We rounded up six must-read Canadian biographies for kids
Nothing inspires kids like a fellow Canadian who beat the odds and worked hard to make it to the top of his or her field. We scanned our shelves and scoured bookstores for the best biographies for children to fill March Break reading lists and encourage your young readers to become the next homegrown changemaker.
Who: A former professional ice hockey player who played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League, Wayne Gretzky — nicknamed “The Great One” — is called the greatest hockey player ever by sportswriters, players and the NHL itself.
What: Who is Wayne Gretzky? by Gail Herman. Penguin Young Readers, 2015.
Why it’s a must-read: You don’t have to be a hockey fan to be inspired by Wayne Gretzky’s story. Born in Brantford, Ont. in a nation obsessed with the sport, Gretzky threw himself into the game from the time he laced up his first pair of skates. Following his retirement from the NHL in 1999, he led several teams to Stanley Cup victories, competed in the Olympics, and changed the way hockey was played forever.
Who: Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould was one of the most famous and celebrated pianists of the 20th century. A writer, broadcaster, composer and conductor, Gould was a renowned interpreter of the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach, his playing distinguished by remarkable technical proficiency. He was known for his eccentricities, from his unorthodox musical interpretations and mannerisms at the keyboard to aspects of his lifestyle and behaviour.
What: As Glenn as Can Be, by Sarah Ellis. Groundwood Books, 2022.
Why it’s a must-read: A portrait of child prodigy and world-famous classical musician Glenn Gould, As Glenn as Can Be is perfect for kids who are a little different — and are proud to be. Gould was a child who knew his own mind — he liked boats but did not like fishing; he enjoyed puns and pranks but did not like bullying; he loved learning but did not like school … and more than anything, he loved to play the piano. Gould had a professional performing career by the time he was 15; by 20, he’d given concerts all over the world. He discovered that when he played and recorded music in an empty concert hall, he could make it sound exactly the way he wanted. This book encourages kids to be themselves.
Who: A hero of the North American struggle against injustice and racial discrimination, Viola Desmond is the first Black, non-royal woman to be featured on Canadian currency.
What: Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged, by Jody Nyasha Warner, Groundwood Books, 2010.
Why it’s a must-read: On the off-chance your kids haven’t experienced this book in school, check it out on your own. Nova Scotia’s African-Canadian community is one of Canada’s oldest and most established Black communities. This book, a finalist for the 2011 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, follows a 1946 incident in Nova Scotia where a movie-theatre usher told Viola Desmond to move from her main floor seat up to the balcony. Desmond, knowing she was being asked to move because she was Black, refused, resulting in her being jailed, charged and fined. She vowed to continue her struggle against such unfair rules, giving strength and inspiration to her community.
Who: Despite having lost a leg to cancer, Terry Fox embarked on a Marathon of Hope across the whole of Canada to raise awareness and money for those living with the disease.
What: Terry Fox, by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2022.
Why it’s a must-read: There are few of us who haven’t been touched by cancer, and every September, kids participate in the Terry Fox Run. The latest in the Little People, BIG DREAMS series, Terry Fox explores the life of the legendary Canadian who ran the Marathon of Hope. Fox was training to become a sports teacher when he received a cancer diagnosis that meant that his leg would have to be amputated. Owing to his experiences as a patient, Fox embarked upon his 143-day Marathon of Hope, raising millions of dollars and awareness for cancer research.
Who: The first Canadian to walk in space, Col. Chris Hadfield, is the author of the Number 1 international bestseller, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes. Selected by the Canadian Space Agency to be an astronaut in 1992, Hadfield was CAPCOM for 25 Shuttle launches; director of NASA Operations in Star City, Russia; chief of robotics for the NASA Astronaut Office in Houston; and Chief of International Space Station Operations. Hadfield most recently served as Commander of the International Space Station where he conducted a record-setting number of scientific experiments and oversaw an emergency spacewalk. He has also gained worldwide acclaim for his breathtaking photographs and educational videos about life in space.
What: The Darkest Dark, by Chris Hadfield. Penguin Random House Canada, 2016.
Why it’s a must-read: Every icon has to start somewhere! In this internationally bestselling picture book inspired by the childhood of the real-life astronaut, a boy named Chris loves rockets, planets and pretending he’s a brave astronaut, exploring the universe. But at night, Chris, who is afraid of the dark, doesn’t feel so brave. It’s only when he watches the groundbreaking moon landing on TV that he realizes that space is the darkest dark there is.
Who: David Suzuki, scientist, television host and environmental activist
What: Meet David Suzuki, by Elizabeth MacLeod. Scholastic Canada Ltd., 2021.
Why it’s a must-read: Who hasn’t watched The Nature of Things with David Suzuki? This book offers a glimpse into the story behind one of the most popular scientists of our time. Boyhood fishing trips gave David Suzuki an early appreciation for the natural world. Suzuki went on to become a scientist, professor and was among the first to raise the alarm on how human behaviour endangers life on Earth. Meet David Suzuki is a book in the award-winning Scholastic Canada Biography series, which also highlights the lives of Canadians J. Armand Bombardier, Therese Casgrain, Viola Desmond, Elsie MacGill, Chris Hadfield, Willie O’Ree and Mary Ann Shadd.