Since Canadian kids (and their parents) have long passed the one-year milestone of pandemic-induced restrictions — with many provinces going so far as to reenact province-wide lockdowns and domestic travel bans of late — it can be hard to come up with creative ways to teach little ones about everything the country has to offer without leaving home. And while sensory-based armchair travel, from fun documentaries to virtual museum tours, are a great option for exposing your little ones to cities and provinces outside of their own, sometimes shutting off the screen and looking to literature can have a bigger impact than you might imagine, especially if you’re looking for ways to bond as a family.
Whether you’re looking for a great read for your preschooler’s bedtime story, you’re hoping to bulk up your big kid’s at-home library or you’re looking for an age-appropriate Can-lit novel for your preteen, these are some of the best Canadian and Indigenous children’s books that promise to teach little ones all about the north — ranging from adventures in Halifax to true tales in Toronto and beyond.
Toddlers and preschoolers
‘Good Night Montreal’ ($7.88; amazon.ca)
Featuring colourful illustrations of Montreal’s best-known landmarks, including the Montreal Botanical Gardens, Mount Royal Park, the Biodome and more, this cheery board book will instantly transport littles to the streets of La Belle Province.
‘The Hockey Sweater’ ($10.99; amazon.ca)
The most popular Canadian children’s book since its original publication over 50 years ago, “The Hockey Sweater” is just as relevant as ever. The detailed picture book takes young readers into a small town in Quebec and demonstrates the unity among Montreal Canadiens fans.
‘Bagels From Benny’ ($8.86; amazon.ca)
Winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Awards Children’s Literature Prize, “Bagels From Benny” is a colourful account of young Benny, his bagel-baking grandpa, life in a Canadian synagogue and the real meaning of giving.
‘Baby Beluga’ ($9.41; amazon.ca)
Originally written by Canadian singer-lyricist Raffi, the well-loved “Baby Beluga” song has been translated into a beautiful board book for littles and their parents to learn about the life of beluga whales in the Atlantic while they sing along to the catchy tune.
‘Nanny’s Kitchen Party’ ($12.82; amazon.ca)
Newfoundlanders know a thing or two about having a good time, especially when it comes to hosting a kitchen party. This adorable picture book takes readers through exactly what happens at one little girl’s grandma’s Newfoundland kitchen party — and it’s a lot more fun than she originally anticipated.
‘Moose’s Roof’ ($12.95; amazon.ca)
Think of “Moose’s Roof” as a playful field guide to all of Canada’s best-known fauna. The surprisingly thought-provoking story features moose, beavers, bears and squirrels, all of which offer their own lessons on gratitude and mindfulness.
‘Perfect Snow’ ($22.54; amazon.ca)
There’s something magical about the promise of a snow day that Canadian littles dream of year-round — and “Perfect Snow” describes those little moments perfectly. The classic picture book illustrates all the well-loved aspects of a snow day, from snowmen to snow forts, that both kids and parents will relate to.
‘Africville’ ($18.95; amazon.ca)
A beautiful tribute to the former Nova Scotia community, “Africville” is filled with vibrant, hand-painted photos of what its Black residents went through during the relatively untaught side of Atlantic Canadian history. The poignant story is one of hope — but doesn’t spare the details surrounding 20th-century Nova Scotia’s treatment of its Black community.
‘Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged!’ ($9.85; amazon.ca)
Written by human rights advisor and former librarian Jody Nyasha Warner, “Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged!” is a true account of Canadian hero Viola Desmond and what ensued when she refused to follow segregation rules at her local movie theatre. Desmond played a huge role in ending racial segregation in Canada, and this beautifully illustrated picture book is a must-read for all Canadian children.
‘Little Tree by the Sea: From Halifax to Boston With Love’ ($14.68; amazon.ca)
“Little Tree by the Sea” takes readers back to 1917 when over 2,000 Nova Scotians were killed in what is now known as the Halifax Explosion, considered to be the largest-ever accidental explosion in recorded history. This isn’t a story of despair and sadness, but rather a true account of the friendship between Halifax and neighbouring Boston and how the American city stepped in to help during a time of need.
