This roundup of Canadian children’s publishing news is all about celebrating the country’s sesquicentennial, as many Canadian publishers are marking the occasion of 150 years since Confederation. We highlight several titles, including a buddy road trip picture book about a woman and her dog; an illustrated atlas that features a map for each province and territory; a free-verse poem illustrated by 13 of Canada’s top artists; and a popular new line of ABC and 123 books.
Road Trip Picture Book Depicts Country from Coast to Coast
Carson Crosses Canada (Tundra), out this month from writer Linda Bailey and illustrator Kass Reich, is a colorful buddy road trip picture book. It follows Annie, a septuagenarian, and her faithful dog Carson as they embark on a trip from their home in British Columbia, to visit Annie’s sister Elsie on the other side of the country in Newfoundland.
The book serves as a tour across Canada’s vast landscape for young readers, as Annie and Carson make stops along the way in each province. They admire the Rocky Mountains, explore Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, take a dip in Lake Winnipeg, enjoy tourtière (meat pie) in Quebec City, among many other stops, until they finally reach Witless Bay, the easternmost point in Canada, where a big surprise awaits Carson.
“There are lots of great, informative books about Canada for middle-grade kids, but in terms of picture books, I wasn’t seeing anything that answered the question, ‘What is Canada like?’ ” said Bailey, who has written dozens of books for children. “As a child begins to understand that they are Canadian, they wonder, what does that mean, what is Canada like? The answer for me is, it’s huge, vast, majestic, diverse, gorgeous. And I kind of whittled all that down to ‘grand.’ ”
Bailey, who grew up in Winnipeg but now lives in Vancouver, once took a road trip very similar to Annie and Carson’s herself, when she went to visit a friend of hers in Newfoundland in the late ’70s. Her only regret with Carson Crosses Canada is that she couldn’t include the country’s northern territories in the book—it just wouldn’t have made sense geographically for them to be included in Annie and Carson’s trip.
The book’s endpapers include Reich’s illustration tracing the book’s journey from start to finish, in the form of a playful map of Canada. The map, a combination of hand-painted gouache and digital illustration, will help young readers picture the vastness of the country—including those northern parts not covered in the book.
Picture Book Atlas Introduces Canada to Young Readers
For elementary schoolchildren just starting to learn about Canada’s geography, My Canada: An Illustrated Atlas (Owlkids, May), from author Katherine Dearlove and illustrator Lori Joy Smith, offers a gentle introduction to the country. In addition to a map at the beginning that shows the entire country, each of the 10 provinces and three territories has its own individual full-color illustrated map, highlighting the capital city, various landmarks, and animals indigenous to the area.
Each page also shows the provincial or territorial flag, flower, tree, and bird, ranging from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Atlantic puffin to the Yukon’s raven. On the page for Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory, are some of the country’s most interesting animals, including the narwhal, the muskox, the Canadian Inuit dog, and the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar.
According to Smith, who lives in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the book was inspired by an illustration of her home province that she did in 2014. She started selling it as an 8 x 10 print, then as a postcard, and even as a poster—and since then, it has become a bestseller in many gift shops across the province. Cruise ship tourists and locals alike have expressed interest in that original map of P.E.I., so for Canada’s sesquicentennial, it made sense to expand on that artwork to make a book that covers the entire country.
“I hope it makes learning fun—I wanted to make everything cute and approachable and not scary or boring,” Smith said. “I love nature, and I want children to get more connected with nature and their country, because I think what’s most special about our country is how beautiful it is and how you feel when you’re in nature.”
A Diverse List of Illustrators Depict Canada as They See Fit
“I am Canada. I run, I swim, I skate, I dance. I skim over the snow on my toboggan.” So begins a free-verse poem by Heather Patterson, originally published in 1996. To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Scholastic Canada is publishing a picture book this month that uses this poem as the base, with illustrations using a wide variety of styles, as each spread was created by a different Canadian artist. I Am Canada includes artwork from Jeremy Tankard, Ruth Ohi, Barbara Reid, Jon Klassen, Marie-Louise Gay, Danielle Daniel, Ashley Spires, Geneviève Côté, Cale Atkinson, Doretta Groenendyk, Qin Leng, Eva Campbell, and Irene Luxbacher.
According to Diane Kerner, Scholastic Canada’s v-p of publishing, the 13 artists were each given the short line of text they would be responsible for illustrating, and then had free reign to depict their line however they wanted. Each artist was simply told the book should focus on contemporary child characters.
“We said, ‘Tell us your story,’ and we stepped back,” Kerner said. “So, interestingly, although the whole book takes place outdoors, that unified view is something that we didn’t direct. And we had no idea until we had all the sketches in, how different each one was, but how they had a common thread to them.”
Patterson’s poem has no narrative thread, but instead inspires a sense of nationalism by evoking the country’s wide-open spaces, four distinct seasons, and cultural diversity. “I eat pizza and pierogis and peppers. I eat meatballs and muffins and mangos,” reads the page illustrated by Nova Scotia-based artist Doretta Groenendyk, who depicts a family at a midnight feast, surrounded by hanging lights and curious animals.
Capping off the book is a section highlighting each of the 13 illustrators, and explaining what inspired the art they created for I Am Canada. Barbara Reid—known as the “Queen of Plasticine” thanks to her signature medium—was assigned to illustrate the poem’s line about skimming over the snow in a toboggan. “Remember your very first toboggan ride? Watching news videos of Syrian kids newly arrived in Canada experiencing their first toboggan rides was my inspiration for this project,” she writes in the book’s end pages. “Their joy and delight was contagious.”
Learning About Canada’s Landmarks and Icons: As Easy As ABC
Board books teaching toddlers their ABCs can be found in most bookstores, but Paul Covello’s alphabet book Canada ABC (HarperCollins Canada) seems to have really struck a chord. The book came out last September and continues to find popularity, as it hit the BookNet Canada bestseller list last month.
The Toronto-based illustrator and motion graphics artist is no stranger to geography-based alphabet books. In 2014, he wrote the popular Toronto ABC, which covered the city from “A is for AGO” (the Art Gallery of Ontario) to “Z is for the Zoo” with the same bright, meticulous illustrations. So it only made sense that for his next book, he would go bigger.
Defining an entire country by 26 places, animals, or things isn’t easy, and Covello felt the pressure to get it right. He said he wanted to choose things that would be fun and easily relatable for both kids and adults—such as “B is for Beaver,” which depicts Canada’s national animal nibbling on a silver birch tree; “H is for Hockey,” which shows a culturally diverse group of girls and boys playing the sport on an outdoor ice rink; and “T is for Totem Pole,” which portrays an elaborately carved sculpture in a wooded area.
“Doing a book about Canada, these are all symbols and icons that people have such a strong connection with already,” Covello said. “There are some things in Canada that are so iconic, like the totem pole, the loonie—the Canada brand on those is so strong. I didn’t want to leave anything out, because it feels like such a big responsibility, doing a book about Canada. You can’t put it all in, it’s a whole country.”
This September, he will publish Canada 123, tackling the country again from a different angle, counting all things Canadian. “I’m excited to do something that’s not the alphabet,” Covello says. “A lot of the stuff I didn’t get the chance to include in Canada ABC is going into Canada 123, so it’s kind of a companion book.”