This past Sunday, on April 9th, Canada celebrated 100 years since the battle of Vimy Ridge. This year, we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Beyond such singular events however, are countless other stories that often go unheard; they too are stories of our nation. As we honour days like the battle at Vimy, so too do we recognize the rich and intricate tapestry of our nation, including Canada’s Indigenous people, who knew this land before colonizers named it Canada. As we honour those who fought for our freedoms, let us also instil in our children pride and awareness of Canada’s interwoven events, and its countless faces and voices. Together we can endeavour to recognize the diversity of stories that brought us to where we are today.
1. A Soldier’s Sketchbook: The Illustrated First World War Diary of R.H. Rabjohn, by Russell Hughes Rabjohn (Non-Fiction) (Ages 10+)
This book presents the stunning visuals sketched by soldier R.H. Rabjohn as he recounts his harrowing experiences during the First World War. The edited wartime diaries of this trained artist also include text by historian John Wilson, who conveys Rabjohn’s three years at war. The undeniable artistic talent of the soldier makes this three-volume book a a heart-wrenching account.
2. Fatty Legs: A True Story, by Christy Jordan-Fenton (Autobiographical) (Ages 9-12 )
This is an amazing first-person account of eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak, an Inuit girl who goes to residential school to learn reading. Only after she arrives there does she realize the pain of being wrenched from her family and home in the high Arctic. Accompanied by stunning illustrations, and archival photos, this is the story of one young girl navigating her own identity, and the people, both kind and unkind, who she encounters at her residential school.
3. Dear Canada: These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens, by Ruby Slipperjack (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 9-12)
Acclaimed author Ruby Slipperjack has written a powerful novel, which draws on her own personal experiences, about a young heroine’s trials in residential school. The year is 1966, and Violet Pesheens is adjusting to residential school. But while trying to navigate the sea of new people, she has a deep fear: that she will forget her Anishnabe language, her customs, and the names of those she knew before.
4. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged, by Jody Nyasha Warner (Inspired by a True Story)(Ages 5-9)
The year is 1946, and Viola Desmond, a young African Canadian woman, has just purchased a movie ticket at a Nova Scotia theatre. As she takes her seat in the front row, an employee of the theatre comes up and tells her she must move to the back balcony, because blacks are not allowed at the front. Confronting Canada’s vicious segregation policy, Viola, as the title illustrates, will not be budged.
5. From Vimy to Victory: Canada’s Fight to the Finish of World War I, by Hugh Brewster (Non-Fiction) (Ages 9-12)
This engaging, multi-award winning scrapbook-style book illustrates Canadian soldiers’ battles and victories during the Great War. Facts and details are accompanied by first-person accounts, letters describing life at the Front, maps, images and diagrams that bring World War I to life.
6. Blood and Iron: Building the Railroad, Lee Heen-gwong, British Columbia, 1882, by Paul Yee (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 9-12)
Lee Heen’s father and grandfather both have a destructive gambling habit which has left their family in financial ruin. Heen has to make the difficult decision to come to Canada with his father to work on the railway and provide income for his family. Along the way, Heen experiences the trials and tribulations of the demanding work life, and the friction that inevitably rises between the Chinese and whites, who fail to acknowledge the deaths and horrible conditions forced on the Chinese workers. He records this experience in his journal.
7. Remembering John McCrae: Soldier, Doctor, Poet, by Linda Granfield (Non-Fiction)(Ages 8-11)
This is an award-winning tribute to the author of “In Flanders Field.” Through more than 100 paintings, images and documents that have been put together in scrapbook style by the acclaimed historian Linda Granfield, readers can glean a bit about the life of the poet, doctor and soldier during his service in WWI.
8. Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s Childhood, by Bonnie Farmer & Marie Lafrance (Inspired by a True Story) (Ages 4-8)
Before becoming a virtuoso Jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson was a young boy still discovering the world. What began as a love for the trumpet soon ended when the young boy contracted tuberculosis, which weakened his lungs to the point that he was unable to play. this marked the day that he turned to the piano, and made history.
9. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, by Margiet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 6-9)
Using the stunning stone art of Syrian artist Niza Ali Badr, a compelling narrative is woven by Margriet Ruurs to tell the tale of a Syrian family forced to flee their home to escape the civil war. The story moves quietly, yet intrigue is provided by Badr’s multiple stone art scenes depicting the family’s journey. The book is presented in English and Arabic.
10. Dear Canada: An Ocean Apart: The Gold Mountain Diary of Chin Mei-Ling, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1922, by Gillian Chan (Inspired by True Events)(Ages 9-12)
This is the story about the powerful effects that the Chinese head tax has on Chin-Mei Ling. She and her father are paying for the head tax that will allow her mother and brother to come to Canada, but they must do so fast, before the opportunity closes. Can they do this in time, and what will happen if they continue living an ocean apart from the ones they love?
11. 44 Hours or Strike! By Anne Dublin (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 12-15)
This compelling and well-researched tale recounts the Toronto Dressmakers’ Strike of 1931. Sisters Sophie and Rose are brought together in the fight for better work conditions, decent wages, and their union. After Rose is imprisoned after a fight in the picket line, Sophie is left to fend for herself and her mother in worsening winter conditions. This book gives insight into the growing Jewish immigrant population during that time, and the barriers and antisemitism they faced in Canada.
12. Pioneer Kids, by Dean Griffiths (Fiction)(Ages 6-9)
Spanning multiple adventures throughout the series, the fun begins for Matt and Emily when they discover a magical time-travelling sled in Emily’s attic. Other books in the series show them outrunning dinosaurs in the Alberta badlands, panning for gold in the Yukon, and seeing the Silver Dart soar in Nova Scotia’s skies. In this book, they arrive on the Canadian Prairies in 1910. They visit a one-room school house to protect a new friend from a classroom bully, but soon discover that they themselves will need rescuing!
By: Nicole Abi-Najem