How many Canadian award-nominated children's books make it into your home?
Maybe, like many, you think that school libraries should be responsible for teaching children about the merits of award books. Maybe you also think that kids view award-winning books – books chosen to reflect high literary and artistic standards – as, well, a bit like homework.
The most successful books for children begin with an engaging premise, encourage literacy and learning, and end with echoes of "read it again!"
The annual awards for best books in Canada have a multitude of titles that make the grade when it comes to balancing popular fiction and literary merit. The key is to first look for a book that is utterly enveloping, with a pace that practically reads itself. Children should be hooked by the world-building and the characters so much that they lose themselves in the story, enjoying the flow of concentrated reading.
'The most successful books for children begin with an engaging premise, encourage literacy and learning, and end with echoes of 'read it again.'' - Mandy Brouse, co-owner of Words Worth Books in Waterloo
Harry Potter has this effect, so does The Hunger Games, Divergent, and anything written by John Green. In addition, Canadian award-winners show us what literature is capable of and how it can change our world view.
Not all award nominated books fill this mandate. In my opinion, some titles are chosen with school curriculum in mind. Which isn't a bad thing: literature is a powerful way to engage with any discipline. But, looking outside at long sunny days, here is a list of Canadian award nominated kid's books that will also fit into any beach bag!
Age 5 and under
Mr. Postmouse's Rounds is an incredibly sweet story of a mouse postal worker out on his rounds for the day. Told in a similar style as the classic The Jolly Postman, Mr. Postmouse sets off to deliver precious mail to the animal families in town.
Each page is a delightful cut-away interior of an animal's home – you can see each room with the impeccable detail of a doll's house. In Crocodile's home, you can see the room with his enormous bathtub complete with a stocked book case, while underneath his water slide leads out into the front yard. Pictures, trinkets, food, and furniture in each of the homes tell a story about who lives there.
Textually, it seems like the simple story of mail delivery until you realize that a picture is really worth a thousand words. You'll want to pick up this beautiful book again and again, and you'll find something you've missed each time.
Mr. Postmouse's Rounds was nominated for a 2016 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award for Children's Picture Books and is the winner of the 2016 Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens.
Butterfly Park is so precious you'll feel like you've stumbled on a secret garden.
Elly MacKay's illustration style is more like a mobile, three-dimensional diorama, or a tiny continual movie set. It's as if the reader can put their hand into the scene and have a butterfly land on their finger.
When a little girl finds a gated Butterfly Park with no trace of butterflies, she searches for a way to attract them back. When she realizes that she can't force them, she works in her community to attract friends and resources to build a garden. Bigger than this ecological message about the importance of community gardens, Butterfly Park is a handbook on how to create and nurture friendships and a sense of home.
Butterfly Park was nominated for a 2016 Blue Spruce award.
Pirate's Passage is a well-spun yarn and a great historical swashbuckling adventure set in Nova Scotia in 1952. Jim's family owns and operates an inn on the coast and one dark and stormy night a stranger comes to shore.
Jim and Captain Johnson embark on an unlikely friendship while the Captain teaches Jim about the history of piracy through the ages. Indeed, Captain Johnson seems to be quite older than he looks – centuries older. This central mystery is just the beginning of the intrigue in Pirate's Passage, culminating in an unforgettable conclusion. Pirate's Passage is Treasure Island meets The Hardy Boys meets The Goonies in this coastal romp through the history of piracy, and the fascinating characters who flocked to this profession.
Pirate's Passage won the 2006 Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Literature.
Susin Nielsen is like the John Hughes of teen fiction. (Hughes was famous for films like Pretty in Pink.) Her quirky cast of characters praises the underdog nerd and humanizes the popular girl in a hilarious high school setting.
We Are All Made of Molecules is told in alternating narration between "Mathlete" Stewart and social "It" girl, Ashley. Ashley is horrified that her mother has remarried and that her new stepbrother is such a geek. The two teens can hardly find common ground until Stewart inadvertently plays matchmaker between his stepsister and her crush, Jared.
Where Nielsen's narrative excels is in the back story of each teen. Prepare for waterworks in the first few pages as Stewart recounts the death of his mother, while Ashley has a family secret of her own. Told with wit, compassion, and tenderness, We Are All Made of Molecules is a book that reminds us that home is what we make of it.
We Are All Made of Molecules was a 2015 Governor General's Literary Award nominee and a 2016 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award Nominee.
Ages 17 and up
Eric Walters is one of Canada's most prolific and award winning authors for kids and in 2014 was named a Member of the Order of Canada. While there are a multitude of young adult books about dystopian and apocalyptic themes, Eric Walters has re-written the genre with this series.
In End of Days, we find out that an asteroid is scheduled to destroy the world and within a 12-month period, a handful of the world's pre-eminent astrophysicists and scientists die – except they aren't dead. They have been captured to work on the solution to doomsday. A wealthy investor has his own scheme to come up with a solution while Billy, only 16, leads an underground gang of kids hoping to survive the asteroid and its apocalyptic consequences.
Society breaks down, doomsday cults emerge, and humanity is tested in this epic story that will leave you with more questions than answers.
End of Days was nominated for the Red Maple Award in 2013 and Regenesis, its sequel, was nominated for the 2016 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award.
Mandy Brouse, the co-owner of Words Worth Books in Waterloo, is writing a series of columns this summer with book suggestions to keep children and teens reading.