Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Classic Canadian Children's Books, Old and New (Part One)

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Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Classic Canadian Children's Books, Old and New (Part One)

Welcome to my first blog as a monthly contributor to Open Book: Toronto! You may remember that I was Writer in Residence for OBT for the month of May last year. Now I'm pleased to be sharing with you on a regular basis views and news about the exciting and ever-changing world of Canadian children's books. That might include profiles of creators, makers and shakers; spotlights on new and special children's books; tips on how to keep kids reading; words straight from the mouths of kid readers; how-to information about the biz of children's writing; and, occasionally, my own perspective and comments — as an author of children's books — on issues of importance within the world of Canadian kids lit.

Please write to me with suggestions of topics you'd like to see featured, and I'll do my best to respond.

To kick-off this first blog, I've asked six lovers of children's books to take on a difficult task. They've agreed to share with us two books, their favourite "classic" Canadian children's book and a more recent book that is special to them. I think you'll find the results intriguing! I'm posting three of the responses today. Check back later this week for the other three.

And don't forget to share your own favourite "classic" Canadian children's books and recent top picks in the space for comments below the article!

Jeffrey Canton is a lecturer at York University in the Children's Studies program, as well as a writer, reviewer and storyteller.

When I think about classic Canadian children's books that really made me socially aware as a reader, the book that I come back to over and over again is Brian Doyle's Angel Square (Groundwood Books, 1984). It was Doyle's third novel and nearly 30 years later it is still a tremendous read. What's it about? Racism, bullying, friendship, the complications of family dynamics, disability, popular culture, action, adventure, mystery and romance. Set in 1945, the first Christmas after World War II, Tommy is trying to solve a mystery: who has beaten up his best friend's father, just because he's Jewish? Angel Square is both laugh-out-loud hilarious and breathtakingly profound.

The most memorable book that I've read this past year is Shelley Tanaka's exquisitely beautiful and deeply tragic novel, Nobody Knows (Groundwood, 2012). Based on an award-winning adult feature film by Hirokazu Kore-eda


Tanya Leary is an Ojibwe educator and author.

The Little Hummingbird (Greystone, 2010), an award winning story by Haida author and artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, will prove to be a timeless classic. This delicate story of a tiny hummingbird who grapples to save to her forest from a roaring fire is one of the treasures I use in my classroom over and over again. It fosters environmental stewardship for students of all ages, and the beautiful illustrations easily translate into art and critical thinking lessons.

The Rabbit's Race (Theytus Books, 2009), an award winning tale by Métis author Deborah L. Delaronde, is a beautiful story that reminds us of the wisdom of our Elder's and the animals. Moral lessons, co-existence and environmental stewardship are partnered with the beautiful imagery illustrator Virginia McCoy shares with the young and the young at heart.


Helen Kubiw is a well-known blogger who reviews and shares her insights about Canadian children's books at CanLit for Little Canadians.

When I was in high school, I was introduced to the work of William Kurelek, an artist whose heritage mirrored that of my mother: first generation Ukrainian and growing up on the prairies in the 1930s as part of an extended farming family. In his illustrations of A Prairie Boy's Winter (Tundra, 1983), I saw the hardships and the experiences of my mother’s family, appreciating their toils and pleasures all the more for Kurelek’s simple but evocative paintings.

Loosely based on writer Virginia Wolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, the picture book Virginia Wolf (Kids Can Press, 2012) by Kyo Maclear has Virginia waking up one morning feeling dark and reclusive, determined to shut out the world.  It is only when her sister asks Virginia what she needs that Vanessa is successful in using her artistry (courtesy of the inimitable illustrator Isabelle Arsenault) to engage Virginia and brighten her mood. This enthralling story finds a way to depict depression in an optimistic yet natural manner, easily accessible to young readers and encouraging for those who suffer with depression.


Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website,

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