Books

The best Canadian picture books of 2021

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

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

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

On the Trapline by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett 

On the Trapline is a picture book by David A. Robertson, left, and Julie Flett. (Tundra Books, Amber Green)

David A. Robertson and Julie Flett, collaborators of the award-winning picture book When We Were Alone, team up again for On the Trapline. The picture book is a celebration of Indigenous traditions and intergenerational bonds, as a boy and his grandfather take a meaningful trip together. 

On the Trapline won the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books.

On the Trapline is for ages 4 to 8.

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 Aloneillustrated by Julie Flett, and a middle-grade series called The Misewa Saga.

Flett is a Cree-Métis author, illustrator and artist. Flett has illustrated several picture books including Little YouMy Heart Fills with Happiness and We Sang You HomeBirdsong was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.

Canadian author David A. Robertson spoke with Tom Power about winning his second Governor General's Literary Award for his picture book On the Trapline, illustrated by Julie Flett.

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This Is How I Know by Brittany Luby, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere & Alan Corbiere

This Is How I Know is a picture book by Brittany Luby, left, and Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. (Groundwood Books)

This Is How I Know is a vibrant story poem about an Anishinaabe child, her grandmother and a look at the wonders and beauty of the natural world. 

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This Is How I Know was on the shortlist for the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books.

This Is How I Know is for ages 3 to 7.

Brittany Luby is an academic and children's book author. She is the great-granddaughter of Chief Kawitaskung, an Anishinaabe leader who signed the North-West Angle Treaty of 1873. 

Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley is an Ojibway multidisciplinary artist from Ontario, whose family is from Wasauksing First Nation.

Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere are Anishinaabe from M'Chigeeng First Nation. The father and son duo translated the Anishinaabemowin text for the book.

Out into the Big Wide Lake by Paul Harbridge and Josée Bisaillon

Out into the Big Wide Lake is a picture book by Paul Harbridge, left, and Josée Bisaillon. (Tundra Books)

Out into the Big Wide Lake is a picture book about love, independence and empowerment. It's about a young girl with Down syndrome who learns more about confidence, facing fears and enjoying nature after a trip to her grandparents's lakeside home.

Out into the Big Wide Lake is for ages 4 to 8.

Paul Harbridge is a Toronto-based author and illustrator originally from Muskoka. He is also the author of the picture book When The Moon Comes, which won the 2018 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

Josée Bisaillon is a children's book writer and illustrator based outside Montreal. She received the 2017 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award for The Snow Knows, written by Jennifer McGrath. Some of her other books include Leap!, written by JonArno Lawson, The Boreal Forest, written by L.E. Carmichael, and Usha and the Stolen Sun, written by Bree Galbraith.

I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Michaela Goade

I Sang You Down from the Stars is a picture book by Tasha Spillett-Sumner (pictured) and illustrated by Michaela Goade. (Leonard Sumner, Submitted by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, Owlkids)

I Sang You Down from the Stars is a story of birth and creation for younger readers. With poetic language and watercolours, the picture book uses Indigenous creation stories and traditional teachings to celebrate nature and the bond behind mother and child.

I Sang You Down from the Stars is for ages 2 to 5.

Tasha Spillett-Sumner is an educator, poet and scholar of Nehiyaw and Trinidadian descent.  She is also the author of graphic novel Surviving the Citywhich won the $2,000 Indigenous Voices Award for works in an alternative format in 2019.

Michaela Goade is an American-born illustrator from the Tlingit and Haida tribes. Goade won the 2021 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in the book We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom.

Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher 

Malaika's Surprise is a picture book written by Nadia L. Hohn, left, and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. (Groundwood Books)

Malaika's Surprise is a picture book that continues the story of Malaika from the books Malaika's Winter Carnival and Malaika's Costume. This time around, Malaika learns she will soon have a new baby brother or sister and she doesn't know how to react or feel. Malaika's Surprise is a story of celebrating love and family. 

Malaika's Surprise is for ages 4 to 8.

Nadia L. Hohn is an educator and author from Toronto. Hohn was named one of six Black Canadian writers to watch in 2018. Her past books include Malaika's Winter Carnival and Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter

Irene Luxbacher is an acclaimed artist and author living in Toronto. The picture books she has written and illustrated include Deep Underwater, an Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award finalist; Mr. Frank, a USBBY Outstanding International Book; and most recently, Once I Was a Bear. Her other works of note include illustrations for Malaika's Costume and Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, and her illustrations for The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen were shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award.

