Canada 150: Sweet, Silly, Serious – We’ve Got It All!
If you and your child go through spells where your moods change and you desperately need a change of literary scenery, why not switch it up from sweet, to serious, to silly. There’s something here for all our young readers – from little ones to children in Grade 6.
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp (Ages 0-2)
A lyrical celebration to welcome a little one into the family.
First Nations creators Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett have given us another sweet and tender board book that echoes the sentiments of many new parents. Some of the concepts may go above the heads of little listeners (“As we give you roots / you give us wings”), but the love and warmth of the book will be felt by all.
Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards (Ages 3-6)
Delightfully anthropomorphized animals are featured in this unique rhyming alphabet book – and they all manage to fit in an old Victorian mansion!
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a preschooler who won’t be entertained by the beautiful (and often hilarious) illustrations by Edwards. The steady pace and rhyming text help younger children become familiar with fun new words like mandrill and quetzal, while the images are a great starting point for discussions with older children. “L is for Lion, styling his locks” is my absolute favourite!
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman (Ages 4-8)
A blanket, lovingly made for Joseph by his grandfather, undergoes several transformations as the young boy ages. This warm story is adapted from a Jewish folktale.
Grandpa’s repetition and mother’s internal rhymes help make this story a great read aloud for all ages. The illustrations of a lively and bustling shtetl; cutaway images depicting an extended family; and the quiet story of the mice under the floorboards make for great conversation starters. Young readers will likely empathize with Joseph and his attachment to his favourite possession.
Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee (Ages 4-8)
A timeless collection of poetry by Canada’s Father Goose.
How many poems do you know that reference Kitimat, Casa Loma or Mississauga rattlesnakes? Lee’s poems, originally published in 1974, have great rhythm and work well as chants, or clapping/skipping rhymes. Grownups may need to explain what Simpson’s and silver dollars were, and that perhaps Peter Rabbit shouldn’t ask his dear parents to shut up, but there’s much to be enjoyed in this book of nonsense verse.
I Want a Dog by Dayal Kaur Khalsa (Ages 4-8)
May desperately wants a dog, but her parents say she has to wait until she’s older. She isn’t one to be thwarted though and comes up with an ingenious idea to show her parents that she is responsible enough to have a dog.
Inspired by Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, this cheeky cover art is one of my favourites. Dayal Kaur Khalsa’s illustrations are bright and delightfully detailed, and can be enjoyed independently from the text. There’s even an NFB animated short for those who can’t get enough of the story.
The Stone Thrower by Jael Ealey Richardson (Ages 4-8)
Young Chuck Ealey’s skill and determination are showcased on the high school football field in his racially segregated community. This inspirational story is based on Ealey’s early years and is written by his daughter.
The narrative is well-paced without being heavy-handed and is likely to resonate with most readers. Included at the end is a note that informs the reader that despite his undefeated record, Ealey could not play for the NFL but instead, had to move to Canada to play professional football.
Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang by Mordecai Richler (Ages 9-12)
Jacob, the youngest of five children, finds that he often has to repeat himself in order to be heard. Accused of insulting the local grocer with his repetitive requests, Jacob finds himself shipped off to the children’s prison! But with a little assistance from the Infamous Two, Jacob Two-Two might be able to prove that children aren’t helpless.
Fans of Roald Dahl will find a similar vibe in Richler’s Jacob Two-Two books, namely the fact that children can outsmart grown-ups and be the champions of their own stories.
This Can't be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman (Ages 9-12)
Bruno and Boots are behind every prank at MacDonald Hall. Can the headmaster’s plan to split them up fix everything or will it cause even more chaos?
MacDonald Hall was written by Korman when he was 12-years-old and is sure to be entertaining for pre-teens. His style is conversational and filled with hilarious activity that is both entertaining and fast-moving.
Factory Girl by Barbara Greenwood (Ages 9-12)
Young Emily must hold down a job working 11- and 12-hour days in a garment factory to keep her family from starving. The story includes historical information about working conditions in factories in the early 1900s.
The strength of this educational book lies in the historical interludes and archival photographs. The topic of child labour can be difficult to broach with young readers, but Greenwood does a great job of tackling this subject. She also makes sure that we are aware of the relevance of this topic by making note of contemporary sweatshops.
The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton (Ages 9-12)
The five Berton children (Penny, Pamela, Peter, Patsy and Paul – aka “The Pollywog”) discover a secret world under their clubhouse inhabited by mysterious creatures called Ogs.
This is a personal favourite that I’m looking forward to sharing with my nephews when they’re a little older. Inspired by Pierre Berton’s own children (yes, THE Pierre Berton), this was also reportedly one of his personal favourites, and delightfully illustrated by Patsy Berton. Readers who are into world-building and capers will be sure to enjoy this Canadian classic.
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