Groundwood Books celebrates diversity. In the words of the late Sheila Barry, former publisher, their commitment is to publish “the most exciting Canadian voices we can find. Whether it’s a picture book from Nunavut in the Arctic or a Carnival story about a new Canadian from the Caribbean ….”
Groundwood publishes not only all things Canadian but much more—stories about First Nations people, refugees, children caught in the terror of war, the grief felt by immigrants as well as the gift of their experiences and talents they bring to their new country. Themes are universal. Stories are specific. Voices are authentic. Their books say take notice, these are powerful, important stories. These are beautiful stories. Often, these are “in our own voice” stories.
Regarding immigration and refugee stories, one of my favorite picture books about the struggle of families to seek asylum in the United States continues to be Two White Rabbits. Other Groundwood books on this topic that speak to children are Migrant and Malaika’s Costume.
The Breadwinner trilogy and also Children of War, both by Deborah Ellis, are some of the most powerful and poignant books about the courage of Afghan and Iraqi children. The Breadwinner Trilogy is now available as a graphic novel and just recently, an animated movie. Deborah Ellis’s books—fiction and nonfiction—give voice to children and teens caught in war or fleeing from war. Deborah Ellis is a master storyteller who has received the highest literary awards given in Canada. She has donated nearly $2 million in royalties to organizations such as Women for Women in Afghanistan, UNICEF, and Street Kids International. Check them out.
I sent Fred Horler, marketing manager for Groundwood, several questions. I’ve never had the opportunity to ask a marketing manager why they love their job: selling books, not just any books, but Groundwood Books. I think you will enjoy reading Fred’s reply.
Questions to Fred Horler:
What is most rewarding about working in marketing?
There is a lot that I love—I work in children’s books after all—but one aspect rises above the rest: working at an education or library conference and sharing my favorite books with the attendees.
I recently had a conversation with a librarian at one of these conferences and we talked about the pleasure of reading a picture book for the first time. That feeling of discovery as you move from one page to the next—being taken on a trip that has been so carefully and painstakingly plotted out by the books’ creators. (And which is why I have been known to chastise those who insist on flipping through a picture book from back to front.) That first reading can be a powerful experience and will never be repeated in quite the same way.
Granted, there is a lot to be gained by multiple re-readings, but you will never get that first-time experience again. Except that I do—I get to relive that journey every time I introduce a favorite book to a visitor at my booth who is willing to take a few minutes to fully immerse themselves. And while I may appear to leave them alone while they read, I am very aware of the emotional ride they are experiencing. And I get to travel along with them sharing the goose bumps, the laughter, and sometimes even the tears. That’s a gift I never get tired of receiving.
What helps you market Groundwood books?
Children’s publishing is a crowded market—walking through the exhibits of a library conference quickly illustrates the challenge of getting our books noticed. Fortunately, we publish very good books—we wouldn’t get anywhere without that. But that isn’t enough—there are a lot of great books being published every year.
We are very grateful to the review journals that take the time to consider our books and publish their reviews. Awards are also very gratifying, though, as a Canadian company who publishes directly into the U.S., I may have been overheard grumbling about the number of awards for which we are not eligible. And we advertise and still produce a printed catalogue – with all that gorgeous art in our books, we can’t help but show it off.
But ultimately, I still think it’s that old stand-by—word of mouth—that contributes the most to selling our books. Fans of children’s books are incredibly enthusiastic about the books they love—just try and stop them from talking about their favorites. And so part of my job, not unlike that of a children’s librarian, is to match the right books with the right readers—and then let them take it from there.
Tell us about a few of your recent publications and why they are unique?
I love our books that elicit a visceral reaction. We just published a beautiful picture book about a young girl’s experience at her first funeral. Matt James’ The Funeral is sensitive and honest and can affect people in very different ways but invariably evokes a very personal response.
The same is true for Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, and Walk with Me by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng. Both these books have the ability to touch people in profound ways. More than once I’ve had people who have had to walk away after reading them because their emotions made them unable to even talk. That’s powerful stuff.
Groundwood has always had a strong reputation for publishing stories that perhaps can’t be found elsewhere and I am particularly proud of our books from North American Indigenous creators such as the bilingual (English and Cree) picture books nipêhon / I Wait and niwîcihâw / I Help. We have made free audio book versions available on our website for both of these titles so people can hear the language spoken aloud.
And this fall we continue this tradition with a list that includes a book set in Haiti (Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie Latour and Ken Daley); a story about a Black community in Nova Scotia that was demolished in the 1960s (Africville by Shauntay Grant and Eva Campbell); a tale about a friendship between plants from an Iranian author and illustrator (I’m Glad That You’re Happy by Nahid Kazemi), and a book that celebrates Jewish culture (Bitter and Sweet by Sandra V. Feder and Kyrsten Brooker).
Nancy: Groundwood Books is a treasure trove of editors, authors, and illustrators whose stories speak to the hearts of readers with poignancy, authenticity, and power.