Books·Books of the Year

The best Canadian YA and middle-grade books of 2019

Here are CBC Books's 15 favourite books for YA and middle-grade readers from this year!

Here are CBC Books's 15 favourite books for YA and middle-grade readers from this year!

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Love from A to Z is a YA novel by S.K. Ali. (Andrea Stenson, Simon & Schuster)

Love from A to Z is about two teenagers who meet in unexpected circumtances and end up changing each other's lives even though they couldn't be more different. When Zayneb gets suspended for standing up to a xenophobic teacher, she's sent to her aunt's house in Doha, Qatar for an early spring break. She ends up meeting Adam, a teenager trying to hide his multiple sclerosis diagnosis from his grieving father. 

Love from A to Z is for readers aged 14 and up.

Love from A to Z is S.K. Ali's second book, following Saints and Misfits.

Uzma Jalaluddin, the author of Ayesha at Last, on three of her favourite YA novels.

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow

Stand on the Sky is a YA fantasy novel by Erin Bow. (Studio J, Scholastic)

Stand on the Sky is about a young girl who goes against her communiy's traditions in order to follow her dreams. In Aisulu's nomadic community, only men have traditionally learned to train eagles. But when her parents take her brother to a distant hospital, Aisulu secretly nurtures an orphaned baby eagle. Stand on the Sky won the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature  text.

Stand on the Sky is for readers ages 9 to 12.

Erin Bow is a poet and children's book writer from Kitchener, Ont. Her books for young readers include Plain Kate and The Scorpion Rules.

Kitchener-Waterloo author Erin Bow talks about winning what she describes as THE Canadian book award for her middle grade novel Stand on the Sky.

The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott

Zetta Elliott is a writer of middle-grade novels. (Random House Children's Books, CBC)

The Dragon Thief is the the second instalment of the middle-grade series Dragons in a Bag. It follows the fantasy adventures of young Jaxon and his life with dragons. When he's put in charge of taking care of baby dragons, he discovers that one is missing. This event sets Jaxon off on an adventure to find his best friend's sister, Kavita, who just might be the dragon thief.

The Dragon Thief is for readers aged 8-12.

Zetta Elliott was born in Ajax, Ont., and has lived in the United States for the past 20 years. She is a poet, teacher and writer for children and young adults. 

Zetta Elliott on what inspired her new kids book.

Break in Case of Emergency by Brian Francis

Break in Case of Emergency is a YA novel by Brian Francis. (HarperCollins, Samuel Engelking)

Break in Case of Emergency follows Toby Goodman, a teen whose father left their small town before she was born and whose mother died by suicide when she's a young girl. When she finds out that her estranged father is coming back to town and wants to meet her, Toby must try to make sense of her life amid surprising revelations about her family history. Break in Case of Emergency was a finalist the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature  text.

Break in Case of Emergency is for readers aged 14 and up.

Brian Francis is a writer and columnist for The Next Chapter on CBC Radio. His first novel, Fruit, was a finalist for Canada Reads 2009. He is also the author of the novel Natural Order.

Brian Francis talks to Shelagh Rogers about his new YA novel, Break in Case of Emergency.

We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra 

We Contain Multitudes is a YA novel by Sarah Henstra. (, Penguin Teen)

In the YA novel We Contain Multitudes, a letter-writing assignment brings together high schoolers Kurl — an ex-football player known for fighting and for being held back a year — and Jo — a gay, nerdy teenager who loves poetry. As their fledgling, unexpected friendship grows, Jo and Kurl face homophobia and bullying from their peers and families. 

We Contain Multitudes is for readers aged 14 and up.

We Contain Multitudes is Sarah Henstra's second book. She won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for the novel The Red Word.

Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

Comics Will Break Your Heart is a YA novel by Faith Erin Hicks. (Nathan Boone, Raincoast Books)

In the YA novel Comics Will Break Your HeartMiriam's grandfather co-created the iconic superhero series TomorrowMen, but doesn't get a dime for his work because he sold the rights for a pittance to his co-creator. Now the family's struggling to stay afloat and the future looks grim for Miriam. Things get complicated when heir to the TomorrowMen fortune moves to town — and, worse, he happens to be pretty cute. 

Comics Will Break Your Heart is for readers aged 12 and up.

Comics Will Break Your Heart is Faith Erin Hicks' first novel. She is also the author of the popular Nameless City graphic novel series.

Those Who Dwell Below by Aviaq Johnston, illustrated by Toma Feizo Gas

Those Who Dwell Below is a fantasy YA novel by Aviaq Johnston. (Inhabit Media)

Those Who Dwell Below is a sequel to Aviaq Johnston's debut novel, Those Who Run in the Sky After being trapped in a spirit world, a young shaman named Pitu returns to his life in the Arctic. When Pitu gets wind of a nearby community that is starving, he realizes he must travel to the depths of the ocean to meet with the sea goddess Nuliajuk. 

Those Who Dwell Below is for readers aged 12 and up.

Aviaq Johnston is an Inuk author from Igloolik, Nunavut. She is also the author of the charming children's book What's My Superpower? illustrated by Tim Mack. Her YA novel Those Who Run in the Sky. was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

Aviaq Johnston freely admits the first book she ever wrote as a teen was terrible. But the author from Igloolik, Nunavut has moved on from a "Harry Potter rip-off" to a debut novel shortlisted for a Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature.