The Next Chapter's children's book panel-- Ken Setterington, Michele Landsberg, and Bee Quammie --are back with their 2021 holiday recommendations.

Thunder and the Noise Storms by Jeffrey Ansloos & Shezza Ansloos, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley

Thunder and the Noise Storms is a picture book by Jeffrey Ansloos, left, and Shezza Ansloos, middle, and illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. (Annick Press, Meg Wallace)

In the picture book Thunder and the Noise Storms, children learn about the restorative powers of the natural world. Thunder often finds that the world around him can be too loud. When his grandfather asks him what he hears while on a nature walk one day, Thunder learns how the many different sounds of the natural world can have calming and empowering effects. 

Thunder and the Noise Storms is for ages 4 to 7.

Jeffery Ansloos is a Cree educator and psychologist. He is also the author of The Medicine of Peace.

Shezza Ansloos is a Cree writer, educator, artist and speaker. She is the author of two children's books, I Loved Her and The Fire Walker. Ansloos is also a singer-songwriter and visual artist.

Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley is an Anishinaabe artist and illustrator from Wasauksing First Nation. He is a self-taught artist who works in the Woodland art style of the Anishinaabe people.

The Doll by Nhung Tran-Davies, illustrated by Ravy Puth

The Doll is a picture book written by Nhung Tran-Davies, left, and illustrated by Ravy Puth.  (Second Story Press, Eloise Turgeon)

The Doll follows a young girl and her refugee family as they look to make a new life in a new land. When the girl is gifted a new doll by strangers when her family arrives at the airport, she grows up grateful and now looking to return the favour. 

The Doll is for ages 3 to 7.

Nhung Tran-Davies is an Alberta author, physician and advocate for social justice through education. Her family came to Canada as refugees from Vietnam in 1978. 

 Ravy Puth is a visual artist and illustrator from Montreal.

Welcome to the Cypher by Khodi Dill, illustrated by Awuradwoa Afful

Welcome to the Cypher is a picture book by Khodi Dill, left, illustrated by Awuradwoa Afful. (Annick Press)

Welcome to the Cypher is a picture book of music and fun hip-hop wordplay. This read-aloud book features children learning confidence and self-expression as they rap together in a group. 

Welcome to the Cypher is for ages 4 to 7.

Khodi Dill is a Bahamian Canadian educator and writer of everything from rap songs to children's literature based in Saskatoon. 

Awuradwoa Afful is a Ghanaian Canadian designer, illustrator and animator based in Toronto.

How do you make pictures for a book about life in residential school, kid-friendly? And how do you bring that lightness to a difficult and dark period of history? That's something Julie Flett had to figure out.

The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Gracey Zhang

The Big Bath House is a picture book by Kyo Maclear, left, and illustrated by Gracey Zhang, right. (Tundra Books)

The Big Bath House is a picture book that celebrates family, culture and bodies of all shapes and sizes. A Japanese girl — along with her aunties and grandmother — relax and connect at a traditional bath house. Everyone is in the bath and The Big Bath House highlights the rituals leading up to the baths: hair washing, back scrubbing and the traditional wood barrel drumroll. 

The Big Bath House is for ages 4 to 8.

Kyo Maclear is an essayist, novelist and author of children's books. Her books have been translated into 15 languages, won a Governor General's Literary Award and been nominated for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, among others. She is also the author of the memoir Birds Art Life.

Gracey Zhang is an author and illustrator from Vancouver, now based in New York. Lala's Wordsher debut picture book, was published in 2021.

The Sour Cherry Tree by Naseem Hrab, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi

The Sour Cherry Tree is a picture book by Naseem Hrab, left, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi. (Owlkids)

The Sour Cherry Tree is a look at the loss of a loved one through the eyes of a child. Based on author Naseem Hrab's own memories, this picture book looks at grief, love and culture to explore death and dying.

The Sour Cherry Tree is for ages 4 to 8.

Hrab is a Toronto-based writer and storyteller. She is also the author of Ira Crumb Makes a Pretty Good Friend and Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings. Her picture book Weekend Dad was a finalist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Prize for young people's literature — illustrated books.

Nahid Kazemi is an artist, illustrator, graphic designer and author from Montreal. Her other books include I'm Glad That You're Happy, The Orange House and Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon by JonArno Lawson.

