These are some of our favourite books this year, titles that would make great gifts for readers of all ages.
For the Tastemaker
A Horse Called Steve, by Kelly Collier
About the book: “Steve is a fine horse,” begins Kelly Collier's clever picture book. “But he thinks he could be finer. He wants to be EXCEPTIONAL.” When Steve finds a beautiful gold horn lying on the ground in the forest, he realizes he has found his path to the exceptional! He immediately ties the horn to the top of his head and prances off to show his friends. Not everyone is impressed, but most of his friends agree —Steve and his horn are indeed exceptional. In fact, many of his friends are so inspired, they decide to tie items to the tops of their heads as well. So when Steve discovers his horn has suddenly gone missing, he's devastated and frantically searches everywhere to find it. He won't be exceptional without his horn! Or will he?
This is a laugh-out-loud tale of an endearingly self-absorbed horse, illustrated in lively black-and-white artwork. Throughout the story, Collier interweaves humorous commentary and some definitions (such as for devastated: “That means really, really bummed.”). The tone of the book allows children to feel like they're in on the joke while the main character isn't, adding to the amusement. Besides its fun appeal as a read-aloud, this book would be a terrific choice to launch discussions on self-esteem, particularly about the difference between what people think will make them special and what actually does make them special. It also works for lessons on proper social skills and how to treat your friends.
For the Scholar
Buddy and Earl Go to School, by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff
About the book: Buddy and Earl know that with the right education they can become anything—even a dentist or a hot-dog vendor! So they eagerly gather their silly, smelly supplies and head to school.
Soon after they arrive, their teacher, Miss Meredith, is called away and Professor Earl takes charge of the classroom. Buddy works hard at lessons like Sniffing Things, Tail Chasing and Scratching Itches. And when Professor Earl announces that one very special student is going to win a major award? Buddy cannot imagine who that lucky student might be…
In this fourth book in the critically acclaimed Buddy and Earl series, the dog who likes to play by the rules and the hedgehog who knows no limits learn just how much fun school can be.
For the Lover of Words
Whispers and Mermaids and Wonderful Things: Atlantic Canadian Poetry and Verse for Children, by Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt
About the book: From celebrated children's poet and author Sheree Fitch and early childhood educator and researcher Anne Hunt comes this illustrated compendium of Atlantic Canadian poetry and verse for young readers. Spanning centuries of work, from Milton Acorn to Kathleen Winter, and a broad thematic scope—from soft lullabies to silly, jiggly lyrics, poignant meditations on nature, loss, and love—over 100 poems from the region's best are sure to delight educators, parents, and young readers everywhere. With brilliant spot illustrations from acclaimed New Brunswick artist Lloyd Fitzgerald, Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things is a feast for all senses.
For the Baker's Apprentice
Baby Cakes, by Theo Heras and Renné Benoit
About the book: The sibling duo from Hat On, Hat Off are back in another household adventure, exploring and playing in the kitchen. These little ones know baking is hard and messy work, but it sure is fun. Put on an apron, gather ingredients, measure the flour—try to keep kitty off the counter! Wash sticky fingers, and let mommy put the cakes in the oven. Waiting is the hardest part, but time flies for these playmates whose patience is rewarded with more than just baby cakes.
Little helpers will be keen to work in the kitchen after reading this sweet story. Told in simple text, and delivered in a sturdy, padded cover with stronger pages that are perfect for little hands, Baby Cakes highlights curiosity being explored right at home. The small and familiar moments of childhood are cherished in these heart-warming books written by Theo Heras and illustrated by the award-winning Renné Benoit.
For the One Who Loves Babies
Up, by Susan Hughes and Ashley Barron
About the book: Around the world, little ones are carried in many different ways: in slings, on shoulders, in backpacks, on hips, in baskets, and in loving arms. Up! depicts ten places around the world, from Afghanistan to northern Canada, Peru to West Africa. In each place, a mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or sibling lovingly carries a baby.
With various family configurations and settings ranging from a busy outdoor market to a high-rise apartment kitchen, the book wholeheartedly celebrates diversity. Gorgeous cut-paper collage art adds warmth and brightness, and brings the lyrical text to life. Repetition of the phrase “Upsy-daisy” on each spread lends familiarity, and reminds readers that love for a little one is a universal feeling.
For the Marine Biologist in Training
Shark Lady, by Jess Keating
About the book: Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn't imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary—and they didn't think women should be scientists.
Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname "Shark Lady." Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that womencan do anything they set their minds to.
For The Hockey Fan
Good Night Hockey Fans, by Andrew Larsen and Jacqui Lee
About the book: A young boy doesn't want to go to bed. The hockey game is on! “What if I can't fall asleep?” the boy says. “Don't worry,” says his dad. “You will.” After his parents have tucked him in and turned out the light, he shines a flashlight on his prized hockey possessions around his room: the posters of his favorite players, the pennant for his favorite team, the puck. Then he decides to listen to the game on his bedside radio, which he places under his pillow. With the familiar drone of the announcer's voice for company, the boy drifts off to sleep. He dreams he has joined his favorite team on the ice—where he scores the winning goal! And the boy smiles as the announcer exclaims, “What a play! What a goal! What a game!”
