The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter holiday children's book panel: 12 great book recommendations for young readers

Ken Setterington, Michele Landsberg and Bee Quammie share their favourite children's literature of the season.
Ken Setterington, Michele Landsberg and Bee Quammie are enthusiasts of children's literature. (Submitted)

The children's book panel is a long-standing tradition at The Next Chapter.

In the holiday edition of this semi-annual feature, panellists Michele Landsberg, Ken Setterington and Bee Quammie recommend 12 books to suit the tastes of every young reader.

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)

Ken: "The stories in this book are all based on real ghost stories. Many of the storytellers that are in this book, were told to the author when she went around the province collecting stories and working with kids in their classrooms — they brought the stories and then she brought them to life in this book. It's a really fascinating book. The stories are really quite wonderful. But she also gives hints on how to tell a good ghost story."

Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is an Australian artist, writer and filmmaker. (Tundra Books, Wikimedia Commons)

Michele: "Shaun Tan is a brilliant illustrator and storyteller. Tales from the Inner City is about the weird imaginary interactions between humans and animals. It's a collection of very strange and provocative stories about interactions with strange animals in the middle of a city. There is a touching and poignant series of illustrations about relationships between dogs and humans."

Princesses Versus Dinosaurs by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Joy Ang

Princesses Versus Dinosaurs is a picture by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Joy Ang. (Tundra Books, Lia Grainger)

Bee: "This is a really, really fun picture book. The first page shows is a band of jaunty princesses, including a child that looks like a little boy dressed up like a princess, walking into the book and staking their claim, saying, 'This is a princess book and we're going to do princess things!' Then you turn the page and dinosaurs show up and they say, 'No, this is a dinosaur book!' 

"It's very fantastical. It makes you laugh all the way throughout. The language is not very complicated, and it's an easy thing for kids to be able to follow — and to be able to start doing word association with the illustrations as well." 

How I Survived by Serapio Ittusardjuat, illustrated by Matthew K. Hoddy

How I Survived: Four Nights on the Ice is a graphic novel by Serapio Ittusardjuat and illustrated by Matthew K. Hoddy. (Inhabit Media)

Ken: "This is a true story. It's not about a kid, but it's a man who is telling his family about the time that he was on the ice and was unable to get home for four days in December of 2008. I like this because it's a man and not a kid who's made a mistake.

"It's somebody who has to go back to the old ways to survive. He survives for four days and this is the story of how he does it. It's a powerful story and it's one that I think any reader will be fascinated by."

The Lost Spells by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris

A children's novel by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris. (Anansi International)

Michele: "I would have had shivers of joy going down my spine when I was nine years old if anyone had given me this book. This is a book of spells, tongue twisters, rollicking rhymes and the most amazing paintings. All the poems are equally intense, mysterious and delightful."

Don't Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller

Sharee Miller is an American author. (LB Kids, shareemiller.com)

Bee: "This is a really important book for me and my girls. I'm a Black woman and my daughters are young Black girls. Finding books that have diversity and positive representations of young Black children — and stories that incorporate that type of diversity and inclusion — are really important for me.

"This book talks about a young girl named Aria who loves her hair. The illustrations, which were also done by the author, shows Aria with this glorious, huge, poofy, curly, kinky Black afro that looks a lot like the hair my daughters have when their hair is out and wild. She loves her hair. The problem she runs into is everyone else loves it as well. 

"So it's a book that teaches consent and it teaches children how to honour their bodies and understand the things about them that other people might have interested in, but also how to create those boundaries for a positive experience."

I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Nathalie Dion

I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree is a picture book by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Nathalie Dion. (Groundwood Books, Ryan Pendziwol, Jinny Montpetit)

Ken: "It's a beautiful picture book with lyrical text. It's about a little girl going out into the snow and listening to the wind and knowing that the wind is telling her stories. She then goes home to tell the stories to the dog and the cat in her bedroom. She also goes out into the snow and she catches the snowflakes and they taste just like the clouds. It's a beautiful story, beautifully told and illustrated. Everyone can use a little bit of hope right now, and I think this book does a beautiful job of that, especially for young children." 

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)

Michele: "This is a book for anyone who feels lost, lonely or unable to fit in. It's about this little boy who freezes in horror in class when his teacher calls on him to speak, and the illustration shows the other students who turn to jeer at him because he can't choke out the words. You can just sense the panic and fear and sadness that he feels. 

"But after school, his father picks him up and drives him home and they go for a walk. They go to the river. His father, as they watch the water churning and bubbling, says, 'You talk like the river talks.'

"It literally turns the tide for the boy and he accepts himself as someone who speaks differently. It is a very touching and exhilarating book."

Braids! by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Dave Whamond

Robert Munsch is an American-Canadian author. (North Winds Press, Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Bee: "It's about a young girl who does not like getting her hair done. It's the saga of her getting her hair done, her mother getting her hair done, her teacher getting her hair done, and what they have to endure to get these beautiful, beautiful braids put in. My kids laugh every time we read this, because it's very reminiscent of Sunday afternoons when I'm trying to wrangle them to get their hair ready for the next week of school and day care."

Confessions of a Teenage Drag King by Markus Harwood-Jones

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

Ken: "It's about Lauren who goes to high school as a regular kid, but on the weekends, they perform as a drag king in a club in Toronto. It is just a book about gender identity, sexuality and sexual orientation. It's well told and well done."

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed are American-based authors. (Dial Books)

Michele: "This is a marvellous, big graphic novel. It's a true story about a Somali boy orphaned or lost in the war at age four and all alone lugging his baby brother. He makes his way all the way to Kenya and manages to go to school in a refugee camp. He's there for 13 years.

"This graphic novel is filled with hope. Eventually, he not only gets to America and gets a university education, he finds his lost mother. It's a very touching and wonderful introduction to the plight of refugees because it's a true story."

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

One Word From Sophia is a picture book by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

Bee: "This is a great book if you want to challenge your children's vocabulary. But it's about a young girl named Sophia. All she wants for her birthday is a pet giraffe. Her mother is a judge. Her father's a businessman, her uncle's a politician, and her grandmother is just very strict. So she comes up with different tactics that appeal to each of these very important people in her life. It's a great book and I find it really fun. Kids will learn more vocabulary, but they also learn different ways to kind of argue their point."

The panellists' comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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