The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, a nonfiction picture book written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill, was announced as the winner of the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award on Tuesday night in Toronto. Thornhill, a native of Sudbury, Ont., is the author of more than a dozen other nonfiction books for young readers, and in 2015 she was also given the Vicky Metcalf Award, which is awarded annually to someone with an inspirational body of work in Canadian children’s literature. She will take home C$30,000 for her win.
The book, published in October 2016 by Groundwood Books, tells the story of great auks, a penguin-like North Atlantic bird species that were strong swimmers, but not flyers or strong walkers, which led to them being hunted to extinction by humans in the 19th century. Although the birds no longer exist, their demise helped to inspire the animal conservation movement and other laws to protect wildlife.
The jury called the book a “riveting story” whose “distinctive and evocative images mesh with strong writing about the lifestyle and obstacles that are a part of daily life for this resourceful bird. This is a book that draws the reader into its world—our world—in a way that’s both haunted and haunting.”
The four other finalists, who will each take home C$10,000, include: A Day of Signs and Wonders by Kit Pearson (HarperTrophy Canada); The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence (Tundra Books); Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano, illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka; and When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (HighWater Press).
Awards in other categories also went to E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear (Dutton) for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award; Caroline Pignat’s Shooter (Razorbill Canada) for the John Spray Mystery Award; Kevin Sands’s The Mark of the Plague (Aladdin) for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction; Elizabeth McLeod and Sydney Smith’s Canada Year by Year (Kids Can Press) for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction; Jennifer McGrath and Josée Bisaillon’s The Snow Knows (Nimbus Publishing) for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award; and Iain Lawrence’s The Skeleton Tree (Tundra) for the CBC Fan Choice Award.