Thinking Big

Kids Can is expecting David J. Smith’s new picture book, If: A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers, which is all about scale and size, to be a “category killer,” says Lisa Lyons Johnston. It offers readers images for grasping big issues, such as global wealth distribution, explaining that if all the world’s money were represented by 100 coins, the richest 1% would have 40 coins, while the poorest 50%, half of the world’s population, would share just one coin. “There’s really nothing else like this out there. Pretty well every spread is a lesson plan,” says Lyons Johnston.

Multiplying by Seven

Orca Book Publishers is following up on the success of its storytelling and logistical editing feat of publishing seven interlocking adventure novels in 2012 with seven interlocking sequels. Publisher Andrew Wooldridge says the first series sold more than 100,000 copies in North America, and he sold foreign rights in Brazil, India, and South Korea, as well as world French rights. That has helped build anticipation for the sequels, he says. Orca has produced audio books for both the original and sequel series.

“It is a sizable investment to come up with 14 unabridged audio books like this at the same time, and it’s been a challenge to put that all together, but it will be interesting to see how it all works,” says Wooldridge, but he believes there is a market for audio in schools and libraries. “With those books, it’s trying to find more ways to reach all those readers. We see it with the way these books are used in schools. There’s lots of kids who will read the books themselves, but there’s also a lot of schools where the kids need the book read to them, or they’re done as a part of a read-aloud, or they are picking parts, but I think audio makes it more accessible on a wider basis.”

Encountering Art

Several books this season feature unusual and striking visuals that not only tell a story but also offer readers new windows and introductions to art.

An Armadillo in Paris is the first book in a new series by Julie Kraulis (Tundra Books) that introduces readers ages 5–9 to art and architecture around the world with globe-trotting Arlo the armadillo, who follows his adventurous grandfather’s journals as guides. The first book is set in Paris and takes Arlo to the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Champs Élysées, and the Eiffel Tower.

Also on Tundra’s fall list is Cybèle Young’s picture book Nancy Knows (for ages 3–5), about an elephant named Nancy trying to remember something she’s forgotten. In addition to being an illustrator, known for her Ten Birds pen and ink drawings, Young is also a visual artist who makes detailed miniature paper sculptures. The illustrations for Nancy Knows include Young’s sculptures, photographed in themes inside a line drawing of Nancy as she tries to remember what she forgot.

In A Brush Full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison, authors Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson introduce readers to the life and work of Harrison, whose brightly colored and imaginative landscape paintings have become closely identified with the North. Pajama Press publisher Gail Winskill says she thinks the book will appeal as much to adults as to children. The authors interviewed Harrison extensively and he wrote a foreword. “Art must be a part of every child’s education. Painting is the last great freedom,” he says.

HarperCollins Canada is offering a fresh look at the Canadian classic poem “Alligator Pie” by Dennis Lee. The company ran an open competition to choose new art to use with a board book, and in the process they discovered Calgary illustrator Sandy Nichols. “What we loved about Sandy’s [art] was, on the one hand, there’s something very simple about it, but on the other hand, it is quite sophisticated,” says Hadley Dyer, HarperCollins’s executive editor of children’s books. “It’s a little surreal and even though she sticks to clean lines and a really minimal palette, she give you a lot to look at and think about.”

Introducing Death

Owlkids publisher Karen Boersma was at the Frankfurt Book Fair when a German colleague showed her a book from a publisher in the Faroe Islands, off Denmark. Even though she could see that responses to the book—about a rat and a dog deciding what they should do to care for a dead rabbit they have found on the road—might be polarizing, she made an offer as soon as she read The Flat Rabbit by Bardur Oskarsson. “It is a straightforward look at death, and it’s done with this childlike quality,” she says. Eventually, they come up with the idea of sending her into the air with a kite and letting her go. “It’s lovely because the text is so spare, and it treats death with a huge amount of compassion but no sentimentality, and kids are not sentimental.... So for children, I think it is a wonderful way of just having a conversation about death.”

Confronting Bullying Artfully

Shane Koyczan’s personal and powerful poem about the devastating impact of bullying first appeared as a spoken-word poem on his album Shut Up and Say Something, then with music on an album with his band. The response was so good that he crowd-sourced short animation pieces from 86 artists that were woven together with his words in a video that launched on YouTube on Pink Shirt Day (February 19), an initiative started by two Canadian students to raise awareness about bullying. The video went viral and received 1.4 million hits within two days, and seven million by the end of March 2013. A freelance editor showed the video to Annick Press copublisher Colleen MacMillan, who proposed the idea of making the poem into a book to Koyczan and his agent.

Rick Wilks, director of Annick, says To This Day, for the Bullied and Beautiful “went gangbusters” when the house featured the book, which is illustrated with work by 30 artists, at the ALA Annual Conference. Wilks hopes it will make a difference. “That’s why I love what I do. I think if we can open people up and provide some hope in a realistic way, then there’s a real purpose to what we are doing.”

Getting Personal

Orca Books publisher Andrew Wooldridge says the company is increasing the amount of nonfiction it is publishing based on the success of books such as those in its Footprints series on the environment. It’s a shift for Orca, which has traditionally been focused on fiction and trade books, but is now publishing more nonfiction and educational titles. “We’ve been doing it with the same sensibilities we bring to fiction, so it is not always the smartest in terms of the investment of time and energy,” Wooldridge says. He adds, “We’re putting a lot into those hardcover nonfiction books, as if they were picture books, but I think it has paid off in the long run. We’re getting really strong personal stories.”

Down to Earth: How Kids Help Feed the World by Nikki Tate was one of the first books in the series. “It’s about kids in farming and agriculture around the world, but Nikki has a farm and has raised a family on a farm, raises all kinds of animals, and so a lot of content is from her own experiences as a farmer,” Wooldridge says. Having an author who is engaged with the subject matter and writes in a more conversational tone makes a huge difference, he notes, adding that the success of the book may reflect changes in the way people consume information. Take Shelter: At Home Around the World by Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton publishes this fall.

Getting Real

Hadley Dyer, executive editor of children’s books at HarperCollins Canada, says she is thrilled that realism in fiction is back and selling strong. “There’s been so much dystopia and fantasy,” she said. “The thing with those big commercial books is that they can go out strong and then people move on to the next thing.” But Dyer says HarperCollins is finding that more realistic books—such as 40 Things I Want to Tell You, Alice Kuipers’s latest title; Kenneth Oppel’s Half-Brother; and Kit Pearson’s The Whole Truth and its sequel And Nothing but the Truth—have long lives in the market.

“It really does speak to the dangers of following a trend and the merits of signing a book that may or may not be trendy at the time but that has great writing and other elements that give it staying power,” Dyer says. This fall, HarperCollins Canada will release The Death of Us, a new novel from Kuipers, about a toxic friendship and love triangle.

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