Matt James (Groundwood Books, April)
Matt James has been illustrating picture books for 10 years. He’s always wanted to write one, but felt his ideas were more notions than fully realized stories. But, he says, Groundwood Books publisher Sheila Barry, who died in November, kept encouraging him: “I had this idea about kids at a funeral, and, to be honest, I shared that one because I thought no one is going to go for this. Sheila said, ‘I love that.’ Then I thought, ‘Uh-oh, now I have to do it.’” The Funeral (April) is loosely based on the first memorial service that James took his children to – how they reacted to being in a church and how they processed an extended family member’s death. Some of the things they said made it into the book: “Is Uncle Frank still a person?” “I think Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral.” For James, the act of creating the text as well as the pictures was eye-opening. “I always valued the writer,” he says, “but secretly I thought I was doing more work than they were. ‘I’m doing all these paintings and they’re just writing 500 words or something.’ But wow, it took me a long time to write those 500 words.”
The Mushroom Fan Club
Elise Gravel (Drawn & Quarterly, June)
From chanterelles to stinkhorns, puffballs to Lactarius indigos, Montreal artist and 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award winner Elise Gravel knows her mushrooms. And more importantly, she knows just how to anthropomorphize them so they’re fascinating for children and parents alike. Spores have never been so fun.
Red Sky at Night
Elly MacKay (Tundra Books, May)
While on a fishing trip, a grandfather explains some common weather phrases (such as “When the wind is from the West, then the fishes bite the best”) to his grandchildren. Author-illustrator Elly MacKay taps into kids’ fascination with the natural world – the extremes of sun, wind, and dramatic rainstorms – making meteorology cool with her signature paper-art style.
In the Fan Brothers’ latest book, Ocean Meets Sky (Simon & Schuster Canada, May), a boy named Finn honours his recently dead grandpa by building a ship and sailing it to the beautiful spot they often talked about. • Caldecott-winning illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s debut picture book, They Say Blue (Groundwood, March), follows a young girl as she discovers the mysterious nature of colour. • P.E.I.’s Lori Joy Smith gets creative with garden gnomes in I Love You Like . . . (Owlkids Books, May), a bedtime story about seasons, love, friendship, and favourite toys.
Not all of Canada’s biggest names in illustration are going it alone this season; some have joined forces with heavy-hitting authors:
- Square, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, ill. (Candlewick Press, May)
- The Honeybee, Kirsten Hall and Isabelle Arsenault, ill. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/S&S Canada, May)
- Bloom, Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad, ill. (Tundra, Feb.)
- Sun Dog, Deborah Kerbel and Suzanne Del Rizzo, ill. (Pajama Press, May)
- The Bagel King, Andrew Larsen and Sandy Nichols, ill. (Kids Can Press, May)
- Ben and the Scaredy-Dog, Sarah Ellis and Kim La Fave, ill. (Pajama, April)
A Girl Like That
Tanaz Bhathena (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Raincoast Books, Feb.)
There’s a good deal of buzz around Tanaz Bhathena’s debut novel, which is set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and explores race, religion, and class. The book, which starts with a car accident involving titular 16-year-old troublemaker Zarin Wadia, is told in multiple voices, as those closest to Zarin try to figure out how the accident happened and if the girl really was who she seemed.
This Book Betrays My Brother
Kagiso Lesego Molope (Mawenzi House Publishers, May)
This coming-of-age YA novel won the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize for Youth Literature in South Africa when it was published there in 2012. South African–born, Ottawa-based author Kagiso Lesego Molope tells the story of a younger sister who idolizes her brother until she sees him do something that throws her life in disarray.
Here So Far Away
Hadley Dyer (HarperTeen, March)
From the author of Johnny Kellock Died Today comes a novel about troubled tough girl George Warren, a policeman’s daughter who is looking to escape her boring small town by going away to college. During her senior year of high school she falls recklessly in love with an older man – and the secret relationship could jeopardize her friends, family, and the perfect future she’s been planning.
Adam Garnet Jones (Annick Press, March)
Cree-Métis filmmaker Adam Garnet Jones turns his 2015 movie – about growing up, and coming out, on a First Nations reserve – into a YA novel. Shane is supposed to be headed to university, but his sister has committed suicide, his mother has completely withdrawn, and his boyfriend won’t move with him to Toronto.
