O Canada! Smaller Presses Showcase Big Voices in Books that Benefit U.S. Collections | Great Books – School Library Journal

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It’s easy to forget when choosing picture books that country borders are just lines on a map, and sometimes the ideal title for U.S. collections is Canadian! Fill out the shelves with these recently published gems.

Although Canada and the United States are separate countries, it’s easy to forget when choosing picture books that country borders are just lines on a map. Sometimes when book promotion focuses mainly on U.S. publishers, the ideal Canadian picture book for your collection gets missed. This was especially true last year, when quarantine made finding and ordering new books difficult.
Along our common border, states and provinces share North American climates, cultures, fauna and flora, geology, and geography that don’t stop and start at artificial lines. Canadian picture books give U.S. readers alternative views on shared topics. They also provide translations of stories from countries outside of Canada that we might otherwise miss. Like books from the U.S., they highlight the richness of immigrant culture, as well as the obstacles immigrants face.
Canadian publishers support and publish Indigenous stories to fill gaps in their literature for children. Those same titles can do the same for U.S. book collections. Many of the stories they publish originate from Indigenous people whose nations exist in the United States and Canada, and so can represent the cultures of both countries.
Small presses feature gems to fill holes that might otherwise be ignored on library shelves. When it comes to marginalized voices or small press publications, these books can meet a need or fill a niche so well that their purchase might override conventional library selection guidelines or bypass mainstream picture book standards.
BOIVIN, Lisa. We Dream Medicine Dreams. illus. by author. Highwater. 2021. ISBN 9781553799870.
K-Gr 2–A grandpa explains to a young girl how her dreams about a bear connect her to her ancestors and teach about life, as do other animals, such as the hawk, caribou, and wolf. His teachings help her cope with his death and living with his absence. Dene artist and bioethicist Boivin combines art and culture in this comforting message of strength for children dealing with loss.
DOUSPIS, Éléonore. The Day the Rain Moved In. tr. by Shelley Tanaka. illus. by author. Groundwood. 2021. ISBN 9781773064819.
Gr 2-4–Outside, it’s sunny. But inside, it’s pouring, flooding the house! Pauline and Louis are scared to share their secret, but when schoolmates visit, they simply take it in stride, creating a soggy playground. The original title, Sans orage ni nuage, or “Lacking storm or cloud,” hints at the mysterious origins of the rainy house, but is also a metaphor for the kids’ ability to adapt to and transform adversity into something good.
FEAGAN, Alice. The Collectors. illus. by author. Kids Can. 2021. ISBN 9781525302046.
PreS-Gr 2–Unlike books ­emphasizing labeling and learning about collections, this book uniquely highlights kids’ passion for collecting. Two girls plan to find something extraordinary, but their cumulative experience and tools lead instead to a backyard epiphany. ­Feagan’s collages echo how hunting and ­gathering for texture and color can enrich art creation, too.
FOLLEREAU, Raoul. A Smile. illus. by Hoda Hadadi. Pajama. 2021. ISBN 9781772782271.
K-Gr 1–The text, attributed to humanitarian Follereau, shares the benefits of this universal human form of wordless communication. The illustrations seem especially quarantine-relevant, showing smiles reenergizing a broke musician, a burnt-out teacher, a solitary businessman, and a depressed woman. This is a great way to promote an SEL (social-emotional learning) skill and turn kids into smile ambassadors.
GLADSTONE, James. Journey Around the Sun; The Story of Halley’s Comet. illus. by Yaara Eshet. Owlkids. 2021. ISBN 9781771473712.
PreS-Gr 3–Gorgeous illustrations share the historical perception of Halley’s Comet in European, Chinese, and Middle Eastern culture via legend, prophecy, superstition, and science. Factoids supplement the narrative with dates and information in this beginning astronomy book that also helps teach kids about the passing of time via a comet we can view every 75 years.
GLEESON-LYALL, Melaney. I Am Dreaming of … : Animals of the Native Northwest. illus. by various. Native Northwest. 2017. ISBN 9781554765225.
K-Gr 1–This board book covers over a dozen Indigenous artists from the Pacific Northwest illustrating creatures from that region, including orcas, hummingbirds, ravens, salmon, urchins, and bears. Use this book to start conversations with young students about the overlap of art, culture, geography, and the natural sciences, and when studying the Pacific Northwest in the United States and Canada.
HEIDBREDER, Robert. ROAR-chestra!: A Wild Story of Musical Words. illus. by Dušan Petričić. Kids Can. 2021. ISBN 9781525302749.
PreS-Gr 2–Instead of an orchestra playing, the conductor in this wildly creative book has a zoo-load of animals that act out musical terms. The poetic text matches vivid illustrations with verbs and adverbs; dolce animals sweetly twirl. This book is packed with opportunities to discuss the orchestra and musical terminology, but also poetry, animals, music in art, and synesthesia (what does music look like?).
HOHN, Nadia L. Malaika’s Surprise. illus. by Irene Luxbacher. Groundwood. 2021 ISBN 9781773062648.
PreS-Gr 2–The arrival of a baby brother means stepsisters Malaika and Adèle will need to adapt to changes in their blended family. But a new friend, Malayka M., and the support of her extended family help ease Malaika’s fears. An inviting mix of English, Caribbean patois, French, and Arabic is used to share this interracial family’s story, and the jewel-tone illustrations convey intimacy and joy.

