7 imaginative Canadian children’s books series
By: Vivian Nguyen
Published on July 21, 2022
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” (Albert Einstein)
According to the World Literacy Foundation, reading is one of the best ways to foster imagination. It is imagination that leads to new inventions, new storybooks, and new movies. Studies show that reading, for children, helps to develop the areas in their brains that are responsible for visual imagery and comprehension—understanding. When children read, or when they are read to, they imagine things they have not yet experienced. They make connections between reality and fictional world-building.
This list showcases seven Canadian children’s book series enjoyed across the country and by international readers. These series explore themes of friendship, family, imagination, and self-reliance. They also teach young readers about some of the many different cultures performed within and outside of Canada.
Mordecai Richler, Jacob Two-Two (1975–1995)
Written by Mordecai Richler (1931–2001), the Jacob Two-Two book series is set in Montréal, the second-most populous city in Canada. The fantasy series follows the life of Jacob, the youngest child of five. As the youngest, Jacob says everything twice to be heard in his family, earning him his nickname, “Two-Two.” In the first book, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, Jacob insults a grown-up and finds himself sentenced to a faraway island where he meets the Hooded Fang. Filled with adventure and satire, this series is youthful, funny, and a Canadian classic.
In addition to being a children’s book author, Richler was a novelist, essayist, and screenwriter of Jewish ancestry. His Jacob Two-Two series started as a story he would tell his youngest son, Jacob. The animated series under the title name broadcasted on YTV, a Canadian television channel, from 2003 to 2006. The series was also adapted into two films in 1978 and 1999. The last edition to the series, Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas, is a prequel created by Richler before his passing. The book was completed by Cary Fagan (b. 1957) with support from Richler’s family.
Mélanie Watt, Scaredy Squirrel (2006–2011)
The Scaredy Squirrel series is written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt (b. 1975), containing eight books. In its first book, Scaredy Squirrel, we meet the title character: an anxious brown squirrel who never leaves his nut tree. After all, there could be tarantulas or killer bees! Every day, he waits and waits for danger to come along, well prepared with his emergency kit. One day, Scaredy Squirrel finds himself away from his tree and makes an uplifting discovery… The book series explores themes of emotions and feelings, self-reliance, and trying new things.
Watt lives in Montréal and has won many awards around the world. In Canada, she received the Ontario Library Association’s Blue Spruce Award and the Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award for her Scaredy Squirrelseries. The books were also adapted into an animated television show which aired on YTV from 2011–2013.
Marie Louise Gay, Stella and Sam (1999–2013)
Created by internationally acclaimed author and illustrator, Marie Louis Gay (b. 1952), the Stella and Sam book series has 11 books in total. In the first book, Stella, Star of the Sea follows Stella and Sam to the beach. It is Sam’s first time going to the beach and he has a lot of questions. Stella has answers for all of them. The comedic series covers themes of adventure, innocence, and the sweet relationship between an older sister and her younger brother.
Like the books, the television show—which ran from 2011–2021—features Stella and her little brother, Sam, as they discover the wonders of the outdoors. The show won a Rockies Award in 2011. Meanwhile, the book series has been translated into more than 15 languages and is enjoyed by children worldwide.
Paulette Bourgeois, Franklin the Turtle (1986–2002)
There are over 25 books in the main Franklin the Turtle series with multiple spinoff books based on the television franchise, Franklin (1997–2004) which ran for six seasons. Franklin in the Dark was the first book to be published. It shared a story about a fearful turtle named Franklin who is afraid of small dark places. His shell just so happens to be one of those small dark places. Throughout the book, he asks other animals for advice, only to find out that they also have fears of their own. The series was illustrated by Brenda Clark, including themes of friendship, problem-solving, and emotions and feelings are prominent in the series.
Before creating Franklin, Paulette Bourgeois (b. 1951), was a freelance journalist and a mother. The inspiration for her Franklin the Turtle came from an American sitcom called, M.A.S.H.. One night, Bourgeois was watching an episode while feeding her newborn daughter. In the episode, a character experienced claustrophobia and claimed that if he was a turtle, he would be afraid to go into his shell. That moment birthed the beginnings of a million-dollar franchise about an imaginative and friendly turtle.
Linda Bailey, Stanley (2003–2009)
The Stanley series, written by Linda Bailey and painted by Bill Slavin, contains six picture books. In Stanley’s Party, the first book of the series, Stanley knows that he is not allowed to sit on the couch. While his people are out, however, he places a single paw on it. One thing leads to another, and before he realizes it, Stanley is hosting the best party a dog could wish for! The book, along with the rest of the series is entertaining and humorous, following the antics of a lovable and confident dog.
Inspired by her own energetic canine, Sophie, Bailey wanted Stanley to do things that normal dogs could not do. Bailey was born in Winnipeg, MB, and has numerous awards for her work. Stanley’s Party alone holds twelve awards, including—but not limited to— the Ontario Library Association’s Blue Spruce Award in 2004, and the Time to Read Award from the B.C. Achievement Foundation in 2007.
Thomas King, Coyote Tales (2017)
Coyote Tales by Thomas King is a collection of two fables: “Coyote Sings to the Moon” and “Coyote’s New Suit.” In “Coyote Sings,” Coyote is the cause of misfortune. When the moon was brighter and closer to the earth, Old Woman and the animals would sing to her every night. Coyote tries to sing along, but because of his terrible voice, everyone begs him to stop. Offended, Coyote lashes out and insults Moon, who angrily dives into the pond, plunging the world into darkness. With Coyote’s help, Old Woman devises a plan to return Moon into the sky. Meanwhile, “Coyote’s New Suit” teaches the lesson of greed and wanting more than you need.
On top of being a children’s book author, King has many talents. He is a broadcaster, novelist, short-story writer, essayist, screenwriter, and photographer. He became a member of the Order of Canada in 2004 and a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2020. Being Cherokee, King has also been acknowledged as one of the greatest contemporary Indigenous writers in North America.
Nadia L. Hohn, Malaika (2016–2021)
Written by Nadia L. Hohn, the Malaika series spotlights Caribbean cultures in three picture books. Malaika’s Costumeis the first book. It embraces celebrations of Carnival, a festival and celebration about freedom and the emancipation of slavery. These celebrations originate in the Caribbeans. After rejecting her grandmother’s old hand-me-down costume, Malaika leaves the house and runs into Ms. Chin, the tailor. Ms. Chin offers Malaika a bag of scrap fabric which Malaika and her grandmother use to create a patchwork peacock costume to wear in the parade. She wears it proudly.
Hohn is a writer, musician, and educator from Toronto. She has Jamaican ancestry and was dubbed by CBC as one of 6 Black Canadian writers to watch in 2018. Hohn’s works blend standard English and Caribbean patois, celebrating black stories that are often underrepresented in children’s literature. The Malaika series is illustrated by Irene Luxbacher.
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