News and Interviews

Kid Lit Can, with Susan Hughes: Classic Canadian Children's Books, Old and New (Part Two)

Welcome back to the kick-off of my monthly blog on Open Book: Toronto, which will be celebrating Canadian children's books, their creators and the kid lit biz in general!

In Part One of this blog, I asked three children's book lovers to share with us two book picks: their favourite "classic" Canadian children's book and a more recent kids' book which is special to them. Today, in Part Two, three more brave souls take on the challenge and share their book picks with us. Wanna know a secret? Two of the three pick the exact same picture book as their favourite classic! Any guesses before you scroll down and peek?

Hey, while we're at it, here are a few more questions: What do you think about their choices? Which are your favourite "classic" Canadian children's books? Which more recent Canadian kids' books are you excited about?

I'd be pleased if you'd add your comments and join in this month's conversation!

Robin Stevenson is the acting editor-in-chief of Canadian Family magazine and the mom of an eight-year-old daughter.

Hockey Sweater

I am a child of a hockey-loving dad. A big treat when I was young was staying up late to snuggle in with my dad to watch the Leafs play on Hockey Night in Canada. It may not be surprising that one of my favourite classic Canadian children’s books is The Hockey Sweater (Tundra, 1985) by Roch Carrier. I feel for the young Montreal fan forced to wear the sweater of his rivals. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I had to wear anything but my beloved Leafs jersey (with Palmateer emblazoned on the back) when I was a kid that age. And the last page makes me laugh every time I read it.


A more recent fave is Grumpy Bird (Scholastic 2007) — and his follow-up Boo Hoo Bird (Scholastic, 2009) — by Jeremy Tankard. I just have to say “Bird was grumpy” to my own daughter when she has a frown on her face and we both break into a smile. The illustrations are delightful and they are the types of books you don’t mind reading to your little ones again and again. Which I totally have.


Catherine Belshaw has worked as a university lecturer and textbook editor. She is currently the Literary Awards Officer at CODE, where she manages the Burt Literary Awards, which recognize excellence in young adult literature in Canada and Africa.


It was difficult choosing my favourite Canadian children's “classic." Kathy Stinson’s Red is Best (Annick, 1982) taught me about humour, Cat's Eye (McClelland & Stewart, 1988) by Margaret Atwood, which I read as a teen, taught me that there was life after schoolyard bullying and hometowns. In the end though love prevails and Love You Forever (Firefly, 1986) by Robert Munsch was the obvious choice. This book taught me — and very likely millions of people around the world — about empathy and put into written form the essence of mom.

Indian Horse

And my favourite more recent children's book? While not technically “YA,” Indian Horse (D&M Publishers, 2012) by Richard Wagamese is the important and beautifully-told story of an Ojibway boy whose devotion to hockey helps him survive the horrors of residential school. I didn’t read this book so much as I felt it — the air whooshing past Saul Indian Horses’ ears as he flew down the ice; the skid of his skates in a tight turn. I am not passionate about sport, but Wagamese made me understand the promise sport holds for those that are.


Gianna Mazzolin Dassios is an elementary French immersion teacher-librarian with the Toronto District School Board and co-chair for the Forest of Reading, OLA.


Crying again as I re-read my autographed copy from 2005, a "deluxe gift edition" in its 7th printing, I know this means it must be a Canadian children's book classic! Back in 1987, Robert Munsch had just published his 11th book, Love You Forever (Firefly, 1986), and, that same year, when I read this picture book aloud to a grade 3 class as a first-year teacher, I cried.

In a simple bedtime lullaby, this book captured the unconditional love a parent has for his or her child, and how that becomes the circle of life. This tale, which traces the love of raising a family — from parents loving their child through every difficult stage to the child caring for aging parents — is a tale that transcends time. Now that I have grown children of my own, I still can't finish reading it without shedding a few tears. Oh yes, and the cover, drawn by Sheila McGraw, which depicts a young boy defiantly tearing apart the bathroom, makes a parent want to scream, then hug and laugh with the child who is exploring his surroundings. All in a day of parenting!


A more recent fave? Canadian artist-author Barbara Reid has created a true literary feast in her picture book Perfect Snow (Scholastic, 2009). Barbara is talented in creating the textured plasticene artwork, alongside her sketches, which is accompanied by the true sensibility of the rhythms of child and adult banter. This story struck a deep chord within me, reminding me of my childhood growing up in Toronto within the Canadian climate. It captured the vivid colourful, playfulness of Canadian childhood which I now watch as a teacher from the sidelines.

Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website,