In this roundup of Canadian children’s publishing news: webcomic creator Kate Beaton has a second picture book this fall; Canada’s most famous astronaut writes about his childhood fear of the dark; an 18-year-old turns her journal entries into a novel about struggling with anorexia; and a board book by two Native creators will tug at parents’ heartstrings.
Kate Beaton Returns with New Picture Book
Kate Beaton, the creator of the Hark! A Vagrant webcomic and last year’s The Princess and the Pony picture book, is back with her second picture book. King Baby (Scholastic Press), due in September, follows a round, crowned bundle of demands as his parents fawn over him and bend over backwards to make him happy. “I think parents will get a lot of laughs out of the celebration and chaos that happens in King Baby’s wake,” Beaton says. “I hope too that they will be able to read it to young children with a baby sibling, and everyone can have a laugh about how crazy people get when a new baby comes. Toddlers can find it hard when a baby enters their life!”
According to Beaton, the story is heavily inspired by her nephew, Malcolm. “It wasn’t until a baby actually came into our family and I spent time with him that the story came out,” she says. “You realize then what happens to people when a baby comes. You drop everything for that baby, because you love it so much and because it needs you to do that. So the idea of this tiny baby putting on the personality of a tyrant and ordering people around is really funny, because even in the book, King Baby doesn’t know that he is a tiny, helpless person.”
Next up from Beaton is something completely different – she’s working on a graphic memoir about the two years she spent working in the oilsands around Fort McMurray, Alberta. It’s still in the early stages, so no release date has been set. “It’s a story that means a lot to me, because I’m from Atlantic Canada, and we are all profoundly affected by the rise of the oil industry in the West, coupled with the economic decline of the East,” she says.
Even Astronauts Can Fear the Dark
Canada’s most famous astronaut, Chris Hadfield – the first Canadian to walk in space – was once afraid of the dark, and now he’s written a children’s book about how he overcame that fear and followed his dream. The Darkest Dark, which arrives this September, is a co-publication between Tundra Books in Canada, Little, Brown in the U.S., and Macmillan in the U.K. The picture book is based on Hadfield’s own childhood — specifically his time at the family cottage on Stag Island in Southern Ontario, where he watched the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, when he was nine years old.
Hadfield gained international attention in 2013, when he served as commander of the International Space Station and became the first Canadian to walk in space. Towards the end of his journey, he recorded a zero-gravity cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a video that has been viewed more than 32 million times. Since then, he has written two nonfiction books for adults, but this is his first foray into kids’ books.
“I think every Canadian child knows who Chris Hadfield is, and space is one of those evergreen themes,” says Tara Walker, publisher of Penguin Random House Canada Children’s Publishing Group. “And the fact that this story is written by a real astronaut – Commander Hadfield, as he’s known by most kids in Canada – is something that’s truly special and sets it apart from other space books.”
The book, which is illustrated by brothers Eric and Terry Fan (The Night Gardener), shows a boy named Chris who daydreams about space and rocket ships (with his trusty pug Albert), but imagines scary aliens at night when the lights go out. When he watches the first moon landing on TV, he realizes that outer space is the darkest dark there is, and not something to be afraid of. “For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark,” the book says.
An added bonus to the end of this book is that while being an astronaut might seem like a farfetched dream, kids know that for Hadfield, his dream actually did come true.
Teen Turns Her Anorexia Struggle into a Novel
An 18-year-old author is using her journal entries as the basis for her debut novel about a teenage girl with an eating disorder that takes over her life. In My Demon’s Name is Ed (Second Story Press, Oct.), Danah Khalil pulls from her own difficult experience with anorexia, when she felt like there was actually someone inside her head telling her not to eat. The book emerged from a writing workshop Khalil attended at a Toronto library branch, led by local author Rukhsana Khan.
Khalil writes in her prologue: “Most educators don’t understand the truth behind the disorders. All of the facts and numbers and labels we learn in the classroom don’t even begin to describe the reality behind them. I am not a teacher, but I have endured, firsthand, every moment of the slow, painful descent that is an eating disorder.”
The book, based very closely on Khalil’s own experience, consists of a series of journal entries, describing a 14-year-old girl at 125 pounds who soon drops dangerously below 100 pounds. She stresses out about a school trip to Quebec where it will be harder to stick to her strict diet and exercise regime, and argues with the voice in her head, that tells her she needs to lose more weight.
Eventually, her parents insist that she speak with a dietitian and a therapist, and so the long journey to recovery begins.
“I just wanted to show people how difficult the journey really is,” Khalil said. “I found that when I was in the midst of my eating disorder, people would look at me funny and think, ‘But it’s so easy to get better. Just eat more and stop exercising.’ I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to actually see the solution.”
Khalil, who has now graduated high school and will attend the University of Toronto in September, says that physically gaining weight back was by far the easiest part. After going to the hospital for checkups and treatments, she began to see how severe her problem was. “It took time,” she says. “There was not one time where I thought, OK, I’m now totally fine, my demon’s gone, everything’s good. It took years for the mental part to get better.”
Board Book Evokes the Joy of Welcoming a Newborn
The latest in a long line of recent Orca Books releases by Native creators is We Sang You Home, a board book coming in October from author Richard Van Camp (of the Dogrib Nation in the Northwest Territories) and illustrator Julie Flett (of Cree-Métis heritage). This is the third book with the publisher for both creators, which aims to evoke the joy parents feel when welcoming a new child into their lives. “As we give you roots, we give you wings / And through you we are born again,” Van Camp writes.
“Richard is the most incredible storyteller, and I think these books are deceptively simple, especially when you pair that text with the illustrations that Julie’s capable of,” says Andrew Wooldridge, publisher of Orca Books. “You end up with something that tugs at your heart strings. It’s about that gratitude for what a baby has brought you.”
The book features no plot; rather each page, accompanied by spare text, emphasizes the artwork and a feeling rather than a specific story. Van Camp and Flett’s first collaboration, a 2013 board book called Little You, has sold more than 50,000 copies, so Wooldridge has great expectations for We Sang You Home. “There’s something about these board books that just strikes a chord with people.”