr. Nigro handed back my assignment and told me that I had a great imagination and I should pursue writing as a career. Because of his encouragement, I wrote articles for the school newspaper, created a comic strip, and formed the school’s first Dungeons and Dragons club. Like many writers, I struggled in the beginning, and I have the stack of rejection letters in my filing cabinet to prove it. The first piece of writing that I was paid for was a joke for Readers Digest. I think they paid me $25 and two copies of the magazine. Still, this acceptance was enough to keep me going until producers and publishers started contacting me to give me work.

Sadly, Mr. Nigro passed away before I established myself as a playwright and author. When I gave a radio interview about one of my books a few years ago, I talked about how my teacher inspired me to become a writer. A day after the interview ran, Mr. Nigro’s father contacted me and told me that his son would have been proud to know that he had such an impact on one of his students. Teachers can make a huge difference in shaping the mindset of their students, and I’m grateful for what Mr. Nigro did for me.

As an author and a playwright, how does working on these different projects differ?

If you think about writing as a sport, playwrights run relay races while fiction authors run marathons. When I write plays, I carry the script so far then I pass it on to the actors, directors, designers, and stage crew to get to the finish line. When I write books, I have to be the director with my narration, the actors with the characters and their dialogue, and the set designer with my descriptions. An editor guides me through this process, but at the end of the day I’m responsible for everything on the page and I can’t blame an actor for saying the wrong line in the scene. It’s all on my shoulders, which can be amazing when things work and humiliating when they don’t.

What advice do you have for educators and parents trying to engage reluctant readers?

The popular belief is that a reluctant reader is a kid who just hasn’t found the right book yet. You need to find out their interests and try to match the book to them rather than force to read something that is good for them. Sometimes, a kid might need a comic book with illustrations to help them visualize the story. Other times, a student might prefer having the book read aloud so they can take in the story aurally. Whatever strategy you use, it will vary from one kid to another.

Reading sometimes seems like a poor cousin to all the activities a reluctant reader can do today from watching YouTube videos to playing video games to participating in sports. My personal strategy is to find an engaging and off-the-wall way to introduce the book to the student. For example, if you can get kids to act out a scene from the book, reading the story is a means to do something fun and active. If you’re a parent, remember that your kids still look up to you and that if you’re enjoying the act of reading, they just might try to imitate your habits.

Kung Fu Master is all about challenging stereotypes. What inspired you to tell Jon’s story?

When I was in school, I faced all types of mistaken beliefs about me because I was Chinese. Some kids wanted to cheat off me in math class because they thought I was a math whiz. Some kids refused to come over to my house for dinner because they thought my parents cooked cats. None of the stereotypes were true and many of them hurt me deeply, because I realized the kids were less interested in getting to know me as a person and more interested in turning me into some kind of freak.

When the kids started to think all Chinese people knew kung fu, I was relieved that it was the one stereotype that actually made kids scared of me. I pretended I did know so that the bullies would back off. Naturally, they found out the truth when someone called my bluff and asked me to show off my kung fu moves.

In the novel, I wanted to explore the negative consequences of racial stereotyping, but I knew that if I did it with a lecturing tone, people might tune out. Instead, I opted to come at the issue from a comedic angle in the hope that while people were laughing at the situation, they might see themselves in it and change how they perceive people who don’t necessarily look like them.

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

The pandemic gave me a lot of time to be creative. I have two books coming out with Orca over the next year. In the fall, watch for Kylie the Magnificent, the story of a girl who wants to break into the male-dominated world of stage magic. Then in 2022, Willpower hits the shelves. It’s an action fantasy story about a girl with the ability to move objects with her mind. I’m currently also working on two other books for Orca Book, and I think there are scheduled to come out in 2023. In the meantime, I’ve been making writing tip videos for my YouTube channel. If any teachers or creative kids want tips on improving their writing, they can check out my weekly videos at martychanauthor on YouTube.

Find out more about Marty on his website,

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Watch Your Favourite Book On Bibliovideo

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

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: Thao Lam

Thao Lam has been creating pictures for as long as she can remember. For her, drawing has always felt as natural as breathing. She has an insatiable love for coloured and textured papers, which she uses to create her exuberant collages. Passionate about children’s books, Thao is especially interested in visual storytelling. She draws inspiration from the stories she hears, from the beauty in everyday things, and from the work of the many illustrators she admires. As an art buyer for an educational publishing company, she has the opportunity to work with thousands of different artists from all around the world. Since studying illustration for three years at Sheridan College in Toronto, Thao has developed her dual careers of illustrating and art buying. Her art works have appeared in publications such as Cricket and Highlight magazines. In 2008, she won the Highlights Five Pewter Plate award for verse illustration of the year. She has twice been chosen for the American Illustration Awards.

Hi! My name is Thao. It helps if you take out the H when you say it, but remember to put it back in when you spell it. I am a mom to a cat and a kid. I bake cookies, make my own chilli sauce and create children’s books.

After graduating from art school I got a job as an art buyer in the field of educational publishing; commissioning illustrations for reading programs and math, science, and history books. For nearly two decades I had the privilege of working alongside many dedicated teachers and talented illustrators. Inspired by the art I was seeing and commissioning, I would go home and work on my own illustrations.

