OAF News

2021 Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards presented to Heather M. O’Connor, Claudia Dávila and Wesley King

Toronto, June 22, 2021 – The 2021 winners of the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards were announced today by the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) and the Ontario Arts Foundation (OAF). 

The winners were selected by two juries of young readers from Admiral Collingwood Elementary School in Collingwood, Ontario.  A jury of grade 4 students selected the recipients of the Children’s Picture Book Award, and a jury of grade 8 students selected the recipient of the Young Adult / Middle Reader Award.

Each student juror read the books individually and then worked with their group to reach consensus and choose a winner - this year, via videoconference. This teamwork-based process reinforces leadership and decision-making skills for the students.

Winner of the Children's Picture Book Award Category

Fast Friends
by Heather M. O'Connor (Peterborough, Ont.)
illustrations by Claudia Dávila (Toronto, Ont.)
Scholastic Canada Ltd.

About the Book

Tyson does everything fast – so fast he often disrupts the class. Suze, the new girl, is nonverbal with special needs. Sometimes her classmates don’t know what those needs are. But taking the time to interpret her cues, Tyson forms a special friendship with Suze, and teaches his classmates what it means to listen and understand others. Fast Friends emphasizes how two kids with different challenges and strengths find they are just what the other needs to navigate classroom life.

“Tyson and Suze share a love of going fast,” noted the student jury. “Even though Suze uses a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean she wants to go slow. Other people just didn’t see what Suze wanted.”

Every kid dreams of being the hero of the stories they read, but books about differently-abled children are rare," said author Heather M. O'Connor.  "Thank you to the nomination committee for including Fast Friends on this prestigious shortlist and to the jury of young readers for honouring a story in which everyone belongs."

“It’s such an honour to receive this very special award, selected by the most important group of readers there is – children!,” said illustrator Claudia Dávila. “Kids always see in stories and characters what is in the hearts of others, especially when the story is of inclusion and friendship.”

About the Author

Fast Friends is Heather M. O’Connor’s first picture book. She also writes short stories, fantasy and historical fiction, and her first novel, The Betting Game, was published in 2015. This is her first book to be nominated for a Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award.

About the Illustrator

Claudia Dávila writes, illustrates and designs books for kids of all ages, with stories and themes that encourage children to be strong, thoughtful, compassionate and responsible people. A former art director at Chirp and Chickadee magazines, she also wrote and illustrated the graphic novel series The Future According To Luz. This is her first book to be nominated for a Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award.

Winner of the Young Adult / Middle Reader Award Category


Sara and the Search for Normal 
by Wesley King (Lake Echo, N.S.)
Simon & Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books 

About the Book

Sara wants one thing: to be normal. What she has instead are multiple diagnoses. Sara’s constant battle with False Alarm – what she calls panic attacks – and other episodes cause her to isolate herself. But when she starts group therapy she meets someone new. Talkative and outgoing Erin doesn’t believe in “normal,” and Sara finds herself in unfamiliar territory – in short, with a friend. But there’s more to Erin than her cheerful exterior, and Sara begins to wonder if helping Erin will mean sacrificing their friendship.


“We loved reading about Sara’s heartbreaking, messy life,” said the student jury. “Her story took us on a journey of acceptance, as we learned with her that our differences are part of what make us who we are.”

“I am deeply grateful that Sara's journey connected with the jury,” said Wesley King. “I write for young readers, so it means so much more when they decide on a winner. Thank you to the Ontario Arts Council and Ontario Arts Foundation for continuing to administer this wonderful award, and a huge congratulations to the other nominees – it was a fantastic shortlist.”

About the Author
Wesley King is the author of 11 books, including the Vindico series and, with Kobe Bryant, the Wizenard series. Sara and the Search for Normal is a prequel to his novel OCDaniel, which was chosen as the winner of the 2017 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award (Young Adult / Middle Reader Award category).

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. The awards are funded through the Ruth Schwartz Foundation.
  • Two awards of $6,000 each are presented annually to recognize artistic excellence in writing and illustration 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 jury process.
  • See the full details on the award and the list of previous laureates.


Shoshana Wasser, Senior Communications Coordinator, Ontario Arts Council
416-969-7434/1-800-387-0058, ext. 7434 | swasser@arts.on.ca


Ann Boyd, Director of Administration, Ontario Arts Foundation
416-969-7411 | aboyd@oafdn.ca


The Ontario Arts Foundation (OAF) is passionately committed to building long-term support for the arts in Ontario.  In 2019-2020, the OAF paid $4.25 million in endowment income and $270,000 in awards and scholarships. 

For more than 50 years, the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) has played a vital role in promoting and assisting the development of the arts for the enjoyment and benefit of Ontarians. In 2019-2020, OAC invested $51.9 million in 197 communities across Ontario through 1,965 grants to individual artists and 1,152 grants to organizations.

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