Two at the Top by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Christopher Corr

Two at the Top is a picture book written by Uma Krishnaswami, left, and illustrated by Christopher Corr. (Groundwood Books)

Two at the Top is a picture book that tells the action-packed story of two real-life mountain climbers — one is Tenzing Norgay and the other is Edmund Hillary. The dual narrative and vibrant pictures highlight a thrilling journey to reach the top of Chomolungma, the mountain also known as Everest.

Two at the Top is for ages 3 to 6.

Uma Krishnaswami is an Indian-born, Victoria-based author and educator. Her other work includes Book Uncle and Me, winner of the ILA Social Justice Literature Award, illustrated by Julianna Swaney; and The Girl of the Wish Garden, illustrated by Nasrin Khosravi. She has been nominated twice for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. 

Christoper Corr is an artist and illustrator based in London. His illustrated work for children's books also includes The Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies. Corr's travels in the Himalayas have inspired his art for Two at the Top

We All Play by Julie Flett

We All Play is a picture book by Julie Flett. (Greystone Kids)

We All Play is the latest picture book by Cree author and artist Julie Flett. Through colourful illustrations, We All Play explores an Indigenous perspective as it celebrates nature and how we are all connected. We All Play includes a glossary of Cree words for wild animals and children repeating a Cree phrase throughout the book.

We All Play is for children up to the age of 7.

Flett has illustrated several acclaimed picture books including Little YouMy Heart Fills with Happiness and We Sang You Home. She has twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration: for On the Trapline and When We Were AloneFlett is also the author and illustrator of Birdsong.

It Fell from the Sky by The Fan Brothers

It Fell from the Sky is a picture book by The Fan Brothers. (Simon & Schuster)

It Fell from the Sky is the latest picture book by the award-winning team The Fan Brothers. It Fell from the Sky is a quirky picture book about an insect community and the strange unidentified object that falls from the sky one day. When Spider creates a wondrous display around the object, he's convinced that it belongs to him and starts charging money to see it. But when the insects stop coming by, Spider wonders if he's done the right thing. 

It Fell from the Sky is for ages 4 to 8.

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

Devin Fan is an artist, poet and youth worker. The Barnabus Project was his first children's book.

The Fan Brothers won the 2020 Governor General's Literary Prize for young people's literature — illustrated books for The Barnabus Project.

Stand Like a Cedar by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Carrielynn Victor

Stand Like a Cedar is a picture book by Nicola I. Campbell, left, and illustrated by Carrielynn Victor. (Highwater Press, Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Photography)

Stand Like a Cedar is a picture book about nature, animals and the wonder of the wilderness. It is an educational look at what it means to "stand like a cedar" and features the names of animals in the Nle7kepmxcín or Halq'emeylem languages.

Stand Like a Cedar is for ages 3 to 5.

Nicola I. Campbell is Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx and Métis from the Nicola Valley in B.C. She is also the author of Shi-shi-etko, Shin-chi's CanoeGrandpa's Girls and A Day With Yayah.

Carrielynn Victor is an artist and illustrator of Stó:lö, Coast Salish & settler heritage from the XwChí:yóm (Cheam) community in B.C. 

48 Grasshopper Estates by Sara de Waal, illustrated by Erika Medina

48 Grasshopper Estates is a picture book written by Sara de Waal, left, and illustrated by Erica Medina. (Paulina Moreno, Annick Press, Esther de Waal)

48 Grasshopper Estates is a picture book that features a little girl who uses her imagination to make the community she lives in a bit more friendly. 48 Grasshopper Estates is about the power of creativity and finding friends whenever you are.

48 Grasshopper Estates is for ages 4 to 7.

Sara de Waal is a writer and educator based in British Columbia. When she is not writing, she teaches music and art, telling stories with her students through colours and notes as well as words.   

Erika Medina is a Mexican illustrator and art instructor based in Vancouver. 

THAO by Thao Lam

Thao is a picture book by Thao Lam. (Owlkids)

THAO is a picture book about feeling comfortable in one's own skin and identity. Based on Thao Lam's own childhood, THAO is about a young Vietnamese girl who is frustrated that the other kids just can't pronounce her name. During lunch, Thao is put at ease when she opens her lunchbox to discover that her mother made her favourite food — Vietnamese spring rolls.

THAO is for ages 4 to 8.

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

The Wind and the Trees by Todd Stewart

The Wind and the Trees is a picture book by Todd Stewart. (Owlkids)

The Wind and the Trees is a picture book about the wonders of nature. It's about a small pine seedling who gains wisdom and knowledge thanks to a nearby tree. As the tiny pine tree grows, the older tree speaks about the heavy wind that blows through the forest. The young tree learns about nature, wisdom and loss.

