Look to the North! My Ten Favourite Canadian Illustrators and Their Books by Carrie Gelson

To say that I love picture books would be a serious understatement. I can fall in love with a book simply because of one image on one page. One of my favourite books of 2013 was The Man with the Violin written by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Dušan Petričić. Find that book and open to page one. Sigh. Swoon. Hooked. As I shared my serious #booklove for this title with anyone who might listen, I realized I also had a little bit of Canadian pride happening. Canadian author. Canadian illustrator. That got me to thinking about the amazing Canadian illustrators out there. If these artists are not on your radar, please . . .

Look to the North! My ten favourite Canadian illustrators and their books that will convert you:

Isabelle Arsenault has illustrated many titles that I love including Migrant (2011) and Once Upon a Northern Night (2013) but it is her illustrations for Virginia Wolf (2012) written by Kyo Maclear that I love the very most.

Virginia Wolf

Geneviève Côté Whimsical and charming, Côté’s illustrations help tell the story in many picture books for young readers such as What Elephant? (2006) and Me and You (2009) My students adore Mr. King’s Things (2012).

Mr. King's Things

Julie Flett is a Metis and Cree artist who lives in Vancouver, B.C. She has illustrated the beautiful Zoe and the Fawn (2007) written by Catherine Jameson and The Moccasins (2004) written by Earl Einarson. In my classroom, it is her delightful board book Little You (2013) written by Richard Van Camp that is hugely popular to share with our little reading buddies.

Little You

Marie-Louise Gay is such a beloved Canadian illustrator, that her trademark characters Stella and Sam were featured on Canadian stamps this summer! I adore all of the Stella and Sam stories and was thrilled with the release of the newest in the collection Read me a Story Stella (2013) I also love Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth (2010) but am most charmed by Caramba (2005) the little cat that cannot fly finding his way amongst other cats that can soar through the clouds.


Stéphane Jorisch is a favourite illustrator in my household. My children love his illustrations for all of the humorous Betty Bunny books written by Michael B. Kaplan. Oma’s Quilt (2003) written by Paulette Bourgeois is a favourite of mine. But the book we all love and frequently gift is the wonderful Suki’s Kimono (2005) written by Chieri Uegaki. All about a beautiful inner spirit and knowing who you are.

Suki's Kimono

Marie LaFrance is a Canadian illustrator whose work appears in magazines, newspapers and posters. Her illustrations for A Hen for Izy Pippik (2012) written by Aubrey Davis are wonderful – historical nuances, depicting community and simplicity. This title was awarded numerous awards. LaFrance has illustrated other lesser known titles. I am hoping we see much more of her in the future.

A Hen for izzy pippik

Julie Morstad is another Vancouver illustrator that I adore. Her books are found in many local book and art stores in the city and line the bookshelves of many of my friends with children. Her recent title How To (2013) celebrates small, simple moments in the most imaginative of ways. I often use When You Were Small (2006) written by Sara O’Leary as a creative writing prompt and it never fails to amaze me how children are inspired. I think, though, that Morstad’s illustrations for Singing Away the Dark (2010) by Caroline Woodward might be the title that makes you an absolute fan.

Singing Away the Dark

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is one of my favourite people to follow on twitter. She often tweets doodles and lots of #booklove about children’s literature. If you check out her website, you will see that she is illustrating many titles being released over the next 3 years. Wow! I know that the Nerdybook Club community is no stranger to her charming title I’m Bored (2012) written by Michael Ian Black. Oh that potato!

I'm Bored

Dušan Petričić is all kinds of amazing as an illustrator. He conveys mood, charm and emotions in his illustrations in the most wonderful of ways. As I’ve noted above, The Man with the Violin (2013) is a beautiful book. I really believe that Stinson and Petričić completely shared the narration of this story through their words and pictures. I also adore Mr. Zinger’s Hat (2012) written by Cary Fagan. I love the page with the little boy edging into Mr. Zinger attempting to see the story “trying to get out” of Mr. Zinger’s hat. The Enormous Potato (1997) a folktale written by Aubrey Davis is also not to be missed.

The Man with the Violin

Frank Viva has done some really unique titles. Along a Long Road (2011) was a visual treat of stylized and clever graphic art. Young Frank, Architect (2013) is on my wishlist. But the favourite and most adored Viva book in my classroom is the Toon comic A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse (2012) It is charming and fun and delightful at every page. Celebrated by my young readers.

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

Carrie Gelson lives and teaches in Vancouver B.C. home to one of the best children’s bookstores in Canada – Vancouver Kidsbooks. She shares her love for books on the blog There’s a Book for That and highlights the learning and book love in her Grade 2/3/4 classroom on the blog Curiosity Racers. Find her on twitter at @CarrieGelson.