Books·Forest of Reading

Here are the 2021 Silver Birch Express Award finalists: 10 great Canadian books for readers in Grades 3-4

Ten Canadian books are finalists for the 2020 Silver Birch Express Award, which celebrates nonfiction and fiction books for readers in Grades 3-4.

Ten Canadian books are finalists for the 2020 Silver Birch Express Award, which celebrates nonfiction and fiction books for readers in Grades 3-4.

The Silver Birch Express Award is part of the Forest of Reading program, in which students from kindergarten to high school are encouraged to read from a selection of shortlisted books and vote for their favourites over several months.

The Forest of Reading program is organized by the Ontario Library Association.

The winners will be revealed in spring 2021.

Cells: An Owner's Handbook by Carolyn Fisher

Cells: An Owner's Handbook is a book by Carolyn Fisher. (Simon & Schuster Canada)

This nonfiction picture book uses humour and simple language to explain what cells are and how they work in the human and animal world. Children are introduced to a skin cell named Ellie and learn that humans have more than 37 trillion cells. Ellie explains what cells look like and how they reproduce, helping readers learn more about the wonders of science.

Carolyn Fisher is an Alberta children's book illustrator and author. Her credits include illustrating Weeds Find a WayGood Night, World and Summer Feet.

Genius Jolene by Sara Cassidy, illustrated by Charlene Chua

Genius Jolene is a book by Sara Cassidy, illustrated by Charlene Chua. (Orca Book Publishers, Katrina Rain)

Genius Jolene is about an eight-year-old named Jolene who is on a six-day road trip with her father. Along the way they listen to music and keep up their favourite tradition: critiquing one type of food at every stop. The daughter and father also have a heart-to-heart conversation to explain the breakup of her parents and her father's choice to come out as gay. Genius Jolene is a story of understanding and standing out for what's right.

Sara Cassidy is a journalist, editor and author living in Victoria. She has written more than 10 books for young readers, including Nevers and The Moon is a Silver Pond.

Charlene Chua is a Singapore-born Canadian author and illustrator. She has illustrated several picture books, including The Pencil by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula, Shubh Diwali! by Chitra Soundar and Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang.

Ghost's Journey: A Refugee Story by Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Rainer Oktovianus

Robin Stevenson is a Vancouver author of books of young readers. (, Rebel Mountain Press)

Ghost's Journey is based on the the true story of two gay refugees from Indonesia, Rainer and Eka, and their cat Ghost. Featuring illustrations created from Rainer's photographs, the book teaches children about love, social justice and respect for others in telling the story about their escape to freedom and journey to Canada.

Robin Stevenson is children's book writer from Victoria. She has written more than 25 books for younger readers, including several Pride-themed books, the middle-grade novels The Summer We Saved the Bees and Record Breaker, and the YA novels Blood on the Beach and The World Without Us.

The Grizzly Mother by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan

The Grizzly Mother is a book by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan. (Portage & Main Press)

The grizzly is an animal that's frequently seen in Northwestern British Columbia. This book looks at the life of the animal, its connection to the Gitxsan First Nation and why the grizzly is a vital part of the natural landscape.

Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) is an author from the Gitxsan Nation of the Northwest Interior of British Columbia. His debut work for children was the 2017 book The Sockeye Mother.

Natasha Donovan is a Métis artist and illustrator originally from Vancouver, Her work has been seen in books such as comic book anthology This Place and Surviving the City, which won the Indigenous Voices Award for works in an alternative format.

A Last Goodbye by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim

A Last Goodbye is a book by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim. (OwlKids,

A Last Goodbye is a heartfelt look at life, death and how to say goodbye to a loved one after they die. It explores the ways in which humans and animals, including elephants, whales, parrots and lemurs, mourn death and how they deal with grief during difficult times.

Elin Kelsey is an author, scholar and educator in the area of hope and the environment. She divides her time between Monterey, California and Victoria. 

Soyeon Kim is a Toronto based, Korean-born artist, illustrator and art educator.

Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night by Graham Annable

Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night is a book by Graham Annable. (First Second,

Two sloths named Peter and Ernesto love living in the jungle but are very aware of how dangerous it can be, particularly at nighttime. But when their friend Bernard goes missing at sundown, the two animals round up a team to help find their lost friend. Peter & Ernesto is a charming tale of overcoming fears and doing your best to help a friend in need. 

Peter & Ernesto was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2019.

    Graham Annable is an author, cartoonist and animator originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., now based in Portland, Ore. Annable is the creator of Grickle, published by Alternative Comics. 

    The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden by Heather Smith, illustrated by Rachel Wada

    The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden is a book by Heather Smith, illustrated by Rachel Wada. (Orca Book Publishers, Declan Flynn, Sanna Woo)

    Inspired by a real-life story, The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden is a book explaining the story behind the wind phone in Otsuchi, Japan, which was created by artist Itaru Sasaki. When the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the town of Otsuchi, claiming 10 per cent of the population, Sasaki built the phone booth so he could speak to his cousin who had passed, saying, "My thoughts couldn't be relayed over a regular phone line, I wanted them to be carried on the wind." The book is a touching story about grief and letting go.

    Heather Smith, also known as Heather T. Smith, is an author of YA fiction. She's originally from Newfoundland, but now lives in Waterloo, Ont. Her books include The Agony of Bun O'KeefeAngus All AglowBaygirl and Ebb & Flowwhich was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text and won the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.

    Rachel Wada is a Japanese-Cantonese illustrator and designer from Vancouver.

    Planet Hockey: First Star of the Game by J. Torres, illustrated Tim Levins

    Planet Hockey is a middle-grade book by J. Torres and Tim Levins. (Scholastic Canada, Arthur Dela Cruz)

    Planet Hockey is about a boy named Issac who is whisked away to outer space to play an interstellar game of hockey. Issac must prove he's the best he can be as he plays in the Galaxia Championship Tournament — but how will he find his way back home afterwards?

    J. Torres is Filipino-born Canadian comic book, television and animation writer. 

    Tim Levins is an illustrator based in Ontario.

    Terry Fox and Me by Mary Beth Leatherdale, illustrated by Milan Pavlović

    Terry Fox and Me is a picture book written by Mary Beth Leatherdale and illustrated by Milan Pavlović. (Tundra Books, The Canadian Press)

    Terry Fox and Me looks at the childhood of Terry Fox before he was known as a national hero and icon for his Marathon of Hope and fight against cancer. The book looks at his friendship with Doug and how the two met at basketball tryouts and then worked hard to be the best they could be at whatever they did. 

    Mary Beth Leatherdale is an author and storyteller based in Toronto. She, along with co-writer Lisa Charleyboy, won the Best Young Adult Book at the 2018 AILA Youth Literature Awards for their anthology #NotYourPrincess.

    Milan Pavlović is a illustrator, graphic artist and educator from Toronto. He is the illustrator of several children's books, including The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle by Anne Renaud.

    The Train by Jodie Callaghan, illustrated by Georgia Lesley

    The Train is a book by Jodie Callaghan (left), illustrated by Georgia Lesley. (Second Story Press,

    In this book, a girl named Ashley meets her great-uncle by the old train tracks near their Nova Scotia community. The Train is a story of the legacy of residential schools in Canada as her Uncle explains his experience and loss of identity. The book is a story of remembrance, hope and reconciliation.

    Jodie Callaghan is a Mi'gmaq author and storyteller from the Listuguj First Nation in Gespegewa'gi near Quebec.

    Georgia Lesley is an artist and illustrator based in British Columbia's Cariboo region.

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