When Toronto-based Second Story Press celebrated its 25th anniversary this month, the room at a community center in downtown Toronto was filled with authors and illustrators who have helped the press pursue its goal of publishing important feminist and social justice books for young readers. Cofounder and president Margie Wolfe took the opportunity to thank everyone who has helped the press along the way, from Ontario Senator Nancy Ruth (Canada’s first openly lesbian senator, who long ago gave Second Story a loan that later became a gift) to the two men who gave the press its first desk and phone in the 1980s, before it even had an office. And Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne sent along a letter of congratulations. “As Ontario’s first female premier, I want to applaud Second Story Press for its commitment to publishing works that deal with gender equality, empowerment of girls and women, social justice, and Holocaust remembrance, among others,” she wrote.
Wolfe had been on the publishing board of Women’s Press for 11 years before she formed Second Story. A political science major in college and a feminist, Wolfe said she was always interested in publishing and started Second Story with the goal “to do great books about specific subject matter.” In 1989, Second Story’s first list consisted of mostly adult books, but the company has since found success publishing books on challenging subjects for mostly younger audiences. In 2002, it published Karen Levine’s book Hana’s Suitcase, the true story of a 13-year-old girl killed in the Holocaust. That book has since been adapted into a documentary film and translated into 40 languages, and in 2014 it was awarded the Ultimate Silver Birch Award by the Ontario Library Association.
Second Story broke new ground in 2004 when it published Ken Setterington’s Mom and Mum Are Getting Married!, the first picture book in Canada about same-sex marriage—a year before the Civil Marriage Act came into effect (though same-sex marriage was already recognized in several provinces). Its top seller in 2014 was Every Day Is Malala Day, by Rosemary McCarney, published in conjunction with Plan Canada. Second Story has sold U.S. rights for the book, about the 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, to Random House.
The company publishes 16–24 titles annually, and about 75% of its list is now children’s books. The newest category for the publisher is First Nations, with the announcement of an aboriginal, or indigenous Canadian, writing contest. Second Story is seeking submissions from writers in aboriginal communities with stories for children or young adults. Although it has published books about First Nations communities before—Janet Wilson’s Shannen and the Dream for a School won the First Nations Community Reads competition in 2012—the publisher is seeking books written by the people from those communities.
At the anniversary celebration, Wolfe addressed her writers and illustrators. “Thank you for helping me to be a brave publisher—intrepid, even. I’m not normally known for my bravery, except in my choice of accessories. But I do think that Second Story has provided an environment over these last 25 years for writers and creators to tackle subjects often considered too small-market, too inappropriate, too challenging, too difficult, too controversial,” she said. “Our very challenging books today are being bought by the most commercial publishers around.”
While Wolfe thanked the many people who have supported the press over the years, her colleagues were just as eager to recognize the work she has done. “Margie is the ultimate champion for Canadian books,” said Erin Creasey, president of the Association of Canadian Publishers. “She won’t back down from what she believes in, and because of her spirit, the whole world of Canadian books is so much better and brighter.”