It has been my responsibility, as marketing director at Groundwood Books, to arrange and exhibit at library and educational conferences. Invariably, I will have an experience like this: I am in the Groundwood booth, sharing a few of my favorite books with conference attendees. I watch as they look through a book. I know the book well, it touches on themes important to kids, and I’m ready when they hit page X, pause, and look over at me. And there, in that instant, we have made a connection. Through the genius collaboration of author and illustrator, we have been transformed. And even though I may have read this book dozens of times, it is new again, because of that shared experience.
When they leave the booth, it’s possible that I won’t remember their name or where they work. But I will be thinking about that moment when we shared a story. That will stay with me. It will stay with them.
This is the best part of my job and the number-one reason I’ve stayed in children’s publishing for over 30 years. These are the experiences that sustain me, motivate me, and inspire me. I have never stopped marveling at the power of a children’s picture book.
This was recently highlighted for me at a book signing at the National Council of Teachers of English conference for The Big Bad Wolf in My House, a picture book dealing with domestic violence. The lineup was instant and steady, and the reaction to the book was monumental. Person after person approached author Valérie Fontaine and illustrator Nathalie Dion, and there was a sense of reverence in the air. This book had opened the doors on one of the last taboo subjects for children and given these educators an opportunity to openly discuss complicated emotions with kids.
That’s just one example of the journey we hope to see for our books. We want those experiences repeated in homes and libraries and classrooms—humans sharing stories and experiences and relating them to their own lives in a way that can induce a memory, an emotion, a conversation. Books remind us: someone else knows what this feels like, too.
The need has never been greater. One thing that has become abundantly clear to me, as both a parent and a book publishing professional, is that today’s children are facing at worst a bleak future, at best uncertainty about what lies ahead. The pandemic, the climate catastrophe, and the threat of wars have all contributed. Systemic discrimination has also affected the mental health of so many young people—Indigenous, racialized, LGBTQ, immigrant, and disabled youth. Far too many children are dealing with a maelstrom of mental health issues at a time when they are still trying to discover who they are and what their place in the world is.
We have books that can help. Creating meaningful books by and for marginalized communities has long been a cornerstone of Groundwood’s publishing program, and many authors and illustrators from these traditionally underrepresented communities share their stories with us. We are responding to this crisis by creating the Groundwood Books to Help Heal Collection, launching in January 2024. We will be creating a dedicated catalogue, both printed and digital, featuring 60 children’s books that can make a positive contribution to supporting youth mental health. We are grateful to Ontario Creates for their support on this initiative.
To help us curate this collection, we have enlisted the services of Tania DaSilva. She is certified in cognitive behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy, and narrative therapy from the University of Toronto and she holds an honors advanced child and youth care diploma. Besides her stellar credentials, Tania also has a passion for mental health awareness and strong community relationships and partnerships with large school boards, which makes her a perfect Groundwood collaborator.
Early next year, we will be reaching out to teachers, librarians, school counselors, and health care professionals through conferences, direct mailings, advertisements, and methods. We’ll be asking them to consider building a strong children’s healing book collection and will be curating an exceptional book list to help them do just that.
Fred Horler is the marketing director at Groundwood Books.