Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Friday, 2 December 2022

Writing and Illustrating a Graphic Novel Memoir for Children

Alyssa Bermudez provides a fascinating insight into the creation of a graphic novel as she harnesses this medium to also explore a significant time as a teenager living in New York in September 2001.

© Alyssa Bermudez

I always knew I wanted to create something special from my childhood diaries, and over the course of almost ten years, I turned them into a graphic novel called Big Apple Diaries. It all started while taking a comics class in 2012 as a student in New York City, where I was born and lived my whole life at that point. When I moved from New York City to Tasmania in 2015 I realized how important the New Yorker side of my story was. There is something about seeing it from a distance that made it clearer to me. 

I used my diary entries and experiences to retell the story of my childhood in New York City around the September 11 attacks in 2001. These entries were so important for creating this book because I could capture the mindset of a young teen instead of relying solely on the memory of it. Of course, memoir-style writing can be triggering, so I don’t think it would have been possible for me to write about that part of my life without enough time and space between the experience and now. 

© Alyssa Bermudez

Big Apple Diaries is my first ever long-form graphic novel so it was definitely a learning curve for me. I’ve illustrated many picture books, but the jump from 32 pages to almost 300 was a lot to think about!

All of the writing had to be finished first, and that is something that often surprises people. The storyline is the most important part of any book. I started with very simple drafts and didn’t worry about the spelling or specific wording yet. I made sure to create story arcs within my “real story.” Once that draft made sense, I went back over it and carefully rewrote it several times. 

A very important part of the graphic novel process that makes it different from other writing is that I had to choose which parts of the story would be told in words and which parts would be told in pictures. I used different colours in my Word document to make this easier for me. Everything I wrote in black was the words of the story, and everything I wrote in blue was for the pictures. One of the best parts of the graphic novel medium is capturing emotion and subtleties through imagery. Sometimes big feelings don’t need to be named on the page, and a simple expression can speak for itself.

© Alyssa Bermudez

Once all of that was ready to go, I roughly laid out the text and created simple sketches to determine the layouts, pacing, and timing. Next came editorial feedback from the publishing team, adjustments, and sample art. Once all of the stars aligned and everyone agreed it was ready to go, I returned to page one again. This part was the most fun for me because all of that difficult problem-solving with layouts and writing was done, so I could just enjoy the process of making the artwork!

© Alyssa Bermudez

I underestimated how emotional it would be to create the images to go with something so deeply personal. It was wonderful exploring the visuals of New York City from that time and recreating the relationships with my parents and friends.

It was very meaningful to put together a story that took place twenty years ago and can still be relatable to readers today and in the future. I’ve enjoyed sharing this book with students here in Tasmania and virtually in the US. Even though Tasmania and New York City couldn’t be any further apart, the feelings that come with growing up bring everyone together.

Alyssa Bermudez
Children’s author and commercial illustrator
W: http://www.alyssabermudezart.com/
FB: https://www.facebook.com/alyssabermudezart
T: @bermudezbahama 

Friday, 25 November 2022

From the blog: New on the Shelf this Christmas

Many thanks to Bronwyn from the Hobart Bookshop for this tantalising and far reaching list of new titles to engage young readers. It is great to see what is hot off the press to guide Christmas choices and reading diets over the Summer.

The end of the year is a busy time in the book business.  There are more books being released at this time of year than any other and while our already crowded shelves may be suffering under the strain it is lovely to see new future classics waiting to be taken into the homes of book lovers.

© The Hobart Bookshop

There are a wide range of themes and characters reflecting the world around us in the new offerings.  Some give us a chance to see life from another perspective, others remind us of what is important in our own daily lives, and some give us a feeling of contentment that is worth a great deal.

The new middle fiction novel by well known author Craig Silvey Runt is a highlight.  It includes themes of facing adversity, connection with family and community all set in an identifiable Australian context.  Craig visited us in the bookshop and recorded a Book Chat video discussing his new book: 

CBCA favourite Katrina Nannestad’s new book is another beautiful hardcover Waiting for the Storks navigates the experience of a Polish child taken from her home in the Second World War and given to a German family to raise.  Nannestad takes sensitive subject matter and treats it carefully to produce a historically accurate and powerful story with messages that are no less significant today than they were at the end of the War.

