The biggest business development in Canadian children's publishing came at the beginning of the year, with January's announcement that the smaller House of Anansi Press would be purchasing the larger, venerable children's publisher Groundwood Books—list, assets and all—from Patsy Aldana and Douglas & McIntyre. Groundwood had been associated with D&M for over 25 years, and while Anansi had been looking to expand into children's publishing for some time as part of its strategy to expand internationally, D&M was also planning to return its focus on adult programs. Call it instant synergy. After Groundwood's relocation to Anansi's offices next month, its distribution deal with HarperCollins Canada will continue, and Anansi will in fact join the children's publisher for distribution by HCC. Marketing and publicity initiatives, and foreign rights sales, will, however, remain separate.
"So far, it's great!" says Patsy Aldana, who continues as Groundwood's publisher. "They're younger than we are, which is fine, and I think that the whole Internet thing that they're doing [online promotions, banner ads on book blogs and sites and editorial content on their own] will be good for us." While Groundwood will maintain its own Web site, it will join Anansi in selling books directly to the consumer. About three-quarters of Groundwood's sales, says Aldana, are in the export market, and so Anansi was also very interested in the "strategic way that we cracked the U.S. market," she says, adding, "We give them the stability and predictability of children's stuff."
Overall for Aldana, nonfiction continues to be as hot in the children's market as in adult. Next spring, Groundwood will launch a series of nonfiction issue books for senior high school and early college age students, with "really major authors, and on subject of interest to those who go see Michael Moore movies, say—quite political issue books," says Aldana, citing Anansi's recent nonfiction bestseller A Brief History of Progressby Ronald Wright as an example. It's a way for Anansi and Groundwood to jointly address the U.S. market, she adds, particularly the social studies market. Aldana also thinks there has been a "gigantic overpublishing" of picture books for age two to five. "We're paying the price for that," she says. Another case of Anansi-Groundwood synergy came about when both discovered they had big Christmas books on their fall lists. At Groundwood, Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards, a "very Eloise sort of story" illustrated book by Kevin Major, is a collection of international postcards and artifacts from the early 20th century combined with text. It will be marketed alongside Anansi's major Christmas book by Derek McCormack, which is designed by award-winning cartoonist Seth.
As usual, Groundwood's other publishing choices continue to have an international and eccentric flavor. Being smaller, says Aldana, means getting away with more diverse risks, and Groundwood sells rights to like-minded independent international publishers. For fall, Groundwood bought English rights to Rigoberta Menchu's memoir A Girl from Chimeland is packaging it as a children's book series, combined with illustrations commissioned from a Mexican native artist. And their YA books are top of the age: Inana, for example, was sold into the adult trade division, because it was "poetry, and a really sensual illustrated book." Given that people are so interested in visual media, like graphic novels, she adds, "I keep wanting to put illustrations into books for older children and older adolescents."
Internationally, publishers say the appetite for Canadian children's books is varied, but if Groundwood is any indication, nonfiction continues to gain popularity, and in many cases, tends towards political issues. At Bologna, Anna Cundari, acting rights director at Groundwood, sold Red Land, Yellow River, Ange Zhang's illustrated memoir of childhood during the Cultural Revolution, to Greece and Brazil, and sold French rights just before the fair (she is still fielding international interest from Japan, Israel, the U.K. and others); it helps, of course, that the book won the Bologna Ragazzi Prize for Nonfiction. Fitzhenry & Whiteside has Deborah Ellis's new YA novel The Heaven Shop on deck for September 2005; it focuses on an African girl's fight for survival after her mother and father have died of AIDS. Second Story Press, the small feminist press that published Karen Levin's bestselling Hana's Suitcase(which won the National Jewish Book Award, and is now published in almost 40 countries), has several more titles in its Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers. The historical YA fiction The Secret of Gabi's Dresseris in its fifth printing, while the more recent Clara's War is in its third. Not to mention other issue-related nonfiction: since Bologna, the publisher is entertaining offers from over a dozen countries for the photography-based picture book Where's Mom's Hair? A Family's Journey Through Cancerby Debbie Watters.
But interest in fiction, particularly YA novels, is still strong, says Tundra publisher Kathy Lowinger, citing strong foreign rights interest in the fall offering from Lambda Literary Award—winning Sri Lankan author Shyam Selvadurai, who is dipping a toe in children's waters with Swimming in the Monsoon Seafor the publisher. Tundra has been selling its books in the U.S. directly since it launched in 1971, and the American market accounts for about half of Tundra's sales. Tundra's sales are spread throughout both institutional and trade outlets in the U.S., and also go into many museum and special interest stores, "because we've done very high-end books by artists, not just illustrators." Overall, Tundra's sales are up.
