The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter holiday children's book panel: 8 great book recommendations for young readers

Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington share their favourite children's literature of the season.
Ken Setterington & Michelle Landsberg are enthusiasts of children's literature. (CBC)
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The children's book panel with Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington is a long-standing tradition at The Next Chapter.

In the holiday edition of this semi-annual feature, our savvy panellists recommend eight books to suit the tastes of every young reader.

The Starlight Claim by Tim Wynne-Jones

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

Ken: "It's a real page turner. It's about a young boy Nate and his best friend, who died in a boating accident on a trip up north at the family camp. The body was never found. Nate decides that he is going to go up north to the camp for a winter weekend.

"He gets there, only to discover that two escapees from a prison are there. It's scary and by a master writer. It's a real treasure to read."

It Began with a Page by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

It Began with a Page is a picture book by Kyo Maclear (above) and illustrated by Julie Morstad. (Tundra Books)

Michele: "Anyone who's ever seen that hardback baby book called Babies by iconic children's book writer and illustrator Gyo Fujikawa — featuring illustrations of charming and adorable babies that children love to look at —  will love this book.

"I'm thrilled that Fujikawa, an under-recognized Japanese-American author-illustrator is being celebrated in this beautiful book. It's about how she began as an artist growing up in California. She's surrounded with a lot of latent racism at school, goes to New York to work as an illustrator. Then the Second World War breaks out and her parents are sent to a prison camp. 

"Being on the East Coast at the time, Fujikawa escapes that fate, but it's a devastating time for her nevertheless. All this is dealt with very gently, beautifully but truthfully. It's about how she and her parents survive and flourish. It's a lovely book that children, particularly those that are artistically inclined, will be inspired by."

Ghost's Journey by Robin Stevenson

Robin Stevenson is a Vancouver author of books of young readers. (robinstevenson.com, Rebel Mountain Press)

Ken: "It's the story of a cat with her two dads who are in a same-sex relationship in Indonesia. They escape that country to come to Canada. It's a simple picture book dealing with this cat trying to help her two dads as they make this journey. It's a true story.

"The book features enhanced photographs and illustrations with pictures of them and their cat. It's a beautiful book. It is an introduction to the idea of people in a relationship fleeing persecution and coming to a safe place.

"The book references the concept of Rainbow refugees and the Rainbow Railroad that helps along the way. Money raised by book sales will partly go to helping the Rainbow Railroad and helping animals find shelter." 

The Case of Windy Lake by Michael Hutchinson

The Case of Windy Lake is a mystery novel by Michael Hutchinson. (@Mike_Hutchins0n/Twitter.com, Second Story Press)

Michele: "Truth and reconciliation has deservedly brought forth a lot of books for children about residential schools, reserves or about the life that Indigenous people face in Canada. This book is filled with life, energy and a very appealing mystery that the young characters from the fictional Windy Lake First Nation solve using their knowledge of the woods and the water.

"Throughout the book, we see the children's interactions with their older relatives that reflect a whole different way of being. This is extremely appealing and beautifully delivered through the action of the story."

Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

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

Ken: It's about a young girl in 2002, right after 9/11. She wants to be in school production of Fiddler on the Roof. But the role she wants goes to someone else. She talks to her grandfather about it, but he doesn't enjoy music at all. It leads to a discovery that he actually used to play the violin in a band.

"I don't want to reveal the whole story, but it's quite an amazing book. It is a beautiful and painful story about the lasting effects of Holocaust. It certainly makes one think and the youth of today will enjoy hearing about it."

A House Without Walls by Elizabeth Laird

Elizabeth Laird is a British author of children's books. (Macmillan Children's Books)

Michele: "Elizabeth Laird is a very admired British author. This book is about a 12-year-old girl living a privileged middle class life in Damascus. Her father is a human rights lawyer. Her mother died when she was an infant and her twin sister was taken away to the States for medical treatment and they have lost touch.

"The Syrian war begins to drum on their doorstep and her father has to flee because of his human rights work. They run away in the night to Jordan and have to camp out in a tent. By the girl's sheer resilience, ingenuity and intelligence, she finds a way to break out of this confining life as a refugee while also working to find her lost sister.

"It's a very touching and believable story. It brings home the plight of people fleeing war and is seen through the eyes of a bright kid."

The Girl Who Rode a Shark by Ailsa Ross, illustrated by Amy Blackwell

Ailsa Ross is an author and activist based in Alberta. (Pajama Press)

Ken: "Each story is one page about an amazing woman and all the things that they have accomplished in their lives. It's really amazing." 

White Bird by R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio is an American author of children's literature. (Russell Gordon, Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Michele: "This is a beautiful graphic novel about a boy who's preparing a project for school. He asks his grandmother to recall her experiences as a youngster in the Second World War.

"It's an extremely compelling and beautifully illustrated story."

The panellist's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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