2016: Picture Books of the Year

Book Cover King Baby

The possibilities of picture books are endless, appealing to readers of all ages, and the best are by requirement read over and over again, which allows us to know them so well, by heart. This list celebrates the amazing work that Canadian authors and illustrators have got up to in 2016, and some of our favourite titles. 

*****

King Baby, by Kate Beaton

All hail King Baby! He greets his adoring public with giggles and wiggles and coos, posing for photos and allowing hugs and kisses. But this royal ruler also has many demands, and when his subjects can't quite keep up, King Baby takes matters into his own tiny hands.

A modern, funny, and (let's be honest) realistic take on life with a new baby, and the perfect gift for anyone with an adorable little ruler in their life.

*

The White Cat and the Monk, by Jo-Ellen Bogart and Sydney Smith

A monk leads a simple life. He studies his books late into the evening and searches for truth in their pages. His cat, Pangur, leads a simple life, too, chasing prey in the darkness. As night turns to dawn, Pangur leads his companion to the truth he has been seeking.

The White Cat and the Monk is a retelling of the classic Old Irish poem “Pangur Bán.” With Jo Ellen Bogart’s simple and elegant narration and Sydney Smith’s classically inspired images, this contemplative story pays tribute to the wisdom of animals and the wonders of the natural world.

*

Book Cover A Harbour Seal in Halifax

A Harbour Seal in Halifax, by Doretta Groenendyk

One snowy night in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, a strange figure peeks out from behind a parked car. A woman screams! So begins a lost harbour seal's adventure through the steep streets of the sleepy winter city. Soon, Constable and Officer are on the case, and if they work together, they just might be able to help the harbour seal find his way back home.

Celebrated children's author and illustrator Doretta Groenendyk brings the true story of Halifax's famous winter 2015 flip­slippery visitor to life with colourful paintings and simple text. A Harbour Seal in Halifax is destined to become a local family favourite.

*

Book Cover Dragonfly Kites

Dragonfly Kites, by Tomson Highway and Julie Flett

Dragonfly Kites is the second book in Tomson Highway's magical Songs of the North Wind trilogy. Like Caribou Song, it has a bilingual text, written in English and Cree. And Highway once again brilliantly evokes the very essence of childhood as he weaves a deceptively simple story about the power of the imagination. 

Joe and Cody, two young Cree brothers, along with their parents and their little dog Ootsie, are spending the summer by one of the hundreds of lakes in northern Manitoba. Summer means a chance to explore the world and make friends with an array of creatures. 

But what Joe and Cody like doing best of all is flying dragonfly kites. They catch dragonflies and gently tie a length of thread around the middle of each dragonfly before letting it go. Off soar the dragonflies into the summer sky and off race the brothers and Ootsie too, chasing after their dragonfly kites through trees and meadows and down to the beach before watching them disappear into the night sky. 

But in their dreams, Joe and Cody soar through the skies with their kites until it's time to wake up.

*

Maya, by Mahak Jain and Elly Mackay

The electricity in Maya’s house has gone out again. She is afraid of the dark—and her fear has been even worse since her father died. Now it feels as if the darkness will never go away. 

Maya’s mother distracts her with a legend about the banyan tree, which saved the world from the first monsoon by drinking up the floodwaters, and growing tall and strong. Later that night, unsettled by the noises around her, Maya revisits the story in her imagination. She ventures deep into the banyan tree, where she discovers not darkness but life: snakes move gently, monkeys laugh, and elephants dance. Maya pushes her imagination even further to call up memories of her father, helping to soothe her fear and assuage her grief. 

Elly MacKay mixes miniature-paper-theater art with spellbinding shadow puppetry to play with darkness and light, giving Maya’s real, fantasy, and story-within-a-story worlds unique treatment—and making Maya’s world come alive on the page.

*

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure, by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

“Theo's Poppa was an explorer. He had been everywhere. He kept an old trunk packed with the pictures, postcards, maps and menus that he had collected on his adventures.” Someday, Theo wants to be an explorer, too. For now, it's Poppa's birthday, and Theo has planned a special trip to the beach with him to celebrate. They plot out their course on a map they've drawn and then take the streetcar to the local beach, where they stroll in the sand, hunt for stones and slurp gazpacho at the beachside restaurant. It's a perfect day, and Theo is so happy to have given Poppa just the right gift. But best of all, Theo has also had her first lesson in being an explorer: you don't have to travel far from home to have an adventure! 

In this heartwarming picture book, popular author Andrew Larsen has created a rich story that captures the magic of turning an ordinary day into an adventure. The closeness between Theo and Poppa is touching, and offers a terrific opportunity for classroom discussions about family relationships. The emphasis on discovering the world right outside your door is a wonderful springboard for projects in which children can do the same in their own communities. With subtle and imaginative details in the cityscape, the beach and Poppa's home, Irene Luxbacher's fresh and expressive illustrations add depth to the story. 