Dark and intense
Seventeen-year-old Annika runs away with her boyfriend only to find he’s suffering from a mental illness in The 11th Hour, by Saskatchewan author Kristine Scarrow (Dundurn, Feb.) • Addiction, illegal card games, politics, and passion come together in Kate Watson’s Shoot the Moon (North Star Editions/Georgetown Publications, Feb.) • Réal Dufresne beat up his best friend, Shaun, on the same night that Shaun ended up dead. Now Réal is falling for Shaun’s pregnant girlfriend. Debut author Regan McDonell explores guilt in her young adult novel Black Chuck (Orca Book Publishers, April). • Inspired by Cotard’s Delusion – a illness in which people come to believe they are dead – debut novelist Star Spider wrote Past Tense (HarperCollins, April), about “a pretty average girl” who’s navigating school, a secret crush on her best friend, and her mother’s morbid psychological illness.
Thrills and chills
Two young teens find summer jobs and danger at the Drumheller, Alberta, dinosaur museum in Death by Dinosaur, from veteran children’s writer Jacqueline Guest (Coteau Books, May). • A Grade 8 class trip to New Mexico turns terrifying when the students experience an earthquake, are plunged into a lake, and their teacher goes missing in A World Below (S&S Canada, March), by Wesley King. • Love You Like Suicide writer Jo Treggiari is back with Blood Will Out (Penguin Teen Canada, June), which is told in the alternating voices of predator and prey. • Tim Wynne-Jones’s latest murder mystery, The Ruinous Sweep, (Candlewick, June), sees teen protagonist Donovan Turner on the run and trying to clear his name after being involved a fatal car accident.
And the crystal ball says …
Two books about clairvoyants hit the shelves this season: The aptly titled Clara Voyant (Puffin Canada, May), by Rachelle Delaney, is a coming-of-age story set in Toronto’s Kensington Market. Jodi Carmichael’s Family of Spies (Great Plains Publications, April), features a group of cousins on the run from MI6 and the CIA. Fortunately, one of them has just discovered he has special perceptive abilities.
Reading the past
Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis revisits the town of Buxton, Ontario – home to a historic freed slave community – in his new novel, The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic Canada, Feb.). Charlie, a 12-year-old sharecropper’s son, makes a stop in Buxton when he is forced to accompany a violent South Carolina plantation overseer to Southern Ontario. • Kim Foster sets her YA debut, the historical fantasy Game of Secrets (Sky Pony Press/Thomas Allen & Son, Feb.), in Victorian London on the eve of the Golden Jubilee. • In The Princess Dolls (Tradewind Books, May), Ellen Schwartz and illustrator Mariko Ando tell the story of a young Jewish girl and a young Japanese girl who become friends in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood during the Second World War.
Set in North America’s colonial-era Pacific Northwest, The Call of the Rift: Flight (ECW Press, April), from newcomer Jae Waller, is described as Philip Pullman meets Avatar. • On a much lighter note, a new middle-grade series, illustrated by New Brunswick’s Hatem Aly, features a reluctant student tasked with a secret mission. Unicorn Rescue Society #1: The Creature of the Pines (Dutton Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House Canada, April) is written by Adam Gidwitz, Chris Lenox Smith, and Jesse Casey.
A grandfather and his grandkids come up with their own versions of a classic rhyme in Sugar and Snails (Annick, March), a picture book from Sarah Tsiang and Sonja Wimmer. • Coming off her critical hit The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, Heather Smith turns her attention to a boy having a rotten year – while staying with his eccentric grandmother – in the novel-in-verse Ebb and Flow (Kids Can, April). • Worlds collide when the hero of Angela Ahn’s Krista Kim-Bap (Second Story Press, April) asks her intimidating grandma to teach her class how to make a traditional Korean dish.
- In Modo: Ember’s End (Orca, Feb.) – an adventure from the world of the Hunchback Assignments – author Arthur Slade and illustrator Christopher Steininger bring their shapeshifting hunchback spy character to an Old West town, which is surrounded by a mysterious energy field.
- Moonbeam winner Susan M. MacDonald returns with Treason’s Edge (Breakwater Books, June), the third book in her Tyon Collective series about time travelling and aliens.
- In Linwood Barclay’s Escape (Puffin Canada, May) – a sequel to last-year’s Chase – the Institute is closing in on heroes Jeff and his genetically engineered spy dog, Chipper, leaving them wondering whom to trust.
- The Moon is Up (Amulet Books, May) is the second title in the Lumberjanes middle-grade novel series from Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Brooke Allen. The scouts of Roanoke cabin meet up with “Moon Pirate” – a new friend who can help them win the camp’s Galaxy Wars competition.
