Some provinces have an embarrassment of mountains, some an embarrassment of beaches, and others an embarrassment of oil. Our province has an embarrassment of award-winning women who write and illustrate children’s books. We’re talking rock stars of the picture book world – Marie-Louise Gay, Robyn Schwartz, and Mélanie Watt, to name a few – women who have created memorable characters whose faces and antics have inspired television shows, theatrical productions, and thousands of young readers.
It’s hard to know why Quebec is so blessed in this way. Maybe we can attribute it to the two languages at play here. Perhaps each province has their quota of excellent author/illustrators and since both English and French writers live and work in Quebec, we got a double dose. Whatever the reason, it’s great to know our province is home to so many successful artists writing for children ages 0–9.
The three women featured here have all won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration. Marie-Louise Gay is the best known and established of the three. She has won an impressive number of international awards and her Stella and Sam books have been translated into twelve languages. Smart and sassy Stella, with the curly red hair, and her industrious tow-headed little brother Sam can be enjoyed on the page, on the stage, and on the screen.
Read Me a Story, Stella
If you’re after a narrative arc, this book is not for you. It is really a series of scenes loosely arranged around all the things Stella has learned about the world from reading books. At the end of the book, Stella reads Sam a story about a boy just like him, which proves to Sam just how satisfying reading a book can be.
Mr. King’s Castle
Kids Can Press
But Mr. King likes big things so he cuts up the environment around him into building block shapes and uses them to realize his dream of a big castle. Not surprisingly, Mr. King’s building plans cause consternation and anxiety among his forest friends. They eventually get through to Mr. King and convince him to put the forest back the way it used to be. The message is gentle and clear, with disagreements resolved and forgiven with a simple, “I’m sorry.” Côté’s world is pleasant and appealing and this book is appropriate for the youngest readers who will appreciate the clever way the illustrator uses a multimedia approach to depict both the destruction of a natural environment and its miraculous restoration.
Elise Gravel won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration in 2013. In her newest series, Disgusting Critters (an English translation of the French Les petits dégoûtants), she successfully nails the holy grail of children’s books by writing books that work for readers of all ages. The Worm and The Fly are the first in the Disgusting Critters series, soon to be followed at six-month intervals by The Slug, The Toad, The Leech, The Rat, and The Spider. Born out of the author/illustrator’s personal fascination with bugs and other critters, these are books that teach us something, make us laugh, and sometimes make us say “Ewwww.”
A Gift for Sophie
Story and Songs
Gilles Vigneault and others
The Secret Mountain
Unfortunately, the CD that accompanies the book is disappointing. The songs are co-written by Vigneault and collaborators, but those collaborations are largely unsatisfying. Luckily, the book can be enjoyed and appreciated alone without the musical distractions.
Orca Book Publishing