The best Canadian YA and middle-grade books of 2020

Here are the CBC Books picks for the top Canadian YA and middle-grade books of the year.

Here are CBC Books's picks for the top Canadian YA and middle grade books of 2020.

The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson

The Barren Grounds is a middle-grade novel by David A. Robertson (Puffin, Amber Green)

The Barren Grounds is the first book of a new middle-grade series by David A. Robertson. It is set in Winnipeg where two Indigenous kids, Morgan and Eli, are placed in a new foster home. The pair feel out of place and disconnected in their new surroundings — until they uncover a secret portal in the attic that opens up to a magical reality. The frozen barren grounds they find set the pair on a mission of survival and self-determination.

The Barren Grounds is for ages 10 and up.

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 the YA book Strangers and the memoir Black Water.

To say Cree author David A. Robertson is prolific is a bit of an understatement. He started his writing career in 2009, and has already published more than 20 titles. This fall he has three books being released. This week on Unreserved, an extended conversation with the author.

Barry Squires, Full Tilt by Heather T. Smith

Heather Smith writes YA and middle-grade fiction. Originally from Newfoundland, she now lives in Waterloo, Ont. (Penguin Teen)

Set in St. John's during the 1990s, Barry Squires, Full Tilt is about a 12-year-old boy and his dreams to become a dancer. When a dance troupe performs a thrilling set at the new bingo hall in town, Finbar (Barry) Squires must convince his parents that, although he has a temper and is a bit rough around the edges, he dreams to dance and that dreams do come true.

Barry Squires, Full Tilt is for ages 12 and up.

Heather T. Smith is a writer from Waterloo, Ont. Her 2018 novel-in-verse Ebb & Flow was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature — text and won the 2019 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, a $50,000 prize that recognizes the best Canadian children's book of the year.

Don't Stand So Close to Me by Eric Walters

Eric Walters is a Canadian writer of children's books. (Orca Book Publishers, Penguin Random House Canada)

Don't Stand So Close to Me is one of the first middle-grade novels set during the era of Covid-19. Quinn is a 13-year-old teen living during the worldwide pandemic. When spring break is extended an extra two weeks due to the virus, Quinn and her teen friends must quickly adapt to a new reality of virtual classroom and social distancing. Quinn's home life is also affected as her doctor father is forced to self-isolate, and her friends' families lives are changed in similar ways. 

Don't Stand So Close to Me is for ages 8 to 12. 

Eric Walters is one of Canada's most prolific and successful writers for young people. Inspired by reluctant readers when he was a grade five teacher, he decided to write them a story they couldn't put down. Since then, he's penned almost 100 (!!) books, including Camp XThe Power of Three and Run. He's reaching more readers than ever: his 2006 novel We All Fall Down came in at #88 on the list of the bestselling 150 Canadian books of the past 10 years

Eric Walters on creating 'I Read Canadian' Day

3 years ago
Duration 2:44
Children's author Eric Walters says he heard from multiple struggling Canadian authors before he decided to start an annual day to promote them.

Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds by Elise Gravel

Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds is a book by Elise Gravel. (HarperAlley)

Arlo & Pips is a chapter-book series all about Arlo the crow and his tiny friend Pips. Arlo & Pips follows the funny adventures of the two birds as they head to the beach and the big city for food and fun. 

Arlo & Pips is for ages 6-10.

Elise Gravel is an award-winning Canadian children's book author and illustrator from Montreal. Her other books include The BatThe Mushroom Fan ClubI Want a Monster! and The Worst Book Ever.

Author-illustrator Elise Gravel uses humour to subvert gender roles and teach children about frustration in her new book, "The Cranky Ballerina."

Screech! Ghost Stories from Old Newfoundland by Charis Cotter, illustrated by Genevieve Simms

A middle-grade book by Charis Cotter and illustrated by Genevieve Simms. (Nimbus Publishing, Andrew Johnson, Jennifer Griffiths)

Screech! Ghost Stories from Old Newfoundland features stories about ghosts and spectres haunting the East Coast. The 10 ghost stories are all set in and around Old Newfoundland and are based on family tales passed down over generations.

Screech! Ghost Stories from Old Newfoundland is for ages 8-12.

Charis Cotter is a Newfoundland author known for books such as The Ghost Road. 

Genevieve Simms is an illustrator from Toronto. Her work has appeared in Quill & Quire, the Walrus, Readers' Digest Canada, the Globe and Mail and McSweeney's.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Skunk and Badger is a 2020 middle-grade novel by Amy Timberlake with pictures by Jon Klassen. (Fred Chartrand, Phil Timberlake, HarperCollins)

Skunk and Badger is the first book in a new illustrated chapter-book series about a pair of unlikely animal friends. When set-in-his-ways Badger gets a new roommate, the easygoing Skunk, both are changed forever by the new friendship that follows. 

Skunk and Badger is for ages 8-12.

Amy Timberlake is the American author of the Newbery Honor book One Came Home, as well as the middle-grade novel That Girl Lucy Moon and picture book The Dirty Cowboy.

Jon Klassen is an award-winning Toronto author and illustrator now based in Los Angeles. His long list of honours includes the American Caldecott Medal and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal (both for This Is Not My Hat, which he wrote and illustrated), as well as the Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature — illustration for Cats' Night Out written by Caroline Stutson. He has also frequently collaborated with American author Mac Barnett on books like The Wolf, the Duck, and the MouseTriangle, Square and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.

In a special treat, Jon Klassen -- one of the most acclaimed new talents in children's literature -- joins guest host and illustrator Kevin Sylvester to discuss storytelling, stealing hats and when it's okay to scare kids.

Hockey Super Six: On Thin Ice by Kevin Sylvester

A middle-grade series by Kevin Sylvester. (Scholastic Canada)

Hockey Super Six: On Thin Ice features six young hockey players on a quest to vanquish the forces of evil by way of a mean slapshot. This title, which is the sixth in the series, sees the gang batter the evil scientist Clarence Crosscheck and attempt to foil his plans to rule the world. This mission involves teamwork and beating the odds. 

Hockey Super Six: On Thin Ice is for ages 8-12.

Kevin Sylvester is a broadcaster, occasional CBC Radio host and the award-winning illustrator and writer of middle-grade books such as the Neil Flambé Capers series and the MiNRS space adventure series.

Salvation by Caryn Lix

Caryn Lix is a fantasy writer based in Alberta. (Simon Pulse, Tanya Plonka)

In Salvation, the third and final book in the Sanctuary trilogy, protagonist Kenzie and her friends fear their luck may have run out when they are trapped on a strange new planet. After encountering alien attacks and bounty hunters, Kenzie must use her newly acquired superpowers to solve a dark mystery and save Earth from destruction.

Salvation is for ages 14 and up.

Caryn Lix is a YA fantasy writer based in Alberta. She is the author of the Sanctuary sci-fi YA series, which includes the books Sanctuary and Containment.

Facing the Sun by Janice Lynn Mather

Facing the Sun is a YA novel by Janice Lynn Mather (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Facing the Sun is a coming-of-age story set in the Bahamas. It's about four young girls — Eve, Faith, KeeKee and Nia — and the choices they are forced to make one fateful summer. When a hotel developer makes a move to buy the community's beloved beach, all four teens are faced with decisions that might change them forever.

Facing the Sun is for ages 14 and up.

Janice Lynn Mather is a a novelist and short story writer, who was born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, and is now based in Vancouver. In 2018, she released her debut novel, Learning to Breathe. The book was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

Janice Lynn Mather writes about the tight-knit friendship of four teenage girls in her Bahamas-set YA novel Facing the Sun.

The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass by Adan Jerreat-Poole

Adan Jerreat-Poole is an author from Kingston, Ont. (Dundurn Press)

The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass depicts a fantasy world of witches and the assassins they created to hunt down ghosts in the human world. A group of renegades are in an ongoing battle to capture the Heart of the Coven. Eli is a teenage girl and trained assassin taught to kill with her seven living blades. Eli starts to question all she was taught about her world and the human world, when an assignment goes awry. 

The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass is for ages 15 and up.

Adan Jerreat-Poole is a writer and a PhD candidate in English and cultural studies at McMaster University. They are also the author of the YA novel The Boi of Feather and Steel. They live in Kingston, Ont.

Confessions of a Teenage Drag King by Markus Harwood-Jones

Markus Harwood-Jones is a writer, artist and filmmaker based in Toronto. (Lorimer)

Set in Toronto, Confessions of a Teenage Drag King takes a colourful and lighthearted look at gender, sexual orientation and identity. Lauren is a 17-year-old LGBTQ teen who breathlessly maintains two public personas — alternating between being a drag king and an unassuming high school student — as they look for romance in the city.

Confessions of a Teenage Drag King is for ages 13 and up.

Markus Harwood-Jones is a writer, artist and filmmaker based in Toronto. His other teen romances include We ThreeJust Julian and Romeo for Real.