In a change of pace, Richard Ayoade’s The Book that No One Wanted to Read manages to combine two traits which don’t always go hand in hand; a book that is both funny and clever.  Written from the perspective of the book itself it is very much worth reading and encourages a love for books which we all like to see developed in younger readers.

Zeno Sworder has given us a delicate and beautifully illustrated picture book story My Strange Shrinking Parents which, while being unusual and original, centres on the love between parents and their child.

The 20th anniversary of the classic by Jackie French Diary of a Wombat has been celebrated by the release of the new accompanying story Diary of a Rescued Wombat: The Untold Story. With the same Diary of a Wombat style that is known and loved, the new edition details the almost true story of where it all began.

For non-fiction the well-known author Yuval Harari, who is most famous for his book Sapiens which details the history of humankind and civilisation, has now produced a children’s book.  The first volume in the Unstoppable Us series, How Humans Took Over the World is an engaging book that provides a full colour illustration of the rise of the human race, despite not being the fastest or strongest species on the planet.

The vast array of stories on offer, are a reflection of the growing diversity of voices at work.  Helping to provide all children with identifiable and engaging stories to draw them into a love of books.

Bronwyn Chalke 

The Hobart Bookshop 

W: https://www.hobartbookshop.com.au/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/HobartBookshop/ 

T: https://twitter.com/HobartBookshop 

Editor’s note: Wow! It is going to be hard to choose which of these to take up first; after I finish Runt! I am currently listening to this absolutely delightful story for primary aged readers. There are so many clever and memorable passages exploring rural hardship and family bonds that Silvey nails – his comparison between dogs and cats being an absolute hoot! And so very true!

Friday, 18 November 2022

“Turn the volume down and immerse ourselves in stories”

Christina Booth provides some important cues to help us all navigate a changing world with good stories providing a compass to guide us. Christina also shares a current collaboration to be published in 2023 – look out for Mother Earth and enjoy this special advanced ‘cover reveal’.

Haven’t the last few years been weird? We have gained incredible insight into our world and humanity, and at the same time, we have lived with great stress and anxiety. For many, the idea of putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboards seemed to be a good opportunity during restricted travel and socialisation. Yet how do we write? What do we write? What stories do we tell surrounded by a noisy world full of war, pandemics, shortages, political unrest and strife, and education disruptions?

As a creator, I have struggled to focus. How do we write about our world when we don’t really know what it will look like in two, five, ten years from now? Do we have people hugging and shaking hands, sharing an ice-cream, sitting close to each other? Will we go back to what we consider normal? Or will the world remain a different place, a place the children of today and babies who will read these stories in the next few years will consider the new normal? Will they recognise the world of pre-2020?

The good news is humans still hunger for stories. We long to see ourselves reflected on the pages of a book, on a screen, in an artwork. These are the things that normalise us. It allows for difference, acceptance, and equality. These are the things we continue to strive for and fight for as we face our brave new world. Themes that do not let us down: bravery, sacrifice, diversity, learning, adapting, overcoming, history, learning from the past just to name a few. These are the stories that carry through regardless of what the planet throws at us.

After the lull in kid lit publishing due to Covid, I am very happy to be back at the drawing board, illustrating books for two wonderful and much-loved authors. I wish I could share more with you, but I can say I am immersed in a book written by Libby Hathorn, called Mother Earth, due for release through Hachette in 2023. It is a breath of fresh air in my illustrating studio, as the book is a collection of poems, published as a fully illustrated picture book. Poems and stories of what we all hold dear, poems about the things we continue to work toward and celebrate as humanity, regardless of the negatives we feel immersed in. The cover is completed, and I can share an almost completed version of it with you (the designer is yet to do their magical touches).

© Christina Booth's cover design for Mother Earth,
 written by Libby Hathorn, to be published by Hachette Australia, 2023

I hope you can find your creative space and let it help quieten the noise the world is barking ferociously at us. In there, there is still peace, quiet, and reflection. We can turn the volume down and immerse ourselves in stories. Stories celebrating the good in our world, inspiring us to make it the best place it can be.

