Staff Picks: Favorite Kids Books from 2020

2020 may have been a rough year in a lot of ways but it did give us a lot of great books! We sat down to choose our favourite book of the year from the Tundra and Puffin Canada lists (and it was just as hard as you’d think.)

Vikki, Marketing & Publicity Director

“With authentic dialogue and a ripped from the headlines set-up, this is smart, topical middle grade at it’s finest. A great read for budding social activists.”

Me and BanksyMe and Banksy
By Tanya Lloyd Kyi
272 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266919 | Puffin Canada
Dominica’s private school is covered in cameras, and someone is hacking into them and posting embarrassing moments for the whole school to see. Like Ana picking her nose. When Dominica quickly changes her shirt from inside out in what she thinks is the privacy of a quiet corner in the library, she’s shocked – and embarrassed – to discover a video has captured this and is currently circulating amongst her schoolmates. So mortifying, especially since over the past three years, they’ve had a half-dozen school talks about social media safety. Who has access to the school security cameras and why are they doing this? Dominica and her best friends, Holden and Saanvi, are determined to find out, and in the process start an art-based student campaign against cameras in the classroom.

Sylvia, Marketing and Publicity Manager

“First, the illustrations are all done in pen ink (look at all those lines she had to draw). And second, this is the cutest fox family interaction that results in a perfect, silly story time!”

Where’s Baby?
By Anne Hunter
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735264984 | Tundra Books
Papa Fox is looking for Baby Fox, who is just out of his sight . . . but not ours! An adorable, interactive read-aloud for fans of Are You My Mother? In this clever introduction to prepositions, a near-sighted Papa is looking for his baby. Is Baby up in the tree? Is Baby under the log? Is Baby around the corner? Where could Baby be? Readers will delight in spotting the little fox on every page as Papa wanders the forest, encountering other animals all along the way, but never quite able to spot his own baby. Anne Hunter’s delicate and lovely illustrations with their limited palette highlight the humor of this adorable hide-and-seek tale.

Evan, Publicity Manager

” I’m a sucker for middle-grade mystery, and Marthe Jocelyn has written an extremely fun (and sneakily dark) series, complete with tons of Agatha Christie Easter eggs. And the gorgeous, Gorey-esque illustrations by Isabelle Follath are the icing on the murder cake.”

Aggie Morton Mystery Queen The Body Under the PianoAggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano
By Marthe Jocelyn
Illustrated by Isabelle Follath
336 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265462 | Tundra Books
Aggie Morton lives in a small town on the coast of England in 1902. Adventurous and imaginative, but deeply shy, Aggie hasn’t got much to do since the death of her beloved father . . . until the fateful day when she crosses paths with twelve-year-old Belgian immigrant Hector Perot and discovers a dead body on the floor of the Mermaid Dance Room! As the number of suspects grows and the murder threatens to tear the town apart, Aggie and her new friend will need every tool at their disposal – including their insatiable curiosity, deductive skills and not a little help from their friends – to solve the case before Aggie’s beloved dance instructor is charged with a crime Aggie is sure she didn’t commit. Filled with mystery, adventure, an unforgettable heroine and several helpings of tea and sweets, The Body Under the Piano is the clever debut of a new series for middle-grade readers and Christie and Poirot fans everywhere, from a Governor General’s Award-nominated author of historical fiction for children.

Sam, Associate Publicist

“Geneviève Godbout is one of my favourite illustrators and I loved how this sweet, adorable story doubles as a gentle introduction to mental health.”

What’s Up, Maloo?
By Geneviève Godbout
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266643 | Tundra Books
Maloo the kangaroo has lost his hop. Can his friends help him find it again? This sweet picture book explores the idea of sadness and the importance of friendship through ups and downs. No other kangeroo can hop like Maloo! But one day Maloo’s friends find him stepping instead of hopping. What’s wrong, Maloo? His pals look for ways to help Maloo regain the spring in his step. With patience, support and a little “hop” from his friends, Maloo gets his bounce back. Simple text and adorable art convey the power of friendship over a gloomy mood in Geneviève Godbout’s charming debut as both author and illustrator.

