The best Canadian middle-grade and YA books of 2021
Here are the CBC Books' picks for the top Canadian middle-grade and YA books of the year.
Here are the CBC Books' picks for the top Canadian middle-grade and YA books of the year.
Bruised is a YA novel about Daya Wijesinghe, a teen girl who navigates first love and identity after a family tragedy. After a tragic accident results in the death of her parents, Daya has taken to bruising herself as a way to cope with her grief. It leads her to the physical and colourful world of roller derby. Bruised explores Daya's healing process and journey to wellness.
Bruised is for ages 14 and up.
Tanya Boteju is an author and educator based in Vancouver. Her debut YA novel, Kings, Queens and In-Betweens, followed a high school student named Nima and explored themes of gender identity and belonging.
It's summer in the late 1970s and Truly Bateman is a young girl who believes that Elvis Presley is still alive and lives next door on her reserve on Vancouver Island. While dealing with an absent mother, Truly supports herself running a lemonade stand. She ends up bonding with the Salish woman who runs the trailer park — all while trying to convince others that the cool new person on the rez is actually Elvis himself.
Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer is for ages 9 to 12.
Leslie Gentile is an author and singer-songwriter of Northern Salish, Tuscarora and Scottish heritage. Based on Vancouver Island, she performs with her children in The Leslie Gentile Band. Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer is her debut book and won a Victoria Book Prize in 2021.
Peter Lee's Notes from the Field is a middle-grade book about an 11-year-old who dreams of becoming a paleontologist. But when he embarks on a real-life dinosaur expedition that ends up in failure, he discovers that making his dream a reality just might be harder than he first thought. On top of it all, his grandmother falls ill and no one in his family will talk to him about it. Peter Lee's Notes from the Field is a tale of family, perseverance and how the power of observation and experimentation can save the day.
Peter Lee's Notes from the Field is for ages 9-12.
Angela Ahn is a writer and former teacher and librarian who lives in Vancouver. She is also the author of the children's book Krista Kim-Bap.
Julie Kwon is an artist, animator and illustrator based in Philadelphia.
Finding Home explores the nature of human migration and how it has shaped the modern world. This middle-grade book is a nonfiction look at the past and present issues affecting immigrants and refugees — and author Jen Sookfong Lee offers a first-hand account of her experience as a second-generation Canadian.
Finding Home is for ages 9 to 12.
Jen Sookfong Lee is a Chinese Canadian broadcaster, novelist and author. Lee is the author of the novel The Conjoined and the nonfiction book Gentleman of the Shade. The Vancouver-born writer has been a past CBC Short Story Prize juror, Canada Reads panellist and The Next Chapter columnist.
Drew Shannon is a Toronto illustrator and artist. His freelance work has been featured in New York Public Radio, NPR Music, and The Globe and Mail.
The stories in Sunny Days Inside follow the course of the pandemic as the kids in an apartment building observe the stresses on the adults around them. The kids each come up with their own unique ways to survive in these challenging times.
Sunny Days Inside is for ages 9 to 12.
Caroline Adderson is the author of five novels, including The Sky is Falling, Ellen in Pieces and A Russian Sister. Adderson is also a three-time winner of the CBC Literary Prizes. She has published two short story collections, including the 1993 Governor General's Literary Award finalist Bad Imaginings.
Camp Average: Away Games is the final book in the popular series set in Camp Avalon. While a boy named Miles tries to keep the peace between the campers and a new prankster named Garth, a series of events leads to the ultimate ball hockey showdown. Miles and the rest of the campers are forced to work together in order to secure the final victory.
Camp Average: Away Games is for ages 8 to 12.
Craig Battle is a Canadian journalist, coach and author of books for young readers, including the Camp Average series. He is the former editor of Owl Magazine and is currently an editor at Sportsnet.
In The Undercover Book List, Jane MacDonald is dreading the start of Grade 7. Not only is her father posted overseas, Jane is also dealing with her best friend Sienna moving across the country. But when Jane discovers a hidden message in a library book, she embarks on an adventure involving a secret club and a new book-loving friend.
