Away: The Seeds of Inspiration

Written by Emil Sher, author of Away

The seeds of a story are scattered everywhere. Which ones do I cultivate? is the question I carry in my back pocket. I am drawn to stories wrapped around the core of simple but enduring truths. One such truth was laid bare in “A Final Message From My Mother,” an essay I read in the New York Times Magazine. Josiah Howard described the unadorned, life-affirming messages he exchanged with his mother when he was a child. He was black, she was unwed and white, and the notes they left for each other — in the fridge, under lamps, stuffed in a shoe — were “a lifeline — a communication with each other that no one else shared.”

It wasn’t long after reading Howard’s moving essay that I began picturing a picture book, a story told entirely through sticky notes. Skip, the biracial daughter of a single mother, dreads her first trip to an overnight camp. A grandmother and a family cat were added to the mix. Qin Leng’s wonderful illustrations reveal how a deep-rooted love between a mother and daughter sprouts in the most unlikely places: on an empty milk carton, on a fish bowl, beside a plate of biscuits. Sometimes, a few scribbled words carry the soothing weight of a sonnet.

AWAY Written by Emil Sher Illustrated by Qin LengLove shines through in the sticky notes shared between a mother and daughter in this picture book about making time for family in the midst of our busy lives.

Between work and school, homework and housework, a mother and daughter don’t always get to spend as much time together as they’d like. Add to that a little girl’s fears about leaving home for the first time, and the need to stay close through handwritten notes becomes even more important. As the camp departure date gets closer, Mom does her best to soothe her daughter’s nerves. A visit from her grandmother helps to calm her fears and convince her that she’ll have a good time, even away from her mother and beloved cat. Camp ends up being a wonderful adventure – but nothing is sweeter than a back-at-home reunion.

Qin Leng’s watercolor illustrations are the perfect complement to Emil Sher’s simple text. This nuanced story about a parent and child’s unconventional way of connecting is full of humor and affection. Young readers will enjoy spotting Lester the cat as he paws his way into the story.

Fall in Love with The King of the Birds

Love is in the air! It’s Valentine’s Day and we’re celebrating with The King of the Birds.

In The King of the Birds, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail. This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

The King of the Birds

Natalie Nelson, illustrator behind The King of the Books and forthcoming Uncle Holland, made The King of the Birds colouring sheets that’ll make you swoon. Download both sheets below and colour to your heart’s content!

Click here to download the colouring sheets.

The King of the BirdsIn The King of the Birds, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.

Groundwood Books Awards and Starred Reviews for 2016

2016 was an amazing year at Groundwood Books, and while we prepare for our new titles releasing over the next few months, we’re also reflecting on all the wonderful books we published last year.

We’d like to celebrate the books (and their wonderful authors and illustrators) that have received starred reviews in 2016, in addition to acknowledging some additional awards and accolades that were picked up along the way. Thank you to everyone — librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, reviewers, booksellers, and, of course, parents, children, and readers everywhere — for making 2016 such an incredible year.


Starred Reviews 

A BOY NAMED QUEEN by Sara CassidyA Boy Named Queen
Sara Cassidy

Groundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Review in Kirkus

Evelyn is both aghast and fascinated when a new boy comes to grade five and tells everyone his name is Queen. Queen wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos.

How will the class react? How will Evelyn?

Sara O'Leary A Family Is a Family Is a FamilyA Family Is a Family Is a Family
Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal

When a teacher asks the children in her class to think about what makes their families special, the answers are all different in many ways — but the same in the one way that matters most of all.

A Small Madness by Dianne TouchellA Small Madness
Dianne Touchell

Groundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Review in Booklist

Rose and Michael are good students with bright futures. They are also in love. But when Rose gets pregnant, her behavior becomes increasingly strange as she pulls away from her best friend, and from Michael, while she struggles to cope with her predicament.


Book Uncle and Me by Uma KrishnaswamiBook Uncle and Me
Uma Krishnaswami

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal

Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library next to her apartment building. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something. But what can she do? The local elections are coming up but she’s just a kid. She can’t even vote!

Buddy and Earl and the Great Big BabyBuddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby
Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly

Mom’s friend Mrs. Cunningham is coming for a visit, and she’s bringing her baby! While Buddy tries to explain the ins and outs of babydom to Earl, neither of them is prepared for the chaos the small and adorable creature brings with him.

Flannery by Lisa MooreFlannery
Lisa Moore

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Kirkus, CM Magazine, Quill & Quire, School Library Journal, Horn Book, and Shelf Awareness

Sixteen-year-old Flannery Malone has it bad. She’s been in love with Tyrone O’Rourke since the days she still believed in Santa Claus. But Tyrone has grown from a dorky kid into an outlaw graffiti artist, the rebel-with-a-cause of Flannery’s dreams, literally too cool for school.