A unique friendship develops between a Junior Ranger and a forest creature in J. Torres and Aurélie Grand’s How to Spot a Sasquatch (Owlkids, May), while plenty of other adventures and disasters await readers who are too big for picture books and too young for YA:
- Running through Sprinklers, Michelle Kim (Atheneum BFYR/S&S Canada, April)
- Tara Takes the Stage, Tamsin Lane (S&S Canada, May)
- A Possibility of Whales, Karen Rivers (Algonquin Young Readers/Thomas Allen & Son, March)
- Fogo: My Favourite Corner of the Earth, Dawn Baker (Flanker Press, May)
- Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On, Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming; Peggy Collins, ill. (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, April)
- Poetree, Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale (Red Deer Press, April)
- Half the Lies You Tell Are Not True, Dave Paddon and Duncan Major, ill. (Running the Goat, Books and Broadsides, April)
- Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street (10th Anniversary), Sheree Fitch and Emma Fitzgerald, ill. (Nimbus Publishing, April)
- Good Night, Good Night, Dennis Lee and Qin Leng, ill. (HarperCollins, Feb.)
Calling all creatures
A traditional Inuit story recounts how a hare and a fox gave us light and dark in The Origin of Day and Night (Inhabit Media, June), by Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt. • Pigeons get political in Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest (Kids Can, April), from Globe and Mail columnist Sarah Hampson and illustrator Kass Reich. • After the success of Capelin Weather and The Puffin Problem, Newfoundland’s Lori Doody pens the fun-to-say Mallard, Mallard, Moose (Running the Goat, April). • Textile artist Lesley-Anne Green introduces readers to the felt-creature residents of Juniper Hollow in Fox and Raccoon (Tundra, June), the first picture book in a new series. • Getting Bob the frog to bed is quite the ordeal, as is getting him up in the morning, in Hop into Bed (Scholastic Canada, Feb.), by Nicholas Oldland of Hatley pyjamas fame.
Eyes on the board
The subjects of this season’s board books range from the heartbreaking to the ridiculous. Artist and musician Geneviève Castrée, who died of pancreatic cancer last year at the age of 35, left behind A Bubble (D&Q, June) for her two-year-old daughter. In it, a little girl talks to her mom, who lives in a bubble floating above her and is always there when needed. • Babies are schooled in geography by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd in One Eagle Soaring: A First West Coast Book (Harbour Publishing, May). • For those having trouble explaining memes and manbuns to their infants, there’s Baby’s First Hashtag (Douglas & McIntyre, May) from humourist Scott Feschuk and journalist Susan Allan.
Drawing out the issue
Deborah Ellis’s powerful and popular Afghanistan story, The Breadwinner (Groundwood, Jan.), gets the graphic novel treatment, using artwork from the 2017 animated film adaptation. • London, Ontario, illustrator Emily Carroll works with author Laurie Halse Anderson on Speak: The Graphic Novel (FSG/Raincoast, Feb.), an adaptation of Anderson’s 1999 award-winning YA novel about a girl who’s raped in high school.
In the picture book What Happens Next (above), by Susan Hughes and Carey Sookocheff (Owlkids, March), an unnamed narrator confronts her feelings and comes up with a way to relate to the person tormenting her. • Video game enthusiast Jaden must get past school bullies if he wants to achieve his goal of winning the Cross Ups video game competition in Tournament Trouble (Annick, March), by Sylv Chiang and Connie Choi. • In April, James Lorimer & Company adds to its hi/lo romance series with Romeo for Real and Just Julian, by Markus Harwood-Jones. The companion books tell two sides of the same story, following the relationship between openly-gay Julian and a confused Romeo. –Shanda Deziel
From the sea to the sky
A trio of beautifully illustrated books take readers into the deep or up in the air:
- Stories in the Clouds (Whitecap Books, April) by Joan Marie Galat, illustrated by Alberta artist Georgia Graham, uses folklore and customs from cultures including Inuit, Russian, and Chinese to teach kids about meteorology.
- Matthew Forsythe illustrates American author Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs (Chronicle Books/Raincoast, April). By pairing accessible information and Forsythe’s gorgeous visuals, the book tells the true story of Ken Nedimyer’s tireless efforts to save reefs from destruction through the Coral Restoration Foundation.