The Undercover Book List is for ages 8 to 12.
Valley of the Rats follows Krish, a 12-year-old book-nerd who hates the outdoors, camping and germs. But because Krish loves his adventurous father and is desperate for his affection, he agrees to go on an exotic camping trip. The pair soon get lost in a bamboo forest and, to Krish's horror, are led by rats to an isolated village. When Krish and Kabir break a rule that is sacred to the local people, they must summon their courage and find ways to make amends.
Valley of the Rats is for ages 9 to 12.
Mahtab Narsimhan is the author of a young adult trilogy, four middle-grade novels and two picture books. Her first novel, The Third Eye, won the Silver Birch Award. A native of Mumbai, Narsimhan now lives in British Columbia.
The Great Bear is the second book in David A. Robertson's Narnia-inspired Indigenous middle-grade series. Each struggling with personal issues, Eli and Morgan look for guidance and escape in Misewa, where their animal friends live. But when they arrive, Eli and Morgan find that Misewa is once again in danger, forcing them to find the strength to save themselves and everything they care for.
Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. The multi-talented writer of Swampy Cree heritage has published 25 books across a variety of genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, a Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book called When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett and the YA book Strangers and the memoir Black Water. He won the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration for On the Trapline, illustrated by Julie Flett.
Children of the Fox is a magic-infused heist novel that follows a group of young criminals, each with a unique skill set — there's Callan the con artist, Meriel the acrobat and knife thrower, Gareth the genius, Lachlan with all the hook-ups and Foxtail the wall-climber. The kids are brought together by the promise of an incredible treasure, but they have to pull off the crime of the century and face the city's most powerful sorcerer to obtain it.
Children of the Fox is for ages 8 to 12.
Kevin Sands is an award-winning children's writer from Ontario. His literary career began in 2015 with the publication of The Blackthorn Key, which won the John Spray Mystery Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Best YA Crime Novel Award. He's continued the Blackthorn Key series with Mark of the Plague, The Assassin's Curse and Call of the Wraith.
Ecologist Cylita Guy shows how observing urban wildlife — from city bees to coyotes — can make cities a healthier environment for everyone in Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats. Guy highlights the fieldwork of 11 scientists, including herself, and demonstrates how social injustices, like racism, can impact how scientists study wildlife and where urban critters are more likely to thrive.
Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats is for ages 9 to 12.
Guy is a Toronto-based ecologist, data scientist and science communicator who studies bats.
Cornelia Li is a Chinese-born illustrator based in Toronto.
Treaty Words is a book for ages 10 and up about the importance of understanding an Indigenous perspective on treaties. The book looks at the first treaty, the one between the earth and the sky. Sitting on the riverbank, a man teaches his granddaughter about the power of silence in nature — so that she might learn her standing in the world.
Treaty Words is for ages 10 and up.
Aimée Craft is an Anishinaabe-Métis lawyer and author from Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba. She is an associate professor at University of Ottawa and a leading researcher on Indigenous laws, treaties and water.
Luke Swinson is a visual artist and illustrator with Anishinaabe roots from Kitchener, Ont. He is a member of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.
The Fabulous Zed Watson! features a non-binary lead character who embarks on "the literary scavenger hunt and road trip of a lifetime."
When Zed discovers the legend of an unpublished novel called The Monster's Castle, they join a small legion dedicated to uncovering the hidden text. Their adventure takes them on a road trip with their neighbour Gabe, a shy nature lover, and his sister Sam, a bossy geologist headed back to college. The trip isn't easy — Gabe complains about the food, Sam won't give up control of the stereo and Zed is often misgendered. But the group pulls together as they compete with a sneaky historian.
The Fabulous Zed Watson! is for ages 9 to 12.
Basil Sylvester is a non-binary writer based in Toronto. Their father, Kevin Sylvester, is a broadcaster and the award-winning illustrator and writer of middle-grade books such as the Neil Flambé Capers series and the MiNRS space adventure series.
