Children’s book publishers across Canada are rallying to provide reading material to educate, entertain, and support children during the Covid-19 crisis.
At Groundwood Books in Toronto, publicist Kirsten Brassard put out a call to all of Groundwood’s spring 2020 authors and illustrators asking for help. In response, Brassard said, authors submitted everything from recorded readings to interactive lessons. Kyle Lukoff, author of Explosion at the Poem Factory, illustrated by Mark Hoffmann, hosted a children’s poetry contest in honor of National Poetry Month; Libby Martinez filmed herself baking the recipe for hummingbird cake from The Homesick Club, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon; and Deborah Hodge and Robert Heidbreder, both retired teachers, created educational activity sheets to accompany West Coast Wild Babies and Our Corner Store.
“Groundwood creators from all over the world—from Australia to Estonia, Montréal to Vancouver—hope that the new content will bring readers to their books, and highlight the power of stories in these difficult times,” Brassard said.
In Quebec, Montreal-based Papp International, which supplies dollar stores in the U.S., reports a huge surge in orders for its children’s activity books, including word search and puzzle books. “I would typically expect an order of 40,000 copies for a new activity book from the U.S., but now I’m seeing orders for 300,000 copies. And the same goes for Canada, where orders have quadrupled,” said George Papp, president and CEO. The company has also seen a surge in orders for print and digital subscriptions for activity books. “To help people who might not feel comfortable going out to shop or would rather stay at home, we’ve made daily digital versions of our word hunt and sudoku books free for people during the pandemic,” said Papp, who added the puzzles are popular with families who have children, as it allows everyone to work together to solve them.
Nimbus Publishing, based in Halifax and Nova Scotia, is helping to promote literary engagement among young adults in the Atlantic provinces by sponsoring Digitally Lit, a program sponsored by the Canadian government that enlists young literary influencers to bring attention to books, reading, and writing online and to bridge the print and digital divide. On April 29, Digitally Lit announced a Digitally Lit Fan Fiction 2020 Creative Writing Contest which asks participants to write an alternate ending to a storyline from one of 10 Canadian YA books. “One option is to imagine how the characters, settings, and circumstances might have been impacted by our present-day, real-world pandemic,” said Robin Grant, project manager of Digitally Lit. The books being offered for alternate endings include titles from Nimbus, such as Wereduck by Dave Atkinson and Finding Grace by Daphne Greer, as well as books from Acorn Press, Breakwater Books, and Gooselane Editions.
Elsewhere in Nova Scotia, bestselling author Sheree Fitch, owner of Mabel Murples Book Shoppe & Dreamery in River John, launched a new podcast, called Mabel Murple’s Popping Purple Wordspinning World. The short-form podcast, which is usually 20 minutes or less, features Fitch reading selections from her tongue-twisting poems, sometimes at a breakneck pace, and explaining the background and motivation for each work. Now with 11 episodes completed, Fitch told the Canadian Broadasting Corporation that she was inspired to create the podcast to show children and families how “words can create a safe space in uncertain times.” Her new book, Summer Feet, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher, will be published by Nimbus Books in June.
On the opposite coast, Orca Book Publishing in British Columbia is helping conservationist and wildlife activist Mark Leiren-Young get the word out to middle grade-readers about the human relationship with whales. On May 1 at 3 p.m. ET, the publisher will be hosting a virtual book launch for a trio of recently published books by Leiren-Young, including Big Whales, Small World, Orcas Everywhere: The Mystery and History of Killer Whales, and Orcas of the Salish Sea. The event will be part of the National Art Center of Canada’s #CanadaPerforms series, which is offering online concerts, performances, and author readings for homebound Canadians.
Vancouver’s Greystone Books is promoting at-home activities based on several of its nature-oriented books. One activity, based on Peter Wohlleben’s Can You Hear the Trees Talking?, involves putting stones, decaying leaves, and moss inside a planter with holes on the bottom and then pouring dirty water on top to demonstrate how forests filter water. A second activity, based on Christina Valentini’s Stay, Little Seed, asks children to draw trees that, instead of leaves, “grow something remarkable” ([the publisher suggests sandwiches or sushi). A full list of activities is online at Greystone Kids’ social media pages.