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Shoshana Wasser

Associate Director of Public Affairs and Communications
Toll-free in Ontario: 1-800-387-0058

2023 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards presented to Jen Lynn Bailey, Maggie Zeng and Nafiza Azad

May 26, 2023

Toronto, May 26, 2023 – The 2023 winners of the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards were announced today during a school assembly at Jesse Ketchum Junior and Senior Public School. The winners were selected by two juries of young readers from the school – a jury of grade 4 students selected the recipient of the Children’s Picture Book Award, and a jury of grade 7 and 8 students selected the recipient of the Young Adult / Middle Reader Award

The student jurors were chosen for their love of reading and willingness to work in a consensus-building environment, as well as to reflect the school community. Each student read the shortlisted books individually, then worked with their group to collectively decide on a winner. This process makes it a unique literary award in Canada. 


Winner of the Children’s Picture Book Award Category

This Is The Boat That Ben Built
This is the Boat that Ben Built
by Jen Lynn Bailey (Ottawa, Ont.)
illustrations by Maggie Zeng (Montreal, Que.)
Pajama Press

About the book

Young Ben sets out to explore the river equipped with a sturdy boat, some sample-collection gear, and his scientific curiosity. Along the way he meets a black bear taking a swim, a moose all wobbly and slim, a goose with a gorgeous grin, and a heron all proper and prim … but things really start happening after the owl HOOs loudly on a whim! The book concludes with an extended Author’s Note that spotlights facts about every animal Ben has met and invites readers to think like an ecologist about the ways in which they are all connected.


We really liked the colourful detailed pictures and the way the story built up,” said the student jurors who selected this book. “The information pages at the end of the story were very interesting. And most importantly, we liked the way that the story showed how animals and the environment impact each other. This is a lesson for us all.”
I am deeply grateful to the nominating committee for including This is the Boat that Ben Built in the shortlist, and I am so happy that it resonated with the student jury!” said author Jen Lynn Bailey. “It inspires me to know that we share a common playfulness, sense of wonder, and desire to explore interconnections in our natural world, and encourages me to keep exploring these things in my writing.”
I'm happy to know that the kids I make books and illustrations for enjoy and are inspired by them,” said illustrator Maggie Zeng. “Being able to create art and work on stories that I would’ve read at their age is really a dream come true!”

About the author

Jen Lynn BaileyJen Lynn Bailey’s dual passions for environmental science and education shine through in her first picture book, This is the Boat that Ben Built, which provides an engaging introduction to ecology for young readers. Jen holds postgraduate degrees in integrated science, education and writing, and has worked in each of these areas – as a wildlife researcher, an elementary school teacher and a professional writing instructor. Today, Jen supports science and engineering promotion programs at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.  


About the illustrator

Maggie Zeng
Maggie Zeng is a children’s book illustrator, graphic designer, concept artist and animator. She loves making story-driven illustrations that convey a feeling of adventure and wonder through fun characters and magical environments. Her first two picture books are This is the Boat that Ben Built and Room for More.


Winner of the Young Adult / Middle Reader Award Category

Road of the Lost
Road of the Lost
by Nafiza Azad (Surrey, B.C.)
Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster


About the book

Croi’s life as a brownie in the Wilde Forest is ordinary, until the day her guardian gives her a book about magick from the Otherworld. Croi wakes the next morning with something pulling at her core – a spell she cannot control or break. Forced to leave her home, Croi begins a journey full of surprises … and dangers. For Croi is not a brownie at all but another creature entirely, enchanted to forget her true heritage. She will need every ounce of her newfound magic and her courage as she travels a treacherous path to find her true self and the place in the Otherworld where she belongs.


The student jurors who selected Road of the Lost noted, “The main character, Croi, is just like us. She is at a time in her life when everything is changing and she starts to feel insecure. Then, she learns to be strong and to stand up for what she believes in.” They also enthused, “The fast-paced story really pulls you in, and the fantasy world is complex and well-developed. We especially liked the cliffhanger ending – we’re ready for Book Two!”
“I am honestly over the moon,” said author Nafiza Azad. “To think the book reached the people it was written for and left them touched in some profound way … What more can any writer hope for?”

About the author

Nafiza AzadNafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in British Columbia, Canada, where she reads too many books, watches too many K-dramas, and writes stories about girls taking over the world. Nafiza is the co-editor of the young adult anthology Writing in Color and author of The Wild Ones and The Candle and the Flame, which was nominated for the William C. Morris Award.


About the awards

  • The Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards were established in 1976 by Sylvia Schwartz in memory of her sister, Ruth, a respected Toronto bookseller. In 2004, the family renamed the awards to honour both sisters.
  • Two awards of $6,000 each are presented annually to recognize artistic excellence in writing and illustration, traditionally or self-published, in English-language Canadian children’s literature.
  • The Ontario Arts Foundation administers the awards with the support of the Ontario Arts Council, which manages the nomination and assessment process.
  • See the full details on the award and the full list of previous laureates.

Shoshana Wasser
Senior Communications Coordinator, Ontario Arts Council
416-969-7434 | 1-800-387-0058 (toll-free)

Bruce Bennett
Executive Director, Ontario Arts Foundation