Middle-grade novel Firefly is about the titular character who is looking for a place to call home. Firefly lives in the park — but one day she is forced by social services to move in with her Aunt Gayle, who just happens to own a costume shop. While Firefly gets used to having a roof over her head, she suffers from PTSD and embarks on a journey to find her true identity.
Firefly is for ages 9 to 12.
Philippa Dowding is a Canadian children's author, a poet, musician and copywriter. Based in Toronto, her book Myles and the Monster Outside was a nominee for the 2017 Silver Birch Express Award and her chapter book Oculum was a finalist for the 2020 Silver Birch Fiction Award.
The Sun Will Come Out is a tale of a girl and her first summer away from home. Sleep-away camp promises to be a new experience — and the best summer ever — for Bea Gelman and her best friend Frankie. But Bea is painfully shy, and the mean pranks the other girls play on her isn't helping one bit. When Bea meets a boy named Henry, she realizes that we all have our own challenges —and that it can take strength and a positive outlook on life to overcome them.
The Sun Will Come Out is for ages 9 to 12.
Joanne Levy is an Ontario author of books for young people, including Double Trouble and Fish Out of Water. She is also the author of the middle-grade novels Crushing It and the Red Maple Award-nominated Small Medium At Large.
In the middle-grade novel Birdspell, Corbin is a boy who suffers from loneliness — but when a talking bird enters his life, he is overjoyed. When his home life goes from bad to worse, Corbin is faced with a decision that he just might regret.
Birdspell is for ages 9 to 12.
Valerie Sherrard is a children's book author from New Brunswick. She has written more than a dozen books for young people, including the Shelby Belgarden mystery series, The Glory Wind, Kate and Speechless.
The YA novel Blood Like Magic is a dark fantasy story about Voya Thomas, a teenage witch from Toronto who is tasked with sacrificing her first love to save her family's magic. But when Voya does eventually fall in love with her soulmate, she is forced to make the choice between her morality and her duty to her bloodline.
Blood Like Magic is for ages 14 and up.
Liselle Sambury is a Trinidadian Canadian YA author and vlogger from Toronto currently residing in northern Ontario. Blood Like Magic is her debut YA novel.
Unravel is a YA novel about a 12-year-old home-schooled young girl named Rebecca. She has no friends, no photos, no possessions and lives alone with her father Joe. When she meets an eccentric woman named Phoebe in her new apartment building, Rebecca gains a new perspective on her life as Phoebe helps Rebecca realize that her father might be hiding his own secrets.
Unravel is for ages 12 and up.
Sharon Jennings is a Canadian author who has written over 60 books for young people. Jennings is also a freelance editor and manuscript reviewer and currently lives in Toronto.
Set in 1426 Korea, The Forest of Stolen Girls is a YA novel about a young woman named Hwani who seeks to know the truth about a past crime that affected her family. But when her detective father vanishes after looking into the mystery, Hwani runs into her estranged sister and must search her own memories to solve a crime that changed all their lives.
The Forest of Stolen Girls is for ages 13 and up.
June Hur is a South Korea-born writer based in Toronto. She has a degree in history and literature from the University of Toronto. She is also the author of The Silence of Bones.
Nothing but Life is about a teen named Dills, a hot summer and a terrible crime that haunts his family. When Dills and his mother move back to her hometown of Hamilton, Ont., Dills struggles to move on from the fact that his stepfather was responsible for a horrific shooting at his previous high school. Dills can't speak about what happened that fateful day — and his connection to his stepfather begins to affect his new home and school life.
Nothing but Life is for ages 12 and up.
Brent van Staalduinen is a novelist and short story writer from Hamilton, Ont. His previous YA books include Boy and Saints, Unexpected. He made the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize longlist for The Echoes Are All Mine.
The Bones of Ruin is the latest fantasy YA novel by Ontario author Sarah Raughley. It's a tale set in 1880s London, featuring an immortal African tightrope walker named Iris who's caught up in a secret society's gladiatorial tournament of supernatural freaks. Iris must learn more about her past, her identity and her power in order to survive her circumstances. But when she learns of a potentially world-ending threat, Iris needs to decide if learning her identity is worth the cost involved.
