This year, back to school may loom a little larger in the minds of parents and kids. After months of at-home learning, many families may be feeling more anxious about kids returning to the classroom. Here are 10 Canadian kids’ books that will help ease your kids back into the school mindset. Not all of the books made it into the TV segment, but I’ve included them all here because they are all fab!
Picture Books, Ages 3-7
A KID IS A KID IS A KID (Groundwood) is a companion to A Family is a Family is a Family. Both books celebrate difference and encourage connection. In this book, a series of children decide how they want to be seen and what they want to be asked. In a subtle way the reader learns that first impressions can be deceiving and we never really know what’s going on with someone. It’s a great reminder not to judge a book by its cover, and to approach each other with empathy.
OLIVER BOUNCES BACK (Scholastic Canada) is a very relatable story about Oliver who is having a bad day. In the vein of Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, a series of setbacks makes Oliver tense. A number of people, including teachers and fellow students, help Oliver understand that it’s okay to feel stressed, and that there are many ways to address this feeling.
CAROL AND THE PICKLE-TOAD (Tundra Books) is a quirky story about learning to find your inner voice in a very noisy world. Esme Shapiro creates warm, wacky worlds with her vibrant art and unique perspective that have the feel of fantasy, but within these worlds she creates a safe space for kids to explore emotional issues. In this particular world, everyone wears hats, and Carol’s toad hat is particularly bossy. When it is stolen by a pigeon, she makes a new hat, made of pickles and eggs. But when that hat is taken, too, she eventually learns to listen to her own voice.
Chapter Books, Ages 6-10
ANNE’S SCHOOL DAYS (Tundra Books) is the latest in a chapter book series based on L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. In this third instalment, Anne begins school and we meet the famous Gilbert Blythe for the first time. This is a wonderful series to read together and features gorgeous art that gives the book a deluxe feel, making it a perfect ‘back to school’ gift.
JOJO MAKOONS: THE USED-TO-BE BEST FRIEND (HarperCollins) is the first in a new chapter book series starring an Ojibiwe protagonist. JoJo is funny, kind, and exuberant, and her literal take on things brings to mind the humour of Amelia Bedelia. The book also includes Ojibwe words with a glossary and pronunciation guide.
JORDAN AND MAX SHOWTIME (Orca Books) is a tender story about two unlikely friends. Jordan is at a new school and decides to keep his favourite pasttime- dressing up and putting on shows with his grandmother- a secret from his classmates. But when a school project brings him together with Max, Jordan realizes that his secret may be his greatest strength.
Middle Grade, Ages 9-12
MATH HACKS 2 (Scholastic Canada). Math is one of those subjects that make a lot of people nervous, especially parents, who may not know exactly how to help their kids. Enter Vanessa “The Math Guru” Vakharia, a teacher, motivational speaker and author who specializes in helping students with math. Her philosophy is “there’s no such thing as a math person,” and her positive, accessible approach to math will put kids and parents at ease. This book is divided between actual math hacks and social-emotional tips that help put kids in the mindset of success for math, science, or any subject they may find challenging.
BORDERS (HarperCollins Canada) This graphic novel, originally published as a short story then reworked by author Thomas King and illustrator Natasha Donovan, features a boy and his mother on a road trip who run into identity and justice issues when they identify as Blackfoot at the US-Canadian border. Given the ongoing discoveries of mass graves at residential schools and social reckoning Canadians are experiencing with our history of colonialism and treatment of Indigenous people, kids are going to have lots of questions and this book is a great piece of that larger, ongoing conversation.
THE UNDERCOVER BOOK LIST (Pajama Press) is the latest book from Governor General award finalist Colleen Nelson. Jane is a bookworm who is missing her best friend and strikes up an anonymous friendship by leaving notes and book recommendations in the library. Tyson, who dislikes reading and is having trouble at home and in school, starts responding as a prank, only to discover a new love of reading and a new friend. Nelson’s experience as a teacher really shines in this book, particularly in her authentic and warm portrayal of school and classroom social dynamics.
Teen, Ages 12+
BOTH SIDES NOW (Penguin Teen Canada) is a fantastic debut that takes place in the world of high school debate. Finch Kelly has his sights on a scholarship and a political career, something he knows he can obtain if he can win the National Debate Championship and ignore his growing feelings for his adorable debate partner. Finch is trans, and when the debate topic is trans rights, he finds himself in a situation where he may need argue against his right to exist. This is a witty, big-hearted debut that balances the ups and downs of senior year with a memorable cast of characters with varied experiences.