Quill and Quire

Books of the Year

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Canada’s book community shares their favourite young readers titles of 2023

For the third year in a row, the Q&Q team reached out to our reviewers, booksellers, and librarians across the country to find out which titles from 2023 they’re still thinking about as the year draws to a close. This week, highlights from the year’s books for kids, from picture books to YA novels.

When the Stars Came Home
Brittany Luby and Natasha Donovan, ill. 
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The writing is straightforward, tender, at times lyrical, and always moving. The gentle lessons of this beautiful title are infused with the love, connection, wisdom, and resilience of a family. –Colette Poitras, Indigenous Public Library Outreach, Edmonton

The Skull
Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press

I wish I had a more left-field pick, but everything Jon Klassen creates is an instant classic, so it’s probably inevitable that my favourite kids’ book of 2023 is The Skull. Klassen is working in a slightly darker mode here, but the book has all his usual gorgeous illustrations and off-kilter storytelling, which never talks down to kids and always provides a couple of grim (but hilarious) twists. –Nathan Whitlock, author and reviewer in Hamilton

We the Sea Turtles: A collection of island stories
Michelle Kadarusman
Pajama Press

These stories are told from the point of view of children impacted by climate change and carry a message of hope. These stories put young people at the helm of change for the better, and teach them they can make a difference through mindful action. We need more of them. –Supriya Sharma, reviewer in North York, Ontario

Green Papayas
Nhung N. Tran-Davies and Gillian Newland, ill.
Red Deer Press

This book captures the pain and love that allow diaspora communities to weave stories about their homelands across generations. It is this repetitive process of remembering that keeps the young narrator connected to their dying grandmother. It also reminds us of how central history, food, and culture are to finding our place in the world. –Angela Wright, reviewer in Ottawa

How to Win a Breakup
Farah Heron
Amazon Publishing 

How to Win a Breakup is the perfect example of a fun, lighthearted read that manages to tackle some serious subject matter (privilege, classism, homelessness, cyberbullying, peer pressure) without bringing the reader down. This is a book with a lot of heart that will keep the reader hooked as they navigate an excellent portrayal of self-discovery and high school friendships. –Elizabeth Ferguson, Mabel’s Fables, Toronto

Matt James
Neal Porter Books

I love Matt James’s warm, painterly style and the open-endedness of his books. This is a deceivingly simple tale that, in just a few pages, manages to capture the feeling of childhood exploration in abandoned spaces, while alluding to family and environmental crises and the ephemerality of life in a manner that never feels heavy-handed or leading. –Emily Donaldson, reviewer in Toronto

Mira and Baku
Sara Truuvert and Michelle Theodore, ill.
Annick Press

Set in a Japanese Canadian internment camp during the Second World War, Sara Truuvert’s debut picture book is an exceptionally moving and nuanced exploration of a child’s complicated and conflicting emotions when separated from her father. Michelle Theodore’s delicate, dreamlike illustrations are full of memories and hope. Not to be forgotten. –Linda Ludke, librarian at London Public Library

A Green Velvet Secret
Vicki Grant
Tundra Books

A Green Velvet Secret introduces the subject of assisted death while helping young readers learn something about “the wondrous adventure called life.” Told with sensitivity and humour, this is one of those rare books that can make you laugh and cry at the same time. –Ildiko Sumegi, reviewer in Ottawa 

Salma Writes a Book
Danny Ramadan
Annick Press

The Salma series by Danny Ramadan is easily my favourite of recently published early chapter books. The books are extremely well written, with plots both my eight-year-old and I are completely invested in. It is one of the few early chapter book series that I feel transcends the expectations of its form and becomes real literature. –Hilary Atleo, Iron Dog Books, Vancouver

While You Were Sleeping
Briana Corr Scott
Nimbus Publishing

The concept is both touching and thoroughly relatable. The inclusive illustrations do a great job of building out the world of the narrative, as the reader can see themself in the neighbourhood of the story. –Fiona Raye Clarke, reviewer in London

Delicious Monsters
Liselle Sambury
Margaret K. McElderry Books

With characters – including a creepy, very much alive, predatory mansion – that are captivatingly original and deeply flawed (but still redeemable), Liselle Sambury’s masterfully woven atmospheric horror novel, Delicious Monsters, about exorcising a family’s generational trauma and learning to live again, stays with its audience long after the last page has been read and the story of Daisy Odlin and her family has been laid to rest. –Nujhat Tabassum, reviewer in Toronto

Simon Sort of Says
Erin Bow
Scholastic Canada

Erin Bow deftly manages to explore heavy, heart-wrenching issues in a way that is thoughtful, nuanced, and deeply respectful, while also telling a story that is wildly hilarious and entertaining. Every single character in this book is a delight, the relationships are compelling and realistic, and the story of Simon and his parents starting to heal is this book’s greatest gift. It is truly unforgettable. –Lisa Doucet, Woozles Children’s Bookstore, Halifax

A Tulip in Winter: A Story About Folk Artist Maud Lewis
Kathy Stinson and Lauren Soloy, ill.
Greystone Kids

Kathy Stinson and Lauren Soloy’s A Tulip in Winter is an exceptional picture book biography that serves as a graceful introduction and tribute to the renowned Canadian artist’s life and legacy. In veneration to Maud Lewis’s style, Soloy’s artwork is as exquisite as it is vibrant, and works as a perfect match to Stinson’s skilful approach to biographic storytelling. –Michelle Callaghan, librarian and book reviewer

Sometimes I Feel Like a River
Danielle Daniel and Josée Bisaillon, ill.
Groundwood Books 

In a time of climate emergency and deep unrest in the world, Danielle Daniel’s Sometimes I Feel Like a River is a reminder to acknowledge our emotions and find kinship in nature. A book for children that resonates with adults, Sometimes I Feel Like a River pairs mindful prompts and reflections with playful watercolour illustrations. A book to return to again and again! –Sheniz Janmohamed, poet and reviewer in Markham, Ontario