The Bones of Ruin is for ages 14 and up.
Raughley is a fantasy novelist from Southern Ontario. Raughley's YA Effigies series, which includes Fate of Flames, Siege of Shadows and Legacy of Light, drops readers into a world where four young women are imbued with the powers of the four elements — fire, water, air and earth — and tasked with protecting the world from the evil Phantoms.
Both Sides Now is the debut YA novel by Canadian author Peyton Thomas. It's about Finch Kelly, a teen who is on the high school debate team and dreams of a career as the first trans congressman. But when the annual national speech and debate tournament rolls around, Finch is faced with a dilemma that has him choosing between his identity and his ambitions — all the while developing a crush on his unavailable debate partner Jonah.
Both Sides Now is for ages 14 and up.
Thomas is an author and freelance journalist from Toronto. His work can be seen in Pitchfork, Billboard and Vanity Fair. He was a 2016 Lambda Literary Fellow.
The YA novel Tremendous Things is about a teen named Wilbur. Wilbur is in Grade 9, and he still can't escape the embarrassing thing that happened to him back in middle school. But an adventure involving his school music band and a trip to Paris just might mean Wilbur can overcome his past and also find true love in the process.
Tremendous Things is for ages 12 and up.
Susin Nielsen is an author from Vancouver. She started her writing career by writing episodes for the classic Canadian teen drama Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. In 2008, she published her first YA novel, Word Nerd. Her most recent books include We Are All Made of Molecules, which was longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and Optimists Die First.
Iron Widow is a YA fantasy novel featuring aliens, giant robots and a quest to battle evil. In the world of Huaxia, boys pair up with girls to operate transforming robots named Chrysalises, but the girls often die from the mental strain of it all. When a teen girl named Zetian takes on the mantle of an Iron Widow and is paired up with a male pilot named Li Shimin, the story becomes one of power, vengeance and gender equality.
Iron Widow is for ages 14 and up.
Xiran Jay Zhao is a Vancouver-based science fiction and fantasy writer who is also training to become a biochemist. She is a first generation Chinese immigrant with an interest in Chinese history, cosplay and anime.
The Medusa Deep is the follow-up to David Neil Lee's 2015 YA novel, The Midnight Games. The Medusa Deep continues the monster-fighting adventures of Nate Silva. This time out, Silva is captured by the crew of the airship The Sorcerer and has an encounter with his long-lost grandfather and a legendary harpoon gun. It's a race against time as Nate must escape and make it back home to Ontario.
The Medusa Deep is for ages 12 and up.
Lee is an author and musician originally from British Columbia and currently based in Ontario. His previous books include The Battle of the Five Spot, Commander Zero and The Midnight Games.
The YA novel Like Home tells the story of a teen named Chinelo, Nelo for short. Her best friend is Kate and life is good in their tight-knit neighbourhood known as Ginger East. But everything changes when Nelo's family's convenience store is vandalized. Suddenly the police, media and outsiders come into the neighbourhood with intentions to "rescue it." Nelo is emotionally affected and her relationship with Kate begins to fall apart.
Like Home is for ages 14 and up.
Louisa Onomé is a Nigerian Canadian living in Toronto. Like Home is her debut novel.
Sisters of the Snake is a YA novel about a lost princess, a street urchin and dark prophecies. When Princess Rani and Ria encounter each other and discover they look identical, the princess and the thief switch places but soon find themselves involved in a dangerous mystery involving magic and a hidden temple.
Sisters of the Snake is for ages 13 and up.
Sarena and Sasha Nanua are YA authors and twin sisters based in Ontario. Born minutes apart from each other, they grew up loving stories about twins and magic, and began writing books together at a young age.
The Power of Style is a YA nonfiction book about the power of fashion. Christian Allaire is a Ojibway fashion and style writer for Vogue Magazine who has always had a passion for looking good. In The Power of Style, Allaire highlights the need for diversity and representation in fashion — and examines topics such as cosplay, make up, hijabs, and hair to show the intersection of style, culture and social justice over the years.
The Power of Style is for ages 12 and up.
Allaire is an Ojibwe author who grew up on the Nipissing First Nation reserve in Ontario. Allaire is the fashion and style writer at Vogue.
The YA novel Hurricane Summer is a coming-of-age story about a teen named Tilla. Her relationship with her Jamaican-born father is straining due to his frequent absences from her life. Tilla decides to spend the summer in Jamaica in order to reconnect with her father and understand herself and the island he calls home.
Hurricane Summer is for ages 14 and up.
Asha Bromfield is an actress, singer and author best known for her role as Melody Jones, drummer of Josie and the Pussycats in the television show Riverdale.
The Wild Ones is a YA novel featuring magic powers — and a team of girls who are forced to solve a mystery, challenge the patriarchy and save the day from dangerous forces. Paheli is a leader and original Wild One, someone who overcame abuse and reclaimed her power. She is now on a mission to help girls use their own special abilities to save others in need.
The Wild Ones is for ages 14 and up.
Nafiza Azad is a Canadian YA novelist who was born in Fiji. Her previous YA novel, The Candle and the Flame, was shortlisted for the William C. Morris Award for debut YA fiction. Azad is a children's literature writer and identifies as Indo-Fijian Muslim Canadian. She is now based in B.C.
A shy Indigenous teen girl named Bugz finds comfort and belonging through multiplayer video games and virtual worlds in this YA novel. When a teen boy named Feng moves to the rez where Bugz lives, the two discover they have a lot in common, both in real life and online. Their virtual adventures draw them closer — but events in the real world, including family challenges and community trauma, threaten to harm the friendship the two have built.
Walking in Two Worlds is for ages 12 and up.
Wab Kinew is the leader of Manitoba's New Democratic Party. Prior to his career in politics, he was a hip-hop musician, broadcaster and host of the 2015 Canada Reads. As a panellist on CBC's battle of the books, Kinew won the 2014 edition for his defence of Joseph Boyden's The Orenda.
Kinew is the author of two books: The Reason You Walk, a memoir about mending his relationship with his father before his death, and Go Show the World, a children's picture book about Indigenous heroes throughout history. Go Show the World was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books. Kinew lives in Winnipeg.
Hunting by Stars takes place in the world of The Marrow Thieves, a post-apocalyptic North America where only Indigenous people have the ability to dream. Residential schools are re-established to imprison Indigenous people, and search for the secrets to dreaming in their bones. Hunting by Stars picks up on 17-year-old French, who wakes up in a pitch-black room. In The Marrow Thieves, French lost his family to the residential schools and found a new family to travel with, while dodging the "Recruiters."
Hunting by Stars is for ages 12 and up.
- After blockbuster book The Marrow Thieves, 'peer pressure' led Cherie Dimaline to pen sequel Hunting by Stars
Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. Her first book, Red Rooms, was published in 2007, and her novel The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy was released in 2013. In 2014, she was named the Emerging Artist of the Year at the Ontario Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts, and became the first Aboriginal Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library. Her book A Gentle Habit was published in August 2016.
In 2017, The Marrow Thieves won the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text and the Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature. It is currently being adapted for television.
Misfit in Love is the latest book by Toronto author S.K. Ali and a sequel to her debut YA novel Saints and Misfits. In Misfit in Love, it's summertime and Janna's brother Muhammad is getting married. But things quickly get complicated — her brother's wedding isn't going according to plan, her father is acting strange and her mother is spending a lot of time with an old friend. On top of all that, two new people enter Janna's life that leave her confused about love and relationships.
Misfit in Love is for ages 14 and up.
Mr. Universe is a YA novel that features a 17-year-old, his eccentric scientist uncle and a time travel adventure. When his uncle's experiments go awry, a teen named Michael finds himself lost in an alternate universe — with seemingly no way to get back home.
Mr. Universe is for ages 12 and up.
Arthur Slade is a prolific Saskatoon author of more than 25 YA, middle-grade and graphic novels. His books include Dust, which won the 2001 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text, and The Hunchback Assignments, which received the 2010 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.