Christina Booth
Tasmanian author and illustrator

W: https://www.christinabooth.com/

FB: Christina Booth Books https://www.facebook.com/Christina-Booth-Books-113682115389375

Friday, 4 November 2022

Lions Behaving Badly

Did you hear about the family of lions that went on a walkabout at Taronga Zoo this week? Felicity did, and has been inspired.

The recent lion escape story from Taronga Zoo, and a clip that popped up in my Facebook feed sent me down a memory wormhole. 

To provide context, on Wednesday November 2, at 6.30 a.m. a lion and four cubs were seen between two fences at their enclosure in Taronga Zoo. The Zoo runs a luxury experience called Roar and Snore, where people pay to sleep near the lion enclosure. On Wednesday they were woken by keepers and told to run to a toilet block, where they were to remain until the 5 lions, Ato and cubs Khari, Luzuko, Malike and Zuri, could be returned to their enclosure. Read more on this ABC News report.

I recall reading the book, The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio (published in 1954 and still available in some Tasmanian School libraries), where The Happy Lion leaves his enclosure to visit all the people who had come to visit him – and is most surprised that they no longer looked happy to see him. I wonder if Ato and the cubs were equally perplexed?

Vintage Cool Stuff. (2020, June 13). The Happy Lion animated film.

Sally Farrell Odgers’ book The Lion in the Night (ill. Gail Weiss 2004) and Pamela Allen’s A Lion in the Night (1988) explore interactions between humans and lions. 

One of the most famous lions in literature is Aslan, from C.S. Lewis’ the Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956). Aslan acts as a guardian and guide to the humans who rule Narnia. He can be terrifying, but also can be relied upon to rescue and save them.

Aesop’s wrote 28 fables that included lions. His lions were usually arrogant and selfish, but there was always a moral that explained their behaviour.

Many children are more familiar with The Lion King (Disney 1994 and 2019) which feature a range of good and bad lion characters. As a child I watched Kimba the White Lion (Mushi Production 1965). I recall my mum sighing that almost every episode had me in tears. I have also just discovered that it was a Japanese anime production – my children thought they’d introduced me to anime, not!

iamstillmyself. (2007, August 7). Kimba the White Lion theme song.

How I wish that I was back in a primary classroom, so that I could get my class thinking about this escape, and writing the adventures of Ato, Khari, Luzuko, Malike and Zuri. I’m sure there is a book there, just waiting to be written.

…and the lions that popped up in my Facebook feed? They looked like they were just having a really good time. View here.

Felicity Sly
Felicity is a teacher librarian at Don College & the CBCA Tasmania Treasurer

Friday, 21 October 2022

How to make friends

Cat Rabbit is a creative textile artist who has drawn on her plush toy creations to write and illustrate picture books for young children. Read on to discover the fine craft work and detailed planning that resulted in the most recent publication about a bear who struggled to make friends.

How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide is about a bear who has plenty of stuffed friends, but no real ones. The book follows her attempts to win friends by impressing them with her (non-existent) jogging skills, fancy outfits and cake. The book is illustrated with photographed scenes of my soft toy characters in a brightly coloured felt world. When making the book, I knew I really wanted to draw on my own experiences – both as a kid and as an adult – navigating friendships as an introverted person. I always preferred the quiet of the library or the art room to the football field or school socials; I always loved baking and sewing with my mum and sister and I had a sticker collection that I guarded with my life. The book is dedicated to my sister, who still to this day plays recorder with me (though lately it’s had to be mostly via FaceTime). So, we can safely say that I am Bear, and this is somewhat of an autobiography!

When I was making the characters, I wanted them to be simple, colourful and a little bit weird, giving them each a strong personality. I sew all of my characters by hand and without a pattern; I work in a sculptural way, adding and cutting as I go. I always use an armature in my soft characters, and in Bear, Koala and Lamb I made these armatures a little more complex to allow for lots of different movements and poses. I also made their clothes removable so they can wear different outfits.