When You Ask Me Where I'm Going by Jasmin Kaur

Jasmin Kaur's debut book is a collection of poetry, illustrations and prose. (HarperCollins, Jasmit Mankoo)

When You Ask Me Where I'm Going by Jasmin Kaur is a mix of poetry, prose and artwork. The book aims to spark debate around themes of mental health, feminism, immigration and personal empowerment. It's a look at what it means to be alive and willing to fight for rights in the world. 

When You Ask Me Where I'm Going is for readers aged 14 and up.

Vancouver-based Kaur is an illustrator, spoken word artist and author. Her approach to writing has drawn comparisons to Canadian poet Rupi Kaur and American writer Elizabeth Acevedo. 

Helping Children To Understand The Horrors of the Holocaust... Kathy Kacer is an award winning children's author who has come to Cape Breton for Nova Scotia Holocaust Education Week. (runs 6:56 November 13, 2014)

Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Operatic is a YA novel by Kyo Maclear & Byron Eggenschwiler. (Submitted by Groundwood Books)

Operatic is a graphic novel about the beauty of opera. When her music class learns about opera, Charlie becomes obsessed with the life of Maria Callas. She looks to the ultimate diva for direction on how to cope with her feelings for her classmate Emile and her concerns for Luka, who hasn't showed up to school in weeks. 

Operatic is for readers aged 10 to 14. 

Kyo Maclear is the author of many picture books, including Bloom and Virginia Wolf, as well as nonfiction books like Birds Art Life

Byron Eggenschwiler is an illustrator who has contributed to publications like the New York Times, New Yorker and GQ.

The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills

The Ghost Collector is a middle-grade novel by Allison Mills. (K. Ho, Annick Press)

The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills is about a young girl named Shelly with an important job. She catches ghosts in her hair and helps them transition to the afterlife. But when Shelly's mom dies, she stops helping the ghosts and starts hoarding them, as she waits for her mother's ghost to arrive. The Ghost Collector is inspired by Mills's great-grandmother's life and influenced by her Cree heritage.

The Ghost Collector is for readers aged 10 and up.

Mills is a writer based in Vancouver. The Ghost Collector is her first book.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is a YA book by Ben Philippe. (, HarperCollins)

In the YA novel The Field Guide to the North American TeenagerNorris Kaplan is a wisecracking black French Canadian teenager who knows he's in for a major culture shock when his family moves to Texas. He keeps track of his fellow high schoolers by placing them in categories: Cheerleaders, Jocks, Loners and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. When people from the categories try and befriend him, Norris learns a lesson about his snarky attitude.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is for readers aged 13 and up.

Ben Philippe, who now lives in New York, has contributed to publications like Vanity Fair and the Guardian. The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is his first book.

Ghosts by David A. Robertson

David A. Robertson is the author of the YA novel Ghosts. (HighWater Press)

Ghosts is the third book in David A. Robertson's Reckoner series following an Indigenous teen named Cole Harper, who returns home after many years away. In GhostsCole is dead and time is running out for Wounded Sky First Nation as Mihko Laboratories, which manufactured an illness that once afflicted the community, has reopened its research facilities.

Ghosts is for readers 13 and up.

Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. He has published more than 20 books across a variety of genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls and the picture book When We Were Alone.

Broken Strings by Eric Walters & Kathy Kacer

Broken Strings is a middle-grade novel by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer. (Puffin Canada,, Nicki Kagan)

The power of music is a theme in Broken Strings by Canadian co-authors Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer. It's 2002 — one year after the 9/11 attacks — and Shirli and Zayde are two students auditioning for a role in the school production of Fiddler on the Roof. When one finds an old violin in her Jewish grandfather's attic, a family secret is uncovered and the experience changes the lives of all involved.

Broken Strings is for readers aged 10-14.

Walters is a Canadian author of  nearly 100 books for young readers, including We All Fall Down and Run.

Kacer is a Toronto-based author whose parents were both survivors of the Holocaust. Her books, including Hiding Edith and Masters of Silence, explore the lives of young Jewish people who lived during the Second World War.

The Starlight Claim by Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim Wynne-Jones is a British–Canadian author of children's literature and adult novels. (Candlewick,

The Starlight Claim is a thriller geared for YA readers. The story follows a boy named Nate who is suffering from bad dreams after his best friend goes missing. Nate decides to embark on a treacherous solo journey to find out what happened that fateful day. Nate is forced to rely on his wits in a wilderness full of strangers, secrets and a blustery winter storm. 

The Starlight Claim is for readers aged 14 and up.

Wynne-Jones has written several books, including the picture book Zoom at Sea, the middle-grade books The Boy in the Burning House  and Blink and Caution and the adult novels Odd's End.

What the Eagle Sees by Eldon Yellowhorn & Kathy Lowinger

Eldon Yellowhorn is the co-author of What the Eagle Sees. (Annick Press)

What the Eagle Sees is a follow-up to 2017's Turtle IslandIt looks at historical events to reflect an underrepresented Indigenous perspective of our collective past and how to move on in the present and future. Academic Eldon Yellowhorn again works with author Kathy Lowinger to continue an examination of the lasting impact of settler culture on the Indigenous community.

What the Eagle Sees is for readers aged 11 and up.

Yellowhorn is an academic and author from the Peigan Indian Reserve (Piikani Nation). Yellowhorn explores the mythology and folklore of his Indigenous ancestors and in how the past informs the present in his books.