*

The Liszts, by Kyo Maclear and Júlia Sardà

The Liszts make lists. They make lists most usual and lists most unusual. They make lists in winter, spring, summer and fall. They make lists every day except Sundays, which are listless. Mama Liszt, Papa Liszt, Winifred, Edward, Frederick and Grandpa make lists all day long. So does their cat. Then one day a visitor arrives. He's not on anyone's list. Will the Liszts be able to make room on their lists for this new visitor? How will they handle something unexpected arising? Kyo Maclear's quirky, whimsical story, perfectly brought to life with the witty, stylish illustrations of Júlia Sardà, is a humorous and poignant celebration of spontaneity.

*

A Family is a Family is a Family, by Sara O'Leary and Qin Leng

When a teacher asks the children in her class to think about what makes their families special, the answers are all different in many ways—but the same in the one way that matters most of all.

One child is worried that her family is just too different to explain, but listens as her classmates talk about what makes their families special. One is raised by a grandmother, and another has two dads. One has many stepsiblings, and another has a new baby in the family.

As her classmates describe who they live with and who loves them—family of every shape, size and every kind of relation—the child realizes that as long as her family is full of caring people, it is special.

A warm and whimsical look at many types of families, written by award-winning author Sara O’Leary, with quirky and sweet illustrations by Qin Leng.

*

Book Cover The Stone Thrower

The Stone Thrower,  by Jael Ealey Richardson and Matt James

The African-American football player Chuck Ealey grew up in a segregated neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio. Against all odds, he became an incredible quarterback. But despite his unbeaten record in high school and university, he would never play professional football in the United States.

Chuck Ealey grew up poor in a racially segregated community that was divided from the rest of town by a set of train tracks, but his mother assured him that he wouldn’t stay in Portsmouth forever. Education was the way out, and a football scholarship was the way to pay for that education. So despite the racist taunts he faced at all the games he played in high school, Chuck maintained a remarkable level of dedication and determination. And when discrimination followed him to university and beyond, Chuck Ealey remained undefeated.

This inspirational story is told by Chuck Ealey’s daughter, author and educator Jael Richardson, with striking and powerful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Matt James.

*

Book Cover Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones, by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Badr

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr’s work, and, using many of Mr. Badr’s already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

*

Ooko, by Esme Shapiro

Ooko has everything a fox could want: a stick, a leaf and a rock. Well, almost everything. Ooko wants someone to play with too! The foxes in town always seem to be playing with their two-legged friends, the Debbies. Maybe if he tries to look like the other foxes, one of the Debbies will play with him too. But when Ooko finally finds his very own Debbie, things don't turn out quite as he had expected! 

A quirky, funny, charmingly illustrated story about finding friendship and being true to yourself.

*

The Boy and the Bindi, by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera

In this beautiful children's picture book by Vivek Shraya, author of the acclaimed God Loves Hair, a five-year-old boy becomes fascinated with his mother's bindi, the red dot commonly worn by South Asian women to indicate the point at which creation begins, and wishes to have one of his own. Rather than chastise her son, she agrees to it, and teaches him about its cultural significance, allowing the boy to discover the magic of the bindi, which in turn gives him permission to be more fully himself.

*

My Heart Fills With Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett

The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy.

International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.

*

All the World a Poem, by Gilles Tibo and Manon Gauthier

Poems tall or short or wide—all are infinite inside.

In Gilles Tibo’s wonder-filled tribute to poetry, poems bloom in fields, fly on the wings of birds, and float on the foam of the sea. They are written in the dark of night, in the light of happiness, and in the warmth of the writer’s heart. Each poem is illustrated with Manon Gauthier’s whimsical paper collage art, which is both child-like and sophisticated. 

Rhymed or unrhymed, regular or irregular, the verses bring not just poems but the very concept of poetry to the level of a child, making them accessible to all. If all the world is a poem, then anyone can be a poet!

*

If I Had a Gryphon, by Vikki VanSickle and Cale Atkinson

Sam just got a hamster for a pet. But the hamster is kind of boring ... he just eats and sleeps and gets his shavings wet. Inspired by her book of mythological creatures, Sam longs for a more exciting pet. But she soon realizes that taking care of these magical beasts might not be as wonderful as she thought. Sasquatches are messy, unicorns are shy, hippogriffs scare the dogs at the dogpark, and having a fire extinguisher handy at all times makes dragons seem like an awful lot of work. In the end, Sam realizes that her hamster is a pretty sweet and safe pet ... or is he? 

If I Had a Gryphon is a raucous rhyming read-aloud about fantastical beasts in everyday situations—and the increasingly beleaguered heroine who has to deal with them.

December 5, 2016
Books mentioned in this post
The White Cat and the Monk

The White Cat and the Monk

A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”
by Jo Ellen Bogart
illustrated by Sydney Smith
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
Maya

Maya

by Mahak Jain
illustrated by Elly MacKay
edition:Hardcover
More Info
The Stone Thrower

The Stone Thrower

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

A Refugee Family's Journey
by Margriet Ruurs
translated by Falah Raheem
by (artist) Nizar Ali Badr
edition:Hardcover
More Info
The Boy & the Bindi

The Boy & the Bindi

by Vivek Shraya
illustrated by Rajni Perera
edition:Hardcover
More Info
My Heart Fills with Happiness

My Heart Fills with Happiness

edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
More Info
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