Not unlike the adult side of the business, children’s publishing in Canada looks to be headed for a pretty good 2013 overall, despite limited school and library budgets and reduced inventory and heavy return rates at Indigo Books and Music stores. Rick Wilks, director of Annick Press, points to gains in the nontraditional market that have helped make up for some of what would’ve been lost. “We’ve been really successful at getting books into Target. They’ve got a good selection of a number of titles. And we’ve done some special packages for Costco.” Publishers that emphasize U.S. and international sales have also felt less impact from the cuts at Indigo. Owlkids Books publisher Karen Boersma says that efforts to promote the company’s books in the U.S are paying off, with double-digit growth in sales there.
Sales to the school and library market, however tough, are more important than retail sales for many publishers. “There is fierce competition for dollars because a) there are fewer of them b) there’s more competition in terms of acquisitions for those dollars,” says Wilks, who notes that there is a big demand for digital products in addition to books. Good reviews are essential, he says. “Even if they are ordering in general fewer titles because of competition for their budgets, if your title gets noticed there’s still a good market.”
All publishers have sales and marketing strategies, but what they really want to talk about is what they consider the most powerful asset—great books. This year, PW highlights big books, brave books, and books that keep the beat.
The names, especially in Canada, speak largely for themselves—Kenneth Oppel, Robert Munsch, Barbara Reid—but it also piques curiosity about what these stars have been up to.
Scholastic Canada is publishing the latest story from Robert Munsch called Swamp Water along with a new anthology, Munsch Mania. Author illustrator Barbara Reid, whose unique Plasticine-sculpted illustrations are instantly recognizable, has taken on another big name— Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, told with a mousy twist.
HarperCollins Canada has an new novel from one of the biggest names in Canadian children’s literature. Kenneth Oppel’s The Boundless is set in the late 1800s just as the dream of a railroad crossing and uniting all of Canada was being completed.
“It is historical fiction, but, of course, it is Kenneth Oppel, so there is a healthy dose of fantasy and magic in it. ‘The Boundless’ is the name of the world’s largest train, it’s like the Titanic of trains, many kilometers long,” says Hadley Dyer, executive editor of children’s books at HarperCollins Canada. When young Will Everett witnesses something he shouldn’t, he has to race from the end of the train to the very front with a nefarious character on his heels. “It is a pressure cooker and full of imagination,” says Dyer.
B.C.’s Orca Book Publishers’ Seven series, tailored particularly to entice boys to read, turned out to be big in a number of ways. Seven authors writing seven interconnected novels released simultaneously was an ambitious project for all involved, from the writing through the complicated editing process and the coordinated cross-country author tours. It also paid off in a big way with 80,000 copies sold, and rights sales that stretch all the way to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan, says publisher Andrew Wooldridge. The sequel series by the same authors writing stories with the same characters will be out in fall 2014. And in 2015, Orca plans to release a series of seven linked novels by seven female authors, including some well-known names like Marthe Jocelyn, Kathy Kacer, and Kelly Armstrong.
Many Canadian children’s publishers have been recognized for going where few others dare to go—into the delicate, the provocative, and the really tough or thorny issues of the day—and going there in intelligent and sensitive ways. Annick Press, shortlisted as one of five publishers considered for the best children’s publisher of the year award at the Bologna Book Fair, knows this territory well. Rick Wilks says the 2012 graphic novel War Brothers, by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance, about child soldiers in Uganda, received starred reviews and enjoyed great sales. “No matter how worthy the subject, it has to be great storytelling,” says Wilks.
Second Story Press is publishing Until Today, a debut novel by Pam Fluttert about 13-year old Kat, who is devastated when her journal goes missing. It holds the secret she has told no one—the only record of the sexual abuse she has suffered—at the hands of a friend of her father’s. “There’s nothing graphic, there are no scenes of the abuse, but there are scenes between her and him where he tells her, ‘You can’t tell anybody, it will be your fault,’ ” says Second Story marketing and promotions manager Emma Rodgers. “Obviously, it’s a difficult subject,” says Rogers, the kind of book teachers and librarians will want to handle carefully. Rodgers also says she’s been amazed by the overwhelmingly positive responses to the book from the ALA’s teen review group.
One of Owlkids Books lead titles this fall is Why do we Fight?: Conflict, War and Peace by Niki Walker. Publisher Karen Boersma says the book, released in September, attracted a lot of attention at the Bologna fair. “She uses real-world examples, but she’s been really careful not to wade into any debates about current conflicts,” Boersma says. “Her intent is to teach kids to recognize the shared structures, the factors, and the history that create both personal conflicts and global conflicts, so she does a great job of bringing it back for kids to conflicts that they might experience in their own lives, with a sibling, with someone at school.”
Scholastic Canada’s The Road to Afghanistan, written by Linda Granfield, is narrated by a soldier home from two tours of duty in Afghanistan. Using stories from the narrator’s family history, the book also honors soldiers who have fought for Canada in previous wars.
Deborah Ellis traveled to Afghanistan, as well as to Iraq, Israel, and Palestine in order to tell the stories of children in those troubled places. Her new book, Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids, tells the stories of aboriginal children from Alaska and Canada’s North and as far south as Florida. The result of her interviews with them is “remarkable,” says Groundwood Books publisher Sheila Barry. Although there are positive stories, there are also many stories of despair and heartbreak. Ellis tells PW that what stayed with her most from her two years of traveling the continent were the stories she heard from the children about white adults going out of their way on the streets or in a shop “just to say racist things right to their face. I’d hear those things over and over.” Profits from the project are going to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which is a group in Canada that advocates for the rights of native children in foster care.