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen by Marthe Jocelyn, illustrated by Isabelle Follath

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen is a book by Marthe Jocelyn, with illustrations by Isabelle Follath. (Tundra Books)

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen is a new middle-grade mystery series set in a small town on the coast of England in 1902. It follows a young detective named Aggie Morton. The story is inspired by the imagined childhood of Agatha Christie and her most popular creation, the character of Hercule Poirot. When Aggie discovers a dead body on the floor of the Mermaid Dance Room, the murder threatens to tear the town apart. Aggie uses curiosity, deductive skills and some help from her friends to solve the case before an innocent person is charged with a crime Aggie is confident they didn't commit.

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen is for ages 10 and up.

Marthe Jocelyn is the author of over 20 books, including The Invisible Enemy and Mayfly.

Isabelle Follath is an illustrator from Switzerland.

The Case of the Missing Auntie by Michael Hutchinson

The Case of the Missing Auntie is a middle-grade book by Michael Hutchinson. (Second Story Press, @Mike_Hutchins0n/

In The Case of the Missing Auntie, the latest instalment of The Mighty Muskrats Mystery series, the four cousins from the Windy Lake First Nation head to the city to visit the Exhibition Fair. There, they learn about their grandfather's little sister, who was scooped up by the government and adopted out to strangers without her parents' permission many years ago. They launch a search for their auntie and, along the way, they learn about the treatment of First Nations people in Canada.

The Case of the Missing Auntie is for ages 9 to 12.

Michael Hutchinson is a novelist and member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation. He currently lives in Ottawa and works at the Assembly of First Nations. He is the author of The Case of Windy Lake.

Michael Hutchinson talks about his Mighty Muskrats Mystery series for middle grade readers.

Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman

Music For Tigers is a middle-grade book by Michelle Kadarusman. (Micah Ricardo Riedl, Pajama Press)

Music for Tigers is a middle-grade novel and coming-of-age story about a young violinist who finds out that her mother's family secretly has a sanctuary for extinct Tasmanian tigers — the island's most beloved and lost, creature — in the remote Australian rainforest.

Music for Tigers is for ages 8 to 12.

    Michelle Kadarusman is a Canadian Australian Indonesian author of novels for children and teens. She is the author of The Theory of Hummingbirds and Girl of the Southern Sea, which was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

    A Boy is Not a Bird by Edeet Ravel 

    Edeet Ravel is an Israeli-Canadian novelist born in Israel and raised in Montreal. (Groundwood Books, Yudit Avi-Dor)

    A Boy is Not a Bird is a middle-grade novel set during the Second World War. In 1941, tensions are high in Eurpoe. Even though Natt knows that there's a war going on, he's still frustrated that his family treats him like a child. But when the Russians move into his small town of Zastavna and local authorities start to round up deportees bound for Siberia, Natt witnesses and experiences harsh events that force him to grow up faster than he'd like.

    A Boy is Not a Bird is for ages 9 to 12.

    Edeet Ravel is a novelist born in Israel and raised in Montreal. She is also the author of the novel A Wall of Light, which was a finalist for the 2005 Giller Prize.

    Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

    Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer is a book by Gillian Goerz. (Dial Books,

    Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer is about two girls, Jamila and Shirley, who become friends one summer. They don't have much in common, but summer is lonely, so they bond to make this one unforgettable. When a boy named Oliver asks them for help to find his pet gecko, Jamila learns something amazing about Shirley: she's a kid detective. And she's really good at it.

    Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer is for ages 9 to 12.

    Gillian Goerz is an illustrator, writer and cartoonist from Toronto. Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer is her first book.

    Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

    Philippe is of Haitian descent, was raised in Montreal and is now a teacher at Barnard College in New York. (Balzer + Bray, Richard Louissaint)

    Charming as a Verb is a YA novel about Henri "Halti" Haltiwanger, a teen with swagger who is convinced he can charm just about anyone. As one of the most popular kids in his prestigious high school — and as the operator of a highly successful dog walking business — Henri has it made and his dream of attending his top college choice awaits. But when Henri meets Corinne Troy, a girl who sees right through his charms and exposes his less-than-ethical business practices, it becomes a battle of wits — with potential love looming on the horizon.

    Charming as a Verb is for ages 12 and up.

    Ben Philippe is a writer who was raised in Montreal and currently lives in New York. He published his debut novel The Field Guide to the North American Teenager in 2019. CBC Books named Philippe a writer to watch in 2019.

    From the Roots Up by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Natasha Donovan

    From the Roots Up is a graphic novel by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. (HighWater Press, Portage and Main)

    From the Roots Up is the sequel to Surviving the City and continues the stories of characters Dez and MiikwanDez is grieving the death of his grandmother and with nowhere else to go, she stays in a group home. All while also navigating a new relationship and learning to embrace her Two-Spirit identity. Meanwhile, Miikwan has a crush on the school's new kid, Riel, but doesn't understand what Dez is going through. Elder Linda is doing her best to be supportive, but finds it challenging when the gendered protocols she grew up with are put into question.

