Phil’s Outdoor Studio: Illustrating Me and You and the Red Canoe

Me and You and the Red Canoe, written by Jean E. Pendziwol, is mononymous artist Phil’s first picture book.

Phil contemplates the view from his studio

Phil studied painting, printmaking, photography and design at the Alberta College of Art and Design, and the Ontario College of Art and Design. His paintings evoke memories as well as images and feelings from the past.

Gorgeous thumbnails of the picture book’s layout

His stunningly beautiful paintings rendered on wood panels give a nostalgic feeling, a perfect pairing with Jean E. Pendziwol’s poetic text.

A work in progress

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Scot Ritchie on Federica and Bringing Home Nature

A couple of years ago I was having lunch with my friend Odette in Germany. She was telling me about her two-year-old nature-loving daughter. Federica would take forever to walk one block because every leaf and bug was too interesting to pass by. Then she would bring them home. I loved Odette’s story and did some sketches while we talked.

When I got back to Canada I needed to catch up on other projects. In my “New Ideas” folder, I came across an idea I’d put aside. I knew it needed something, I just wasn’t sure what it was.  The topic was re-wilding, or bringing nature back into our urban lives. Then I remembered Federica. Her innocent idea of bringing nature home was a perfect fit. I was off and running.

As I developed the story, I realized mixing non-fiction with fiction is a tug-of-war — at some point one of them has to win. Federica seemed to stand on its own as a story, so I decided fiction would work. Any mention of re-wilding was gone (but hopefully could still be found lurking behind a bush, for the reader who was looking).

So it became a story about something we all do: cleaning house. Clever Federica does what’s obvious to her. Life at the park is orderly and peaceful, so to make her house orderly and peaceful, she invites her animal friends home. After all, raccoons clean, goats cut grass and spiders eat bugs. Once I was up and running, the book seemed to come naturally – with a good dose of help from my brilliant and supportive editor.

A few weeks before I was set to go to Germany this summer, a box full of the books arrived. I packed them up and flew to Berlin.

Which brings us up to last week when I had the great pleasure of delivering Federica to Federica. Odette and I had coffee while Federica looked through the book. She probably thinks every little girl has a book named after her.

Federica and her brother with the book

Federica speaks German and Italian but no English. I know her mom has done a great job of translating the story for her. But who knows, maybe at the book fair in Bologna next year Federica will find a German or Italian publisher, and she can read it in her own language.

As we were saying goodbye, Odette told me about her new little boy. He’s two years old and eats ladybugs — only ladybugs. It is a great story and, who knows, maybe it will fit nicely with an idea I have waiting in my “New Ideas” folder. I will keep you posted.


by Scot Ritchie

Federica’s busy family can’t keep their house clean! To get away from the buzzy, buggy mess, she escapes to the peaceful park where she can spend time with her animal friends…which gives her an idea.

She brings home sheep and goats, spiders and dragonflies, a toad, an owl, and some raccoons. Then she takes her family to the park for a picnic, and while they’re gone, the animals chomp the overgrown grass in the backyard, eat the garbage and catch the pesky bugs overrunning the house. After a peaceful afternoon at the park, Federica’s family comes home to a clean house — and raccoons doing the dishes!

Scot Ritchie’s warm art and original story bring a fresh perspective to the busy-family challenge of keeping the house clean, while featuring a clever and resourceful young girl who knows that, sometimes, letting nature back into our lives is the best answer.


And So It Goes: A gentle, loving book about loss, grief, birth, and celebration

A Mindful Meditation on the Mysteries of Life, for Children

by Dona Matthews, co-author of Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids

There were tears in my eyes and a smile in my heart as I read And So It Goes, written and illustrated by Paloma Valdivia, an award-winning Chilean illustrator and writer. Ms Valdivia hits just the right note of compassionate understanding of children’s tender innocence and wonder, while simultaneously being straightforwardly honest about the pain of grief and reminding them of the joys of life.

Very young children often wonder about death and worry about it, whether or not they experience it closely in their own lives. If you have a sensitive child who is asking questions about death, and if you are open to a contemplative acceptance of the mysteries of life, I can highly recommend And So It Goes.

This book is a wonderful resource for families coping with loss, as well as with other changes that parents might be happy about, but that children don’t always welcome, including a new baby or a move away from friends and family. There’s a lovely sense of the mystery of life itself, a light touch that emphasizes the importance of doing the best we can with what we have, here and now: “Those of us here are just here. And so we’d best enjoy ourselves.”

And So It Goes is mindfulness in practice, a thoughtful meditation for parents as well as children. It is a comforting reminder of the inevitability of change, and the importance of appreciating everything and everyone we have in this moment.

Parents may feel they should avoid discussing death and loss with their children, but even toddlers appreciate our honesty. Children worry when they don’t understand and will be comforted by the gentle acceptance of the changing nature of life itself that Paloma Valdivia captures so beautifully, both in the words and the whimsical illustrations in this book.

I love the easy balance between sadness and celebration, and the deft subtlety of Ms. Valdivia’s philosophical musings: “For a fleeting moment, those who leave and those who arrive cross paths in the air. They wish each other happiness.”

And So It Goes feels deeply imbued with a true understanding of the pain of loss and grief. It honors that pain, while reassuring young children that life goes on: “And so it goes, just as spring follows winter. Some arrive while others take their leave.”

Beyond Intelligence
Written by Dr. Dona Matthews
& Dr. Joanne Foster

From two internationally recognized experts in the field of gifted education comes this timely exploration of how best to nurture a child’s unique gifts, and set them on a path to a happily productive life — in school and beyond.