HarperCollins Canada is publishing Rabbit Ears by Maggie de Vries. This novel for teens “is a very personal story for her,” says HarperCollins’s Dyer. In addition to publishing several other children’s books, de Vries has published an adult memoir, Missing Sarah, which was nominated for a Governor-General’s award for nonfiction. Canadians know Sarah de Vries, Maggie’s adopted sister, as one of the many women who went missing from the rough streets of Vancouver’s downtown East Side and who was later discovered to have been the victim of serial killer Robert Pickton. Rabbit Ears is a fictionalization of Sarah’s story as a young woman. “It is the story of two sisters, one who runs away and one who stays home, and how the character who was inspired by Sarah, Kaya, does end up on the streets, does end up in prostitution to support her drug habit,” says Dyer. “And it explores the question how can this happen to a kid who comes from a very loving home, as many of these women did. It is a really brave book.”
Razia’s Ray of Hope is the 12th book in Kids Can Press’s Citizen Kid series, which president Lisa Lyons says has been attracting tremendous interest, particularly in relation to Common Core curriculum. The series, written by multiple authors, features books that aim to make complex global issues accessible for children ages 8–12, covering topics such as water conservation, biodiversity, food security, and microlending. More than 700,000 copies of the first 11 books in the series have sold worldwide and have been translated into 20 languages.
Razia’s Ray of Hope is about an Afghan girl who dreams of going to school. The book was inspired by an Afghan woman, Razia Jan, who worked as a tailor outside of Boston and decided after 9/11 that she wanted to build schools for girls in Afghanistan, and founded the Zabuli Education Centre in rural Afghanistan that provides free education to 400 girls. “She is actually a character in the book,” says Lyons. “The young girl in the book is called Razia, but one of the things Razia does is go to homes and sit down, particularly with the fathers and brothers, and tell them it’s really important that the girls are educated, and she does that in the book.”
This spring Orca launched its nonfiction Orca Footprints series. According to publisher Andrew Wooldridge, the first two books, Pedal It: How Bicycles Are Changing the World and Down to Earth: How Kids Help Feed the World, have both done well. Pedal It has already been reprinted, and he’s sold rights for both in Korea. The new title for fall is Brilliant: Shining a Light on Sustainable Energy. “We’re choosing a very specific niche for our nonfiction. The books are environmentally themed but they won’t beat you over the head or make you feel bad about how we are treating the planet,” says Wooldridge. “They’re more positive.”
With a Beat
Books that mix with music in creative ways are highlights for several publishers this fall.
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, published by Annick, is based on the true story of the renowned violinist Joshua Bell playing his Stradivarius in a Washington Metro station and observing that the people who paid the most attention to his music were children. Annick’s Wilks says Stinson’s book highlights that theme. “It’s about how kids really pay attention and are connected to the world in a way that adults often forget.” Sony music has created a Web site where readers can listen to Bell playing two Mozart pieces. There are also plans for a children’s album and Annick is discussing co-marketing opportunities with Sony.
Groundwood’s Northwest Passage uses haunting paintings of the Arctic from author and illustrator Matt James interspersed with the lyrics of Stan Rogers’s iconic folk song “Northwest Passage” to bring alive the story of the historic search for the Arctic passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. “Groundwood does these kind of nonfiction picture books that take that information to a whole new level. But this one I think is in a class of its own,” says publisher Sheila Barry.
Montreal’s Secret Mountain specializes in books for children that are paired with music CDs, and, more specifically, music that adults can enjoy. As publisher Roland Stringer explains: “A child can listen to the same album in the car for hundreds of miles. And it can drive a parent off the deep end, having to listen for hours to a basement recording produced with a midi keyboard and a singing puppet on steroids. Let’s just say we believe in public safety.” So Secret Mountain produces books with a broad range of music from around the world as well as different musical genres. This fall’s title, A Gift for Sophie, was written by the beloved Quebeçois poet and songwriter Gilles Vigneault and published first in French in 2007 and has now been translated into English. It is accompanied by popular singers Martha Wainwright, Thomas Hellman, Jessica Vigneault, Paul Compagne, and David Francis. The book is illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch.
The cross-generational appeal of great music was also the inspiration for Tundra Books’ lead fall title, from Robbie Robertson, a member of The Band. Robertson’s Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World was written as a book (with two CDs) that parents could read and listen to with their children, introducing them to musical innovators from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan. Kristin Cochrane, executive v-p and executive publisher of the McClelland & Stewart Doubleday Canada Publishing Group, says Robertson “talked about the intrinsic taste in music that children have that we don’t give them credit for. There are very few children in the world who don’t respond immediately to the Beatles or Ella Fitzgerald.” Tundra expects the large and stylishly illustrated book will be an adult crossover gift book. “It’s very much a celebration of music, a historical document of music in a particular time,” adds Cochrane. “But as the design and as the material came in, and as the song list that Robbie compiled with his co-writers evolved, our numbers kept getting bigger and bigger, and our vision for the book kept getting bigger and bigger.” That’s big and brave and surely will have a beat.