KUSUGAK, Michael Arvaarluk. The Most Amazing Bird. illus. by Andrew Qappik. Annick. 2020. ISBN 9781773214184.
PreS-Gr 2–When Aggataa spots a small raven during the harsh winter months, she thinks it the ugliest of birds. But the two make a connection. As the seasons change and other birds come and go, she finds herself anticipating the return of the bird with the return of winter. This Inuit story profiles ravens, often featured in trickster tales, and the cycle of nature.
LAM, Thao. Thao. illus. by author. Owlkids. 2021. ISBN 9781771474320.
Gr 1-3–When teachers and classmates continually mispronounce her name, Thao demands her parents call her Jennifer, but only at first. This book focuses on how immigrant kids empower themselves by inventing ways of making their true names memorable.
LUBY, Brittany. Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This Is How I Know: Niibing, dgwaagig, bboong, mnookmig dbaadjigaade maanpii mzin’igning / A Book About the Seasons. illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. tr. by Alvin Ted Corbiere & Alan Corbiere. Groundwood. 2021. ISBN 9781773063263.
PreS-Gr 2–A grandmother and granddaughter celebrate the change of seasons, not via holidays or human events, but instead through observation of nature. This Anishinaabe cycle of the seasons focuses on creatures, plants, and weather familiar to those in the northeastern United States, Great Lakes, and the upper Midwest.
POULIN, Andrée. That’s Not Hockey. illus. by Félix Girard. Annick. 2018. ISBN 9781773210513.
K-Gr 3–There are a lot of books about sports, but few about sports’ safety innovations. Jacques Plante, a talented NHL goalie, is remembered here for his invention of and advocacy for the hockey mask. Share with young hockey lovers and pair with other books about inventions, to show how filling a recognized need can lead to innovation.
ROBERTSON, Joanne. Nibi Is Water. illus. by author. Second Story. 2020. ISBN 9781772601329.
PreS-K–Serious, joyful, and playful, this Indigenous view of nibi (water) considers its uses (bathing, swimming, drinking, growing, etc.) as well as the human need to respect and care for it. This board book is a useful bilingual (Anishinaabemowin, or Ojibwe, and English) complement to science books about the water cycle, and for collections in the Great Lakes region as well as other Anishinaabe communities.
SMITH, Monique Gray. When We Are Kind / Nihá’ádaahwiinít’íigo. illus. by Nicole Neidhardt. Orca. 2020. ISBN 9781459827530.
PreS-K–Emphasizing the reciprocity of kindness, this book in English and Navajo illustrates how a kindness given is also a kindness received. Illustrations show Indigenous families engaged in acts of kindness toward elders and animals, to oneself, and to the Earth. An example: A child who only takes what’s needed from the Earth is replenished by the Earth with food and self-respect.
SOOKOCHEFF, Carey. Lost Things. illus. by author. Kids Can. 2021. ISBN 9781525305443.
PreS-Gr 1–Every child loses things, but this reassuring book uncovers just where lost things end up. A teddy bear waits to be found, a lost ribbon is upcycled by a crafty bird into its nest, and a squirrel recovers at the end of the book a nut that escaped its paws at the beginning. Perfect for inspiring kids to imagine the fate of their own lost things.

THOMAS, Rebecca. Swift Fox All Along. illus. by Maya McKibbin. Annick. 2020. ISBN 9781773214481.
PreS-Gr 2–Swift Fox has cold feet about meeting her extended Mi’kmaq family and being introduced to Mi’kmaq culture. But when Sully, another reticent cousin, shows up, they discover the smell of fry bread and the warmth of family is too enticing to resist. Many kids will relate to Swift Fox’s questioning and exploration of what she wants her own multicultured identity to be.
VERMETTE, Katherena. The Girl and the Wolf. illus. by Julie Flett. Theytus. 2019. ISBN 9781926886541.
Gr 1-2–Métis author Vermette created this alternative Red Riding Hood tale, where a wolf helps a lost girl, in reaction to European stories portraying a villainous wolf. This unique example of a fairy-tale variant incorporating Indigenous beliefs also exemplifies how kids might craft their own cultural counterparts.
VICKERS, Roy Henry with Robert Budd. A Is for Anemone: A First West Coast Alphabet. illus. by author. Harbour. 2021. ISBN 9781550179477.
PreS–K–This simple alphabet board book focuses on Pacific Northwest climate, geography, flora, and fauna from an Indigenous view, incorporating art and the senses to describe everything from fishing boats to jellies, from islands to Totem poles. An inspiring inclusion when studying the culture or natural world of the Pacific Northwest, or to encourage students to create their own alphabetical lists.
Cathy Camper is a librarian and the author of the forthcoming Lowriders to the Rescue and Arab Arab All Year Long!
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