Once I hand made the characters, I sketched out the storyboard. Because the photographs take quite a long time to get right, it’s good to have every element of the story locked in before launching into the shoot. The storyboard went back and forth between myself and my editor until we had the story plotted out to our liking. From there I made comprehensive lists of every single element I had to make for each scene and once I’d created everything, I set each scene and did a quick test shoot of the book. 

I wanted this book to be bright and welcoming, with a bit of texture. I mostly used coloured cardboard with elements drawn on with crayon to give it a childlike feel; sort of like Bear was in a world of her own creation. The coloured backgrounds also reflect Bear’s mood: yellow when she’s happiest, baking and drawing; pink when she’s earnestly trying to make friends; purple when she’s feeling emotional.

I wanted the story to have lots of funny elements to provide comic relief to the emotional rollercoaster that is making friends – and that’s where Bear’s toys come in. I really fell in love with the idea of Bear, a toy, having toys herself. When I was small, I used to have quite a crew of toys (which I refused to call toys, instead preferring to call them ‘friends’). Bear’s stuffed friends provide a lot of the comic asides and also give Bear an audience for her feelings. 

It was such an honour for How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide to be listed as a CBCA noteworthy book for 2022. I’m so glad the story resonated with children and adults alike – it’s even more wonderful when I hear that it has helped a small person navigate the tricky world of making friends!

Author and Illustrator


Insta: @cat_rabbit 

Editor's note. Visit Cat Rabbit's website to see more of her wonderful creations and spend time exploring the exquisite art work in the book. Enjoy a reading of How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide via Storybox Library.

All images © Cat Rabbit


Friday, 30 September 2022

Playing with Pigs, Pugs and Parades

A keen and dedicated fan of Book Week and the magic of dressing up, Loretta Brazendale is back as a wonderful Book Week Fairy with a costume that  celebrates multiple books and with a puggish companion to accompany her.

© Loretta Brazendale

This week’s blog has inspiration from my best friend’s son Liam. Liam absolutely loves books. When I was last visiting them, Liam and I read many books and we spoke about what we were going to dress up as for Book Week. When I was designing my Book Week Fairy Costume I thought of Liam and some of the books that we had read together to put on my dress. I know Liam really wanted me to dress as The Wonky Donkey however I made sure the The Wonky Donkey book featured on my dress, along with Pig the Pug, Liam’s other favourite book which we have read many times. 

© Loretta Brazendale

Pig the Pug is a favourite book amongst the children and so funny and cute. Aaron Blabey writes books children like, but grownups don’t mind reading, too. Such a sense of humour combined with character. Pig the Pug has many fun stories to tell, and I thought I would share my thoughts on the amazing “Pig the Pug” stories. 

Also, a big happy birthday to Liam today and I hope you enjoy the blog Liam that you inspired me to write. 

Pig the Pug Scholastic, 2016

Pig is a rude pug who doesn't want to share his toys with another dog (that does kind of remind me of my dog Tilly). The whole story has a wonderful rhythm, and the amazing illustrations are playful and silly. I love Pig's attitude, facial expressions, and dialogue, and the lesson he eventually learns about sharing with friends. A great story to read out loud to children as you are guaranteed loud laughter. 

Pig the Stinker aka Pig the Grub Scholastic, 2019/2018

This book is so true to life that dogs don’t like to get baths. My dogs act exactly like Pig, so I get it. He ends up causing the bathroom to explode!! After that he has no problem taking baths but still finds a way to be foul! The rhymes are spot on, the story is funny, and the illustrations on point. A story to make anyone laugh that should be on all our shelves at home especially if you are a dog lover. 

Pig the Star Scholastic, 2017

Pig thinks he's hot stuff. He doesn't treat his friend, Trevor, very well, either. On a photo shoot, Pig is always hogging the shots, sometimes bumping or pushing or shoving Trevor out of the picture.
Pig’s friend Trevor is a dachshund. Pig is mean to Trevor, calling him "Salami" and a "sausage-shaped pest". But, one day, the photographer notices how cute Trevor is. Soon, Trevor is the star. I do feel sorry for Trevor the dachshund with the name calling but my friend does have a dachshund named “Kransky” (not sure how Trevor would feel about this)
Pig finally learns a lesson about stardom and jealousy and treating your friends right.

