What I Learned From Best Books for Kids and Teens

I Heart Canadian Books

For the past few months I have been reading and reviewing books for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s annual publication, Best Books for Kids and Teens. This is a great resource that lists the best Canadian books in a given time period for a wide range of readers. I was lucky to be on a panel with three other experts who are all passionate about children’s books. We met to compare notes, discuss the books, and decide which ones made the cut. I learned a lot from the other panellists, who I am now lucky to call friends. You can see our choices when the publication is released later this year.

So. Onto my observations:

Gordon Korman is an unstoppable force in children’s literature. I swear the man has a mystical ability to tap into the heads and hearts of children and deliver the goods. A true Canadian treasure!

There is quite a range of genres present in Canadian children’s fiction. From fairies to survival stories to hilarious heists to hockey to moments in history, it’s all there, and it’s all Canadian!

Regionalism is alive and well. I mean this in the most positive understanding of the term. It’s nice to read about Vancouver Island or Montreal or Northern Ontario and feel like I’m actually there. There is much said about our cultural diversity, but we are also a geographically diverse nation.  Having done a lot of reading and research into the ties between landscape and identity, particularly in children’s literature, I think it’s important that the landscape is present and celebrated in our fiction.

Just what comprises Juvenile or Middle Grade fiction?  Some books are too complex or heavy for a 9 year old, and others are too easy or too juvenile for a 12 year old. Yet these books exist side by side in the same category. Teen or YA generally applies to readers 12+.  Lately terms such as “upper middle grade” have been bandied about.  In the OLA’s Forest of Reading program, The Red Maple category applies to books appropriate for grades 7 and 8 and Silver Birch covers everything from grades 3 through 6. That’s a wide range of abilities and maturities. More recently, The Silver Birch Express category has been created for grades 3-4, which suggests that the Silver Birch books are intended for grades 5 and 6. Are we perhaps in need of more distinction between middle grade books? Where do we draw the line?

Everyone judges a book by its cover, and unfortunately many of our Canadian covers are falling short.  Part of loving books is loving the book as a physical object, and that includes the look of the book. Kid appeal is important, as is accurately representing the content of the book.  No one wants to be seen reading a book that looks too young or too girly or not girly enough, particularly an adolescent or tween who is hyper-aware of appearances. A poorly designed cover is not a death sentence- it does mean, however, that the bookseller or librarian has to work harder to find that book a home.  This being said, there were also lots of fantastic covers. Book design is a tricky blend of artistry and marketing in an industry that is constantly changing. I certainly don’t envy all those hardworking book designers out there. Times are lean and there is very little marketing money in the industry, so why not spend it on your most important marketing tool?  Don’t be afraid to take risks!

All in all, a great experience! I am pumped to be a Canadian reader, a Canadian writer, and today, a supporter of the Canadian Olympic Team! Go Canada Go!

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