2021 Lone Star Reading List

The Texas Library Association announced their 2021 Lone Star Reading List which encourages students in grades 6-8 to explore a variety of recently published books. We would like to congratulate David A. Robertson whose fantastic middle grade novel, The Barren Grounds, is one of the few Canadian titles on the list.

The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga #1
By David A. Robertson
256 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266100 | Puffin Canada
Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home – until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything – including them.

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2020

Kirkus Reviews has revealed their best books of 2020 and we’re thrilled to see some of our books on their lists! Congratulations to The Fan Brothers, Kyo Maclear, Rashin Kheiriyeh, and David A. Robertson!

Story Boat
By Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735263598 | Tundra Books
When a little girl and her younger brother are forced along with their family to flee the home they’ve always known, they must learn to make a new home for themselves – wherever they are. And sometimes the smallest things – a cup, a blanket, a lamp, a flower, a story – can become a port of hope in a terrible storm. As the refugees travel onward toward an uncertain future, they are buoyed up by their hopes, dreams and the stories they tell – a story that will carry them perpetually forward.

“A timely and uplifting book about and for refugees.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

The Barnabus Project
By Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan
72 Pages | Ages 5-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735263260 | Tundra Books
Deep underground beneath Perfect Pets, where children can buy genetically engineered “perfect” creatures, there is a secret lab. Barnabus and his friends live in this lab, but none of them is perfect. They are all Failed Projects. Barnabus has never been outside his tiny bell jar, yet he dreams of one day seeing the world above ground that his pal Pip the cockroach has told him about: a world with green hills and trees, and buildings that reach all the way to the sky, lit with their own stars. But Barnabus may have to reach the outside world sooner than he thought, because the Green Rubber Suits are about to recycle all Failed Projects . . . and Barnabus doesn’t want to be made into a fluffier pet with bigger eyes. He just wants to be himself. So he decides it’s time for he and the others to escape. With his little trunk and a lot of cooperation and courage, Barnabus sets out to find freedom – and a place where he and his friends can finally be accepted for who they are.

“A heartfelt, timely allegory celebrating diversity, bravery, and solidarity.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga #1
By David A. Robertson
256 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735266100 | Puffin Canada
Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home – until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything – including them.

“This middle-grade fantasy deftly and compellingly centers Indigenous culture.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews

CTV Your Morning Kids’ Book Segment on Holiday Gifts

Our Marketing and Publicity Director, Vikki VanSickle, was on CTV’s Your Morning today to talk about her top picks for holiday gifts. Check out our titles from her recommended list below and don’t forget to watch her segment!

AGES 3-7

Princesses Versus Dinosaurs
By Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Joy Ang
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735264298 | Tundra Books
This is a princess book! No, it’s a dinosaur book! No, it’s . . . a T. rex book? A dragon book? A rubber ducky book?! From Linda Bailey, award-winning and critically acclaimed author, and Joy Ang, Adventure Time-artist and illustrator of the Mustache Baby series, comes an irresistibly irreverent picture book in which plucky princesses and determined dinosaurs have a battle royale over whose book this is. When they start calling in the big guns – or rather, the big carnivores – and decide to build a wall to resolve their differences, princesses and dinosaurs alike learn a thing or two about open-mindedness and sharing.

Wreck This Picture Book
By Keri Smith
64 Pages | Ages 5-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593111024 | Dial BFYR
What if there were a book that changed every time you read it? Actually, every book does this. We are all part of the books we read, because our individual reactions, ideas, and emotions make the book whole, and these things are changing all the time. Keri Smith has helped millions of people free their creativity and find their own voice with her interactive books, and now she brings that sensibility to children and to the act of reading. This picture book is an invitation to honor your own vision and to welcome imperfection. Kids will discover that reading can engage all five senses, and that what they themselves bring to a book is an important contribution. (And of course they’ll be invited to do a bit of harmless “wrecking”!).

