Sheila Barry, publisher of Groundwood Books, died in Toronto of complications from cancer on Wednesday, November 15.
Barry was a highly regarded children’s book professional in Canada, having joined Groundwood in 2012 from Kids Can Press, where she had been editor-in-chief for eight years.
Initially, Barry served as co-publisher alongside Groundwood’s founder, Patsy Aldana, but took over as sole publisher within the year.
Barry was known as a compassionate and kind editor, one beloved by her writers. She will be remembered as a champion of publishing books that were as edifying and challenging as they were entertaining. “Like many children’s book publishers, I have a bit of missionary zeal for the importance of publishing books that will give children access to information or stories or insights that they might not be able to find elsewhere,” she wrote in an essay several years ago. “If we don’t have librarians in our schools who are able to purchase these books and then recommend them to (or read them with) the children in their care, then publishers’ efforts are wasted and our children are deprived.”
Among many notable works she commissioned was Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith, one of her first acquisitions for the publisher. The wordless picture book, which has been published in 17 territories, went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustrated Books 2015 and was named one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the year, along with Smith’s two subsequent books with Groundwood, Jo Ellen Bogart’s The White Cat and the Monk and Joanne Schwartz’s Town Is by the Sea. Other acclaimed titles published during Barry’s tenure with the company include Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s graphic novel This One Summer, Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault’s Jane, the Fox and Me, Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng’s Two White Rabbits, and Polly Horvath’s One Year in Coal Harbour. In 2016, Groundwood was named the North American winner of the BOP Prize at the Bologna Book Fair, for best Children’s Publisher of the Year.
Barry was proud of having fostered a diverse list of books at Groundwood and helped produce a special catalogue called “Windows and Mirrors” that marketed diverse books to schools and libraries. She told PW in 2016 that for the last several years more than half the books on the Groundwood list were written or illustrated by nonwhite people. “Diversity for us is like breathing,” she said.
Numerous books Barry worked on are as yet forthcoming, including Jillian Tamaki’s first picture book, They Say Blue (Mar. 2018), and Matt James’s The Funeral (Apr. 2018), a picture book about a girl attending the funeral of her great-uncle.
A statement from Groundwood read: “As she did her whole life, Sheila brought happiness and laughter and thoughtfulness and love to all of us here. She was such a valued colleague. And Sheila was a great publisher—influential in ways large and small. The legacy of books she leaves will run far into the future. We hold Sheila in our minds as the most wonderful example of a truly good person, one who had such a positive effect on so many people. We will miss her terribly.”
She is survived by her husband, Kim Michasiw, and a daughter, Miriam Barry. A memorial is being planned, and details will be forthcoming.