Tundra: Canada’s Oldest Children’s Book Publisher
Founded in 1967 by May Cutler, Tundra Books is synonymous with Canadian children’s book publishing. Random House acquired the company in 2012 and continues to foster its tradition of producing top-quality children’s books.
To mark the 50th anniversary, Tundra revealed a new logo—a pair of abstract antlers, designed by illustrator Frank Viva, who is also the author of two books from the publisher, Sea Change and Outstanding in the Rain. “I like that you can see it both as antlers and as, maybe, a whale’s fluke,” says Tara Walker, publisher, Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers, and vice-president, Penguin Random House Canada. “It’s playful, clever, and Canadian—all of which represent us perfectly.”
To further mark the occasion, the company has also launched a Tundra Books Emerging Artist of the Year prize. This year’s winner is British Columbia artist Madeline Kloepper, for her work on Little Blue Chair, a picture book written by Cary Fagan.
“At Tundra, we have a reputation for producing beautiful books,” Walker says. “Above all, that is what we do, so it is important to recognize the people who make that happen”
Tundra, along with Puffin and Penguin Teen, produce about 80 titles a year for Penguin Random House Canada, with an editorial staff of six.
This past year has been very successful for the imprint. A highlight has been The Darkest Dark by astronaut Chris Hadfield. Copublished with Little, Brown, it sold more than 60,000 copies in Canada. But the bestseller for the press has been Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton, which has 90,000 copies in print. “Our sales are up 41% in the U.S. this past year,” Walker says. “We attribute this to Narwhal.” The sequel, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt was published this past summer; the third volume, Peanut Butter and Jelly, will be published in April 2018.
Other recent books of note are Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill and How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green. “Green is a Nashville-based author/illustrator,” Walker says. “I came across her work in Flow magazine. We have sourced a lot of our illustrators that way. She has over 100,000 followers on Instagram, and, I think, the way the book is done—as a how-to guide to friendship—and with its sophistication, there is a lot of crossover appeal.” Tundra has published an initial print-run of 10,000 copies for Green’s book.
Forthcoming titles Walker is excited about include The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snickett, The Barnabus Project by the Fan Brothers, coming in 2019, and numerous board books and picture books inspired by L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
“Anne has been really good to us in this anniversary year—she has been a cornerstone of Canada 150 celebrations,” Walker says. Under the Penguin Teen imprint, PRH Canada published Maud, a fictionalized version of the teen years of L.M. Montgomery, by Melanie Fishbane. “The book has been doing really well in the U.S. as well,” Walker adds. “We really would like to become the go-to publisher for Anne books.”
Anansi Memorializes Milestone with Beer and Books
In 2016, House of Anansi moved its offices from downtown Toronto to the hip Junction Triangle neighborhood, next door to the Henderson Brewing Co. and the eventual new home of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. This year, the publishing house is celebrating its 50th year with an anniversary beer. “Our publishing house was born in 1967 over a couple of bottles of beer,” says Sarah MacLachlan, president and publisher of House of Anansi. “It was a couple of writers, Dennis Lee and David Godfrey, who sat down over a beer to sketch out an idea for a Canadian publishing company to publish contemporary Canadian voices.” Since then, the company has gone on to publish a wide range of top writers, including Margaret Atwood, Roch Carrier, Lynn Crosbie, Rawi Hage, Sheila Heti, Michael Ondaatje, Lisa Moore, Al Purdy, and Zoe Whittall; several of them have had their book covers appear on one of 31 labels for commemorative beer produced by the brewery.
“We’ve repackaged 30 of our classic titles and called them ‘the A-list,’ ” MacLachlan says. “We get 20% of our sales in the United States. And one title that we thought was perfect to reprint this year is A Manual for Draft Age Immigrants to Canada. The author, Mark Satin, originally wrote this in 1968 as a handbook for Americans who refused to serve as draftees in the Vietnam War and were considering immigrating to Canada. His afterward has some really amazing resonances given the time we are living in right now.” The company has also produced a special edition of the poetry of company founder Dennis Lee.
For the fall, MacLachlan anticipates strong sales for a trio of titles: The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler, trans. by Charlotte Collins, which MacLachlan presented at the American Bookseller Association’s Winter Institute last January in Minneapolis.
In 2018, Anansi is looking to Kathryn Kemp-Griffin’s Paris Undressed, a guide to wearing lingerie, and Ian Hamilton’s Imam of Tawi-Tawi to generate sales.
Dundurn Celebrates Its Sapphire Anniversary
Kirk Howard founded Dundurn Press, named after Dundurn Castle in Howard’s hometown of Hamilton, in 1972. Over four decades, the company has evolved into the most prolific and largest independent publisher in Canada, publishing a wide range of fiction, crime, translations, history, biography, young adult books, and more.
“One of the real strengths that Dundurn has demonstrated over the years is that we are process oriented,” says Margaret Bryant, director of sales and marketing. “We recently completed workflow mapping, from acquisition to postpublication, and we ensure that each book gets maximum attention at every step we have tracked. We have an exit survey that authors get postpublication, and we keep them informed. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that we are doing such consistent work. The end result is that we are seen in the marketplace as a reliable and dependable partner.”
Among several of the changes over the past year at Dundurn has been the addition of Scott Fraser as an acquiring editor. “He was a popular field rep at a number of places and, as a sales person, he brings a different thought process to the type of acquisitions we are doing, which are proving a little more commercial,” Bryant says.
She notes that many of Dundurn’s titles are finding customers abroad, including the Great Mistake Mystery series, about middle-grade boys with light anxiety, whose mistakes help them solve local mysteries. Another popular title has been A Daughter’s Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi, a true-crime story about a woman who hired contract killers to murder her parents, the hit only partially successful. “We are looking at our week-after-week sales, and the e-book is selling all over the world,” Bryant says.
Dundurn publishes 100 books per year and offers plenty of selection to book buyers. Among its highlights in the coming months are musician Ron Sexsmith’s children’s picture book Deer Life: A Fairy Tale and Warren Kinsella’s Recipe for Hate, a YA novel about a group of punk rock kids defeating a violent gang of neo-Nazis. “We think this will resonate with readers, particularly after the events in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this year,” Bryant says.