- Rising Seas: Flooding, Climate Change and Our New World (Firefly Books, Feb.), by Keltie Thomas (author of the more lighthearted 2016 title Do Fish Fart?), informs readers about the danger posed by rising sea levels. Vancouver artists Belle Wuthrich and Kath Boake W. provide devastating visuals that compare current landscapes with imagined renderings of the aquatic devastation heading our way if we don’t make significant strides against climate change.
The latest book from artist and zoologist Peggy Kochanoff’s Be a Nature Detective series is Be a City Nature Detective: Solving the Mysteries of How Plants and Animals Survive in the Urban Jungle (Nimbus, April). The naturalist encourages city-dwelling tots to pay attention to their local flora and fauna. • Kids lucky enough to spend some time on the tundra will find A Children’s Guide to Arctic Butterflies (Inhabit, May) super handy. Author Mia Pelletier takes readers on a journey exploring 12 of the more than 50 species of butterflies found in the Far North. Danny Christopher provides the visuals.
Second Story has two titles this spring with a focus on the Holocaust. In collaboration with her cousin, Israeli journalist Pnina Bat Zvi, Second Story publisher Margie Wolfe mines some deeply personal territory. The Promise (April), illustrated by Isabelle Cardinal, tells the story of Wolfe’s mother and aunt, both of whom survived Auschwitz. The latest in the Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers, When We Were Shadows (April), by Calgary author Janet Wees, tells the true story of Walter, who from age six to 14 hides from the Nazis with his family in Holland. Wees’s narrative is augmented by letters written by Walter as a child to his grandparents, then as an adult to his grandson.
Lorimer adds another title to its RecordBooks series aimed at reluctant readers with journalist Catherine Rondina’s Carey Price: How a First Nations Kid Became a Superstar Goaltender (April). The book looks at Price’s life from his first experiences skating on a frozen creek to his ongoing work in community outreach for Indigenous youth. • In Six Things (Breakwater, April), Geoff Eaton, executive director of Young Adult Cancer Canada (and himself a two-time cancer survivor), uses his positive attitude to offer kids advice – aimed specifically at a graduating Grade 6 audience. • Explaining why people panhandle or are forced to live on the street is tricky for any parent of young children. With the help of co-author Jaime Casap and illustrator Jane Heinrichs, child psychologist Jillian Roberts gives parents the tools they need in On Our Streets: Our First Talk about Poverty (Orca/Feb.) – the latest from the World Around Us series.
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Junot Díaz makes good on a 20-year-old promise to his goddaughters with Islandborn (Dial Books for Young Readers/PRHC, March). The book, which features illustrations by Leo Espinosa, tells the story of Lola, who doesn’t remember the country of her birth.
Debut author Shanda McCloskey tells a STEM–inspired story of a girl who turns her toy into something spectacularly high-tech in Doll-E 1.0 (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers/Hachette Book Group Canada, May).
The migratory flight of a sandpiper is used to discuss the plight of children in transit or living in devastation in Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie’s Feathers (Scholastic, Feb.).
Following up his stunning They All Saw a Cat, Brendan Wenzel says Hello Hello (Chronicle Books/Raincoast, May) in a book about diversity in nature.
From Twinkle, with Love (Simon Pulse, May) by When Dimple Met Rishi author Sandhya Menon is about film geek Twinkle Mehra’s mission to show off her chops as a director and nab the boy of her dreams.
Aspiring writer Muzna Saleem is faced with controlling parents, the prospect of an arranged marriage, and a choice between following her heart or her conscience when the boy she cares for begins harbouring growing anger toward the West in I Am Thunder (Pan Manmillan/Publishers Group Canada, March) by Muhammad Khan.
Jesse Andrews takes the concept of wealth equalling size to new places with his intriguing novel Munmun (Amulet, April), which follows a brother and sister who are as poor – and therefore as tiny – as mice.
Visual master Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) teams up with debut children’s author David Serlin on Baby Monkey, Private Eye (Scholastic, Feb.), a hybrid picture book–graphic novel–early reader featuring Selznick’s trademark black-and-white illustrations.
From Owlkids comes Look at the Weather (April) by Berlin-based author Britta Teckentrup and translator Shelley Tanaka. The book explores different weather phenomena through evocative illustrations and lyrical text.
Lauded husband-and-wife duo Brian Pinkney and Andrea Davis Pinkney delve into the months leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Martin Rising: Requiem for a King (Scholastic, Jan.), which is being published to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s death. –Dory Cerny