    From the Roots Up is for ages 12 and up.

    Tasha Spillett-Sumner is an educator, poet and scholar of Nehiyaw and Trinidadian descent. She is also the author of the graphic novel Surviving the City.

    Natasha Donovan is a Vancouver-based illustrator whose work has appeared in The Other Side and This Place: 150 Years Retold.

    Kenneth Oppel on Homerun

    Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

    Bloom is the first novel in a new adventure trilogy by award-winning writer Kenneth Oppel. (HarperCollins, Mark Raynes Roberts)

    Bloom is the first book in a series by Kenneth Oppel about three teenagers, Anaya, Petra and Seth, who live on Salt Spring Island. After a rainfall, black plants spring up and take over the island, spouting toxic pollen that only Anaya, Petra and Seth are immune to. The trio must work together to figure out how to stop the invasion from taking over the planet.

    Bloom is for ages 10 to 14.

    Oppel is a bestselling author whose books include the Silverwing trilogy, which has sold over a million copies worldwide, and Airbornwhich won the Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature — text. His most recent books include InklingEvery Hidden Thing and The Nest.

    Ciel by Sophie Labelle, translated by David Homel

    Ciel is a middle-grade book by Montreal author Sophie Labelle. (Second Story Press, Julie Artacho)

    Ciel is about a gender non-conforming trans kid determined to make their way in the world. Ciel loves using their YouTube channel as a form of expression and they desperately need a new camera to take things to another level. Ciel's best friend Stephie is a trans girl but desires to be less visible now that they're both in high school. The friends are growing apart, even while Ciel is trying to navigate a long-distance relationship with their boyfriend and a new potential love interest. 

    Ciel is for ages 9-12.

    Sophie Labelle is a trans cartoonist, public speaker and writer from Montreal. She is the creator of the webcomic Assigned Male and has illustrated several comic books.

    Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King

    Sara and the Search for Normal is a book by Wesley King. (Simon & Schuster)

    In Sara and the Search for Normala young girl named Sara joins a therapy group. She hopes she can learn to quiet her mind and figure out how to be normal. Instead, she learns that there are other kids out there just like her. And that it's more important to be yourself than it is to be what is considered "normal."

    Sara and the Search for Normal is for ages 8 to 12.

    Wesley King is a children's book author from Nova Scotia. His previous books include OCDaniel and A World Below. He also co-wrote the The Wizenard Series series with Kobe Bryant.

    Sheena Kamal talks about the third instalment of her Nora Watts mystery series No Going Back and debut YA novel Fight Like a Girl.

    He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman

    He Must Like You is a book by Danielle Younge-Ullman. (Viking Books for Young Readers, David Leyes)

    He Must Like You follows high school senior LibbyHer older brother fled to a Greek island, her dad tells her she's going to be cut off after she graduates, she hooks up with a co-worker and there's a customer at the restaurant where she works who harasses her. As Libby struggles with how to deal with the men in her life, as well as figuring out what her future plan is, she has an outburst at work that makes everything worse. 

    He Must Like You is for ages 14 and up.

    Danielle Younge-Ullman is Toronto-based novelist, playwright and freelance writer. She is the author of adult novel Falling Under and YA novels Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined and Carlyle's 12 Step Romance.

    Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena

    Hunted by the Sky is a book by Tanaz Bhathena. (Nettie Photography, Penguin Teen)

    Hunted by the Sky is a YA adventure novel set in medieval India. Gul, a young girl, has a birthmark on her arm that makes her a mark. Her parents were murdered because Gul is marked. A group of female rebel warriors take Gul in and train her to become one of them. Gul has one thing on her mind: revenge. 

    Hunted by the Sky is for ages 12 and up.

    Tanaz Bhathena is a YA novelist based in Mississauga, Ont. She is also the author of The Beauty of the Moment and A Girl Like That.

    Fight Like a Girl by Sheena Kamal

    Fight Like a Girl is a YA novel by Sheena Kamal. (Malcolm Tweedy, Penguin Teen)

    In thriller writer Sheena Kamal's first YA novel Fight Like a Girl, Trisha grew up with an abusive father who would come and go as he pleased. In an effort to break the chain of violence in her family, Trisha chooses to channel her violent impulses into Muay Thai kickboxing.

    Fight Like a Girl is for ages 14 and up.

    Kamal is a Vancouver-based writer of crime novels including The Lost Ones which won the 2018 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, and It All Falls DownShe Fights Like a Girl is her first YA novel.

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