Lowinger is careful to emphasize that Tundra has never watered down its Canadian content for the American (or international) audience. Canada's prima fashionista Jeanne Beker debuted her teen book on developing personal style, Big Night Out, with a splash this spring—it helps that Beker is the host of internationally syndicated TV show Fashion Television, and is one of the most recognizable faces on the fashion circuit. In fact, Tundra's "very Canadian titles," like those by Julie Johnston, are among their most successful in the U.S. and abroad. The Asian market, particularly with picture books, is very good for Canadian children's publishers in general, though Lowinger says the picture book market definitely is suffering. Also for fall, Tundra also has another adult author debuting a book for children, André Alexis, whose Ingrid and the Wolves Lowinger says is generating a lot of international interest.
Annick Books has been active in the YA fiction market since 2000. Its YA hit of last fall, a novel of the AIDS pandemic in Malawi called Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton, is still gaining momentum at home and internationally, says director Rick Wilks, as it continues to win awards. Stratton's book helped make Annick's year. "The U.S. market is critical," says Wilks. "Each title has a different story attached to it, but on balance well over 60% of our sales are made in the U.S., and we're doing a lot to develop other overseas markets." It's one of Annick's strongest years to date, with 19 new books, says Wilks. For success Stateside, he adds, awards and strong trade reviews are key, so Annick focuses on institutional markets first, developing reading programs and curriculum tie-ins with consultants, expanding ESL offerings, and sending authors to events like the recent IRA in San Antonio.
Annick likely won't need to rely on reviews, however, to drive sales of its deluxe hardcover book, The Paper Bag Princess: 25th Anniversary Edition. It's like a collector's edition DVD in book form, packaged around the original wildly bestselling story, with more than half the pages loaded with bonuses like the story behind the story, and supplementary materials. Annick is also doing "an awful lot of nonfiction," including The Blue Jean Book, a social history of North America through denim. It received international attention at Bologna, and Wilks says that doing "edgy books that plug into contemporary issues for youth," which are both highly readable and informative, is what Annick is all about. Another fall title that Wilks expects will generate interest is Research Ate My Brain, developed in conjunction with the Toronto Public Library, subtitled "The Panic-Proof Guide to Surviving Homework." The idea, says Wilks, is to offer kids good information about finding and using resources.
In fiction, says Wilks, "we are arguing that historical fiction is the new fantasy," especially as concerns its other big fall book, Mimus. At Frankfurt, Annick teamed up with Allen & Unwin in Australia on the book's translation and cover art, and Annick is putting a hefty fall marketing and publicity budget behind the historical novel. On the funding front, like other independent Canadian children's publishers, Wilks is thankful for the recent revisions to the Ontario Book Publishing Tax Credit, which changed the rules for funding of children's authors and will allow a more expansive interpretation of eligibility for funding. "Our competitors are large multinationals," says Wilks, "and to compete we need to put out high-quality books that sell—we have to publish art books, essentially, at mass market prices." And for Annick, the changes to the tax credit program mean that they can now produce more lavish books. "It can tip the balance between being able to produce a book or not," Wilkes says.
Orca Book Publishers' core market is institutional, particularly in the U.S., for its contemporary fiction, says publisher Bob Tyrrell, although the trade market remains important, "and we work very hard at it." Orca's business in the U.S. market has grown exponentially over the last four to five years, thanks to more reviews and "more and better books." Whereas 10 years ago sales were 90% in Canada, nowadays it's more like 45% in the U.S. As sales continue to grow, Orca is increasing its author attendance at the regional and national library shows. "In the library market, where librarians are using review journals to direct their buying, that's where we can compete."
In Canada, he says, Orca is feeling the effect of more kids reading, especially as a result of provincial awards and schemes like the Silver Birch awards promoting YA and chapter books, while the picture book market of the last five or so years has been tougher. "Whether the tight budgets have made that tougher, or kids are moving on to chapter books sooner, we are doing more chapter books now ourselves," and focusing also on contemporary fiction. One of its strongest authors, Beth Goobie, has recently sold film rights to one of her teen novels, and her book The Lotteryhas been sold to the U.K. as part of a two-book deal to Faber & Faber, along with another to be written, "in a very significant deal, money-wise," says Tyrrell. The more successful recent YA crossovers include teen novels like The Beckoners, from edgy young writer Carrie Mac, already film optioned and now in its second printing, which made the International Youth Library's annual list of outstanding books at Bologna. Along with Orca's The Hippie House, Mac is also up for the annual CLA award, which will be announced later this month at the annual conference in Calgary.
