CanLit for Little Canadians

As I’ve discovered while writing my ongoing Beautiful British Columbia : A Reading Staycation series, Canada produces a lot of really fantastic children’s book authors and illustrators. Finding Canadian children’s books can require a bit of detective legwork work, though, as the vast, vast majority of the books on our bookstore and library shelves come to us from our American neighbours.

One fantastic online resource for teachers, librarians and readers looking for great Canadian material is Canlit for LittleCanadians. Helen Kubiw, the blogger behind Canlit for LittleCanadians, is a “Canadian, teacher, librarian, reader, reviewer, book awards’ committee member, writers’ festival volunteer, enthusiastic promoter of great literature.”

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Kubiw is certainly an enthusiastic promoter of great Canadian literature – she blogs almost daily, reviewing new Canadian titles, interviewing authors and illustrators, profiling publishers, hosting giveaways and cover reals, and generally just being a passionate supporter of the Canadian children’s literature scene.

CanLit for LittleCanadians provides links to major Canadian book blogs, author/illustrator websites and publishers websites, which is a real treasure-trove of great Canadian book information, and is also highly valuable for prospective writers and book industry hopefuls. The website is a true labour of love from a passionate Canadian reader, educator and book lover who’s dedicated to sharing great new Canadian materials for young readers. Definitely, definitely worth checking out, bookmarking and following!

Kicking it Old School with the Paper Bag Princess

The initial assignment in one of my favourite MLIS classes, Survey of Children’s Literature, was to revisit a favourite picture book and consider whether childhood adoration can survive an adult’s critical eye. I decided to look at the Canadian picture book classic The Paper Bag Princess. Here’s what I wrote.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Long before the feisty Scottish princess Merida of Pixar’s Brave, there was Elizabeth, the spunky young heroine of Robert Munsch’s Canadian classic The Paper Bag Princess. First published in 1980, this simple children’s story, told with humour and illustrated with charm, is the antithesis of the traditional damsel-in-distress fairy tale, and a refreshing reinterpretation of cultural gender norms. Though I was hardly aware of it as a child, the story of The Paper Bag Prince helped shaped my developing view of the world, and my place within it.

As a work of children’s fiction, The Paper Bag Princess remains as relevant today as it was when I was a child. The story’s protagonist Elizabeth begins the story a typical princess, but when a dragon destroys her possessions and steals her prince, Elizabeth sets out to rescue him. Brave and resourceful, Elizabeth uses her intelligence to defeat the dragon, and when the ungrateful prince insults her appearance, she decides she’s better off without him. The Paper Bag Princess delivers a powerful message of female empowerment that’s humorous and engaging, and never heavy-handed or preachy. The story is told so matter-of-factly that its reversal of traditional gender roles seems entirely natural and believable, the way it ought to be. Elizabeth is a straight-forward character who sees a problem and discovers a non-violent way to solve it. By presenting the princess as a strong, intelligent character who just happens to be female, The Paper Bag Princess puts the emphasis on her personality and actions, rather than on her gender. The message to children is simple, yet powerful – gender need not define who you are, or determine what you are capable of.

 When I was first introduced to The Paper Bag Princess as a child, I knew nothing of notions of female empowerment or gender equality. I loved the story because it was funny, with an exciting plot and delightful illustrations of dragons. Robert Munsch created in Elizabeth a female character that was immensely appealing as well as empowering. Even as a child, I knew that Elizabeth was a special character, a girl who took on dragons and stuck her tongue out at boys. I may not have realized then that she was shaping my understandings of gender norms, but I did know that she was more impressive than the usual boring storybook princesses! The Paper Bag Princess gently reinforces cherished lessons that last a life-time: that intelligence is powerful; individuals should be judged on their character, not their appearance; violence is not the only solution; and all relationships should be based on respect.

