Looking for your next Canadian read? Look no further. I asked members of my publishing team what their top Canadian books recommendations were. Ranging from urban blogger to Canadian classics, children’s literature to adult reads, and including diverse voices, this list will give you lots of Canadian reading pleasure.
Paulette Bourgeois’s Franklin the Turtle
Retired teacher, freelance writer, and my consulting editor Heather Wright loves the Franklin the Turtle series, originally written by Paulette Bourgeois and illustrated by Brenda Clark. (Sharon Jennings has also written several of the stories.)
“Franklin has real kid problems and finds solutions with humour and kindness. The characters are other forest animals and each is unique in personality as well as appearance,” says Heather.
The series, now with over two dozen books, has been published in almost 40 countries and translated into over 20 languages.
“These are read-to books, recommended for ages 3 to 6, and as a parent, I’m happy to say that they are written so well that reading (and rereading!) is never a chore,” says Heather.
Sydney Hegele’s The Pump
Sydney Hegele won the 2022 ReLit Literary Award for the Best Canadian books published by independent presses. They were also a finalist for the 2022 Trillium Book Award.
Jennifer Dinsmore, who specializes in editing for indie authors and is my proofreader, was pulled into Hegele’s literary world by their debut collection, The Pump.
“It’s gritty and fantastical and weird (a good thing!), and explores the pollution of both nature and our social systems. Yet it’s also beautiful and magical. Definitely someone to watch!”
Jean Little’s Little by Little
I can’t write a blog post about top Canadian book recommendations without including my favourite, Jean Little. She wrote disability fiction before these stories had a name.
But it was her autobiography—what we now call memoir—that caught my attention when I was 12 years old and sent me on a trajectory I, of course, couldn’t recognize at the time. I’d always loved writing, but I think reading her memoir was the first time I’d emotionally connected with a writer. I discovered she’d lived in Guelph, looked up her address in the phone book, wrote her a letter…and she wrote back. A whole two pages of advice.
Whenever I’m down, I read the letter to inspire myself again.
Hugh MacLennan’s The Watch that Ends the Night
This is Susan Fish’s recommendation. Susan is my reviewer and stylistic/line editor. She makes sure my novels sound the way I think they sound (which isn’t necessarily how I write them!), finds plot holes, and points out any inconsistencies.
Hugh MacLennan (1907-1990) was known for trying to capture Canada’s national character early in our country’s history. Remember that Canada, the geopolitical entity we know today, had its official founding in 1867, so precisely 40 years before his birth. He won a Governor General’s Literary Award three times, including for The Watch that Ends the Night.
“It’s one of my favourite books ever,” Susan says.
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Books
Whether you’ve read the books, watched Megan Follows in the CBC movies in the 80s, or fell in love with the recent CBC series Anne With an E (which I did), you’ve probably come across L.M. Montgomery’s story about Canadian orphan Anne.
“Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne books remain my comfort reading to this day,” says Susan.
Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever
When this book first came out, I think I was in grade five. I can only say that because I remember my sister, who’s younger than me, playing the mother in her class’s production of this book, and she got to sing the song. I thought it was cool. In true Robert Munsch fashion, the book was funny for a kid, but uniquely touching. I understood it meant the mother really loved her son.
Then I became a mother to two sons. Now, I can’t read that book without tears. (And wondering if the local fire code will let me install fire escapes outside both their bedrooms. Would save me the effort of taking a ladder on a bus since I don’t drive.)
Heather O’Neill’s When We Lost Our Heads
Heather O’Neill is well established, and her previous work has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. She’s also won the CBC’s Canada Reads.
Jennifer’s favourite book from Heather’s catalogue is her latest, When We Lost Our Heads, a story about two women who rebel against Victorian societal norms and crave power and status.
“Heather’s my favourite!” says Jennifer, which is why she added Heather O’Neill to her Canadian author recommendations. “She’s well established, but I am just in awe of the way she crafts sentences and find there is something so compelling about her worlds—even though they are always set in some iteration of Montreal. But O’Neill explores coming of age and womanhood—and our beautiful, brutal world—with care.”
Nita Prose’s The Maid
The Maid reached the #1 spot on many lists, including in Canada, the US, and Germany. The mystery novel is Nita Prose’s breakout novel and stars a character who’s on the autism spectrum, though it’s not specified in the novel.
“This book is the Toronto native’s breakout novel, but that doesn’t stop Prose from writing a humorous and intriguing book that keeps me wanting to read more,” says Savina Rueffer, a co-op student and English major who worked with me earlier this year.
“The true appeal of Prose’s writing, however, is her charming characters and the themes of friendship, support, and family found within the book. It is these aspects and the clear love of the author towards her characters that makes Prose such a talented writer.”
Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster
Eden Robinson is an Indigenous writer of the Heiltsuk and Haisla nations. She’s become known for her novels and short stories. Eden’s stories blew Jennifer away.
“It was so refreshing to see Indigenous cultures (and life on a reservation) as written by a member of the community,” says Jennifer. “I also really love folklore, and she combined a lot of her culture’s stories to mirror Jared’s progress throughout the story—who is very flawed, but just as sweet as can be!”
Rural Gay Gone Urban Blog
When I asked for Canadian book recommendations, my requirements were vague. How we consume stories—including non-fiction stories—has changed so much from when I was a child. Savina recommended Rural Gay Gone Urban. Begun in 2008, this blogger, whose name is not published on the blog, writes about many subjects.
“The best thing about this blog is the way the blogger writes and how every blog post makes me feel like I am experiencing or learning something,” says Savina. “Even personal posts seem to have a more general, universal, appeal in topic and content for, at the very least, queer audiences. To me, it is great to be able to learn from, and experience this man’s journey throughout the years, as he provides thoughtful content and posts that I can relate to and be left with something to think about when I am done reading.”
Richard Wagamese’s Books
Ojibway author Richard Wagamese, who passed away at age 61 in 2017, is perhaps best known for his book Indian Horse, which was a finalist in 2013 for the CBC’s Canada Reads, a 2013-2014 First Nation Communities Read Selection, winner of the CODE’s Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Literature, and shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award. It has also been turned into a feature film.
But Susan couldn’t pick just one of his 13 books. “His books are lyrical, hopeful, painful and must-reads.”
What Are Your Top Canadian Book Recommendations?
With only listing 11 top Canadian book recommendations, we’ve barely scratched the surface of Canadian literature. Who do you enjoy reading? Leave your favourites in the comments!