Pig the Winner Scholastic, 2018

Pig the pug is at it again finding ways to irritate his friend, Trevor. In this picture book, Pig is outrageously competitive. Pig challenges Trevor in who can eat the fastest. Pig chokes on his bowl and it's Trevor to the rescue! After this incident, Pig learns to play a little more fairly. Parents will love this book as it’s a great way to teach children that not everything in life is a race and to always treat one another with kindness and fairness. The rhyme of the book is very engaging. I would definitely recommend this book. 

Pig the Elf Scholastic, 2016

I just love Christmas for the decorations, the spirit and joy. But Pig, he loves Christmas because of the presents, presents, and presents. His list this year is extra-long and Pig doesn't want to go to sleep so Santa can come. He wants his presents now so decides to stay up all night.

As a greedy pug, Pig isn't happy with the number of gifts he's given and is mad at Santa. I have a feeling Pig will be on the naughty list next year. Pig is the perfect example of how you shouldn't act on Christmas. The illustrations are just beautiful, and the story is hilarious.

Loretta Brazendale

Information Services Coordinator
Burnie Library | Libraries Tasmania 

Friday, 23 September 2022

The Benefits of Shadows: Thoughts on the SUN Shadow Judging Program

Lyndon Riggall, a Senior Secondary English teacher in Tasmania, was eager to facilitate a group of keen students in the Shadow Judging process and shares his insights into this new CBCA initiative.

I am sitting with a small group of students watching a live stream from John Marsden’s remarkable Candlebark School in Victoria. Jay Laga'aia is on the screen, and we are waiting patiently for him to announce the Older Readers Book of the Year. Things are a little different this time, though. Firstly, the Older Readers Book of the Year has already been announced. We learnt what it was a week ago. Secondly, my students are especially invested in the outcome… after all, in this case they have helped decide it.

I talk, of course, of the SUN Project’s Shadow Judging Program, which began this year. Alongside creative components and author visits, the goal of Shadow Judging was to create a separate set of “Shadowers’ Choice” awards, chosen by students of appropriate age groups from across the country. I am extremely excited about this concept. When I was in Grade 10 and was asked to design and undertake an independent project, I had a pretty radical idea (in hindsight, I’m lucky that my teacher didn’t take the whole thing as a personal insult). I went to the school library and collected a stack of novels covering different genres, authors and styles. Then, I showed these books to group of staff and students, asking them which they thought the children of the school would like the best. The lists I composed at the end of my project were almost direct opposites. It turned out that when it comes to deciding what to read, even adults looking for books that will appeal to children sometimes see things with vastly different eyes to the children themselves. It came as no surprise, then, that I also saw very diverse points of view expressed in the Shadow Judges’ final decision-making.

CBCA Sun Project: Shadow Judge Shadowers' Choice Awards Announcement 2022

I’m not suggesting, of course, that we throw away the traditional CBCA awards altogether and let young people entirely run the show. Award-winning books in these categories are selected based on their literary merit rather than simple appeal to readers, and that is as it should be when we consider the legacy that is being made by the council long-term. That said, when the shadow judging teams made vastly different decisions to the adults even when using quite similar criteria, it solidified in my mind an unshakeable belief that our children and adolescents see the world with different eyes… the only way to truly be sure what connects with them in the world of reading is to take notice and ask them.   

My group of shadow judges found How to Repaint a Life by Stephen Herrick to be the novel that most resonated with them from the Older Readers category. The Children’s Book Council found Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim to be the book with the highest level of literary merit. In general, the Shadow Judges from across the country selected Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn as the strongest title on the shortlist. It seems there is no hope of getting a clear answer. But should this significant discrepancy bother us? I don’t think so. The Shadow Judging Process does two wonderful things: it reminds us that readers are different (and that no single judging decision in an instance like this is by default the right one), and it promotes discussion, debate and further reading. These are—to me at least—objectively positive outcomes. 

