Tundra Books, the children’s publishing division of Penguin Random House Canada, whose imprints also include Puffin Canada and Penguin Teen, takes great pride in being creator-centric and prioritizing the artistic vision of our authors and illustrators. We want to be a safe space where creators can feel comfortable taking artistic risks, try new things, and publish from the heart.
It is in this spirit of creative freedom that unique projects can evolve and find a home. Some examples include the Narwhal and Jelly series, a trailblazer in the early graphic novel category; Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House, a YA novel that includes 40 of author Janet Hill’s original oil paintings; and this month’s The Barnabus Project, an epic 72-page picture book adventure from the internationally acclaimed Fan Brothers, joined for the first time by their brother Devin Fan.
It helps that four of PRH Canada’s employees are creators themselves, who know what it feels like to bring their work to publishers and who have gone through the process of developing, marketing, and selling their own books.
Marketing and publicity director Vikki VanSickle—who is also the author of the Tundra picture books If I Had a Gryphon, Teddy Bear of the Year, and the upcoming Anonymouse—explains, “As an author, I have done almost every kind of event and promotion under the sun, and so when I ask a creator to participate in something, I can provide personal knowledge of the pros, cons, and all the potential outcomes.”
Publicity manager Evan Munday—author of the Dead Kid Detective Agency middle grade series published by ECW Press—has a similar approach. “I have a firsthand experience of the uncertainty and doubt that can come up once your book is out in the world,” he says. “I try to approach my work as a publicist keeping those feelings front of mind.”
John Martz, art director and illustrator of many picture books, including Tundra’s How to Give Your Cat a Bath, draws on his personal experiences as an author and illustrator to inform his interactions: “Of my many responsibilities as art director, the one that is most informed by my life as a creator is trying to be an effective advocate for our artists, their rights, and their time. I hope that it’s something that makes Tundra a welcome home for an illustrator.”
Book designer Kelly Hill, creator of a series of board books inspired by Anne of Green Gables has a similar outlook. “I’ve been a book designer at Penguin Random House Canada for much longer than I’ve been a published author and illustrator,” she says. “When my own books came out, there was a shift in my perspective. As a book designer, it’s always been my goal to create a book design that the author loves, but now that I understand the experience and vulnerability of being an author, it’s even more important to me to get that right.”
All agree that working in-house has given them a deeper appreciation of the commitment and passion of their colleagues and the children’s publishing community. VanSickle says, “I know firsthand how much everyone wants your book to succeed and works very hard to make that happen, but the truth is a lot of success has to do with timing and luck, and neither of those can be controlled or even accurately predicted.”
Munday agrees: “Publicists can—and do—put in the same amount of effort into two titles, and one can become a bestseller and the other not. All you can do is make sure you’re doing the best job you can.”
Martz says that his job “has given me a newfound empathy for all the art directors and editors I’ve worked with in the past. Being on this side of the industry has significantly tempered my expectations for immediate feedback on my work.”
Hill says, “I have a realistic expectation of what it is to publish a book among hundreds of other beautiful and clever children’s books every season. But knowing my colleagues and understanding that they want my books to succeed as much as I do makes for the best possible publishing experience.”
Tara Walker is vice president and publisher of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers.