Books·Books of the Year

The best Canadian YA and children's literature of 2018

2018 was a great year for books. Here are CBC Books's top Canadian YA and children's books that came out this year.

2018 was a great year for literature. Here are CBC Books's top 25 Canadian YA and children's books that came out this year.

Una Huna? What is This? by Susan Aglukark

Una Huna is a children's book by Inuk musician Susan Aglukark. (Submitted by Inhabit Media)

In musician Susan Aglukark's first picture book, Ukpik loves her life at camp in the North with her family, friends and puppy. When a trader from the south arrives, Ukpik learns how to use forks, knives and spoons and is excited to teach other children as well. But then Ukpik wonders if the new tools will change her community's way of life and turns to her grandmother for guidance.

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Jonathan Auxier is the author of Sweep. (Puffin Canada)

Set in Victorian London, Sweep revolves around a young orphan girl named Nan who sweeps chimneys for a dangerous and hardscrabble living. Nan nearly perishes in a deadly chimney fire, but is saved when a piece of charcoal comes to life as a mysterious golem-like creature. Together, the two hatch a plan to rescue young orphan chimney sweeps from losing their lives on the job for cruel masters. This book won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Júlia Sardà

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is a biographical picture book by Linda Bailey & Júlia Sardà. (Lia Grainger, Tundra Books, Júlia Sardà)

This biographical picture book tells the story of Mary Shelley and how she came up with idea for her classic horror novel Frankenstein. The story begins as Mary runs away with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and ends up around a fire with the likes of Lord Byron. When he suggests they compete to see who can come up with the best ghost story, Mary becomes consumed with the challenge.

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

This week, Jael Richardson picked A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. (Raincoast Books/Farrar Straus & Giroux)

A debut YA novel about the risks of stereotyping, A Girl Like That follows the life and death of a girl named Zarin Wadia. Set in present-day Saudi Arabia, Zarin is raised by her uncle and abusive aunt after being orphaned at a young age. She is considered a troublemaker — smoking cigarettes and hanging out with boys — until a car crash takes her life. Through writing of her death, Tanaz Bhathena explores sexist double standards and the oppression of women, as well as teenage alienation, angst and ambition.

A Bubble by Geneviève Castrée

Geneviève Castrée's final book, A Bubble, was a gift to her daughter. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Geneviève Castrée finished this board book as she neared the end of her life and left it as a gift for her two-year-old daughter. The book is a loving look at a mother and child's days together, living in a protective bubble, as the parent struggles with cancer. The book offers a beautiful and moving contemplation of what it means to love and to grieve at a young age. Castrée died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer.

Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley

Lena Coakley is an author of children's books. (Lena Coakley/HarperCollins)

Lena Coakley's delightful middle grade fantasy novel follows Nix, a mischievous fairy who professes to have wicked magical powers. When the scary fairy queen leaves Nix in charge of the forest, a "tallish and oldish and baldish" human moves in. Nix is determined to drive the man out and uses all manner of tricks and pranks to get his way.

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

Christopher Paul Curtis wrote The Journey of Little Charlie, a middle-school adventure novel. (Arden Wray, Scholastic Canada)

The Journey of Little Charlie follows a 12-year-old boy who agrees to track down thieves in order to settle his debts with a cruel man named Cap'n Buck. But when Charlie discovers the thieves he's hunting are people who escaped from slavery, his conscience intervenes. The middle-grade novel was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature — text.

Flawed by Andrea Dorfman

Andrea Dorfman is a filmmaker and animator based in Nova Scotia. (Firefly Books,

In this autobiographical comic, Andrea Dorfman surprises herself by falling in love with a plastic surgeon from the East Coast. Having struggled with accepting her appearance — she was bullied in school for having a big nose — Dorfman feels conflicted about the fact that Dave makes people "beautiful" for a living. Despite these reservations, a long-distance courtship blooms into a beautiful romance and helps Dorfman overcome her insecurities.

Ocean Meets Sky by Eric Fan and Terry Fan

Eric Fan (left) and Terry Fan are award-winning illustrators based in Toronto. (

In Ocean Meets Sky, the Fan brothers tell the story of a young boy named Finn on a high seas adventure after his grandfather's death. Finn is searching for the place where ocean meets sky, a mythical place from his grandfather's stories filled with castles and birds and jellyfish and whales. The picture book was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.

Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones

Fire Song is a YA novel by Adam Garnet Jones. (Annick Press)

Following his sister's suicide, Shane, a gay Indigenous​ teenager in Northern Ontario, struggles to support his family. Shane is eventually forced to choose between his family's home and his own future. Fire Song is an adaptation of Adam Garnet Jones's award-winning film.

Africville by Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Eva Campbell

Africville is a picture book written by Shauntay Grant (top) and illustrated by Eva Campbell. (Groundwood,, Brian Geary)

Shauntay Grant and Eva Campbell tell the story of Africville through the eyes of a young girl visiting for the annual Africville Reunion/Festival. She brings her family's stories to life by imagining brightly painted houses on the hillside and visiting the sundial in the park where her great-grandmother's name is carved. Africville was home to a vibrant Black community in Halifax, N.S., for more than 150 years, but never received basic city services and was demolished in the 1960s. Africville was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books.

The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel

Elise Gravel is a Canadian children's book author and illustrator. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Elise Gravel's latest children's book, The Mushroom Fan Club, is inspired by her family's love of mushroom hunting. The book journeys through the world of mushrooms — from boletes to chanterelles and more — with whimsical drawings, teaching young readers how to identify different mushrooms and describing their many fascinating traits.