Award-winning author Andrew Larsen's simple yet evocative story sets just the right tone for the youngest children, who can relate to the boy's disappointment about missing the exciting nighttime game and his fears that he won't be able to fall asleep. Jacqui Lee's illustrations in soothing greens and blues are done in a wonderful blend of nostalgic and contemporary styles that suit the story's timelessness. This book provides all of the appeal of the perfect bedtime story: the reassurance of caring parents tucking the boy in and then coming back later to check on him, the bedtime routine, the atmospheric winter night outside while it's cozy and snug inside, and the promise of dreams come true.
For the Drama Queen/King
By the Time You Read This, by Jennifer Lanthier and Patricia Storms
About the book: Oscar is penning the ultimate break—up letter to his former Partner in Adventure and now Sworn Mortal Enemy. No more Time Travel Tower of Ultimate Power. Or Precarious Portal for Intrepid Explorers. Is their friendship doomed to destruction along with the world of imagination that the two have built together?
Set in an inner-city apartment complex and filled with humour, By the Time You Read This is a story that acknowledges the emotional rollercoaster that defines some childhood friendships and the importance of empathy and forgiveness in keeping those friendships strong.
For the Wee Little Rebel
Captain Monty Takes the Plunge, by Jen Mook-Sang and Liz Starin
About the book: Monty the Malodorous is a daring pirate. He is brave. He is bold. He is feared by all who sail the six or seven seas. But Monty has a secret: he can't swim. He never goes into the ocean—and he never takes a bath. “Real pirates don't bathe. Yar-har-har!” he says. But things change when he meets a mermaid named Meg. “Monty's heart went ka-thunk. He tumbled head over boot heels in love.” And, one day, when Meg's life is put into peril, Monty realizes he's the only one who can jump into the ocean to save her. Monty is faced with a terrible dilemma: is his love strong enough to overcome his fear?
This is engaging, heartwarming and funny picture book tale is told with originality by Jennifer Mook-Sang. Children will love Monty the pirate (who's actually a dog!), and readers with their own fears of learning to swim will relate to his difficulties. Young children will also be delighted by the idea of not having to take a bath! The childlike style of Liz Starin's illustrations add a freshness to the story, as does the non-conformist mermaid she's created—perfect for her character. Meg is a voracious reader who knows all the best fishing spots and teaches Monty how to set course by the constellations. This playful book is an excellent choice for story time, reinforcing themes of self-discovery and personal development, as well as character education lessons on courage.
For the Nature Lover
Me and You and the Red Canoe, by Jean E. Pendziwol and Phil
About the book: In the stillness of a summer dawn, two siblings leave their campsite with fishing rods, tackle and bait, and push a red canoe into the lake. A perfect morning on the water unfolds, with thrilling glimpses of wildlife along the way.
The narrator describes the experience vividly. Trailing a lure through the blue-green depths, the siblings paddle around a point, spotting a moose in the shallows, a beaver swimming towards its home and an eagle returning to its nest. Suddenly there is a sharp tug and the rod bends to meet the water. A few heart-stopping moments later, the pair pull a silvery trout from the water, then paddle back to the campsite to fry up a delicious breakfast.
The poetic text is accompanied by stunningly beautiful paintings rendered on wood panels that give a nostalgic feeling to the story.
For the One You Love
You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel
About the book: This vibrant picture book, beautifully illustrated by celebrated artist Danielle Daniel, encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other’s well-being in their everyday actions.
Consultant, international speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote You Hold Me Up to prompt a dialogue among young people, their care providers and educators about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with their friends, classmates and families. This is a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy and encouraging respect between peers, starting with our littlest citizens.
For the Kid Who Never Gives Up
The Thing Lou Couldn't Do, by Ashley Spires
About the book: “Lou and her friends are BRAVE adventurers. They run FASTER than airplanes. They build MIGHTY fortresses. They rescue WILD animals.” But one day, when they're looking for a ship to play pirates in, Lou's friend has an idea: “Up there! The tree can be our ship!” “Ummm ...” says Lou. This is something new. Lou has never climbed a tree before, and she's sure she can't do it. So she tries to convince her friends to play a not-up-a-tree game. When that doesn't work, she comes up with reasons for not joining them—her arm is sore, her cat needs a walk, you shouldn't climb so soon after eating. Finally, she tells herself she doesn't want to climb the tree. But is that true, or is this brave adventurer just too afraid to try?
This delightful picture book from Ashley Spires, bestselling author of The Most Magnificent Thing, perfectly depicts what children go through when confronted with something difficult. With humor and endearing artwork, Spires sensitively portrays Lou procrastinating, making excuses, imagining alternatives and denying she cares. Ultimately, Lou faces her fear, and although she fails, the effort empowers her, encouraging a growth mindset. All the while, Lou's friends model compassionate friendship by offering to teach her how to climb and then moving the game. This book makes a perfect choice for a character education discussion about courage or resilience, or a life-skills lesson on facing challenges. The story also promotes the joy of imaginative play in the outdoors.
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