Which is a problem, since he and Flannery are partners for the entrepreneurship class that she needs to graduate. And Tyrone’s vanishing act may have darker causes than she realizes.

Kabungo by RolliKabungo

Groundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Review in Kirkus

Ten-year-old Beverly is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary best friend. Her name is Kabungo, and she lives in a cave on Main Street. No one knows where she comes from or who she really is, but life is never dull when Kabungo is around.


MALAIKA’S COSTUME Written by Nadia HohnMalaika’s Costume
Nadia Hohn and Irene Luxbacher

Groundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Review in CM Magazine

It’s Carnival time. The first Carnival since Malaika’s mother moved to Canada to find a good job and provide for Malaika and her grandmother. Her mother promised she would send money for a costume, but when the money doesn’t arrive, will Malaika still be able to dance in the parade?

Snow Summer by Kit PeelSnow Summer
Kit Peel

Groundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Review in Kirkus

Massive climate change has caused a winter that will not thaw, and it seems that the forces of nature have turned on humanity itself. But in the sleepy British village of Pateley, one special girl may hold the key to the earth’s survival.


SOMOS COMO LAS NUBES / WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDSSomos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds
Jorge Argueta and Alfonso Ruano

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Horn Book

Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.

THE TRAGIC TALE OF THE GREAT AUKThe Tragic Tale of the Great Auk
Jan Thornhill

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, and Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books

For hundreds of thousands of years Great Auks thrived in the icy seas of the North Atlantic, bobbing on the waves, diving for fish and struggling up onto rocky shores to mate and hatch their fluffy chicks. But by 1844, not a single one of these magnificent birds was alive.

TURN ON THE NIGHT Written by Geraldo ValérioTurn On the Night
Geraldo Valério

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly

A little girl falls asleep and in her dream becomes a huge gray wolf, like the one in her bedtime story. Out the window she leaps, and a marvelous nighttime adventure unfolds. She visits the rooster in his coop, and invites him to hop upon her back and together they run through the night. A reindeer joins in the fun, until the three are suddenly stopped in their tracks by a giant dazzling star. The reindeer climbs upon the wolf, and the rooster upon the reindeer to reach the star, then they carry it home, where it brings all kinds of light to the little girl’s world.

The White Cat and the MonkThe White Cat and the Monk
Jo Ellen Bogart and Sydney Smith

Groundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred ReviewsGroundwood Books Starred Reviews

Starred Reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, Quill & Quire, Booklist, and CM Magazine

A monk leads a simple life. He studies his books late into the evening and searches for truth in their pages. His cat, Pangur, leads a simple life, too, chasing prey in the darkness. As night turns to dawn, Pangur leads his companion to the truth he has been seeking.

Enter to win five books kids need to read now

Groundwood Books

Books give children a mirror in which to see themselves reflected, as well as a window through which they can see the wider world. And with a certain President-elect about to take office, the need for children to read diverse books is now more important than ever.

Groundwood is committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere. (A sample of our diverse books can be found at Enter the contest below for your chance to win five such titles, including:

Good Luck!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Groundwood Books!

In 2017 may we all live by the wisdom of Ms. Flower’s Shop

Seek out the good
Sow the good
will come.

Boats of all shapes and sizes travel on the river, through the seasons, toward the sea. Who will you meet on the river?

Along the River is a vibrant picture book from Brazil depicts the joy of the journey, showing in simple yet detailed illustrations the people you might meet along the way, the sights you might see and the food you might eat. Readers will delight in identifying recurring details when rereading. Reminiscent of the highly acclaimed Jimmy the Greatest!, which received six starred reviews, Along the River is a celebration of community bonds and shared experiences.

With strong social studies curriculum connections, Along the River introduces young children to an alternate form of transportation, as well as to some of the customs and culture of Brazil.


Teachers Make a Difference! Guest post by Marie-Louise Gay

Leena, grade 3/4, Calgary

This post was originally shared on Marie-Louise Gay’s website, and she’s allowed us to repost it here.

Every month or so, I receive a batch of letters and drawings from a class that has been motivated, inspired and engaged by a teacher who makes a difference in their student’s lives.

Teachers who are enthusiastic and creative.

Teachers who don’t just read a book to a class but who expand and enrich the reading experience by encouraging children to get involved in the story, to change it, to pursue it, to compare it to their own experiences.

Teachers who understand the value of “reading” the art in a book, of understanding how the images were created, what materials were used.

Teachers who know that if they can get their students engaged in a book, captivated by a story, immersed in the illustrations, they are not only teaching them to read but they are teaching them to be curious, open-minded, observant and above all, to love reading!