The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks

The Divided Earth is a graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks. (Nathan Boone, Raincoast Books)

The final instalment of Faith Erin Hicks's acclaimed Nameless City trilogy, The Divided Earth barrels to a thrilling conclusion for Rat and Kai, the two misfit friends at the heart of the middle grade fantasy graphic novels. In this book, Kai and Rat must break into the palace of the rogue prince Erzi, who holds the Nameless City hostage with the formula for an ancient weapon of mass destruction.

Too Young to Escape by Van Ho & Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Too Young to Escape was written by Van Ho & Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. (Submitted by Pajama Press)

As the Vietnam War ends and a communist regime begins in Ho Chi Minh City, Van Ho wakes up to find that her mother, sister Loan and brother Tuan have escaped in the middle of the night without her. At just four years old, Van is too young — and her grandmother is too old — to make the dangerous boat journey west. Once the family is settled, they plan to send for Van and grandmother, but until then Van is treated like a servant by her aunt and uncle and is bullied by a classmate, who turns out to be the son of a military policeman. This nonfiction book is based on co-author Van Ho's childhood.

The Funeral by Matt James

Matt James is the author and illustrator of The Funeral. (Groundwood/

In The Funeral, a young girl named Norma goes to her great-uncle Frank's funeral. She has fun playing with her favourite cousin Ray, but the experience makes her start to question ideas and ceremonies surrounding life and death. Vivid and kind, The Funeral is award-winning illustrator Matt James's first picture book as a writer.

I Am Small by Qin Leng

Qin Leng is the author of the illustrated children's book I Am Small. (Courtesy of Kids Can Press)

Mimi hates being small, even though her friends tell her she's the best at finding hiding places because of her size. One day, Mimi hears that a tiny surprise is waiting for her at home and she's about to learn something unexpected about being little. I Am Small marks acclaimed children's book illustrator Qin Leng's debut as a writer.

This Book Betrays My Brother by Kagiso Lesego Molope

This Book Betrays My Brother is a novel by Kagiso Lesego Molope. (Mawenzi House)

Kagiso Lesego Molope's YA novel follows a 13-year-old narrator named Naledi who witnesses her beloved older brother committing a terrible act of violence. Naledi is lost in the aftermath, unsure how to reconcile who she thought her brother was with what he has done. Set in the 1990s, This Book Betrays My Brother received the 2013 Percy FitzPatrick Prize for Youth Literature in South Africa where it was first published.

Bloom by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Kyo Maclear (left) wrote and Julie Morstad (centre) illustrated Bloom. (Diaspora Dialogues/CBC/Tundra)

Continuing their series of biographical picture books, award-winning duo Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad tell the story of iconic Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Throughout her childhood, Schiaparelli was called brutta, ugly, by her mother. As a result, Schiaparelli was always seeking to create her own definition of beauty and did so with her imaginative and vivid clothing.

Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather

Learning to Breathe is Janice Lynn Mather's debut novel. (Simon & Schuster)

Learning to Breathe, Janice Lynn Mather's debut novel, is a coming-of-age story about a 16-year-old girl named Indira who, burdened by her mother's reputation within her family and community, attempts to forge her own path. When Indy is sent to live with relatives in Nassau, Bahamas, troubles emerge, including an unwanted pregnancy that she must hide from her aunt. The novel was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

Susin Nielsen is the author of the middle-grade novel No Fixed Address. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)

When 12-year-old Felix Knuttson's loving (but unreliable) mother loses yet another job, the two are forced to live in a camper van. While Astrid looks for work, Felix enrolls at school with a fake address and learns about a national quiz show. He becomes determined to win the cash prize so he and his mother can afford a home. No Fixed Address is another charming middle-grade novel from B.C. writer Susin Nielsen.

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Sydney Smith

Inkling is a middle-grade novel by Kenneth Oppel. (Mark Raynes Roberts)

With mom gone, the Rylance family is in a rut — that is, until Inkling comes into their lives. Inkling leapt from the page of a sketchbook and began solving the family's problems — getting rid of dad's writer's block, helping with Ethan's school art project and being the dog Sarah's always wanted. Then one day Inkling disappears, which makes the Rylance family think about what they need, rather than just what they want. Inkling is a middle-grade novel from award-winning writer Kenneth Oppel.

Monsters by David A. Robertson

Monsters is the second book in David A. Robertson's Reckoner series. (Courtesy of Portage and Main Press)

Monsters is the follow-up to David A. Robertson's YA novel Strangers. Protagonist Cole Harper is trying to adapt to life in Wounded Sky First Nation and find answers about his father's death while a creature lurks in the Blackwood Forest. With the help of Coch and Jayne, his ghost and spirit friends, Cole must get to to the bottom of the mystery surrounding his community and save the people he cares about.

Call of the Wraith by Kevin Sands

Kevin Sands is author of the middle-grade novel Call of the Wraith. (Thomas Zitnansky/Simon and Schuster)

Christopher Rowe has survived a shipwreck in Devonshire, but wakes up without any memories of who he is or where he's from. The locals tell him he was possessed by evil and revived by a witch. Christopher's friends Tom and Sally track him down and remind him of his unique abilities as an expert in the apothecary sciences. When children go missing, Christopher struggles to get his memories back in order to help them. This is the fourth book in Kevin Sands's bestselling Blackthorn Key series for middle-grade readers.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie is a young adult novel by Courtney Summers. (Megan Gunter, Raincoast Books)

The titular character of Courtney Summers's YA novel lives in an isolated small town with her sister Mattie. When Mattie is found dead and the police botch the investigation, Sadie becomes determined to track down the killer herself. At a gas station, a travelling radio personality named West McCray hears about Sadie's story and starts a podcast about her investigation.

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

They Say Blue is Jillian Tamaki's first picture book. (Groundwood, Reynard Li)

A vibrant picture book by Jillian Tamaki, They Say Blue is an exploration of colour told from the perspective of a curious and inquisitive little girl. The picture book won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.