Kids Can Press is perhaps best known for its now-classic Franklin the Turtle character, and his series. But last fall, Kids Can ventured into new territory and debuted an especially innovative new series. Called Visions of Poetry, it is a specialty book series aimed at capturing the older child and teen imagination—each slim hardcover volume (one per season) features a single, highly illustrated poem. The first in the series, Jabberwocky, has about 11,000 copies out. "Not bad for a book of poetry!" says publisher Valerie Hussey. The book won awards, and another in the series, TheHighwayman(his steed reimagined as a motorcycle, in an atmospheric urban setting), published this spring, has taken off in independent and specialty retail and bookstores as a high-end gift book. Hussey says that so far, the sell-through is a very large percentage of the print run.
Using a different illustrator to interpret each classic poem, the concept straddles the poetry, illustrated and graphic novel categories quite nicely. "The biggest concern," says Hussey, "is that it's quite mature, and the question we get is, are these books really for children?" But in terms of bookseller positioning, Hussey is happy to let it be idiosyncratic. "If people want to put them with poetry, with adult, with children's, with gift books, that's fine." But, she cautions, they are also accessible, because the chosen poems are all well known. "It's not esoteric poetry." For fall, Visions of Poetry will offer an interpretation of Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott.
Other titles in Kids Can's fall list focus on information books that complement curriculum and institutional programs, but that Hussey hopes will also enjoy trade success—like Transformed: How Things Are Made by Bill Slavin, which has generated a lot of interest already. "We are hoping this will be our The Way Things Work. It looks at natural materials to manufactured products and the process with humor, and mixing math, science and architecture." And while fiction has always been the smallest part of their list, Kids Can is also publishing more YA, while still deciding "what exactly we want the list to be." The Plague, the second installment of Clem Martini's Crow Chronicles series (which was optioned for the movies last year), comes out this fall. "We are marketing it for grade 7 and up, because that's the sweet spot, but it's great for children to be read to, as well as on their own, " says Hussey.
A Newcomer from Vancouver
Publisher Dimiter Savoff has a background in architecture, not publishing. His young children's publisher, Simply Read, is based in Vancouver, but thanks to a couple of especially savvy publishing choices (and a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators, plus awards from the AGA, IPPY and the Alcuin Society), it is becoming known around the world. Launched in 2001, Savoff's line has since published 40 titles, increasing its numbers each season, and it aims to get up to about 10 books per season, aimed mostly at 12-15-year-olds.
Simply Read publishes sophisticated picture books with very high production values, and with a mix of illustrators from all over the world, some commissioned from scratch, and others where translation rights have been acquired. As a result, they sell well internationally and in the U.S. market, the company has become known for illustrated classics like Alice in Wonderlandand The Adventures of Pinocchio. Though they have several new books coming from American authors and illustrators in order to be eligible for the Caldecott and Newbery Medals, says Savoff. The Red Tree, a book about depression for kids written and illustrated by Australian Shaun Tan, is the publisher's biggest hit to date. Aimed at 15 and up, it is going into its fourth printing (for a total of about 9000 copies) since 2003—despite never having been bought by a single chain. Last fall, Simply Read switched its distribution to PGW, "a big company with much bigger muscle," now for the first time doing a children's catalogue.
Simply Read sells its books into the international market itself, only occasionally selling rights to Asia, and to some Spanish and Korean publishers. But the bulk of Simply Read's sales are in North America, with about a 70—30 split between Canada and the U.S., with both institutional and trade in the latter. Since the beginning, the company has thrived in independent stores, thanks to handselling. The chains, however, are starting to notice, particularly with upcoming fall books like the retelling of the Greek myth of Jason, told from the point of view of a small boy in conversation with the hero, rather than a straight retelling of the myth, and John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River, his only fairy tale. "I was invited to meet with Barnes & Noble at BEA, which means they know about us now," Savoff chuckles.
All this is happening among children's publishers just as the International Readings (part of the world-renowned International Festival of Authors, now in its 31st year) debuts a new book-based event aimed at young readers. ALOUD, a new three-day literary festival of readings, events and autograph sessions featuring Canadian and international children's authors, takes place at the end of this month, and hopes to capture the next generation of literary types, not to mention create new readers.