Québec is home to many world-renowned illustrators, including Isabelle Arsenault, Marianne Dubuc, Geneviève Godbout, the cover artist for this special report, and Elise Gravel. It’s also the birthplace of an all-star lineup of children’s books, including La vie compliquée de Léa Olivier from Les Malins (with one million copies sold worldwide), the astronomically popular Caillou series from Éditions Chouette, and Les dragouilles from Éditions Michel Quintin (with rights sold to Belgium, China, Mexico, and Turkey). Much of the fresh new writing coming out of Québec is for children.
Publishers such as Dominique et compagnie, La Courte Échelle, La Pastèque, and Les 400 Coups have seen more than their fair share of international successes, striking a chord and connecting with readers around the world. Even smaller presses, such as La montagne secrète and its English-language imprint The Secret Mountain, show no shortage of innovation, blending music, oral traditions, literature, and the visual arts to create a diverse, award-winning multimedia catalogue of works. Molécule et le fil des événements by Robert Davidts is another eye-catching recent title from Soulières éditeur.
With so much to discover, this overview offers a look at some of the children’s books and authors from Québec that rights managers will be pitching and referring to at Frankfurt—both this year and in the years ahead.
The journey begins with one of Québec literature’s rising stars: Stéphanie Lapointe. Born in 1984, Lapointe first came to the public’s attention as a singer, winning Star Académie (Québec’s version of the Star Academy TV series) in 2004. The awards have kept on coming, this time for her writing. Grand-père et la lune—a moving 96-page graphic novel that touches on universal themes such as death, growing old, and pursuing our dreams—was published by Éditions XYZ in 2015, written by Lapointe and illustrated by Rogé. It won the Governor General’s Award (Canada’s top honor) for best illustrated book in 2016 and was promptly translated into English (Grandfather and the Moon, Groundwood Books), Arabic, and Korean.
“Stéphanie Lapointe is known for her deft touch, even when dealing with more difficult themes like loss,” says Groupe HMH rights manager Sandra Felteau. “Her books work on different levels: they have something for readers of all ages.”
2018 has seen Lapointe publish the first two volumes of a new series, Fanny Cloutier (Les Malins). Aimed at readers ages 10–14, the colorful diary relates the ups and downs of a 14-year-old girl as she follows her father on his travels around the world. And Éditions XYZ will be taking more of Lapointe’s work to Frankfurt in the form of Jack et le temps perdu, another graphic novel for readers of all ages that’s set to be published in November. This time, Lapointe has teamed up with illustrator Delphie Côté-Lacroix to follow the madcap adventures of a fisherman whose son is carried off by a whale.
The first publishing house in Québec to specialize in publishing children’s books, La Courte Échelle, turns 40 this year. “We publish contemporary titles aimed at children of all ages: smart, diverse books that are concerned with the preoccupations of the children and teenagers they’re aimed at,” says general manager Mariève Talbot. “In our view, books are there to stimulate the imagination, to reflect the realities of life around us, to tackle serious, difficult topics, to open a window on the world, or simply to entertain.”
Une patate à vélo, a board book by Elise Gravel, is a good example of the effect La Courte Échelle is looking to produce: it wants to see young readers’ eyes light up. “Children love the absurd humor,” Talbot says. At the other end of the spectrum, books like Les vieux livres sont dangereux by François Gravel delight horror, suspense, and mystery fans ages seven and up, and Carole Tremblay’s La soupe aux lentilles (illustrated by Maurèen Poignonec) is a fun way to get kids thinking about all the ingredients lurking in something as simple as a bowl of lentil soup.
For readers who want a bit of magic in their books, La petite fille blanche by Lili Chartrand and Marie Lafrance, out this fall from Québec Amérique, is all about a mysterious little girl named Ida. It’s one of the titles Québec Amérique will be showcasing at Frankfurt, where the publisher shares a stand with Les 400 Coups and the rest of Québec Édition to present the latest in a range of bold books that take risks and confront some of the challenges of life today, all with a healthy dollop of humor.
“Les 400 Coups is all about daring ideas,” Rhéa Dufresne, editorial director at Les 400 Coups, says. “It’s about daring to tackle worthwhile topics even though, at first sight, they may seem too difficult or complex.” This is what the Carré blanc collection in particular is devoted to, but other books by Les 400 Coups are quirky and thought-provoking too. Take Le livre où la poule meurt à la fin by François Blais (illustrated by Valérie Boivin), which stars a hen with a credit card problem, or Le fan club des champignons, Elise Gravel’s celebration of the wild and wonderful world of mushrooms. “What we love more than anything,” Dufresne says, “is surprising readers and ensuring that the book lives on even after they’ve closed a book from Les 400 Coups—that children want to read it again, share it with someone, discuss it, or think it over.”
Isn’t that what great children’s literature is all about?