Ella, Grade K1, Michigan:”…could you write a book about tree climbing? I love to climb trees…”

Two years in a row, K1 teacher Teresa Kellerman from Michigan, has sent me stories and drawings and suggestions from her students inspired by her incredibly imaginative projects based on Any Questions? She wrote:

Dear Ms. Gay,

I wanted to let you know how much you inspired my students as authors with your book Any Questions?. A fellow first grade teacher discovered the book at the local library and knew that I would love it, so she brought it to me. I immediately fell in love as my mind began swimming with lessons and ideas while my heart raced with the excitement that paralleled a child with a new toy! I couldn’t wait to begin sharing the book with my students.Each and every child was captivated by your book as we studied it in sections throughout the week, reading only a portion a day and following up with associated activities from painting the shy giant to guest authoring the”suddenly” section, to editing and sharing. Our final activity for the week was for each student to compose a letter to you offering his/her idea for your next book. The room was buzzed with the murmer of letter writers discussing their ideas with each other. We hope you feel the love that each pencil stroke brings from our classroom to you.

Thank you for inspiring young minds,

Teresa Kellerman and 1K

Mohamed,Grade3/4, Calgary: “…please write a story about Stella in Africa…”

Mrs. Killam, Grade three/four teacher from Calgary, sent me drawings and stories and many, many suggestions from her students. I could probably write a whole shelf full of books from her students suggestions. But I hope they will eventually write these stories. Mrs. Killam wrote:

Ms. Gay,

I hope our letters find you well. We have been exploring your books as an author study for the past 2 months. Your books have been accessible and have ignited the imaginations of 24 grade 3 and 4 students.

Our school is located in the inner city of Calgary. Nearly all students are new Canadians and are learning English for the first time. 16 Countries and 14 languages are represented in my class this year. Many students have come to Canada as refugees, and have experienced unbelievable tragedy and hardships beyond my imagination. Along with these challenges, many students have difficult home lives. With that being said, your books help to bring students together and help us to forget our differences. The students are always enamored by your stories. Thank you for making them.

You have moved this class and changed their expectations of a “good book.” They loved the imagery of “Moonbeam on a Cat’s Ear.” Their collective hearts fell when Mademoiselle Moon lost her job. They giggled and hooted along endlessly with Stella and Sam. They pondered about where the desert island could be that this boy and wolf were floating along on. And, of course, they ALL wanted to dig a hole bigger than Roslyn and make their way to the penguins. Next, we will be looking at “Any Questions?” and writing our own stories.

Thanks again for doing what you do. Please enjoy our letters! They are filled with questions, book suggestions for your next book, sketches, and lots of love.

Until next year,

-Mrs. Killam

Tania,Grade3/4. Calgary: “…I love your book about Caramba and Henry…”

When I read letters like these and receive enthusiastic letters and drawings from children, I feel hopeful as a creator as well as in the future of our children. I feel very thankful and heartened to know that there are many teachers out there really making a real difference in children’s lives.

Thank you to all the teachers who, day in and day out, inspire our children.

Braydon, Grade K1, Michigan

Behind Fear, Sadness — Guest post by Rui Umezawa

“Hell Screen” is a 1918 short story by the celebrated Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa that tells of the great artist Yoshihide, who is fascinated in the beauty he sees in horrific things. In the newest television incarnation of Hannibal Lector, the cannibal psychologist is a connoisseur of all things beautiful, including exquisite gourmet recipes for preparing human flesh.

The images contained in both narratives are ghastly and horrendous. Yet beneath them — under the gore and the grotesque — we discern a sublime sorrow, tragedies of immense proportions.

In interviews and discussions surrounding my new collection of stories, Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan, the idea has been put forth more than once that Japanese ghost stories are sadder than their Western counterparts. My reaction to this has been to suggest that all horror stories, Japanese or otherwise, tend to be as tragic as they are horrible.

I am, for example, an avid fan of The Walking Dead. (I had the thrill of a lifetime when I met Norman Reedus and Steven Yuen a couple of years ago at Toronto’s Fan Expo.) I do not watch the show, however, to watch zombies repeatedly feast on human entrails. As gruesome as such images are, one gets desensitized to them quickly.

In contrast, the tragedy of the zombies, and of the survivors who try in vain to hang on to their humanity, have not diminished over the five seasons the show has been on. I remain empathetic, heartbroken and mesmerized, like Yoshihide in “Hell Screen” watching Hell materialize in front of his eyes.

Most all horror stories therefore are tragic to me, regardless of the culture from which they originate. Stories of souls encased in hideous shells, trapped in a world into which they did not ask to be born. The Japanese undead are no more sorrowful than any other.

On the other hand, this sensibility that discerns poignancy in terror may indeed reflect certain Japanese qualities. The Japanese, after all, often use dead wood in flower arranging.

From the religious symbols present in Dracula to the sin of idolatry in Frankenstein, in Western horror traditions, terrible things happen in the presence of a Judaeo-Christian God. We understand there is justice that transcends the chaos. This perspective is comforting.

When one looks at horror in terms of karma, however, it becomes less personal. Like some twisted variation on Newtonian physics, in folly we throw certain kinds of energies into the world which inevitably return to us. It is as absurd as nature, and as inexplicable.

In the Chinese five-elements theory (wu xing, which actually means “five progressions”) fear arises from sorrow. In observing the ruthless, random tragedies in life, we understand we might be affected at any time. And from this fear rise anger and violence, as the flight or fight instinct takes command of us. This is the sadness of the world, the foundation of fear for those of us who do not believe in a loving, supreme being.

So while Japanese horror stories may not be intrinsically more tragic, my tendency to discern the sorrow behind the terror may indeed reflect Japanese traits. Just as I can appreciate the comforts of a Christian God, however, so can my non-Japanese friends appreciate the bleakness of His absence. Truths are multiple and depend on perspective.

This idea is at once a source of despair and of hope.

Enter to win a Sidewalk Flowers gift package

Today we were thrilled to learn that the fabulous Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith has won the Governor General’s Children’s Literature Award for Illustrated Book. As if that wasn’t enough, mere hours later the wordless picture book was named one of the 10 best illustrated books of the year by The New York Times! We want to share this winning feeling, so so we have a special giveaway for our friends on the internet!

One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of the book and a 17” x 20” poster, along with four pieces of sidewalk chalk for making your own stories, all pictured below:


This contest is open to residents of North America (excluding Quebec). We will accept entries until midnight on Tuesday, November 3rd, and will contact the winner by email on Wednesday, November 4th.

Good luck!

Sorry! Contest closed!

Sign up to receive Groundwood blog posts (and contests!) in your inbox!

Portrait of a Groundwood Intern


This summer, we were very lucky to have the help of fabulous intern Rachel Fagan at Groundwood HQ. We asked her to write a few words about the day in the life of a Groundwood intern for our blog. Read on for a peek behind the curtain!

Groundwood is usually off to a leisurely start in the morning, and the office is quiet as the staff slowly trickle in; most of them with coffee in hand. Someone invariably comes bearing sweets to share.

I sit down at my desk and, as always, am greeted with a cheerful smile from Sheila who I suspect may actually live in the Groundwood office as she’s always in before me and is always there to wave goodbye when I leave.

The first thing I do is check my email, then I organize the newest mail pile and make sure none of them are for Anansi.

By mid-morning, the office is humming with activity. Michael uses my desk to spread out the newly arrived prints for the Fall 2015 picture books – very exciting stuff! I take a break from my emails to glance over some beautifully illustrated Pacific west coast landscapes from West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet written by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Karen Reczuch. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Suzanne stops by for a hallo! and offers me a manuscript to scour for grammatical mistakes. I’m just happy to read a new manuscript, but I get to work. Embarrassingly, I spend about ten minutes deliberating over a comma and then mention the potential intruder to Suzanne who spends another few minutes thinking about it as well. We’ll have to ask Nan when she gets in.

Soon I’m sent over to the bookstore to measure the books. Yes, that’s right. As Sheila and Suzanne calculatingly discuss the size of the upcoming fall season’s novels, they decide to send me to Type Books to do some research. I awkwardly ask the Type employees if they would mind me spending some time with my ruler in the children’s section. They happily comply. Five by eight seems to be the popular size, so I hurry back to deliver my findings.

At 3:30, the Groundwood staff file into the conference room for our production meeting. I’m just an observer, but everyone else intently scribbles away in their notebooks as Erin goes through the list of upcoming publications and delivery dates.

As the day comes to a close, I finish up any remaining emails and if I have time browse through some of the new material, trying to familiarize myself with the impressively large Groundwood catalogue. I generally get distracted until Sheila peeks out of her office and reminds me that it’s after five.

I pack up my bags, clean up my desk and arm myself with a manuscript to read at home, As I walk out of the office, I’m met with a barrage of smiling goodbyes and see you next weeks. Another busy day at Groundwood is over and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Arr! Celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day with Buddy and Earl!

Ahoy, mateys!

It’s that special day of the year when all the the land lubbers at Groundwood are in full-on pirate mode. On Talk Like a Pirate Day — and every day — there is nothing like a good friend with a great imagination to make any adventure especially fun.

But a nice hat doesn’t hurt either. Which is why we’ve partnered up with our favourite dog-and-hedgehog team to put together a free guide to help you make a special pirate hat all your own.

Download The Activity Sheet


Contact us

Get in touch with us!