The Wind and the Trees is for ages 4 to 8.

Todd Stewart is a Montreal illustrator, children's book author and screen printer. The Wind and the Trees is his first picture book.

Sunny Days by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Miki Sato

Sunny Days is a picture book by Deborah Kerbel, left, and illustrated by Miki Sato. (Pajama Press)

Sunny Days is a picture book for preschool readers about the joys of warm weather. Featuring textural collage art, the picture book explores the childhood magic of the perfect sunny day.

Sunny Days is for ages 2 to 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.

Every Home Needs an Elephant by Jane Heinrichs

Every Home Needs an Elephant is a picture book by Jane Heinrichs. (Orca Book Publishers, Bridget Wise)

Every Home Needs an Elephant is an early chapter book for younger readers about the challenges of having a pachyderm for a pet. When nine-year-old Sarah comes home with an elephant one day, it sets off an adventure about friendship, belonging and a love for animals. 

Every Home Needs an Elephant is for ages 6 to 8.

Jane Heinrichs is a Canadian children's book writer and the illustrator currently based in the U.K. She is also the author of The World Around Us series and the Princess Angelica series.

I Hear You, Forest by Kallie George, illustrated by Carmen Mok

I Hear You, Forest is a picture book by Kallie George, left, iIllustrated by Carmen Mok. (Greystone Kids, Luke Spencer Byrd)

The picture book I Hear You, Forest surrounds young readers with the sights and sounds of the forest on a bright day. A child in the forest listens closely to the sounds that nature and the animals make. The soothing surroundings help the child learn more about the world around her.

I Hear You, Forest is for ages 3 to 7.

Kallie George is a Vancouver-based writer for children whose books include the Heartwood Hotel series and Anne Arrives.

Carmen Mok has illustrated numerous books, including Waiting for Sophie by Sarah Ellis, Look at Me Now by Carol McDougall and Shanda LaRamee-Jones and Ride the Big Machines in Winter.

Time is a Flower by Julie Morstad

Time is a Flower is a picture book by Julie Morstad. (Tundra Books)

Time is a Flower is a picture book that playfully explores the nature of time. Time as a concept can be tricky to understand, but this book visually looks at the ticking of a clock, numbers and words on a calendar to help children better understand. 

Time is a Flower is for ages 3 and 7.

Julie Morstad is an artist based in Vancouver. Her other books include TodayHow To and This is Sadie, written by Sara O'Leary. She won the 2018 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award for her work in Blooma picture book about the life of Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaprelli written by Kyo Maclear.

Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii by Sara Florence Davidson & Robert Davidson, illustrated by Janine Gibbons

Jigging for Halibut With Tsinii is a picture book by Sara Florence Davidson & Robert Davidson, left, illustrated by Janine Gibbons. (HighWater Press, Farah Nosh, janinegibbons.com)

This picture book reflects the Haida Sk'ad'a Principles as it looks at Haida artist Robert Davidson's own experiences with Tsinii (grandfather). Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii is a cultural look at a young boy, his grandfather and a day spent fishing using traditional methods.

Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii is for ages 6 to 8.

Sara Florence Davidson is a Haida/Settler author and assistant professor in Indigenous education at Simon Fraser University.

Robert Davidson is one of the most respected and important contemporary artists in Canada. A Northwest Coast native of Haida descent, he is a master carver of totem poles and masks and works in a variety of other media as a printmaker, painter and jeweller.

Janine Gibbons, a Haida Raven of the Double-Fin Killer Whale Clan, Brown Bear House, is a multi-disciplinary artist and illustrator. She has illustrated three books in the Sealaska Heritage's Baby Raven Reads series, including Raven Makes the Aleutians.

Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illustrated by Ashley Barron

Chaiwala! is a picture book by Priti Birla Maheshwari, left, illustrated by Ashley Barron. (Owlkids)

Chaiwala! is a picture book inspired by the author's childhood visits to India. Chaiwala! is about a young girl and her mother at the train station. They are waiting in line for a hot cup of chai, and the young girl takes note of all the delicious smells and sights around her.

Chaiwala! is for ages 3 to 7.

Priti Birla Maheshwari is an Ontario-based author and educator who was born in New Delhi, India. Chaiwala! is her first picture book.

Ashley Barron is a Toronto-based artist, children's book illustrator and multimedia artist who is best known for her paper collage work.

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