“Canada has a pretty good reputation on the world stage when it comes to publishing children’s books,” says Orca publisher Andrew Wooldridge. “We punch above our weight.” He notes that last year was Orca’s best year ever: “We saw some good growth. We were up 15% over the year before, on the strength of a number of good projects. The Secrets series of linked novels by Kelley Armstrong sold 80,000 copies combined. That’s a big number for us.”
Another top seller was My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith. “The book was inspired by her work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the residential schools, and it sold 15,000 copies, helped along by a PW starred review,” Wooldridge says. For the upcoming season, look for prequels to Orca’s YA series Seven, which sold 150,000 copies.
Annick Press is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Paper Bag Princess—which has sold 12 million copies over the life of the book in various formats—is the publisher’s all-time bestselling title and continues “to pay the bills,” says Rick Wilks, director of Annick. “So many people tell me that it was their favorite book as a child and now they are buying it again for their own children,” Wilks says. “Even better, this year there has been renewed interested in turning it into an animated film or television series.” More good news for Annick came earlier this year when it announced that it partnered with Pearson Canada to sell the publisher’s trade books in the education market.
Publishing for the “diversity market” is increasingly important, Wilks says, with an emphasis on positive stories featuring indigenous characters. “We want to say, ‘Look around, there are amazing things happening,’ ” Wilks says. “While it is always important to acknowledge the difficulty of history and of the residential schools and the hardship, it is also important to point out that there is kind of a creative renaissance happening. We want to look at the community’s struggles, but also its achievements, in an effort to change the conversation here.”
Sheila Barry, publisher of Groundwood Books, is also proud of her house’s breadth of diversity titles, which have also been marketed in a special catalogue called “Windows and Mirrors.” “It’s a great tool for booksellers, libraries, and schools who want to add more diversity to what they can offer to customers,” she says. “We have always had the books, and now—maybe it’s the election year—buyers, in the U.S. in particular, seem more courageous in what they are going to put in their general trade bookstore,” she adds. For the fall, Groundwood has a book titled A Boy Named Queen, which is about the fact that children don’t need to be cognizant of gender identity.“This season and last season, more than half our books have been written or illustrated by nonwhite people,” Barry says. “Diversity for us is like breathing.”
In other good news for Groundwood, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis— Groundwood’s bestselling book of all time, with four million copies sold in 30 languages—is being turned into an animated film by Cartoon Saloon of Ireland and will be released in 2017.
Second Story Press marketing and promotions manager Emma Rodgers says the “more thoughtful, educated buyer” is attracted to some of the more challenging material coming out of Canada. “It’s our agenda over the next year to reach those readers. We’re both a feminist press and a social justice press, so that is part of our mandate.”
Rogers notes that Second Story is making more deals internationally. She points to Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine as an example: Second Story sold rights to Random House in the U.S. last year. The book is the press’s all-time bestseller, with 40 overseas rights sales and more than 100,000 copies sold in Canada.
But the publisher’s top author of the moment is Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations. McCarney’s new book, Where Will I Live?, features images from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and will be published in 2017.
“We also want to publish more indigenous stories, so we ran an aboriginal writing contest last year,” Rodgers says. “We got 100 submissions. The first winners are a picture book called Stolen Words by Melanie Florence and The Mask Who Sang by Susan Curry.
Meanwhile, Owlkids is looking at offering titles for the young adult market that are “issue oriented but don’t always hit you over the head,” says Karen Boersma. One example of these is The Art of the Possible, which as aimed at 10–14-year-olds and discusses politics in a positive light, and has sold 5,000 copies. Another is Why Do We Fight? by Niki Walker, which came with the subhead Conflict, War and Peace.
Boersma says that the YA nonfiction titles are most likely to sell internationally and get picked up for rights deals. “The Asian markets in particular are interested in these.”
Finally, Canada’s largest independent children’s publisher, Kids Can Press, has seen significant changes over the past year, following the acquisition of Shaw Media by the publisher's parent company Corus Entertainment and switch in distribution to Hachette, which kicked in this past spring. Kids Can president Lisa Lyons Johnston says the change has brought some interesting strategy to the way the company is acquiring books. “One of our creators, the author-illustrator Ashley Spires, creator of Binky the Space Cat, has struck a development deal with Corus,” Johnston says. “This means for us at Kids Can, when we are acquiring, we are now looking for a minimum of first rights and TV. We are thinking, why not take advantage of the synergies?”
Earlier this year Kids Can announced its first foray into YA publishing, with the KCP Loft imprint. The first titles will arrive in stores in the spring. These include a pair of teen romances, Wendy Brant’s Zenn Diagram and Lindsey Summers’s Textrovert; Kim Turrisi’s Just a Normal Tuesday, about a young woman coping with her sister’s suicide; and Bridget Tyler and Jeff Norton’s Keeping the Beat, about an up-and-coming English rock band.
Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that Corus bought Shaw Media earlier this year. It has been the parent company of Kids Can for more than 10 years.