Past, Present, and Future?

Canadian Children's Publishing in English

By Mary Ann Fitzpatrick

This paper was originally written in April 2005 to fulfill the requirements of Publishing (LIS 591) at the School of Library and Information Studies, at the University of Alberta. It was put into HTML format to fulfill the requirements of the Capping Exercise (LIS 600) in March 2006.


A Short History of English Canadian Children's Publishing
Canadian Children's Publishing Today
More Problems and Issues Facing Our Children's Publishers
Works Cited



English Canadian children’s publishing is a growing, internationally acclaimed industry. However, it also faces difficult times and has an uncertain road ahead. This paper will provide a short history of children’s publishing in Canada, describe the present industry, and discuss some of the problems facing children’s publishers now and in the future.


A Short History of English Canadian Children’s Publishing

British children’s literature is over 300 years old (Saltman, “Canadian” 23). In comparison, Saltman claims Canadian children’s literature is young (23). It did not arrive significantly until the mid-1800s, “when there was more to living than the pioneer struggle for bare survival” (Egoff and Saltman 1). There is not a lot of research on early Canadian children’s publishing and we do not know what the first document contained, but it was likely “religious or instructional in nature” (Egoff and Saltman 1). These first books and stories were written by newly arrived immigrants or “visitors to Canada” (Saltman, “Canadian” 23).

The first Canadian children’s magazine was called “The Snow Drop” and published from 1847-53 (Egoff and Saltman 5). It was not especially “Canadian” in content and Egoff and Saltman argue that it could have been published anywhere (5). The magazine was “founded in Montreal” (Waterston xii).

Our first major Canadian writer for children was a man named James DeMille who published in the mid-late 1800s. Like most of his contemporaries, he wrote primarily for a male audience. The first children’s books of Canada shared basic themes. Generally, there was a love for outdoor Canadian landscapes, freedom, and an emphasis that Canadian children need ability and courage, rather than high birth (Egoff and Saltman, 9). Most books appear to have been boys’ adventures or survival stories.

The arrival of the 20 th century brought books for girls (Egoff and Saltman 10). In 1908, the most famous Canadian children’s book was published. The book was L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. This book became an international success. It is still strongly marketed and profitable. It is interesting to note, that Anne of Green Gables was not originally published by a Canadian publisher. L.M. Montgomery had an American publisher, and did not move to her Canadian publisher, McClelland and Stewart, until 1917 (Waterston xii).

Even in those early days, at the turn of the 20 th century, Canada contributed to world literature by inventing the new genre of “realistic animal biography” and brought survival and environmental stories to new heights (Egoff and Saltman 12-3).

The Canadian Library Association established the “Book-of-the Year for Children Award” in 1947, but the award was skipped for many years in the 1940s and 50s, due to a lack of eligible books (Egoff and Saltman 14). Canadian children’s publishing was growing, but growing slowly. “From records extant it would appear that only ten children’s books were published between 1921 and 1923, and until 1950 there were only about nine or ten each year” (Egoff and Saltman 306).

In the 1960s, children’s publishing in Canada changed forever, and the industry, as we now know it, was born. In children’s book publishing, “there was a slow increase until the 1960s and early 1970s, when about fifty or sixty were published annually” (Egoff and Saltman 306). According to Egoff and Saltman, social upheaval in the United States brought the birth of realistic fiction and the problem novel for children (15). These genres would not arrive in Canada for about another fifteen years (Egoff and Saltman 15-6). In Canada, instead of stark realism, there grew a sense of nationalism as our 1967 centennial approached.

With growing nationalism, there came a desire for more nationalistic literature. Canadian literature suddenly increased for adult audiences. Universities began teaching students Canadian literature (Egoff and Saltman 310-11). These 1960s students soon became parents but noted that what was available for them, in Canadian literature, was not available for their children (Saltman, Modern 4-5).

In 1968, “American publishers had issued 3,874 children’s titles and British publishers 2,075; Canadian publishers had produced 47” (MacSkimming 274). Canada, at this time, “was the only country of the three that published more textbooks than children’s books” (MacSkimming 274). Canada produced 207 texts in 1968, which was nearly 10 percent of America’s textbook output (MacSkimming, 274). This figure was closer to representing the difference in population than the children’s book figures, “1.2 percent of American total” (MacSkimming 274).

