Started in 1973 by a small group of women in Toronto who wanted to produce books for Canadian children, over the years Kids Can Press has broadened its mandate to produce books for children around the world. The company is now owned by Corus Entertainment Inc., a Canadian-based media and entertainment company. Their catalog includes a long list of award-winning titles, in over 30 languages, with each book designed to develop children’s literacy levels and a love of reading. They are considered forerunners in publishing books that promote a world view.
Sheila Barry, Kids Can Press’ editor-in-chief, answered our questions about One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, one of the seven books selected for inclusion in our Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set Donation Project, and about other topics related to the company and to multicultural children’s literature.
PT: One Hen by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes is one of the most talked about books of the last few years (and arguably the one most used in classrooms across the United States and Canada). How did this project come about for Kids Can Press?
SB: Katie wrote a picture book for Kids Can some years ago, so we were the first people she approached when she decided she wanted to write an informational picture book that would allow her to share her knowledge of development issues in Africa, where she once worked in a village very like the one in the book. Since we had already published other informational picture books on global subjects, we were excited to work with Katie on developing her concept—and obviously we’ve been thrilled with the end result.
PT: Did Kids Can expect the book to do as well as it did, or have some of the ripple effects of its publication come as a surprise?
SB: We hope all our books will do well, but sometimes it does seem that a book comes into the world at exactly the right time to take off. With One Hen, we knew we had done something pretty original in making the subject of microloans both accessible and inspiring for children. We hoped buyers would appreciate our accomplishment, and we’ve been gratified to see that our title clearly struck a chord for many, many readers.
PT: What about the choice of Eugenie Fernandes to illustrate One Hen? How did CBP go about finding the best match for the story?
SB: Eugenie Fernandes is very well-known in Canada as both a writer and an illustrator of picture books for very young children. But in addition to her classic picture books (her new book Kitten’s Spring just came out), she has also illustrated an older book for us called Earth Magic, a collection of poems by Dionne Brand, a Trinidadian-Canadian writer. This book marked a real departure for Eugenie, and it also showed us that she would be perfect for One Hen. Eugenie’s mixed-media artwork creates the effect almost of magic realism, a hybrid style that is perfect for this book, since it is at once a picture book and a work of non-fiction.
PT: For those readers who may not be familiar with Kids Can Press, how would you describe your catalog? What are some of your bestselling books/or genres?
SB: Kids Can Press is a Canadian publisher dedicated to children’s books. We publish for children from birth to age 16, and we publish in all genres—picture books, non-fiction, fiction, graphic novels, craft and activity books, and so on. Our list is diverse, but we keep children at the centre. We hope that every book we produce will both entertain and enlighten, and we believe that you don’t have to sacrifice one aspect in order to achieve the other.
PT: Can you please tell us a little bit about the CitizenKid Series and how it fits in with Kids Can’s overarching goals?
SB: CitizenKid has been percolating for nearly 10 years now, ever since we published If the World Were a Village. That book touched people around the world, and we realized that there was a real appetite for books that introduced children to a global perspective on important issues. We started working hard at making sure we had a book a year that brought this global perspective to our publishing programme. When we realized in the spring of 2009 that we had a substantial collection of books on a breadth of topics, we decided it was time to brand them officially.
PT: How does Kids Can reconcile taking risks with making projects work from a financial perspective?
SB: In a perfect world, all our projects would be both innovative and financially successful. Unfortunately, I don’t know that there’s formula that anyone can use to reconcile risks versus financials. We make decisions one project at a time, by gathering people from editorial, design, sales and marketing into a room, where we debate (and sometimes argue) until we reach a decision that everyone is happy with. It’s not a very scientific method, but it does let us feel confident that whichever way we go, all viewpoints have been heard and acknowledged. And I think the result is a list that has a good balance between books with greater commercial appeal (and perhaps greater financial viability) and books that are more unusual (and perhaps appeal to a smaller market).
PT: What are some of the biggest challenges Kids Can faces as a children’s book publisher in Canada? What main changes in the industry have you noticed, since 1973, in regards to the publishing of multicultural books?
SB: Canada is a small market, and it can be difficult to generate sufficient revenue from Canadian sales alone. We are therefore eager to sell our books both in the US and into other international markets. The biggest problem we face is that we are a relatively small publisher. Our promotional budgets are correspondingly small, and sometimes it can be hard to get noticed in a world that is full of really wonderful books. We rely a great deal of on word of mouth, especially from librarians and teachers. It has been clear to us for over a decade that educators are increasingly eager to give the children in their care information about the whole world, in all its diversity, and so we have tried hard to produce books that will fill that need. I think we have been successful with One Hen and the other books in the CitizenKid collection.
PT: What are your hopes for the future of Kids Can?
SB: We hope we will continue to produce innovative and original books for children of all ages for many years to come.
Thank you, Sheila, for taking the time to answer our questions. We are very grateful to Kids Can Press for donating copies of One Hen in support of the Spirit of PaperTigers project. We wish you and the company continued success!
To find out more about Kids Can Press and for a list of their authors and illustrators, visit their website.