Canadian authors and books for International Literacy Day


September 8th is International Literacy Day. Started in 1966 by UNESCO, International Literacy Day is a reminder of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities, and societies, as well as the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies.

Facts about literacy in 2020:

  • 773 million adults and young people lack basic literacy skills;

  • 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics;

  • During the initial phase of the pandemic, schools were closed disrupting the education of 62.3 per cent of the world’s student population of 1.09 billion;

  • Adult literacy and education were absent in initial education response plans, therefore many youth and adults with no or low literacy skills have had limited access to life-saving information.

To celebrate International Literacy Day, we're going to share some of our favourite Canadian authors and stories:

The Paper Bag Princess (1980) and Mortimer (1983) — Written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko

To start things off, how could we not mention the quintessential Canadian children’s book author, Robert Munsch. Munsch wrote The Paper Bag Princess and Mortimer, with his longtime collaborator Michael Martchenko illustrating both books. Matchenko has illustrated 27 books with Munsch.

Munsch was born in June 11, 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After working in an orphanage, Munsch started working at a day-care where he decided to go back to school and learn more about child studies. It was during this time he came up with Mortimer.

The Paper Bag Princess was Munsch’s first book. Published in 1980, The Paper Bag Princess is still loved 40 years on. It takes the trope of the dragon and captured princess and reverses it for comedic effect and showing the capability of Elizabeth, the main character.

Mortimer, published in 1983, was the first story made-up by Munsch. When Munsch was a student teacher, he was leading circle-time and made up a story about a little boy who didn’t like to go to bed. Fun fact, this is one of FESA Facilitator Shawna Linklator's favorite stories.

Lucy Tries Luge (2013) — Written by Lisa Bowes and illustrated by James Hearne

Next up we have the first book in the "Lucy Tries Sports" series: Lucy Tries Luge. The book series follows Lucy and her friends as they learn introductory skills in a variety of exciting sports, guided by coaches and teachers. Lucy's eagerness to try new things will inspire all children to get outside and play.

Lucy Tries Luge is about the sport of luge and introduces readers to the specifics and excitement of the sport.

First published in 2013, the "Lucy Tries Sports" series aims to promote inclusive physical literacy and encourage young readers to get involved in sports. Endorsed by elite athletes, the series focuses on participation and the importance of play. Bowes is a prolific sports media personality who has worked all around Canada, including CTV Calgary as an anchor/reporter from 2004-2017. She is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario.

Nokum Is My Teacher (2007) — David Bouchard and illustrated by Allen Sapp

Up next is the beautiful Nokum Is My Teacher. It’s about a young Indigenous boy posing questions to his grandmother, his “Nokum,” about his place in the world. His Nokum "skillfully [guides] him to an understanding of the larger world outside their reserve, while still retaining respect for the ways of their people."

Nokum Is My Teacher was published in 2007, and has won multiple awards and most recently was short listed for the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. David Bouchard was born and raised in Saskatchewan. He is a member of the Order of Canada and a public school in Oshawa, Ontario is named after him which is fitting because Bouchard is a former high school principal as well.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox (2015) — Written and illustrated by Danielle Daniel

Another great Canadian book is Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox. The book introduces readers to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals and their meanings. At the end of the book, Daniel has included a list of the animals and their associated attributes.

Daniel lives in the traditional territory of the Atikameksheng Anishnaabeg (Sudbury, Ontario) with her husband, son, and dogs. She was a schoolteacher, but now writes books for children and adults. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, a B.Ed. from Laurentian University, and a B. Arts/Women Studies from Ottawa University.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox won the 2016 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award and the 2017 Blue Spruce Award, was a finalist for the First Nation Communities Read Award, and one of NY Public Library's Most Notable Titles in 2015.

The Hockey Sweater (1979) — Story by Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen

For our next entry, I’m going to need to excuse myself and allow for this little indulgence. I don’t think a book about Canadian authors would be complete without a book on hockey. Enter The Hockey Sweater — a French-Canadian short-story originally published in 1979 under its original title: "Une abominable feuille d'érable sur la glace." It was translated to English by Sheila Fischman.

Set in 1946 Sainte-Justine, Quebec, the story is about a young boy obsessed with Maurice “The Rocket” Richard who played for the Montreal Canadiens. His hockey sweater has worn-out from use and his mother tries to order from the English Eaton’s catalogue. Things get mixed up and instead of the red Rocket Richard jersey, he is now a proud owner of the blue Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, oh no!

The story is based on a real-life incident from the author’s life. Carrier studied at Collège St-Louis in New Brunswick, the Université de Montréal in Quebec, and at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France, where he received a doctorate in literature. He is a member of the Order of Canada and many other recognitions. The Hockey Sweater is considered an important part of Canadian culture and the Bank of Canada placed a line from the story on the reverse of the 2001 series five-dollar bill.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged (2010) — Written by Jody Nyasha Warner and illustrated by Richard Rudnicki

Last, but certainly not least, is Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged.

In 1946 Nova Scotia, an usher in a movie theatre told Viola Desmond to move from her main floor seat up to the balcony. She refused to budge. Viola knew she was being asked to move because she was black.

Originally published in 2010, Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged is based off the true story of Viola Desmond, a civil rights activist and businesswoman of Black Nova Scotian descent. Author Jody Nyasha Warner is a writer, human rights advisor and former librarian. Warner wanted to write this book because so much African Canadian history is either not well known or not documented.

This is just a sampling of all the wonderful authors and books made in Canada. We hope you enjoyed this brief overview. Happy International Literacy Day. Keep on reading.

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