When I asked the classes at the school where I work whether anyone might be interested in being involved in the Shadow Judging project, the response was enthusiastic. “I love judging people!” one student immediately declared. My judges have been learning—as I once did when I was a CBCA judge a decade ago—the joys and sorrows of the judging process. It is awful and frustrating to see books that you love fall to the wayside of group consensus, but it is wonderful to be part of the process of picking a winner: to see a text celebrated, shared and appreciated in a way that might otherwise never have been possible for it. The Shadow Judging program empowers young people to have autonomy in their decision-making and brings more attention to books. As I watched my students collaborate, share, consider, create, and get excited about individual novels, I saw a culture of reading grow. Many of them are still passionate about individual titles and are pushing these books onto their friends and classmates. Shadow Judging is creating something special.

I suspect that my students will be back next year, but in the meantime we’ve got even more wonderful books to read and celebrate than we have ever had before… 

That, for me, is the greatest win of all.

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher from Launceston. With Graeme Whittle he created the picture book Becoming Ellie, and he has recently collaborated with Grace Roberts on Tamar the Thief, which is available to read for free on the Tamar Valley Writers Festival website. Lyndon can be found at http://lyndonriggall.com and on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

Editor’s note: Further details on the winning titles in the Shadow Judging and links to the creative responses to these books can be found on the CBCA website under Shadow Judging.

Friday, 16 September 2022

Inspiring Kids to Love Nature

This week we meet wildlife ecologist and author, Gary Luck, where his years of experience studying Australian native animals is evident in the story of Melody Finch – a magical adventure with a strong environmental message.

One of my favourite children’s books was The Lorax by Dr Suess. With its strong environmental message, The Lorax began my life-long love of nature, and a desire to protect it from harm. Eventually, this saw me become a Professor of Ecology. However, after 25 years in Academia, I began to feel I was living in an echo-chamber. Attending scientific conference after conference to present data on the [often] dismal state of our biodiversity, felt like preaching to the converted. I longed for another way to reach people about the beauty of nature and the need to protect it. A chance online meeting with another author – Ian Boyd from the CBCA-SA Branch – who turned out to be someone from my childhood hometown, started me on a new journey writing eco-fiction for children. 

Spirit of the Earth Books 2020

Our first effort – Melody Finch – tells the story of a young girl living in Charleville Qld who finds out her grandmother must sell her beloved riverboat in the Coorong because of the drought. After experiencing a magical storm, Melody turns into a Diamond Firetail Finch, and then meets two frog spies from the secretive group ‘Infrognito’ who tell her big rains are coming and will break the drought. Melody has to get word to her grandmother not to sell the boat, but how can she do this when she’s turned into a bird? 

So begins Melody’s journey from Charleville to the Coorong following some of Australia’s major rivers. The book covers environmental themes such as climate change, drought, species migration, pest animals and wildlife-fisher conflicts. We tried to do this in an informative, but entertaining way to engage with readers aged 8-12 years. The main focus was on telling a compelling story, and building the environmental themes into this, rather than the other way around. 

Our next effort – The Last Firedog – will take the same approach, highlighting the impacts of bushfires on humans and wildlife. Set here in Tasmania, it follows a Tassie devil and his quoll companion on an adventure through the Ben Lomond National Park.

Dr Gary Luck
Wildlife Ecologist, Author, Nature Steward
Discover more about Gary, co-author Ian Boyd, and this first book in the series at: Spirit of the Earth Books

Editor’s note: Gary also writes for adults under the pseudonym of G. W. Lucke. Look out for the Relevation Trilogy: When Darkness Descends, At the End of Everything, and She Will Rise (out mid 2023).

Monday, 12 September 2022

A Canadian Perspective

This week we have a global perspective as Maureen Mann  shares some special finds while exploring libraries and bookshops in Canada. There are some great authors and illustrators to discover!

I’m back in Canada visiting family and have some spent some enjoyable time browsing the local bookstore (Part of a large chain, with a large children’s section), chatting to the staff and coming up with some books to share with you. It’s always interesting to see how bookshops in different parts of the world create and organise their displays. 