Many important Canadian children’s book publishers started up in the late 1960s and 70s and “represented the first full generation of English-Canadian children’s publishers” (MacSkimming 281). These publishers include Groundwood Books, Kids Can Press, Annick Press and Owl Books. Kids Can was established in 1973. Their goal was to publish children’s books that were “non-sexist” (MacSkimming 290-1). Kids Can forged links with American publishers and eventually introduced “the notion of branding into Canadian publishing” with the Franklin (the turtle) series (MacSkimming 293). This branded storybook character now has a TV show, toys, clothes, and of course, books (MacSkimming 293). Branding is very profitable and proves that with a little ingenuity, Canadian publishers can make a lot of money. Generally, Canadian publishers have been slower than Americans to push toys, etc. This is an area of deba! te. Hade says that “the most troubling effect of licensing, synergy, and vertical integration on children’s books is that the book and each spin-off piece of merchandise and each retelling across another medium becomes a promotion for every other product based on that story” (514). Some feel branding is immoral or troubling, but it is an area that makes money and is a consideration for cash-strapped companies.

Tundra books began in 1967 and started publishing mostly adult non-fiction. The Canada Council gave them a project grant and with it, they published their first child’s picture book called, Mary of Mile 18, in 1971 (MacSkimming 276-7). It sold 60,000 copies in Canada and, by the mid-1970s, Tundra was publishing exclusively for children (MacSkimming 277). They provided “high-end production of full-colour picture books on multicultural themes” (MacSkimming 278).

Women’s Press “started in Toronto in 1971 on a grant from the Trudeau government’s Opportunities for Youth program” (MacSkimming 280). They were a feminist collective wanting to provide a new type of literature for children, where “the stories depicted life as many urban kids experienced it, featuring single-parent families, sibling rivalry, poverty, or racism, while presenting characters free of racial and gender stereotypes” (MacSkimming 280).

Citizens were concerned about keeping the ownership of Canadian publishing firms. A number of “small nationalistic presses” opened and the “Canadian Book Publishing Development Program was formed in 1976 to stimulate the Canadian-controlled sector of the publishing industry” (Egoff and Saltman 309-10).

Great things happened to Canadian children’s publishing in the 1970s. By the late 1970s, pre-school books and readers appeared along with a great number of picture books (almost non-existent previously) (Egoff and Saltman 17). The young adult (YA) novel also appeared (Egoff and Saltman 18). Better designed books appeared, along with books that had increasingly improved illustrations. These improvements allowed Canadian books to compete, for the first time, with imported children’s books (Egoff and Saltman 306-7). Egoff and Saltman give aesthetic improvement credit to Oxford Canada and to Tundra books (307).

In 1972, the Canada Council introduced block grants. They had previously offered only individual book and project grants (MacSkimming 279). This fixed or improved problems associated with subjective, negative judging of individual books and projects (MacSkimming 279). In 1976, the first children’s specialist was appointed to the National Library of Canada.

Also in 1976, The Canadian Children’s Book Centre was opened. Its goal was to promote Canadian children’s literature (MacSkimming 281). Their promotions include publishing reviewing guides, organizing author/illustrator tours, and starting up “Canadian Children’s Book Week” (MacSkimming 281).

Canadian Children’s Literature/Littérature canadienne pour la jeunesse (est. 1975) was the first scholarly journal in the Canadian children’s literature field.

The first “exclusively children’s” bookstore opened in Toronto in 1974 and was called, “The Children’s Book Store.” Fifty “exclusively children’s” bookstores opened all across Canada by 1990 (Egoff and Saltman 309).

Only two children’s book prizes were awarded in Canada pre-1970 but more prizes became available after 1970, and many offered monetary awards (Egoff and Saltman 308).

Between 1980 and 1990, there have been more Canadian children’s books published “than in the 150 years before” (Egoff and Saltman 313). Many baby-boomers had children in the 1970s and ‘80s, and some of these boomers had become wealthy yuppies. They “equipped their children with every consumable advantage to succeed in a competitive world, including the best in books” and, “for the first time in history, much of the best available quality was Canadian” (MacSkimming 281). The yearly output of Canadian children’s books rose to “about 200 in the 1980s and nearly 400 in the ‘90s” (MacSkimming 281).

In the 1990s, a “second wave” of small-medium-sized Canadian publishers began producing children’s literature (MacSkimming 295). These included Orca, Red Deer Press, Second Story Press, and Lobster Press. Large publishers and multi-national publishers also took an interest in Canadian children’s books (MacSkimming 295). However, the good times did not last forever.

Saltman claims that picture books accounted for about one third of all Canadian children’s books published in the 1990s, while another third belonged to non-fiction (“Canadian” 24). Children’s fiction accounted for between one-fifth and one-quarter and YA literature was only one-tenth of the publishing (Saltman, “Canadian” 24).

