Jan Thornhill wins $30K award for best Canadian children's book

The writer and illustrator of The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and was one of six winners at the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards on Nov. 21, 2017.
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk is a nonfiction picture book by Jan Thornhill and the winner of the 2017 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. (TD Canadian Children's Literature Award)

Prizes celebrating the best of Canadian children's literature were handed out at the 2017 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards on Nov. 21, 2017.

Jan Thornhill won the top prize of the night, the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, for her nonfiction picture book The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk.

The $30,000 prize is given to the best book written for children ages five to 12, in any genre. The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk is an informative and heartfelt nonfiction picture book about the causes behind the North Atlantic Ocean bird's extinction in 1844. 

"Thornhill uses perspective brilliantly, emphasizing the wild grandeur of natural creatures one moment, and their desperate vulnerability the next," the jury for the prize said in a statement. "Distinctive and evocative images mesh with strong writing about the lifestyle and obstacles that are a part of daily life for this resourceful bird." 

The $30,000 French-language Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l'enfance et la jeunesse was awarded on Nov. 8, 2017, to Larry Tremblay and Guillaume Perreault for their illustrated book, Même pas vrai

A public vote was held to determine the CBC Books Fan Choice winner. Students from across Canada could vote for their favourite finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. The Fan Choice winner was The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence.

The remaining finalists for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award were When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett, Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano, illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka and A Day of Signs and Wonders by Kit Pearson.

Five other awards were given out, honouring Canadian children's books in a wide array of genres. Those winners were:

  • Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-FictionCanada Year by Year by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Sydney Smith
  • Marilyn Baillie Picture Book AwardThe Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
  • John Spray Mystery AwardShooter by Caroline Pignat
  • Amy Mathers Teen Book AwardExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
  • Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People​: Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands

You can learn more about each of these books below.

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction: Canada Year by Year by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Sydney Smith 

Author Elizabeth MacLeod retells Canada's history in her award-winning picture book Canada Year by Year with illustrations by Sydney Smith. (Annick Press/Kids Can Press/ D. Edwards)

 Canada Year by Year traces the country's confederation, challenges, merits, peoples and current state through a compilation of biographies and facts. The Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction is a $10,000 prize that honours a Canadian book of non-fiction written for an audience under 18 years of age.

Jury members said the book "highlights the moments to celebrate and the moments needing reconciliation and healing....A perfect springboard to a deeper dive into Canadian history." 

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award: The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

Jennifer McGrath is the the author and Josée Bisaillon the illustrator of the 2016 picture book The Snow Knows. (Jennifer McGrath/Josée Bisaillon/Nimbus Publishing)

The Snow Knows celebrates winter and the animals that thrive in colder climates. The award comes with a $20,000 prize purse. The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award is a prize that recognizes excellence in picture books for readers ages three to eight.

The jury commended The Snow Knows for its visual panache and noted "each gorgeous turn of the page introduces a new creature and a new winter wonder with lyrical verbal grace and masterful, eye-opening visual genius." 

John Spray Mystery Award: Shooter by Caroline Pignat

Caroline Pignat is the author of the young adult novel Shooter. (PRH Canada Young Readers/Angela Flemming)

Shooter is a YA suspense novel that entangles the lives of 12 students caught in a school lockdown with a shooter inside the building. Pignat received $5,000 for her development of characters with convincing teen voices. The $5,000 prize is for a mystery book targeted for readers ages eight to 18.

Jury members highlighted that Shooter is Filled with moments of suspense and increasing tension" and that "Pignat has created an enthralling mystery that is impossible to put down." 

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

The YA novel Exit, Pursued by a Bear is E.K. Johnston's foray into the world of a cheerleader and her trials during an unexpected pregnancy. (Sarah Oughton/Penguin Young Readers Group)

Exit, Pursued by a Bear delves into the experience of a small-town cheerleader trying to cope with the aftermath of a sexual assault and her ensuing pregnancy. The $5,000 Amy Mathers Teen Book Award honours the best young adult book for readers aged 13-18.

The jury said Exit, Pursed by a Bear is "beautifully written" and "will stay with you long after you've turned the last page."

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People​: Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands

Kevin Sands continues his Blackthorn Key series with Mark of the Plague, a historical YA novel set in England during the 1660s. (Kevin Sands/Simon & Schuster Canada)

Set during the time of the black plague, Mark of the Plague features an apothecary whose cure for the disease embroils him in a conspiracy. It is the second book in Kevin Sands' Blackthorn Key series.

According to the jury, "Sands immerses readers in Restoration England, expertly capturing not just the sights and sounds of London in the 1660s, but also 17th-century conceptions of magic, science, and the spread of disease."