In early April, I had the privilege of representing Kids Can Press at the first-ever Canadian Creative Industries Trade Mission to China, led by then-minister of Canadian heritage Mélanie Joly. Delegates from 56 Canadian companies from a broad range of creative industries were selected to participate in the five-day mission. It was an excellent opportunity to meet with our partners in China and to foster new business relationships, not only with leaders in that country’s cultural industry, but also, as it turned out, with my Canadian colleagues.

The Association of Canadian Publishers, along with Livres Canada Books (a federal agency that advances the work of Canadian publishers abroad), provided support and financial assistance for the mission. Kids Can Press was the sole book publisher among the delegates. As reported in Publishers Weekly’s spotlight on the Chinese children’s book market earlier this year, China’s 2020 education reforms call for increased experiential reading activities in schools, with a focus on picture books for younger children that promote emotional and social skills. In other words, children’s publishers in China are actively seeking content. It was, therefore, a very opportune time for Kids Can Press to participate in this particular trade mission.

The mission comprised two days in Shanghai, followed by another two in Beijing, and in both cities we were warmly and graciously welcomed: in Shanghai, at a reception hosted by Canadian Consul General Weldon Epp and in Beijing at a ceremonial banquet at the National Museum hosted by Chinese Minister of Culture and Tourism Luo Shugang. Our schedules included B2B networking sessions, briefings about doing business in China, various site visits, and signing ceremonies. These formal deal-signing presentations—complete with dignitaries from both Canada and China and ample photo opportunities—proved to be an incentive for expediting final agreements. Kids Can Press, in fact, signed two deals while in China, one of which was finalized as a result of our participation in the signing ceremony; one of the deals was with Jinglun Media for Simplified Chinese–translation rights for Stacey Roderick and Kwanchai Moriya’s Head to Tail picture book series, and the other was an e-commerce agreement with Beijing Bravetime Technologies.

According to the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canadian Creative Industries Trade Mission to China arranged 280 meetings, which resulted in the signing of 23 deals worth approximately C$125 million. It was by all measures a tremendous success.

As I mentioned, the mission provided Canadian delegates with opportunities to network with one another as well. While in China, I got to know fellow delegate Gilles Gagnier, chief operating officer of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and publisher of Canadian Geographic magazine, and made plans with him to bring our teams together upon our return to Canada to brainstorm ways to collaborate. This gave rise to an exciting new partnership.

On June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, I was honored to stand alongside Gagnier at the official launch of an ambitious and groundbreaking cross-platform resource, the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, which, in addition to a large-format book, includes a slate of online resources, including a giant floor map of Indigenous lands for schools and libraries to purchase or borrow from Canadian Geographic, as well as a comprehensive app. We announced that Kids Can Press would be the global distributor of the four-volume book component, with plans to develop content for young readers. With our sales and distribution reach through Hachette, and our marketing expertise, we will be able to ensure that the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada is made available to schools, libraries, and bookstores, not just here in Canada but around the world. It goes on sale September 25.

Imagine: while on a trade mission to China, two Canadian publishers would begin a conversation that would lead them to collaborate on a project that will bring global readership to one of the most significant reference books ever published about the indigenous peoples of Canada. When I stepped off the plane in Shanghai, I could never have envisioned this outcome.

Lisa Lyons Johnston is the president of Toronto’s Kids Can Press.

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