Canadian Children’s-YA Literature Awards

By Melanie J. Fishbane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

This fall a number of awards were given out to the best of Canadian children and young adult books.

Here’s the rundown of who won, the shortlist and more.

The 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards

Every November, in a gala event at The Carlu in downtown Toronto, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC), in partnership with TD Bank and other donors, gives out $145,000 in prizes to the best in Canadian children’s writing and illustration.

A similar award ceremony occurs in Montreal, Quebec distributing French language awards.

English Awards:

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($30,000) Winner:

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill (Groundwood Books, 2016)

Finalists ($2,500):



Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000) (Sponsored by A Charles Baillie):

The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (Nimbus Publishing)

Normal Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction ($10,000) (Sponsored by the Fleck Family Foundation):

Canada Year by Year by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Kids Can Press)

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000) (Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund):

Blackthorn Key, Book 2: The Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (Aladdin)

John Spray Mystery Award ($5000) (Sponsored by John Spray):

Shooter by Caroline Pignat (Razorbill Canada)

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5000) (Sponsored by Sylvan Learning):

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (Dutton Books)

See the full list of finalists and comments from the jurors.

French Awards

Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse ($30,000):

Même pas vrai by Larry Trembly, illustrated by Guillaume Perreualt (Éditions de la Bagnole)

Prix Harry Black d l’album jeunesse ($5000) (first time awarded):

Au-delà de la forêt by Nadine Robert and illustrated by Gérard DuBois (Comme des géants)

Governor General’s Awards

Every fall the Canada Council for the Arts gives the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Awards, which recognizes the best in Canadian English and French books.

Winner Young People’s Literature – Text (English):

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Demaline (Dancing Cat Books)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature – Text (English)

Winner Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books (English):

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Fleet (Highwater Press)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books (English):

Winner Young People’s Literature Text (French):

L’Importance de Mathilde Poisson by Véronique Drouin (Bayard Canada)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature Text (French):

Winner Young People’s Illustrated Book (French):

Azadah by Jacques Goldstyn (Les Éditions de la Pastèque)

Shortlist Young People’s Illustrated Book (French):

Cynsational Notes

Cynsations reporter Melanie J. Fishbane covers children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news originating in Canada.
Photo by Ayelet Tsabari

Melanie holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. in History from Concordia University.

With over seventeen years’ experience in children’s publishing, she lectures internationally on children’s literature. A freelance writer and social media consultant, her work can be found in magazines, such as The Quill & Quire
Melanie also loves writing essays and her first one, “My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt”: Writing as Therapy in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted,” is included in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years 1911-1942 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). And, her short story, “The New Girl,” was published in the Zoetic NonBinary Review. 
Her first YA novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery, was published by Penguin Teen in 2017.
The novel was featured on the Huffington Post’s Summer Reading List, a top pick for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Kids Summer Reading pick and winner of Hamilton Public Library’s Next Top Novel.
Melanie lives in Toronto with her partner and their very entertaining cat, Merlin.

New Voice: David A. Robertson on When We Were Alone

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David A. Robertson is the first-time children’s author of When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett (Portage & Main Press, Jan. 6, 2017)(available for pre-order). From the promotional copy:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family?


As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything was taken away.


When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

So much of my writing is aimed at creating social change, especially in the area of relations between First Nations people and non-First Nations people.

I believe that change comes through education; what we learn from history, and its impact on contemporary society. In Canada, we have a long history of mistreatment concerning the First Nations people. As Canadians, we need to learn about this history. So, my work tries to educate in this way.

In terms of young readers, I believe that change comes from our youth. These are the people who shape our tomorrows, and they need to walk into tomorrow informed on the important issues and histories. If they do, we’ll be in a pretty good place.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

graphic novelist-writer of Irish-Scottish-English-Cree heritage

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada looked at the history of the residential school system, and its impact, and from that research, including residential school survivor testimony and documentation, it came up with a list of recommendations.

One of those recommendations was that the residential school system’s history needed to be taught in school as early as kindergarten.

When I saw this, I recognized that there weren’t many resources for teachers (i.e. books) that addressed the residential school system for younger learners.

So, I set out to write one, and that’s how When We Were Alone came about.

I wanted kids at that young age to learn about the system in a way that they could understand and engage with.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

For me the challenges mostly involved sensitivity and appropriateness. This is a difficult history to tell, especially to younger learners. So, I needed to tell the story in a good way.

It took a lot of research and consultation, it took finding the right rhythm in the passages to connect with readers, and we needed to find the right illustrator, too, which we did in Julie Flett.

Of course, writing these stories always has a psychological effect on you as the writer, too. Understanding that the kids you are writing about really went through these things is tough. But knowing that kids will be learning and growing and sharing makes it worth it.

What model books were most useful to you and how?

Also illustrated by Julie Flett

I have the benefit of having five children. So, I’ve read my share of children’s books. This helped in terms of finding a good structure for When We Were Alone, and rhythm.

These two things are very important, and there are certainly some commonalities in books that really work in terms of how they are told, not just what is told in them.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Read a lot of children’s books, or YA books. Figure out styles, structures, approaches from the best. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to write a good story that really connects with your reader.

It always comes down to reading first, and then hard work and a bit of skill.