AGES 6-10

Happy NarwhalidaysHappy Narwhalidays!
(A Narwhal and Jelly Book #5)
By Ben Clanton
76 Pages | Ages 6-9  | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735262515 | Tundra Books
Dive into three new stories about Narwhal’s favorite time of the year! It’s the festive season in the world wide waters, and Narwhal is looking forward to cozying up with a good book, singing and partying with his pod pals and enjoying some warm waffle pudding. But most of all he’s excited about the arrival of the Merry Mermicorn! According to Narwhal, she’s part mermaid, part unicorn and completely mer-aculous! Jelly is of course skeptical about the existence of the “Mira-Miny-What-A Corn” . . . even when he receives a mysterious present. It must be from Narwhal. Now Jelly has to get the perfect gift, but finding a present for someone as unique as Narwhal is no easy feat, even when you have six tentacles. How will Jelly ever come up with a whaley great gift for a best pal who spreads cheer all through the year?

The Fabled Stables: Willa and the Wisp
By Jonathan Auxier
Illustrated by Olga Demidova
96 Pages | Ages 6-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267725 | Puffin Canada
Auggie Pound is eight years old and has the greatest job of all time: he cares for all the animals in the Fabled Stables. The Fabled Stables house the rarest creatures in existence – all of them one-of-a-kind. Auggie’s job is to care for these creatures, as well as track down and safely capture endangered magical beasts in the wild. Some mornings, he arrives to find an empty stall with the name of a new creature to rescue. One day, the Stables rearrange themselves out of the blue, creating a new stall. The sign over the gate says, “Wisp.” But what is a wisp and where is it? All Auggie can see is a moonlit swamp stretching out before him. Then a hungry HOWLLLLLLL rings out in the darkness. It’s up to Auggie to go into the swamp to find the wisp before it’s too late.

AGES 8-12

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: Peril at Owl Park
By Marthe Jocelyn
Illustrated by Isabelle Follath
400 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265493 | Tundra Books
Aspiring writer Aggie Morton is looking forward to Christmas. Having just solved a murder and survived her own brush with death in her small town of Torquay on the coast of England, Aggie can’t wait to spend the holidays with her sister Marjorie, the new Lady Greyson of Owl Park, an enormous manor house in the country, Grannie Jane and her fellow sleuth and partner in crime, Hector Perot. Owl Park holds many delights including Aggie’s almost-cousin Lucy, exciting and glamorous visitors from Ceylon, and disguises aplenty in the form of a group of travelling actors. Not to mention a secret passageway AND an enormous, cursed emerald. Not even glowering old Lady Greyson (the Senior) can interfere with Aggie’s festive cheer. But when Aggie and her friends discover a body instead of presents on Christmas morning, things take a deadly serious turn. With the help of a certain nosy reporter, Aggie and Hector will once again have to put their deductive skills and imaginations to work to find the murderer on the loose.

2020 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature

Since 1988, the Vine Awards, administered by the Koffler Centre of the Arts, has honoured both the best Canadian Jewish writers and Canadian authors who deal with Jewish subjects. We would like to congratulate Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer whose excellent novel, Broken Strings, won in the YA/Children’s Literature category.

Broken Strings
By Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
288 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Paperback
ISBN 9780735266261 | Puffin Canada
It’s 2002. In the aftermath of the twin towers, Shirli Berman is intent on moving forward. The best singer in her junior high, she auditions for the lead role in Fiddler on the Roof, but is crushed to learn that she’s been given the part of the old Jewish mother in the musical rather than the coveted part of the sister. But there is an upside: her “husband” is none other than Ben Morgan, the cutest and most popular boy in the school. Deciding to throw herself into the role, she rummages in her grandfather’s attic for some props. There, she discovers an old violin in the corner -strange, since her Zayde has never seemed to like music, never even going to any of her recitals. Showing it to her grandfather unleashes an anger in him she has never seen before, and while she is frightened of what it might mean, Shirli keeps trying to connect with her Zayde and discover the awful reason behind his anger. A long-kept family secret spills out, and Shirli learns the true power of music, both terrible and wonderful.

Broken Strings seamlessly blends themes of young love, artistic identity, 9/11, grief, and the Auschwitz orchestra into a moving and insightful young adult novel.” – Vine Awards Jury