Award-winning children’s book shares tale of unlikely friendship, importance of community

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Reading is a favourite winter pastime for lots of families — the chance to get cozy inside on cold, grey days with cups of hot cocoa, soft reading socks and a stack of books. But not just any books; thought-provoking reads that help nourish young minds and foster an appreciation for community and meaningful connections.

In Birdsong, winner of the 2020 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, author and illustrator Julie Flett creates a touching picture-book story about a young girl who moves from the country to a small town where she feels lonely and out of place. The girl meets an elderly woman who shares her love of arts and crafts, and a special friendship is formed, in which they bring their different experiences of the world to each other as they collaborate.

“Really for me, Birdsong is inspired by people in my life,” Flett says. “I’d stop at this one house that looked almost like a cabin, with big trees, an ungroomed but beautiful yard. In the spring, the yard was covered in snowdrops, and one day, a woman came out onto the front balcony. I said to her, ‘I love the snowdrops,’ and she said, ‘I know.’ She’d seen me over the last few weeks, and we had a chat and slowly got to know each other over the next year.”

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The story touches on a few important themes: loss, transitions and intergenerational relationships. Flett, who is Cree-Métis, weaves the elements of snowdrops and neighbourly connection into Birdsong, as well as the Cree worldview. She lost her mom before writing the book, and says, “It was those things that got me through the loss, along with traditional teachings, a kind neighbour, plants in the spring, drawing, my son and birdsong.”

At a time when families are experiencing so much uncertainty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Birdsong helps children to process difficult transitions while gaining an appreciation for nature and the people around them.

READ MORE: Studio Story Time: Global Calgary personalities read children’s books online for cooped-up kids

Julie Flett

The TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, presented in association with The Canadian Children’s Book Centre and supported by TD, is designed to celebrate and spotlight Canadian authors and illustrators who demonstrate dedication to children’s literacy. Flett, who lives in Vancouver, will be awarded $50,000 for Birdsong, the largest cash prize in Canadian children’s literature.

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“At TD, we are focused on helping to promote literacy skills from JK to Grade 6 and helping kids learn to read, and then read to learn. Increasing literacy and access to reading materials are instrumental to help young Canadians gain confidence and success both within and outside of school,” says Elizabeth Harding, manager for corporate citizenship at TD.

“By supporting children’s literature and stories like Birdsong that help young readers learn about different cultures and experiences, we hope to help create a more inclusive tomorrow,” Harding says.

Through the TD Ready Commitment, the bank’s global corporate citizenship platform, TD aims to help children feel more confident about their goals in a changing world by supporting programs that promote early literacy and education, like the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, the national TD Summer Reading Club and the TD Grade One Book Giveaway.

“I’m so incredibly honoured [to win the award] and to see Birdsong included alongside some favourite previous recipients and co-nominees,” Flett says.
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“I’m so glad [Birdsong is] resonating with kids and caregivers alike. And our kids are seeing and hearing themselves on the pages; our books as Indigenous bookmakers — for me as a Swampy Cree, Red River Métis community member — are making their way out into the world in significant ways”, Flett says.

READ MORE: Kids’ book aims to improve literacy skills, preserve Indigenous languages

Learn more about Birdsong and find out how to share it with young readers in your life.

Looking for more great books to read with kids this winter? Check out this year’s shortlist and past winners of the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award.