As an adult I appreciate more than ever the positive spirit of The Paper Bag Princess and its emphasis on intelligence and bravery, particularly when so much of today’s media seems to reinforce negative gender norms for young girls. The Paper Bag Princess is a story at once powerful and light-hearted, and its endearing protagonist is a role model who delights as much as she empowers. I can only hope that future generations find as much pleasure and encouragement in this story as I once did, over 20 years ago.

Munsch, Robert N., and Michael Martchenko. The paper bag princess. Toronto: Annick Press, 1980. Print.

Diverse Kid Lit – July 2, 2016

Not My Girl

July 1st marks Canada Day, a day of celebration for people across the country. I love my country and I am proud to call myself a Canadian, but our history is not without its dark and painful periods. There is no shame in accepting and recognizing the flaws and failures of your country – human beings are imperfect, so why should we expect a nation created by human beings to be anything else? The most important thing we can do is to learn from the past – to study and understand what happened and why, and to look at the ways in which the present and the future might have been impacted. If we don’t accept and learn from our past, how can we ever hope to create a better future?

Not My Girl is one of a number of Canadian picture books that tackles the impact of the Residential School system. You can read more about this tragic period in our history here. Margaret Pokiak-Fenton shares her experiences as a survivor of the system, bringing her own perspective as a member of an Inuit community in Canada’s remote far north.

When Olemaun was eight years old, she begged her parents to send her to a missionary school, where she dreamed she would learn to read and write. Her parents had their concerns, but eventually relented, and sent a thrilled Olemaun away to school. While she would learn to read and write, this knowledge came at a terrible cost. She experienced relentless mistreatment and abuse from bullying teachers and classmates at the school, and for two years her identity as Olemaun was suppressed, as she was given a new name, a new language and a new identity.

While Pokiak-Fenton’s first autobiographical story, When I was Eight, tells the story of Olemaun’s experiences at school, the sequel Not My Girl shares the heartbreaking experience of Olemaun, now called Margaret, as she attempts to reintegrate into her Inuit community. Unable to speak her native language, unfamiliar with her traditional customs and shunned by her closest family and friends, Margaret is left shattered and heartbroken. Even her own mother disowns her, saying simply, “not my girl”.

Though painful and harrowing, Margaret’s story is ultimately one of strength, resilience and community. Margaret’s father never gives up on her, and his quiet, patient love helps her family heal their wounds. With his gentle, unwavering support and guidance, and eventually her mother’s, Margaret relearns her traditional ways, and finds her way back into her community.

This is a beautiful, painful, but ultimately hopeful and inspiring testament to a family’s love for their child, and to the resilience and strength of Indigenous communities. Finding peace after trauma can be an arduous process, but there must always be hope.

Gabrielle Grimard’s illustrations beautifully complement the emotional text, creating an elegant, understated and powerful story.

Highly, highly recommended.

Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

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We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, July 16th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Svenja takes “most-clicked” honors again this time with her post on 30 Multicultural Books about Immigration in honor of June as Immigrant Heritage Month. The post is divided into books geared for preschoolers and elementary students, and the elementary recommendations are further subdivided by the continent of origin. You can find more great posts by revisiting the previous linkup here.

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Review: The Bus Ride

The Bus Ride

Clara is excited to be taking the bus by herself for the very first time. Along the way to grandmother’s house she encounters a cast of interesting fellow passengers who turn a simple bus ride into a colourful adventure.

This picture book from Quebec author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc is simply stunning. The text itself is fairly simple and doesn’t really add all that much – in fact, the book would probably work just as well as a wordless picture book.

But the illustrations! I poured over each page, savoring tiny details on each spread, turning pages back and forth to catch each change and development. Dubuc’s colours are soft and muted, and the illustrations look as though they were drawn in pencil crayon, adding to their gentle charm.

This would be another fantastic picture book for using with a class –  the illustrations lend themselves beautifully to interpretation, and it would be delightful to see the different stories that children come up with to describe the images.

It’s always great to see exciting new picture books from Canadian authors and publishers, and I’m always thrilled to share more Canlit here on the blog!