‘Oscar Lives Next Door’ ($17.77; amazon.ca)
Based on the inspiring story of legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, “Oscar Lives Next Door” is an imagined tale of what it would have been like to live next door to the jazz sensation in his childhood neighbourhood. The story follows Oscar and his fictitious neighbor Millie as they navigate life in St. Henri (a southwest borough in Montreal) before his rise to stardom.
‘Shi-shi-etko’ ($15.34; amazon.ca)
This poignant and moving tale of Shi-shi-etko and her family takes readers through what it might have been like for Indigenous children forced to attend residential school. Equally beautiful and heartbreaking, this poetic picture book is an excellent resource for teaching kids about a dark stain on Canadian history.
‘I Know Here’ ($16.78; amazon.ca)
An excellent resource for kids and their parents preparing to make a cross-country move, “I Know Here” follows a little girl and her family as they prepare to leave their cozy life in Saskatchewan behind for life in the big city of Toronto.
‘Wild Berries’ ($43.05; amazon.ca)
Written in both English and Cree by Vancouver-based Métis and Cree artist and illustrator, “Wild Berries” is a sweet story about a little boy named Clarence who spends his day picking blueberries with his grandmother — and all the sights, sounds and reflections that come along with spending a day in the wilderness.
‘The Loon’s Necklace’ ($12.97; amazon.ca)
A beautifully illustrated ode to the striking British Columbia landscape, “The Loon’s Necklace” is all about the Indigenous legend of where the Canadian loon got its white collar and speckled back.
‘Anne of Green Gables’ ($45.01; amazon.ca)
A must-read for every Canadian child, “Anne of Green Gables” follows Anne Shirley, a fun-loving, redheaded orphan living in Prince Edward Island, and all the shenanigans she finds herself in as she grows from a young girl to a teenager.
‘Underground to Canada’ ($10.88; amazon.ca)
“Underground to Canada” follows Julilly and her friend Liza as they break away from the slave traders who took them from their parents and escape to the Underground Railroad, making their way to Canada. While it’s certainly not a bedtime story, the sensitive account of life within the Underground Railroad is an excellent read for young teenagers.
‘Run’ ($12.86; amazon.ca)
Every Canadian student knows who Terry Fox is — but few know the details surrounding his decision to embark on the Marathon of Hope. “Run” comes as a colourful account of Terry Fox’s life and legacy as told through the eyes of a young boy he met along the way.
‘Mystery in Old Quebec’ ($15.99; amazon.ca)
Part sightseeing guide, part thriller novel, “Mystery in Old Quebec” centres around Kerry and Mark, a brother-and-sister duo who head to Old Quebec to spend some time with their father — and end up solving a great mystery along the way.
‘Tales From Gold Mountain’ ($15.47; amazon.ca)
Written by Chinese Canadian historian Paul Yee, “Tales From Gold Mountain” is made up of eight short stories that chronicle exactly what life as a Chinese immigrant is like in North America. It’s an evocative look at the struggle, loss, excitement and triumph that comes along with starting a new life in Canada.
‘The Night They Stole the Stanley Cup’ ($10.88; amazon.ca)
“The Night They Stole the Stanley Cup” is a teenage sports fan’s dream — and nightmare! This lighthearted novel follows the Screech Owls, a junior high hockey team that travels to Toronto for the biggest hockey tournament of their lives, only to realize that the Stanley Cup has been stolen and it’s up to them to crack the case.
‘Dippers’ ($13.32; amazon.ca)
A distinctly Canadian tale with a sci-fi twist, “Dippers” takes readers back to 1912 when Margaret, a school-aged girl grappling with life with divorced parents and a bedridden little sister, discovers dippers, curious flying, doglike creatures that will shake life up even more.