The following list showcases books about Canadian women who broke barriers, stories of women’s accomplishments that history has tried to erase, and new Canadian literary voices to be excited about. I hope names like Jill Heinerth, Manon Rhéaume, Viola Desmond, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Shanice Nicole become as recognizable as Chris Hadfield, Wayne Gretzky, Rosa Parks and Neil Young. Watch the segment here, or read on.
Picture Books, Ages 3-7
The Aquanaut (Tundra) is an inspirational picture book from acclaimed Canadian cave diver and underwater explorer Jill Heinerth. We talk alot about the achievements of astronauts, but aquanauts are equally as fascinating. More people have been to the moon than to some of the places Heinerth as explored! This picture books goes back and forth between images of Jill as a child, dreaming of exploration, and Jill as an adult, realizing those dreams. A spread in the back gives some details on the Heinerth’s amazing accomplishments.
Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League (Simon and Schuster) is the incredible true story of Manon Rhéaume, a young woman from Quebec who went on to the first woman to play in the NHL in 1992. Hockey is often called “Canada’s sport,” but the truth is we give a lot less air time and attention to women in hockey, and Manon Rhéaume is a name all lovers of the sport should know.
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged (Groundwood) is a great introduction to a prominent Canadian civil rights activist Viola Desmond, an entrepreneur who challenged segregation in 1940s Nova Scotia. Kids may know her as the first woman to be featured on Canadian currency, the 10 dollar bill, but there is so much more to her story, beautifully depicted in this must-read picture book biography.
Dear Black Girls (Metonymy Press) is a poem and love letter to Black girls everywhere, written by poet and educator Shanice Nicole. There are many inspirational books like this in the US, but in Canada we have very few books written for Black children by Black creators. The illustrations depict a range of skin tones, celebrates the physicality of being black, and the reassuring, inspiration refrain tells Black girls to dream, think big,
Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell (HarperCollins) celebrates the life of Canadian trailblazing musician and icon, Joni Mitchell. Joni was known for musical experimentation and breaking the rules, particularly in a time when the music industry was unkind to women. Joni famously refers to herself as a painter, not a musician, and Selina Alko’s beautiful collage work is the perfect visual medium for Joni’s story.
Hey Little Rockabye (Greystone Kids) is the first kids’ book from barrier-breaking Indigenous musician, activist and animal lover Buffy Sainte-Marie. Her first picture book is a lullaby for rescue animals and includes sheet music in the back and also photos of some of the animals Buffy has adopted in her truly incredible lifetime.
Middle Grade, ages 9-12
For years, women’s stories were kept out of the history books, but there are so many incredible stories of resilience and perserverence. One of those stories is told in Shadow Warrior (Annick), based on the true story Mochizuki Chiyome and her all-female spy network that operated in 16th century Japan.
Girl Squads (Quirk) is a collection of 20 female friendships that changed history, including Indigenous sisters who made Olympic history, lady pirates, The Edinburgh Seven, and much more. This fascinating and inspiring collection is written by Canadian writer and personality Sam Maggs. Sam has written for video games and comics, create novels for Marvel, and is often called upon to speak about pop culture.
The Project (MacMillan) is the latest book from one of New York Times bestselling author and one of Canada’s greatest YA exports, Courtney Summers. Courtney’s books dive deep into the inner worlds of girls and women, and in her latest, she explores the devotion of two sisters, whose relationship is put to the test over and over again.
Gutter Child (HarperCollins Canada) is an adult book, but one I think teens will enjoy and high schools should adopt into curriculum. This is a dystopian novel, but it explores contemporary issues of race, privilege and oppression, and is written by a Canadian literary trailblazer and change-maker, Jael Richardson. Everything that Jael does is in service of making the Canadian literary landscape more inclusive, but let’s not forget that she’s also a writer.
What Canadian women or books about Canadian women would you add to this list?