I love buying children’s books for my niece and nephew. They all have such different personalities and interests and it’s so fun for me to find books I think they’ll enjoy. And I also love buying children’s books for my friends (the adult ones!). So, I asked some of my favourite children’s authors and illustrators for their favourite picks for the holiday season. I also asked them to recommend one of their favourite books that they’ve worked on because, heck, what’s the harm in a little self-promotion? Plus, we identified the perfect reader for each book.
I guarantee that you can’t go wrong with ANY of these picks!
In the Dark: The Science of What Happens at Night
Written by Lisa Deresti Betik
Illustrated by Josh Holinaty
I love this book because it is filled with lots of great nighttime factoids that no matter what the age they are still so much fun to learn. The incredible illustrations in this book have kept it on my coffee table for the last month and has me constantly picking it back up to flip through.
I think this book is perfect for curious readers who enjoy learning exciting and bizarre facts about the mysterious world around us.
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by me
This book holds a special place with me because creating it pulled me back to being in school with my friends and the drama of those days. Kyo has created characters that are filled with all that wonderful teenage angst and woven together with musical themes, it was such a joy to explore these elements winding together
I think this would be a good fit for anyone who hears a song on the radio and is transported back to that time in their life or for someone just finding that song for the first time.
Terry Fox and Me
Written by Mary Beth Leatherdale
Illustrated by Milan Pavlovic
I love this book because it looks at the Terry Fox story from a fresh perspective. In 1980, I remember following Terry's route on the news and waiting for him to arrive in Winnipeg where we lived when I was a kid. I cried when his run ended in Thunder Bay. In this book, we learn about Terry's life as a kid before his famous run and about his incredible friendship with Doug Alward. It has added a whole new dimension to a well-known Canadian story. And it made me cry again.
It is perfect for any readers who have ever done the Terry Fox Run and want to be inspired again.
I Do Not Like Stories
Written by Andrew Larsen
Illustrated by me
I love this book because Andrew Larsen has written a smart and deceptively simple book. With very little text, there is room left for the reader's own interpretation and questions (why doesn't the boy like stories? What is that cat up to?). At the same time, the characters are very relatable. We have all had grumpy days, where we don't like anything except cats!
It is perfect for readers who like the colour yellow, love cats and occasionally don't like stories - or maybe just haven't found the right one yet!
Written by Sarah Howden
Illustrated by Carmen Mok
I like this book because well, it has a cat with a cone. What's there not to love? I also think the story about a cat dealing with an unpleasant situation and learning new things from it is a nice message. We all have to put up with things that we don't like, and the ability to find a bright side in a bad situation can sometimes be a valuable coping skill.
I think this book is perfect for readers who like cats!
Written and illustrated by me
I like my book because um, it's my book, and it also has a cat! I think it's a great book for anyone who has had ambivalent feelings about hugs, or just trouble saying 'no' in general. It also has a bunch of funny animals that I had a lot of fun drawing, so I hope more people will get to know the critters!
I think Hug? is perfect for anyone who has had to deal with one hug too many!
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
I love this book for so many reasons. It is a beautifully written portrait of two sisters, and I think Kyo perfectly captures the dynamic and volatile emotions that siblings navigate. One wants to play and to imagine, but the other is in a decidedly wolfish mood. We have 3 daughters, and they absolutely love this book. The story is alive - literally blooming -- with creativity. It's a struggle between light and shadow, vibrancy and gloom. The characters are fraught with conflict and the book carries an important underlying message of mental health that opens young readers up to bigger ideas. The art is evocative, vibrant, playful and dark all at once. My favourite spread reflects the swirling, shadowy chaos of a particularly bad mood. "The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom." Masterful.
I think this book is perfect for readers who love poetic, lyrical text, and bold, vibrant artwork. It is a great entry point into talking about mental health, about bad moods, and about the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood. It is also a great book to read in chaotic times, when what many of us need is to focus on a vibrant dreamscape of the possible -- a place we want to play in.
