Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith wins $50K TD Canadian Children's Literature Award

Seven awards were given out at TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards, honouring children's books across a range of genres.

Seven awards in total were given out at TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards

Heather Smith is the writer behind the free-verse middle school book Ebb & Flow. (Kids Can Press)

Waterloo, Ont., writer Heather Smith won the top prize at the 2019 Canadian Children's Literature Awards, taking home $50,000 for her free-verse middle-grade novel, Ebb & Flow.

The TD Canadian Children's Literature Award is given annually to the best book written for children under the age of 12.

Smith's book tells the story of an 11-year-old boy named Jett. After his father goes to jail, Jett makes some rebellious decisions and spends a healing summer with his grandmother in Newfoundland.

"A verse novel brings forth larger than life characters as a boy, overcome with self-recrimination, learns that unconditional love and forgiveness are gifts to be given as well as received," said the jury, comprised of Betsy Fraser, Sandra O'Brien and Arwen Rudolph, in a press release.

"This feels absolutely amazing. I've come to these awards — for years and years and years — as an aspiring writer. I've watched others be nominated and win. I've watched the community grow. As an aspiring writer, you always go, 'Maybe someday that will be me," Smith told CBC Books after the win.

"To be the winner of the award this year feels surreal and a bit overwhelming. I really appreciate it, especially when I think about all the other great books that were nominated. It's absolutely amazing to be a winner alongside them."

The other 2019 finalists were They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki, Sweep by Jonathan Auxier, Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay and After Life by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox.

From the five finalists, a public vote was held to determine the winner of the $5,000 CBC Fan Choice Contest.

Students from across Canada voted that their favourite was Tamaki's picture book They Say Blue

Grade 1 student Isla MacInnis of Sydney, N.S., was randomly selected from among Fan Choice Contest voters to receive a school visit from one of the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award finalists, copies of that creator's book for students in their class, a $2,000 donation to their school library and $500 spending money. 

Five other awards were given out at the Oct. 15 gala, honouring Canadian children's books across a range of genres. Those winners were:

You can learn more about each of these books below. 

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award: Africville by Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Eva Campbell

Africville is a picture book written by Shauntay Grant (top) and illustrated by Eva Campbell. (Groundwood,, Brian Geary)

Shauntay Grant and Eva Campbell tell the story of Africville through the eyes of a young girl visiting for the annual Africville Reunion/Festival. She brings her family's stories to life by imagining brightly painted houses on the hillside and visiting the sundial in the park where her great-grandmother's name is carved. Africville was home to a vibrant Black community in Halifax, N.S. for more than 150 years, but never received basic city services and was demolished in the 1960s.

"A dreamy depiction of childhood memories in a long‐ago community brought to life through lyrical text and warm and inviting illustrations... Grant's poetic text and Campbell's illustrations capture the essence of Africville and will entertain and educate forever," said jury members Jim Martella, Janis Nostbakken and Itah Sadu in a press release.

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction: Turtle Pond by James Gladstone, illustrated by Karen Reczuch

Turtle Pond is a picture book by James Gladstone and Karen Reczuch. (James Gladstone, Groundwood Books)

Written as a prose poem, Turtle Pond follows a child and his parents over the course of a year as they visit the turtles at their local public garden. The family delights at watching the turtles splash, feed and play in and out of the water. 

"This picture book masterfully expands the notion of the non‐fiction genre… Information is presented through narrative, lyrical free‐verse text and through stunning visual images that extend the verbal text and make the world of turtles come alive for the reader… The book leads the reader to use their imagination as they wonder about the turtles that live there," said the jury members, Fatma Faraj, Erin Grittani and Larry Swartz, in a press release.

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award: The House of One Thousand Eyes by Michelle Barker

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a YA novel by Michelle Barker. (@MBarker_190/Twitter, Annick Press)

Set in East Germany in the early 1980s, The House of One Thousand Eyes begins as Lena's parents are killed in a factory explosion and she is sent to a psychiatric hospital. When she is discharged, Lena is sent to live with her strict aunt, a member of the Communist party. Lena bonds with her Uncle Erich, an author, and is distraught when he suddenly goes missing.

"Barker's The House of One Thousand Eyes feels dystopian and other‐worldly but is a searing portrait of post‐war Berlin… A provocative and timely book about defiance, courage and the refusal to give in regardless of the consequences… Fascinating and disturbing, Lena's story, her difficult choices in an insurmountable situation, will thoroughly engross readers," said jury members, Roxanne Deans, Tracey Schindler and Joel A. Sutherland, in a press release.

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People: The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

Christopher Paul Curtis wrote The Journey of Little Charlie, a middle-school adventure novel. (Arden Wray, Scholastic Canada)

The Journey of Little Charlie follows a 12-year-old boy who agrees to track down thieves in order to settle his debts with a cruel man named Cap'n Buck. But when Charlie discovers the thieves he's hunting are people who escaped from slavery, his conscience intervenes. The Journey of Little Charlie was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

"A beautifully written and powerful text with connections to the contemporary plights of refugees of many cultures fleeing persecution, and the ethical choices of those who help or hinder their flight… Tackles old themes from the 1860s US south (racism, slavery, injustice, poverty, violence) that are still relevant today… Curtis continues his run of outstanding historical fiction," said the jury members, Ray Fernandes, Carol-Ann Hoyte, Eric M. Meyers and Gail de Vos, in a press release.

John Spray Mystery Award: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie is a young adult novel by Courtney Summers. (Megan Gunter, Raincoast Books)

The title character of Courtney Summers's YA novel lives in an isolated small town with her sister Mattie. When Mattie is found dead and the police botch the investigation, Sadie becomes determined to track down the killer herself. At a gas station, a travelling radio personality named West McCray hears about Sadie's story and starts a podcast about her investigation.

"A podcast, a murder and revenge-fuelled cross country trip… Employing the device of the ever‐popular true crime podcast, this novel provides readers with a complicated and tragic mystery to follow… Summers tells a gut‐wrenching story of neglect, abuse, grief and a search for justice," said jury members, Nancy Cooper, Diana Krawczyk and Helen Kubiw, in a press release.

TD Canadian Children's Literature Award: Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

Heather Smith is the writer behind the free-verse middle school book Ebb & Flow. (Kids Can Press)

This free-verse middle-grade novel by Heather Smith tells the story of an 11-year-old boy named Jett, who moves with his mother to a new town for a fresh start after his father is incarcerated. But things do not go well for Jett — he makes a new friend, but he also makes some bad decisions and now carries a dark secret. Over the course of a summer with his eccentric grandmother, Jett comes to terms with what he has done.

This book was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text. Smith is a writer based in Waterloo, Ont. Her other books include Chicken Girl and The Agony of Bun O'Keefe.

Fan Choice Award winner: They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

They Say Blue is Jillian Tamaki's first picture book. (Groundwood, Reynard Li)

A vibrant picture book, They Say Blue is an exploration of colour told from the perspective of a curious and inquisitive little girl. The book won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.

Tamaki is an award-winning comics creator from Toronto. Her previous books include SuperMutant Magic AcademyBoundless and This One Summerwhich was written by Mariko Tamaki.


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