This edition of News from the North highlights some ways Canadian publishers are making the most of their connections and partnerships.

Authors Extend Their Reach

Kids Can Press authors Cybèle Young and Elizabeth Suneby have both had their work discovered by some influential people who are helping to bring their books to new audiences.

Young is a visual artist as well as the author/illustrator of Ten Birds, which won a Governor General’s Award for Illustration in 2011, and the follow-up Ten Birds Meet a Monster (2013). When Pattison Onestop, a division of Pattison Outdoor – one of Canada’s largest outdoor advertising companies – put out an open call for submissions for its Art in Transit program, she submitted some of her work.

Young was the only one of the 55 artists whose work was selected through the open call for a solo exhibit. Pages of her books are being reproduced and shown sequentially in five-minute intervals between advertisements on 42 digital standing screens in shopping malls across Canada as well as on screens in apartment and residential buildings in Ontario. The French edition of Ten Birds will appear in malls in Quebec courtesy of Scholastic Canada.

Sharon Switzer, national arts programmer and curator at Pattison Onestop, said that this was the first time since the program began in 2007 that she had ever presented a book on the screens, but she liked the idea of telling a story. “The simplicity and beauty of these images made me feel that even individually you would be drawn to them.” Ten Birds will be shown during the first three weeks in March, and Ten Birds Meet a Monster will be shown for the following three weeks.

Last fall, Razia’s Ray of Hope by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Suana Verelst, drew attention of a different sort. The book, which is based on the true story of an Afghan girl who must persuade her father and brother to allow her to attend a new school in her village, came to the attention of The Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini and his wife, Roya. Their Khaled Hosseini Foundation, through its SOS program, has developed free curricula for secondary schools based on Hosseini’s novels, and was seeking books that could be used by primary and middle school educators.

Roya Hossein learned of the book through the Facebook page for Razia’s Ray of Hope, the charity that inspired Suneby’s story, and contacted the author to see whether Kids Can would be interested in a partnership to develop curriculum material for the book. When Suneby asked about it, Kids Can president Lisa Lyons Johnston recalled, she said, “Are you kidding? We’re honored. Yes, let’s do this.” Together, they developed three sets of curricula – for younger grades, middle grades and for high school.

“It’s available on their website, so we have an audience that’s already interested in world issues and particularly what’s going on in that part of the world,” Lyons Johnston said. “It’s a really nice cross-pollination for us.” The SOS program also includes a “service learning” component that encourages students to raise funds to build shelters for refugee families or donate directly to Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation.

Classic Canadian Lit, Repackaged

Penguin Canada is publishing new editions of some of its homegrown children’s titles as Puffin Classics, using the design of the original U.K.-developed line.

In 2008, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was among the first books published as a Puffin Classic by Penguin Books U.K. Lynne Missen, publishing director of the Penguin Canada Young Readers Group, said she felt the time was right to expand the series with more Canadian titles. Penguin U.K. colleagues shared the guidelines for the series’ design to allow the new Canadian editions to have a uniform look. “We matched the style. They fit right in – cover, inside, everything matches,” Missen said. The illustrators, though, will all be Canadian, as will the authors writing introductions to each book. At the moment, the books are being published for the Canadian market only.

Four books were released in April 2013: Kit Pearson’s Awake and Dreaming, Eric Walters’s Run, Barbara Smucker’s Underground to Canada, and Jean Little’s Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird. Missen said the new editions have been well-received and generated good discussions on the books section of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s website, when the covers were unveiled one by one over four days for the launch.

This fall, Penguin is releasing Kit Pearson’s The Guests of War trilogy, with Cybèle Young doing the cover art for all three titles. Sarah Ellis is writing the introduction for The Sky Is Falling, Kevin Sylvester will write the intro for Looking at the Moon, and Shane Peacock will introduce The Lights Go On Again. Also due out are Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, to be illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and introduced by Theresa Toten, and Joan Clark’s The Dream Carvers, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch and introduced by Polly Horvath.

Additional Canadian Puffin Classics will be published in 2015.

A Winning Score

Annick Press’s 2013 picture book The Man with the Violin received some extra attention when the enhanced e-book won a Digital Book Award, presented by F+W Media’s Digital Book World, for best e-book fixed format/enhanced, children.

Brendan Ouelette, Annick’s digital development and online marketing manager, was in New York in January to accept Annick’s first digital award, along with Bill Pender, president of Aptara, which produced the multi-format interactive e-book.

Author Kathy Stinson based her book on the true story of violinist Joshua Bell, who performed in a Washington, D.C., subway station and found that the only people who stopped to listen were children. The enhanced e-book includes audio excerpts of performances by Bell, as well as a read-along component and some animation. Ouelette said his predecessor at Annick, Joanna Karaplis, worked with Aptara to make sure the enhanced e-book did not “distract from what the print book already offered.” But having a soundtrack with a virtuoso violinist and his Stradivarius probably didn’t hurt.

In the ‘Soup’

The partnership between the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and TD Bank Group dates back to 2000. The bank funds a number of programs, including TD Canadian Children’s Book Week, a summer reading club with public libraries, and the TD Grade One Book Giveaway, which donates a book annually to about 500,000 children across Canada.

But even if you are wealthy, generally popular, and come bearing gifts, you can’t win over everyone. Last fall’s Grade One Book Giveaway – Loris Lesynski’s Boy Soup, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (Annick Press) – received some unexpected headlines when the fact that two school boards – one in the Toronto region and one in British Columbia – refused to give children the books. Both boards objected to the corporation’s advertising in the school, in the form of the thumbnail TD logo printed on the cover of each book.

“They’ve just taken a very strict approach of if there’s a logo, there’s no book, it can’t be in the school,” Alan Convery, TD’s national manager of community relations, said. This is not the first year these school districts have refused the books. The issue has received some attention in local media, but Convery said “this was the first time [the story] made it to the National Post newspaper,” on the front page.

In keeping with the adage that there’s no such thing as bad press, there may have been a silver lining. “There was great debate on the National Post online piece,” Convery said. “There were many pages and pages of comments.” Some people were “very dogmatic about public space,” he continued, but many raised questions about other sorts of sponsorships in schools for things such as sports equipment and festivals and asked whether TD was actively trying to influence kids.

“Our response is that we try to encourage the joy of reading and to make sure the Canadian Children’s Book Centre can put that book out there every year,” he said, adding that it is the book center that selects the titles for the giveaway, not TD. The bank does want to keep its logo on the books. “We’ve signed on as the title sponsoring it, funding [the program] almost 100%, so we want people to know that we are encouraging literacy in Canada,” Convery said.

While the school district in Saanich, B.C., is small, the York region’s refusal affects thousands of children. Charlotte Teeple, executive director of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, said the needs of the children affected should be taken into consideration when school boards decide whether to distribute the books. “It’s not for lack of trying, but literacy in this country is still not where it ought to be,” she said. “For some of [these children], many more than you would ever think, this is the first book they will ever own.”

Convery noted that librarians at the public libraries in York region helped to distribute the book to children in that area.