Kids Can Press celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The Toronto company originated as a small collective in 1973 and is now home to more than 700 titles, publishing approximately 40 books per year in categories that include picture books, innovative nonfiction, graphic novels, early readers, and middle grade fiction. The company has collected shelves of accolades, including eight Governor General’s Literary Awards and a 2017 BolognaRagazzi award for best North American children’s publisher.

Since 2000, KCP has been a division of multimedia company Corus Entertainment. Being part of Corus “affords us very close connections with different media, TV in particular,” says KCP associate publisher Naseem Hrab. “More and more we’re seeing collaboration among production companies. We’ve been taking a cross-media approach to stories and all the different ways kids like to enjoy them.” While books are “our core business in our heart,” she adds, “creators love to see their characters and the worlds they create come alive in all sorts of media.”

KCP’s first character to bridge books, TV, and merchandise was Franklin the Turtle, introduced in 1986 by author Paulette Bourgeois and illustrator Brenda Clark. The Franklin book franchise has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide, and KCP will release e-book editions of 28 classic Franklin titles as part of its 50th. Other KCP household names include Mélanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel and Kelly Collier’s up-and-comer, A Horse Named Steve.

Author-illustrator Ashley Spires is KCP’s current breakout star. Her Binky Adventure graphic novels are the basis for the animated series Agent Binky: Pets of the Universe, and her 2014 picture book The Most Magnificent Thing—about a creative girl who constructs an imaginative object and copes with artistic setbacks—sparked sequels, a 2019 short film narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, a board game with Fat Brain Toys, and Millie Magnificent, a forthcoming preschool TV series with Nelvana, KCP’s former parent company.

The company explores other formats too: in 2019, it partnered with Canadian Geographic to launch and distribute the educational four-volume Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. Since 2017, KCP has partnered with McDonald’s Canada to distribute “over 10 million mini editions of 80 different KCP books” in Happy Meal boxes, according to a timeline of the publisher’s milestones.

In the 1970s and 1980s, founders Frieda Forman, Yvonne Singer, and Esther Fine, and later owners Valerie Hussey and Ricky Englander, responded to “a lack of Canadian-authored and -illustrated books, for Canadian kids,” says Yasemin Uçar, KCP’s editorial development director. “As time has gone on, we’ve adjusted to be even more inclusive” of underrepresented identities in Canada and worldwide.

Under Lisa Lyons Johnston, who became president in 2007 and publisher in 2018, and departed the company earlier this year, KCP augmented its diversity and global vision. The company sets and meets benchmarks for publishing writers and illustrators from historically underrepresented groups, and in 2022 signed on to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact. Since 2009, KCP has developed the CitizenKid collection for readers ages 8 to 12. There are now 26 CitizenKid titles about the planetary environment and human rights, the latest being this fall’s Lion on the Inside: How One Girl Changed Basketball, an autobiography by Muslim American athlete Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, co-writer Judith Henderson, and illustrator Katherine Ahmed.

KCP also strives to represent the emotional sensibilities and diverse identities of its readership, and will publish a kids’ guide to grief as well as Queer History A to Z in 2024. “We are putting words to difficult emotions or experiences or challenges,” Hrab says.

Kids Can keeps experimenting—with voice, with emotion, with format—in a Canadian publishing ecosystem the KCP team sees as diversifying and full of potential. KCP began with “a focus on socially conscious books,” Uçar says, and continues to create “books that kids can see themselves and the people around them in.”

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