Drawing on the latest research in brain development and education theory, Beyond Intelligence is a must-read for today’s parents and educators.

Seamus’s Short Story Will Make You Stand Tall!

Seamus's Short Story

Seamus would give anything to be taller! One day, while playing dress-up in his mother’s closet, he finds a way to reach new heights.

With his mother’s high-heeled shoes on, Seamus can suddenly reach everything that was once too high: the top-floor elevator button, the chocolate milk in the fridge, the TV remote and that horrid picture of him as a baby. But when Seamus encounters problems that can’t be solved from a great height, he has to admit that sometimes being small just isn’t so bad.


Acclaimed picture book author Heather Hart-Sussman brings a light touch to this nuanced story about acceptance, resourcefulness and love, complemented by the humor and beauty in Milan Pavlovic’s colorful paintings of Seamus’s world — where there are times to be tall and times to be small.

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Back to School with Buddy and Earl

Buddy and Earl know that with the right education they can become anything — even a dentist or a hot-dog vendor! So they eagerly gather their silly, smelly supplies and head to school.

Trace a path through this maze to help Buddy and Earl find their way to school!


For more fun Buddy and Earl activities, download our free Buddy and Earl Go to School activity guide!

Buddy and Earl Go to School
by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff

Buddy and Earl know that with the right education they can become anything — even a dentist or a hot-dog vendor! So they eagerly gather their silly, smelly supplies and head to school.

In this fourth book in the critically acclaimed Buddy and Earl series, the dog who likes to play by the rules and the hedgehog who knows no limits learn just how much fun school can be.

The Real-Life Art Heist that Inspired a Novel

Thirty-one years ago today, a famous art heist took place in Melbourne, Australia. This event inspired Gabrielle Williams to write her novel The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex. Read on for more information about the heist, as outlined in the book.

Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

On August 2, 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world’s most iconic paintings — Picasso’s Weeping Woman — off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it for ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria. The painting was the subject of an international manhunt involving Interpol, Scotland Yard and the Australian Federal Police.

The Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex

by Gabrielle Williams

The Guy decides to have a house party while his parents are out of town. The Girl is adjusting to life in a new country. The Artist has discovered that forgery is a lucrative business. And his Ex, mother of his baby, is just trying to make ends meet.

As Guy, a feckless high-school senior, plans the party of the year, Rafi worries about her mother, who is still grieving over the drowning death of Rafi’s little brother back in Bolivia and haunted by the specter of La Llorona, the weeping ghost who steals children.

Meanwhile, Rafi’s uncle is an art dealer involved in a scheme to steal one of the most famous paintings in the world, but he needs the forgery skills of Luke, a talented artist who has just split up with his girlfriend, Penny, who wants nothing more than to get him back to be a proper father to Joshie, the baby Rafi babysits.

Engaging, provocative, darkly humorous and fast-paced, with a shocking and near-tragic ending, when Rafi’s mother’s grief tips over into mental illness.

“A winning, offbeat romp for all ages.” Kirkus Reviews

“Quiet but layered, Williams’s story lingers.” Publishers Weekly

“An intriguing and twisting plot keeps readers turning the pages to discover how the relatable characters connect.” School Library Journal

“A sophisticated entertainment, this book has intrinsic appeal to adult readers as well as its primary teen target.” Booklist

Nadia L. Hohn on Celebrating Carnival on Emancipation Day

This Emancipation Day, August 1st, I find myself in the birthplace of Caribbean Carnival, on the island of Trinidad. Although Trinidad’s festivities take place before Lent begins, reflecting its largely Catholic majority, Barbados’ Carnival Crop Over and Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival (formerly Caribana) take place during this Emancipation season.

This time of year marks the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. Although there were other forms of indentureship and servitude in existence after slavery, it meant a lot for my ancestors to be freed from a life of slavery.

As you may already know, Carnival in any Caribbean nation and across the African diaspora is a “serious thing.” All year long, people pour their resources and energy into preparations for an event that lasts but a few days. To some, it may appear frivolous and maybe even a bit fanatical, but when you consider what is inspiring this fervor — the fact that our African enslaved ancestors were freed from hundreds of years of bondage — it is completely fitting. Today in Trinidad, we prepare to celebrate Emancipation Day with our brothers and sisters across the African diaspora in the Caribbean and all over the world, including Canada. We don bright colors and African prints and watch a parade.

Although I’d never been to Trinidad before today, its Carnival lived in my imagination and inspired my book. Tomorrow, I make my way to Barbados where I will play Mas’ with Crop Over revelers from around the world, casting off our cares and woes, rejoicing in costumes and pageantry under a hot Caribbean sun. Each Carnival song calls to a part of ourselves in which we forget our pains and losses so that we can celebrate our lives, our freedom and our shining moment.

For Malaika in my picture book Malaika’s Costume, it is to forget for a moment that she is poor and living without her mother who has migrated to Canada for work. She finds joy and solace in celebrating Carnival. As I don my costume at Crop Over in Barbados, I will remember my joys and losses this year, including my younger brother who recently passed away. I will celebrate because I’ve survived, and I love and continue to live the dreams of freedom that my ancestors had. And through celebration and festivities, I will keep their memories alive and create new ones.

Malaika’s Costume
Written by Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher

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?

Malaika’s Winter Carnival is coming soon!

Watch for Malaika’s Winter Carnival, to be published on September 1, 2017!

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