Written by me
Illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka
I chose this book because the story is close to my heart, as it was inspired by my own daughters' insatiable appetites for finding 'treasures'. The book follows a young child named Maggie, who "sees the sparkle in everything", whether it's a button, a stone, or a bottlecap. Her treasure collection starts small but soon grows out of control, spilling out from the closets and corners of her house, and sprawling into her gardens, transforming her house into a menagerie of the strange and forgotten. The neighbours do not approve. Eventually (when her parents have had enough) Maggie must decide what to do with all her treasure, and comes up with a creative solution that transforms and enchants the entire neighbourhood. This story is about childhood wonder and creativity in a world of exasperated parents, nosy neighbours, questionable city politicians ... and a few mischievous squirrels. Kellen Hatanaka's artwork is bold, vibrant, and surreal -- his detailed depiction of Maggie's ever-growing trove of treasure is something our kids absolutely love to pore over.
I think it's perfect for readers with vivid imaginations, and for kids who see the world as full of magic and vast in its creative potential. I think parents of children who are 'collectors' will find this story amusing ... and hopefully it will set young readers off on neighbourhood expeditions to find treasure in simple things the rest of us might otherwise overlook. (And hopefully, only filling a shoebox or two ... my apologies in advance to parents who have a certified "Maggie" on their hands ...)
Salma the Syrian Chef
Written by Danny Ramadan
Illustrated by Anna Bron
I love the book Salma The Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan because it's a beautiful and emotional story about the many meanings of family, community, and home.
I think it's perfect for readers who love making friends, making food, and making memories with friends over food!
My Day with Gong Gong
Written by me
Illustrated by Elaine Chen
I love my book My Day with Gong Gong because it's a love letter to my grandpa and Chinatown.
I think it's perfect for readers who are looking for a story about love across generations, cultures, and languages—and for those whose tummies rumble for dim sum!
How Jack Lost Time
Written by Stephanie Lapointe
Illustrated by Delphie Côté-Lacroix
As an illustrator, the aesthetic side of the book is no less important for me than the text. (Sometimes more? Admits guilt.) Illustrations have the power to convey something beyond words, add height and give depth. When I look at the bookshelves in stores, I approach those books whose illustrations appeal to me—the magic of the book speaks to me before I’ve read a single word.
Since my kids grew up, I have not wandered through the children's bookshelves for a long time (regardless of the last 8 months). So, when I was asked to find a book to recommend I had to do some legwork.
My “research” eventually led me to the book How Jack Lost Time by Stephanie Lapointe and Delphie Côté-Lacroix. The cover immediately caught my eye, the name piqued my curiosity, and from the moment I opened it everything connected into one entity: the story and illustrations complemented each other. The theme and story are not necessarily for kids despite the picture book format of large pages and minimal text, but the subject is universal and intended for all ages, with adults perhaps finding an even deeper connection to it.
The story begins with Jack—a hero who cannot seem to find his place in society, a strange individualist. Little by little, we learn that things are different than what we see on the surface and the journey we embarked on is an adventure we were not really ready for. The illustrations exude a very specific vibe, with wonderful and clever use of a monochromatic color palette in grays with touches of red, managing to convey with touching effectiveness far beyond the written words.
This book has a heart, even if that heart is broken.
This book is suitable for children ages of 4 and up, and adults. For young children, parents might have to help a little.
Journey Around the Sun
Written by James Gladstone
Illustrated by me
The last book I illustrated, "Journey Around the Sun" by James Gladstone (not yet in stores, but available for pre-order), is a book that tells the story of Haley’s Comet as it is documented by human history. It is told in the voice of the Comet itself; as a visitor who comes every 75 years to see what has changed on Earth. The book takes us on a fascinating journey into the past and teaches us not only about the comet itself, but also about history, human nature, fears, and beliefs.
Illustrating it was a joy as it allowed me to dive into the past, and also fantasize about the future. I drew inspiration from existing documents, but also imagined past human scenes. The world has changed over thousands of years, and so has the way we document the comet, but our capacity to feel wonder and be in awe of the sublime unknown is a human characteristic I can connect to at all times. From finding poetic descriptions of the comet typical of the time they were written, as well as direct scientific facts, to graphic documents from the history of art, to a science fiction comic book from the 1950s; all these aspects inspired the illustrations themselves.
I can say that I literally touched the stars (with the tip of my brush).
The book is suitable for children at an age where they begin to discover their interests in nature, the sky and the stories of things that happened "a long time ago" (history).
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Naseem Hrab is the author of the picture books Ira Crumb Makes a Pretty Good Friend and Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings, illustrated by Josh Holinaty. Her comedy writing has appeared on McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Rumpus. Sometimes Naseem likes to get up on a stage and tell true stories. She loves improv and coffee ice cream.
She worked as a librarian for a time and currently works in children's publishing.