Lizzy and the Cloud by The Fan Brothers (Terry and Eric).
Simon & Schuster (2022)

Lizzy buys a plain cloud complete with tethering string, as her pet, and Milo (as she names him) comes with an instruction manual, which she follows carefully. Even though he waters her collection of rare plants, and is useful inside, like all pets, Milo grows. And that’s what Lizzy does: releases him to the sky. From then on, she wonders if he returns to visit her, and hopes to see him again. Beautiful soft illustrations with bursts of colour, indicating mood. It’s a gentle book, with a message and sparks of humour. 

In the Clouds by Elly MacKay
Penguin Random House (2022)

Though this is essentially a book of fiction it is filled with curiosity about clouds. Where do they come from? Do they float? Where do they go when they disappear? There are other scientific and philosophical questions. The small child flies into the sky on the back of a bird, to be nearer the clouds. As she journeys the questions are posed, answered and reflected upon. It’s more than a bedtime story book and primary-aged children will enjoy the challenges of the questioning. Lovely sometimes ethereal illustrations. MacKay has included a bibliography and answers to some of her questions.

I’m Not Sydney by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books UTP Distribution (2022)

A group of children are playing outside, their imaginations take on the persona of animals and they venture into a huge spider’s web. Sydney becomes a sloth; Sami is a spider monkey. Others join them sharing the banter of a group playing together in this magical world. But when Edward becomes an elephant he fills his trunk with water, destroys the tenuous spider web and sends them all home “like a herd of small wet animals”. However, there’s always tomorrow … The illustrations are whimsical and fun. I wonder which animal I’d be.

The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and the Fan Brothers
Penguin Random House (2018)

This is inspired by Chris Hadfield’s own childhood when he was fascinated by the moon and the universe, and pretends to be an astronaut. At the same time, he was scared of the dark and possible aliens hiding under his bed; unable to sleep alone and returning to share his parents’ bed. This continues until he watches the landing of the first man on the moon. From then on, he realises that the darkness holds secrets and adventure. Chris Hadfield went on to become an astronaut, highly respected space photographer and NASA director. The illustrations reflect the darkness of the night but maintain the excitement that night-time can bring. 

The Worm by Elise Gravel
Penguin Random House (2016)

This is one of the Disgusting Critters series of books by Gravel which takes one of nature’s less likeable animals and presents information in easily readable formats for the early childhood age group. Each looks at the habitat (inside and/or outside the human body), its anatomy and role in the environment. Facts are presented with humour and accuracy, so readers find they are learning as well as being amused. Other critters are headlice, spider, rat, slug, toad and the fly.

by Elise Gravel
Scholastic Canada (2022)

Gravel uses quirky monsters to show that we are all different but we all share the same things: fear and joy; sadness; making mistakes and we can learn from them; the need to be valued and feel safe. At first, I felt the book was too didactic, but the humour and the situations became very child-centred and empathetic.

The Most Magnificent Idea by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press (2022)

The girl loves to make things and spends her days creatively, until one day she runs out of ideas, and panic and depression set in. She tries to convince herself that the inspiration will return but it seems to have deserted her, despite her brainstorming, changing location, gathering new supplies. Not even her faithful pet can help her, until … Creativity and her mojo return just as she is beginning to think she will never be able to build again. Spires’ illustrations are great complements to the text, leaving plenty of white space for the reader to fill in some of the details.


I’s the B’y: The beloved folk song illustrated by Lauren Soloy
Greystone Books (2022)

This is a very Canadian song, from Newfoundland. The boy (b’y) comes in with his catch and takes it to guitar-playing Liza, and is accompanied by other creatures – violin-playing fish, dancing people, humpback whales, moose. All dance in circles. The sky and the sea suggest movement. Everything is full of energy. The illustrations are digitally produced but give an impression of being hand-created. I was impressed as a newcomer to the song, because there is an explanation at the end of the book of the relevance of the main items on each page and their place in society. The book also includes the music and all the words 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief look at some Canadian children’s books. I’ve certainly had fun finding them and look forward to discovering some more while here.  

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader