The best Canadian picture books of 2020

Here are the CBC Books picks for the top Canadian picture books of the year.

Here are CBC Books's picks for the top Canadian picture books of 2020.

Peter and the Tree Children by Peter Wohlleben, illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Peter and the Tree Children is a children's picture book written by Peter Wohlleben and illustrated by Cale Atkinson. (Greystone Books)

In Peter and the Tree Children, a squirrel feels all alone in his forest home. Peter the Forester has the perfect plan to cheer him up: a search for tree children. During the search, Peter offers facts about how trees communicate and care for each other, and the struggles they endure. Soon, the little squirrel feels much better because he helped the tree children grow.

Peter and the Tree Children is for ages 4 to 8.

Peter Wohlleben is the author of numerous books, including The Hidden Life of Trees and its follow ups The Inner Life of Animals and The Secret Wisdom of Nature.

Cale Atkinson is a Kelowna, B.C.-based illustrator, writer and animator. His work has appeared in numerous children's books, animated shorts, games and on television.

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron

Salma the Syrian Chef is a picture book written by Danny Ramadan and illustrated by Anna Bron. (Annick Press)

In Salma the Syrian Chef, Salma wants to cook a heartwarming dish to cheer up her mama, who between English classes, job interviews and missing her husband back in Syria, always seems busy or sad. Syrian culture is depicted through the meal Salma prepares and Anna Bron's vibrant illustrations, while the diverse cast of characters speaks to the power of cultivating community in challenging circumstances. 

Salma the Syrian Chef is for ages 4-7.

Ahmad Danny Ramadan is a Syrian-Canadian author, award-winning activist and public speaker. His first book was the novel The Clothesline Swing, which was longlisted for Canada Reads 2018. Salma the Syrian Chef is his first book for children.

Anna Bron is a Vancouver-based freelance illustrator and animation director.

Danny Ramadan on his first children's book, Salma The Syrian Chef, illustrated by Anna Bron, which he launched on Twitter.

My Soca Birthday Party by Yolanda T. Marshall 

Yolanda T. Marshall is the author of My Soca Birthday Party: With Jollof Rice & Steel Pans. (Chalkboard Publishing, Submitted by Yolanda T. Marshall)

My Soca Birthday Party is about a young girl named Anne who can't wait to celebrate her birthday. Her school friends are excited to celebrate as well and talk about the food and music that they will experience. When the day arrives, Anne's birthday party is an evening celebration of everything Anne loves, including Caribbean soca music played on steel pans and West Africa's spicy jollof rice.

My Soca Birthday Party is for ages 3 and up.

Yolanda T. Marshall is a Guyanese Canadian author of children's books based in Ontario.

Yolanda T. Marshall celebrates the diversity of food in the picture book My Soca Birthday Party: with Jollof Rice and Steel Pans.

Our Corner Store by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by Chelsea O'Byrne

Our Corner Store is a picture book written by Robert Heidbreder and illustrated by Chelsea O'Byrne. (Groundwood Books, Ted Hayes)

In Our Corner Store, Stanstones corner store is the heart of the neighborhood and the source of many adventures for the two siblings in the story. When a supermarket opens in the town, the corner store's livelihood is in jeopardy.

Our Corner Store is for ages 6 to 9.

Robert Heidbreder is an award-winning author and writer of children's poetry. His books include I Wished for a Unicorn, Drumheller Dinosaur Dance, Song for a Summer Night and Rooster Summer.

Chelsea O'Byrne is a Vancouver-based freelance illustrator and art instructor. She is also the illustrator of Hello, Crow! by Candace Savage and Marisa and the Mountains by George M. Johnson.

Son of Happy by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Milan Pavlović

Son of Happy is a picture book written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Milan Pavlović. (Groundwood Books)

Son of Happy tells the story of a boy who is embarrassed by his father's occupation as a party clown. The boy wishes his dad had a normal job like the other parents. As business slows, his dad announces that he's going back to his old job as a lawyer. While his dad's new job affords him and his family finer things, he wonders if he misses being a clown.

Son of Happy is for ages 6 to 9.

Cary Fagan's kids' books include the popular Kaspar Snit novels, the two-volume Master Melville's Medicine Show and the picture book Mr. Zinger's Hat, which received the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. He is also the author of the novel A Bird's Eye and the short story collection My Life Among the Apes

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

Hey Little Rockabye by Buffy Sainte-Marie, illustrated by Ben Hodson

Hey Little Rockabye is a children's picture book written by Buffy Sainte-Marie and illustrated by Ben Hodson. (Greystone Books, Matt Barnes)

Hey Little Rockabye conveys an important message about finding love and acceptance and shares a not-yet-released song about pet adoption from Buffy Sainte-Marie. A puppy is looking for someone to love him. A young girl rescues the little dog and tries to convince her parents to let her keep him. 

Hey Little Rockabye is for ages 3 to 7.

Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie's long career includes an expansive catalogue of music, art and work in activism. Hey Little Rockabye is her first children's picture book.

Ben Hodson is an award-winning illustrator of more than 20 children's books.

Musician Buffy Sainte-Marie's first picture book, Hey Little Rockabye, is about a subject close to her heart: pet adoption.

Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak by Roy Henry Vickers & Robert "Lucky" Budd

Raven Squawk Orca Squeak is a picture book written by Roy Henry Vickers and illustrated by Robert Budd. (Harbour Kids)

Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak introduces young readers to iconic sounds of the West Coast, like roaring sea lions, rustling cedar branches in the wind, sacred drumming of a potlatch and the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. It's the fourth board book in The First West Coast Book series, which includes Hello Humpback!, One Eagle Soaring and Sockeye Silver Saltchuck Blue.

Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak is for ages 0-3.

Roy Henry Vickers is a B.C.-based renowned carver, painter and printmaker. He is the co-author of the popular children's Northwest Coast Legends series, which includes Raven Brings the Light, CloudwalkerOrca Chief and Peace Dancer.

B.C.-based writer Robert "Lucky" Budd is the co-author of the Northwest Coast Legends series and the author of Voices of British Columbia and its sequel, Echoes of British Columbia.

The B.C. artist, carver, designer and storyteller, Roy Henry Vickers, explains how art helped him beat a life-threatening addiction, and says he's now eager to create and share Aboriginal stories.

My Day with Gong Gong by Sennah Yee, illustrated by Elaine Chen

My Day with Gong Gong is a picture book by Sennah Yee, illustrated by Elaine Chen. (Annick Press, Christine Ting Wei Wang, Angela Pan)

My Day with Gong Gong is a story about a little girl, her grandfather and a fateful day in Chinatown. Little May doesn't seem to connect with her grandpa Gong Gong, who only speaks a little English. They are out on a day trip and she isn't having much fun. But May realizes that Gong Gong knows much more than he is letting on and the two end up having a wonderful day together. 

My Day with Gong Gong is for ages 4-7.

Sennah Yee is a poet and writer from Toronto. She released her debut collection of poetry, How Do I Look? in 2017.

Elaine Chen is an illustrator and art director from Vancouver.

The Name I Call Myself by Hasan Namir, illustrated by Cathryn John

The Name I Call Myself is a picture book by Hasan Namir, illustrated by Cathryn John. (Alex Illici, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Born Edward, the child in The Name I Call Myself prefers to be called Ari. This picture follows their journey from six to being a teenager as they learn more about gender, identity and self-acceptance.

The Name I Call Myself is for ages 5-9.

Hasan Namir is a poet and novelist from Vancouver. He is also the author of the novel God in Pink and the poetry collection War / TornCBC Books named Namir a writer to watch in 2019.

Cathryn John is an illustrator and designer from Vancouver.

Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope 40 years later

3 years ago
Duration 7:33
Forty years after Terry Fox ran his Marathon of Hope, an Olympian, Paralympian and one of his brothers look back on his accomplishments and his legacy. Darrell Fox has edited a new book of letters about his brother’s inspiration, dedication, and perseverance.

When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt

When We Are Kind is a picture book written by Monique Gray Smith, left, and illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt. (Centric Photography, Orca Book Publishers,

When We Are Kind is a picture book that walks children through simple acts of everyday kindness. It was created with the aim to encourage children to explore their feelings and to use kindness each and every day.

When We Are Kind is for ages 3-5.

Monique Gray Smith is a mixed-heritage — Cree, Lakota and Scottish — author who often writes and speaks about the resilience of Indigenous communities in Canada. She is also the author of the children's books Speaking Our Truth and You Hold Me Up and the novels Tilly and Tilly and the Crazy Eights.

    Nicole Neidhardt is a Diné visual artist and illustrator. When We Are Kind is her first children's book.

    Jillian Tamaki tells the story of volunteers in a community kitchen in the picture book Our Little Kitchen.

    Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, illustrated by Eva Campbell

    Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White is a picture book by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, illustrated by Eva Campbell. (Rajni Radja, Groundwood Books, Brian Geary)

    Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White is a touching story about a child and her mother living in a new country and encountering snow for the first time. While the mother misses the warmth of back home, the girl sees magic in the winter sky of her new land.

    Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White is for ages 3-7.

    Saumiya Balasubramaniam is an author from Ontario. She is also the author of the picture book When I Found Grandma, which was illustrated by Qin Leng.

    Eva Campbell is an artist and teacher from Victoria. Her work has been exhibited around the world, including in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Barbados and Ghana. She also illustrated the picture book Africville, which was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books and the 2019 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award.

    Bad Dog by Mike Boldt

    Bad Dog is a children's book by Mike Boldt. (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)

    This picture book is a fun-filled tale about a little girl who wants a dog — but gets a cat named Rocky for her birthday instead. Rocky doesn't listen or obey like all the other dogs. But the little girl insists that Rocky is a dog regardless. 

    Mike Boldt is an author and illustrator from Alberta. His other books include Find FergusThunder Trucks and I Don't Want to Go to Sleep.

    Going Up! by Sherry Lee, illustrated by Charlene Chua

    Going Up! is a children's picture book written by Sherry Lee and illustrated by Charlene Chua. (Kids Can Press)

    Going Up! is a story about community and a sense of belonging, showcased through a young girl's ride up an elevator to her friend's birthday party. The picture book, illustrated by Charlene Chua, portrays characters from many cultural backgrounds and showcases the everyday diversity that many urban children experience.

    Sherry J. Lee is a writer from Toronto. Going Up! is Lee's first picture book.

    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. She is the author and illustrator of Hug? 

    Grandmother School by Rina Singh, illustrated by Ellen Rooney

    A picture book by Rina Singh and Ellen Rooney. (, Orca Book Publishers)

    Learning never stops is the lesson learned in picture book Grandmother SchoolIt's the story of a little girl, her grandmother and the school the grandmother attends to learn to read and write. Grandmother School is a celebration of family, women and the power of education at any age. 

    Rina Singh is an India-born Canadian author from Toronto. She has written more than a dozen books for children, including 111 TreesDiwali Lights, A Forest of Stories and Moon Tales.

    Ellen Rooney is a designer, artist and children's book illustrator from B.C. She also illustrated the picture books Her Fearless Run by Kim Chaffee and Dusk Explorers by Lindsay Leslie.

    The Truth About Wind by Hazel Hutchins & Gail Herbert, illustrated by Dušan Petričić

    Hazel Hutchins (top right) and Gail Herbert are the authors of The Truth About Wind, illustrated by Dusan Petricic. (Annick Press)

    Telling the truth and why it matters is the focus of the picture book The Truth About WindIt's the story of Jesse and the toy horse that he loves. The horse is the fastest in the whole world and is named Wind. Only thing is, Wind doesn't exactly belong to Jesse — it was accidentally left behind and the real owner is out there somewhere. Jesse must make a decision to tell his mother the truth about the horse, even though it's his favourite new toy. 

    Hazel Hutchins is an author from Alberta who has written over 50 books for children and young adults. Gail Herbert is an Ontario-based writer and author. The Truth About Wind is the third book by Hutchins and Hebert. They also co-wrote Anna at the Art Museum and Mattland.

    Dušan Petričić is a Serbian artist and illustrator. He lived in Toronto for more than a decade, and has illustrated several Canadian children's books, including In the Tree House by Andrew Larsen, Mr. Zinger's Hat by Cary Fagan, the Jacob Two-Two series by Mordecai Richler and several picture books by Margaret Atwood.

    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 an 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.

    Our panel of experts, Ken Setterington, Michele Landsberg and Bee Quammie, share some of their current favourite children's books.

    The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

    The Paper Boat is a picture book by Thao Lam. (Submitted by Thao Lam, Owlkids)

    The Paper Boat uses collage art to tell a wordless story about a family's escape from Vietnam — a journey that connects with nature and an ant colony. The Paper Boat depicts a perilous journey of hope, perseverance and new beginnings.

    The Paper Boat is for ages 6-9.

    Thao Lam is an author and illustrator from Toronto. Her picture books include Wallpaper and ​My Cat Looks Like My Dad.

    Hockey in the Wild by Nicholas Oldland

    Hockey in the Wild is a picture book by Nicholas Oldland. (Kids Can Press)

    Hockey in the Wild explores lessons on patience and perseverance — along with wild animals playing hockey! The picture book is set in winter and the bear, the moose and the beaver are excited to play the game they all love. But the ice on the lake isn't quite frozen enough and the animals must learn to wait until it is ready. 

    Nicholas Oldland is an artist, filmmaker and author from Toronto. His other picture books include One Wild Christmas, The Busy Beaver, Big Bear Hug and Up the Creek.

    Hug? by Charlene Chua

    Hug? is a picture book by Charlene Chua. (Kids Can Press)

    Hug? is a picture book about awareness and setting appropriate boundaries. Using humour, the book features a child who wants to know how many hugs is too many. In examining compassion and empathy, the child figures out just how to express what she likes and doesn't like. 

    Hug? is for ages 3-7.

    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.

    Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

    Out Little Kitchen is a picture book by Jillian Tamaki. (Emma McIntyre, Groundwood Books)

    Our Little Kitchen is a picture book that features a neighbourhood with colourful characters who come together in the kitchen to share a meal. Our Little Kitchen is a celebration of food, community and laughter. 

    Our Little Kitchen is for ages 4-8.

    Jillian Tamaki is an award-winning illustrator. In 2014, Tamaki received the Governor General's Literary Award for her work in This One Summerwritten by her cousin and graphic novelist Mariko Tamaki. They also collaborated on Skim. Her other books include the comics SuperMutant Magic Academy and Boundless and the picture book They Say Blue

    Tamaki created a comic strip called This Face for the special CBC Books series Borders.

    The Barnabus Project by the Fan Brothers

    The Barnabus Project is a picture book by the Fan Brothers. (Tundra Books)

    The Barnabus Project features a secret underground lab, genetically engineered creatures and a story about freedom. Barnabus and his friends live in this lab but they are deemed imperfect and might never see the outside world. But Barnabus yearns to be free and decides that it's time for he and his imperfect friends to make the perfect escape.

    The Barnabus Project is for ages 5-9.

    Eric Fan and Terry Fan are brothers and frequent collaborators on children's books. Their books include The Night Gardener and Ocean Meets Sky. They also illustrated The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield.

    Devin Fan is an artist, poet and youth worker. The Barnabus Project is his first children's book and marks the first time all three brothers have written and illustrated a picture book together.

    ᓇᑦᑎᖅ Nattiq And The Land Of Statues by Barbara Landry, illustrated by Martha Kyak

    ᓇᑦᑎᖅ Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is written by Barbara Landry and is illustrated by Martha Kyak. (Groundwood Books, Len Steel)

    A ringed seal, known in Inuktitut as ᓇᑦᑎᖅ nattiq, has returned to his Arctic home from his a long trek south in ᓇᑦᑎᖅ Nattiq And The Land Of Statues. His friends — a polar bear, caribou, raven, walrus and narwhal — gather to hear about the amazing sights he saw on his journey. The book also includes a glossary of Inuktitut words. 

    ᓇᑦᑎᖅ Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is for ages 3-7.

    Barbara Landry has written several books of poetry, including ᓄᓇᒥ nunami. ᓇᑦᑎᖅ Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is her first children's book. 

    Martha Kyak is an Inuit artist who has illustrated numerous children's books. 

    The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoët

    The Bug Girl is a picture book written by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara and illustrated by Kerascoet. (Tundra Books)

    The Bug Girl is the story of seven-year-old Sophia Spencer, who was bullied in school for loving bugs. One day, her mother wrote to an entomological society in search of a bug scientist to be a pen pal for her daughter. In response, hundreds of women scientists rallied around her. Now Sophia has written her inspiring story in this picture book celebrating women in science, bugs of all kinds and the importance of staying true to yourself.

    The Bug Girl is for ages 4-8.

    Sophia Spencer lives in Sarnia, Ont., and is in Grade 4. The Bug Girl  is her first book.

    Margaret McNamara is a New York City-based author of the Mr. Tiffin Classroom series, which includes The Dinosaur Expert, A Poem in Your Pocket, The Apple Orchard Riddle and How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?. She is also the author of Eliza, The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.

    Kerascoët is the pen name of French illustrator duo and husband-and-wife team Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset. They are also the illustrators of Beautiful Darkness by Fabie Vehlmann, Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein and Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai. 

    The Bat by Elise Gravel

    Elise Gravel is a Canadian artist and illustrator. (Tundra Books)

    Disgusting Critters is an illustrated nonfiction series dedicated to disgusting creatures. The books contain factual information meant to both amuse and teach young readers at the same time. The latest addition is The Bat, which teaches children about nocturnal creature's habitat, species — of which there are 1,200 — echolocation, hibernation, conservation and more.

    The Bat is for ages 6-9.

    Elise Gravel is an author and illustrator from Quebec known for her zany graphic novels and picture books. Her books include The Worst Book Ever, The Cranky Ballerina and The Mushroom Fan Club.

    I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated Sydney Smith

    I Talk Like a River is a picture book by Jordan Scott (left) and illustrated by Sydney Smith. (Andrew Zawacki, Neal Porter Books, Steve Farmer)

    I Talk Like a River is a picture book about a young boy who has trouble communicating and is feeling lost and alone. His father takes him for a walk by the river, where he helps him find his voice.

    I Talk Like a River is for ages 4-8.

    Jordan Scott is a poet from Comox Valley, B.C. His books include SlitBlertDecompco-authored by Stephen Collis, and Night & Ox. Scott was awarded the 2018 Latner Writers' Trust Poetry Prize, which is given annually to a mid-career poet. I Talk Like a River is his first children's book.

    Sydney Smith is an illustrator from Nova Scotia. The books he has illustrated include Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and  Town is by the Seawritten by Joanne Schwartz. He wrote and illustrated the picture book Small in the City, which won the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature, illustration.

    My Family, Your Family! by Kathryn Cole, illustrated by Cornelia Li

    My Family, Your Family! is a picture book by Kathryn Cole, illustrated by Cornelia Li. (Second Story Press)

    What is the nature of family? My Family, Your Family! showcases the many different types of families, including gay parents, single parents, blended families and other family groups.

    My Family, Your Family! is for ages 0-3.

    Kathryn Cole is an illustrator, art director, editor, publisher and children's book author from Toronto. Her other books for children include A Tattle-Tell Tale and Never Give Up, both illustrated by Qin Leng.

    Cornelia Li is an illustrator and storyteller from Toronto. She also illustrated the books Voyage Through Space, Animals at Night and Nature's Light Spectacular, all written by Katy Flint.

    Summer Feet by Sheree Fitch, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher

    Summer Feet is a picture book written by Sheree Fitch and illustrated by Carolyn Fisher. (Nimbus Publishing)

    Summer Feet is a tongue-twisting picture book that celebrates all the things summer has to offer, including barefoot days, bonfires and dances in the rain. The story is brought to life by Carolyn Fisher's colourful illustrations.

    Summer Feet  is for ages 4 to 8.

    Sheree Fitch is the author of several children's books, including Mabel Murple, and young adult novels, like The Gravesavers. She received the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People in 2000. While Fitch is known for her work in children's literature, she has also authored poetry books, including the 1993 collection In This House Are Many Women, and novels for adults, including Kiss the Joy as it Flies.

    Carolyn Fisher is an award-winning artist and author. She has illustrated seven books, also authoring two of them. Her credits include illustrating Weeds Find a Way, Good Night, World and now Summer Feet.

    Snow Days by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Miki Sato

    Snow Days is a picture book written by Deborah Kerbel, top right, and illustrated by Miki Sato, bottom right. (Pajama Press, Adrian Fiebig)

    Snow Days uses textured collage art and rhyming couplets to depict the joy and magic of the season called winter. The picture sees children marvelling at the fun winter can bring. 

    Snow Days is for ages 2-5.

    Deborah Kerbel is a children's book author from Ontario. Her other books include the picture books Before You Were Born and Sun Dog, both illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo, the middle-grade books Feathered and Bye-Bye Evil Eye and the YA books Mackenzie, Lost and Found and Girl on the Other Side.

    Miki Sato is a Japanese Canadian illustrator originally from Ottawa. Her work has previously appeared in Today's Parent, Reader's Digest and the Walrus.

    Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

    A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

    Sign up now


    To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

    By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

    Become a CBC Account Holder

    Join the conversation  Create account

    Already have an account?