In the spirit of summer travels, this edition of News from the North features television shows, characters, books, and authors journeying across countries and borders.
Canadian children have a new advocate for books and reading: Bookaboo, a literature-loving puppy. The puppet character, who stars in the British TV series of the same name, is a drummer in a rock band, but can’t go on stage unless he hears a story a day. Puppeteer Marcus Clarke improvises much of the banter between Bookaboo and the real-life celebrities who appear on the show to read to him, among them British Olympic gold medalist Kelly Holmes and Spice Girl Mel C.
The Bookaboo series was created in the U.K. by children’s TV writer, director, and producer Lucy Goodman of Happy Films. It launched in 2009 and was a hit with viewers as well as critics, winning multiple accolades including BAFTA children’s awards in 2009 and 2011. Two 13-episode seasons were produced in Britain.
This past July, a third season premiered in Canada. Ten of the 28 books featured this year are Canadian titles read by celebrities including CBC nightly news anchor Peter Mansbridge and actor Jason Priestley, a Vancouver native. Among the participating publishers are Kids Can Press, Owlkids Books, and Scholastic Canada; each featured publisher donates 1,000 books to First Book Canada, which to date has distributed more than one million books to children in need across the country.
For Kim Wilson, creative head of children’s and youth programming at CBC, the decision to air a Canadian version of Bookaboo was an easy one. “As soon as I saw one of the U.K. episodes it was a bit of a no-brainer,” Wilson said. “I thought every element would work for Canadian families.”
Goodman, who had pitched the show to the CBC, originally had some concerns that British viewers would not be as receptive to Canadian celebrities. In fact, the new season, which has already aired in the U.K., received better ratings than the previous two. “Celebrities are great PR and great for the parents, but really the ratings are showing that it’s Bookaboo and the books that are carrying it,” Goodman said, adding that the show features both new and backlist titles. “My criterion is that I just want the best books to read aloud.”
A Fresh Look for Franklin
A new generation of American children has been getting to know Franklin the Turtle through the CGI TV series Franklin and Friends, which has been airing in the U.S. since 2011. This fall, they’ll have the opportunity to get to know him in his original medium – print.
As a part of its 40th anniversary celebrations, Kids Can Press has re-released 29 classic Franklin stories by Paulette Bourgeois, along with 12 new books based on TV episodes.
“We had an opportunity to take back the rights from Scholastic, so we wanted to leverage the fact that he was getting some significant exposure in the U.S. market,” said Kids Can president Lisa Lyons. She added that the timing for the television tie-in titles is good because typically those sorts of books do best after they have been seeded in the marketplace for a while.
The re-releases, she said, will feature refreshed covers but will be “instantly recognizable for those who have read them before.” The original framing has been removed to allow full bleed for Brenda Clark’s artwork, the name Franklin has been enlarged, and the tagline “A Classic Franklin Story” has been added at the top of the covers.
Kids Can coordinated the timing of the new releases with Franklin and Friends producer Nelvana, which is introducing new merchandise this fall. Kids Can and Nelvana parent company Corus Entertainment maintains an ongoing partnership with SeaWorld in the U.S., which in January 2013 began selling an exclusive advance release of the television tie-in title books, with SeaWorld branding.
Logue-ing a Lot of Miles
Actor Donal Logue, a dual Canadian-U.S. citizen best known for his performance in the film The Tao of Steve, is in the final stages of writing his debut YA novel while working on three different television series in three different countries.
Agua (HarperCollins Canada) is about an Irish-Canadian boy who moves to a rough town close to the U.S.-Mexican border in 1980. There, he is drawn into the questions surrounding the suspicious death of a friend’s father. “It’s got an incredible voice,” says Hadley Dyer, executive editor for children’s books at HarperCollins Canada. “It’s a very moving book and yet it’s an exciting crime story.”
Logue explained the genesis of his novel. “The idea came to me while I stood on my balcony watching my son, Finn, skateboard around the parking lot of our apartment complex,” he said. “My initial question was, ‘What if a 13-year-old boy was confronted with a scary, adult-sized situation and had nothing but his smarts, courage, skateboard, and BMX bike to deal with it?’ ”
The book came to HarperCollins as a result of “one of those serendipitous meetings that happen in publishing from time to time,” Dyer said. One rainy evening while shooting the TV show Copper in Toronto, Logue went to a book event to support a friend from Los Angeles. When he mentioned that he was working on a YA novel, his friend’s Canadian editor offered to introduce him by email to Dyer.
Logue said he found a kindred spirit in Dyer, who in addition to being an editor is also an author of books for children and young adults. “Some early readers of the manuscript had insisted that the story be set in the present and have an older protagonist,” he said, “but I could tell as we talked that Hadley was inclined to believe in the power of the intellectual and internal life of a young kid. She wasn’t disappointed that Danny wasn’t 17, wasn’t on Facebook, and had no magical powers, and quickly made an offer for Canadian rights.”
This summer, Dyer and Logue have been collaborating on the book by email while he is on set in Ireland shooting the series Vikings for the History Channel. (He is also in the BBC America’s production of Copper, filmed in Toronto, and in FX’s Sons of Anarchy, shot in L.A.). “It’s so funny to me to think that I’m sitting here at my desk and he’s just spent the day, you know, fighting Vikings with swords,” she said.
The book won’t be published before late 2014, Dyer said, noting that if a U.S. publisher is found for the book, HarperCollins Canada may decide to wait to do a simultaneous release.
Stella Stamps Across Canada
This summer, Canada Post debuted two stamps featuring Stella, the curly-haired redhead created by author-illustrator Marie-Louise Gay, as a part of Canada Post’s ongoing celebration of Canadian children’s literature. The program launched in May 2012 with stamps featuring Franklin the Turtle.
Sheila Barry, publisher of Groundwood Books, which has published six Stella picture books over the last 10 years, said the stamps are a “a wonderful opportunity to celebrate this great body of work from Marie-Louise,” and further praised Canada Post for choosing to “celebrate all our marvelous children’s books.”
Nicholas Oldland, author and illustrator of The Big Bear Hug, Making the Moose Out of Life, and The Busy Beaver (Kids Can Press), among other books, read to about 40 children at the Catholic Cross Cultural Service in Mississauga, Ont., at an event sponsored by First Book Canada. Some 30 volunteers from a local Target store also came out to read to the children at the event, which was part of the Telus a Good Story program. Sponsored by telecom company Telus, the initiative aims to give out 50,000 books to kids in the Toronto area this summer.