When the company I worked for went bankrupt, I decided to make a go of writing a children’s book. I mailed out 60 copies of a story I called Grrr… (my take on Little Red Riding Hood) along with samples of my portfolio to publishers I really admired and wanted to work with. Months went by. Then, finally I got an email from Owlkids Books expressing interest. I went in and we had a lovely talk. It all sounded promising. Weeks went by without a single word. No progress! Then, I got one of those “we need to talk” emails from Owlkids. A similar book was already published in New Zealand. Crushed but determined, I pitched them Skunk. “Picture this, a skunk tied to a balloon”. That was all I had. “A red balloon” I added hoping it would sound more fleshed out. They loved it! I had a week to figure out how to get the skunk back down to earth. Skunk On A String was published in 2016. 

You are a phenomenal paper artist. How did you develop this art style and what lead you to it?

When I was in college I was experimenting with different mediums. One of my favourites was sewing scraps of fabrics together to create illustrations. I love working with my hands so it felt like I was quilting and crafting instead of doing school work. There were so many different patterns, textures, and colours but it was getting expensive, especially for a student. It was hard to buy just a square – fabric is sold by the yard or half the yard. In my search for something similar, I stumbled across Japanese paper and, eventually, scrapbook paper.

Sketch of interior for THAO
Testing different prototypes for THAO
Sketch of interior for THAO
Final Prototype for THAO

Your stories Skunk on a String, Wallpaper and The Paper Boat are wordless picture books. Do you approach telling the story in a book without text the same way you would approach a book with text, like My Cat Looks Like My Dad?

Wordless picture books and books with text have different challenges. With a wordless picture book I have to make sure all the actions and expressions of a character are clear. The storyline must be readable visually, so there is no misunderstanding or confusion. That being said, there a proportion of a wordless picture book left up to the reader’s imagination. I really enjoy the interaction I have with the readers when it comes to creating a wordless picture book, I am often surprised and delighted by their interpretations.

With a wordless picture book, it always starts with an image, enough to make me curious and ask questions. With My Cat Looks Like My Dad, it was a line of text that got the story started. Once the manuscript was mapped out I had to come up with illustrations to accompany the text. Text allows me to add another layer of emotion, detail, and storytelling to the illustrations. I am not trained as a writer and it does not come naturally to me so I find writing really difficult and there is so much to learn about the art of writing. Adding words into the mix has broadened my skill set and has given me another creative avenue to express myself.

Spread from My Cat Looks Like My Dad
Spread from Wallpaper

We are excited for THAO, your newest book, which is based on your own experience growing up. What inspired you to tell your story and what do you hope children who can relate take away from this book?

A while back I read an article on NPR about the physiological effects of mispronouncing a child’s name. How it affects a child’s confidence, grades and sense of worth in themselves and their culture. These micro aggressions that we so easily overlook have lasting effects on a child. I went down a rabbit hole researching other studies and reading stories about names. Stories of schools asking children to anglicize their name; in some cases they were not given a choice, and just told: either pick one or we will give you one. Most often their names are the only thing kids arrive in a new country with, the only ties a child has left to their culture and history. All these stories gave me a new insight and understanding to everything I experienced as a child (even to this day). I wanted to give words to my experiences and learn how to say my name with confidence. Perhaps then a child named Rajeshri, Kibwe, or Hyeon would not feel so alone and learn that what makes them different is what makes them shine.

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

I am currently working on a wordless picture book about cause and effect with Owlkids Books. I spend a lot of time at the playground with my little one, watching kids interact. Scuffles often break out as kids learn to socialize and understand one another. My daughter, Maddie is very curious and observant; she wants to know why and how these scuffles start. The Line in the Sand (working title) is my way of explaining to Maddie how things can snowball and get out of hand. That sometimes there is no good guy or bad guy, just different points of view.

Find out more about Thao on her website,


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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

Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS:

Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas (Amulet Books, 2021) Ages 10-12

Brian, who already suffers from social anxiety, has a lot to contend with when his father abruptly leaves home (fleeing from the police), his mother overdoses in response and suddenly he and his younger brother find themselves in foster care. Ezra, his basketball teammate, senses that Brian could use a friend and manages to reach out to him in a way that Brian can trust. Both Ezra and Brian have complicated feelings to explore about themselves and the people they love. Lucas’s first novel is believably complex and compelling, featuring a full cast of nuanced and deeply memorable characters, an authentic depiction of contemporary pre-teens and of junior high school life, and a thoughtful, sensitive look at family and friendship.


Lisa Doucet, Co-manager

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

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.

Tough Like Mum by Lana Button, illustrated by Carmen Mok (Tundra Books, 2021) Ages 3-7

Money is tight for a little girl and her single mother.  There’s not much food left, and when Kim is mocked at school for the lunch she brings, she puts on a tough face, but confesses, “deep inside where no one sees, I’m a whole bunch of sad and mad.”  The immediate, first-person narration, coupled with Carmen Mok’s expressive illustrations tenderly reveal the many ways this loving family takes care of each other, from Kim making her mum a bowl of soup, even without a stove, to Kim’s mum swallowing her pride and checking the “can’t pay” box on the class trip permission form, so her daughter can attend.  Tough Like Mum is a touching picture book that insightfully explores how difficult it can be to ask for help, and how vulnerability is an act of courage.


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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Next Month

Look for our June newsletter next month, which  will be all about summer reading!

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