The 1990s first brought a recession and then an imposed goods and services tax. These two things created “an estimated drop in book sales of up to 30 percent” (MacSkimming 325).


Canadian Children’s Publishing Today

The United States and England each produce about 6000 new children’s titles every year, while we produce about 400 (Saltman, “Canadian” 24). This seems like a wide gap, but, the population of the United States is over 10 times our own, and we are really catching up in book production.

Chapters Inc. arrived in 1994 and changed the retail book market forever. By 2000, it built 71 superstores in “prime retail locations” across Canada (MacSkimming 361). Chapters ran over its competitors and destroyed independent retailers. The Children’s Bookstore, by then an internationally acclaimed and respected store, closed along with dozens of independents all across the country (MacSkimming 361). In 1999, Chapters changed its gigantic distribution centre into a wholesaler, called Pegasus, and demanded greater wholesale discounts (50+ percent) from publishers (MacSkimming 362). Chapters grew too fast. It ordered too many books from publishers and then returned, in some cases, more than half of the books (MacSkimming 363). Critics suggested that Chapters was forcing some publishers to change. A worry was that some publishers would “publish fewer titles and not take chances publishing books by first-time authors” (Eichler &! ldquo;Publishers”). For small children’s literature publishers, this was devastating. Chapters became Chapters/Indigo to stay afloat. It has financial difficulties, and may not be making much money, but it seems bent on changing the Canadian publishing industry.

In 2002, Amazon arrived to sell Canadians books on the internet. Amazon would order books from Canadian sources, while not being exactly physically located in Canada, but would still use Canada Post (MacSkimming 387-8). It was another hit to all Canadian publishers, including children’s, but many felt at least there would now be competition for Chapters/Indigo (MacSkimming 388).

Also in 2002, the Canadian government allowed Americans to fully own Distican. This broke the foreign investment rule and it was broken partially because the American threatened the Canadian government (MacSkimming 388). This could prove a future trend and seriously jeopardize Canadian children’s publishing. Canadians have created a diverse industry of small-medium sized children’s publishers, who are not financially strong enough to fight off attacks by large foreign-owned and operated companies. It is in Canada’s best interests, if we want to hold onto an internationally renowned, original and creative children’s publishing community, to remain Canadian-controlled. Right now, we have an imbalance “between the Canadian-controlled and foreign-controlled sectors” (MacSkimming 389). It seems the foreign-controlled publishers are gaining power. Our government needs to deal with this succession issue, stand its ground on its! own policies, and apply the policy rules in a consistent manner. MacSkimming says it well, when he claims that “policies are only as good as the political will to implement them” (391).

The growth of our children’s publishing has been mostly due to an “injection of public money” (Egoff and Saltman 313). “Book after book recognizes a debt to the Canada Council, provincial Arts Councils, or both” (Egoff and Saltman 313-4). It is important that our government “not only maintain existing funding but ensure that their programs keep pace with inflation” (MacSkimming 391). MacSkimming also suggests that the federal government consider helping Canadian publishers offer better royalty advances, so that publishers can hold onto their writers. He also suggests an equity investment tax credit to attract Canadian investors to the publishing industry (391).

The Canadian children’s publishing industry has had some positive moments lately. Canadian publishers still produce the majority of Canadian-authored works. In 2000, 93 percent of Canadian children’s picture books were produced by Canadian publishers (MacSkimming 393). Not many Canadian publishers produce only children’s books. However, there is a strong trend in regional publishing (e.g. Whitecap Books and Beach Holme Publishing in British Columbia, and Nimbus and Formac in Nova Scotia) (MacSkimming 295). There are also exclusively aboriginal presses publishing work by Native authors (e.g. Pemmican) (MacSkimming 295).

Publishing companies are learning to build extra profits using ingenuity. Many, including Raincoast Books, make money off of distribution. Raincoast holds the Canadian rights to the Harry Potter books (MacSkimming 395-6). Harry Potter makes them extra money, used to make their own publishing more ambitious (MacSkimming 396).

The newer children’s publishers, who began publishing in the 1990s, ambitiously export (Orca, Red Deer, Second Story, etc.). These publishers “are both tribal and global, seeking markets wherever they can find them, particularly in the United States” (MacSkimming 398).

These days, book prizes are very important tools for marketing children’s books. Many libraries, who can only afford a limited number of new titles per year, will buy award-winning books first. Sometimes these are the only new books they buy.


More Problems and Issues Facing Our Children’s Publishers

There are many problems facing our children’s publishing industry. Several of these problems have faced them since the beginning of Canadian publishing and will not be solved soon. Some issues are new.

An old problem is the physical nature of Canada. Canada is “a small population divided by language (indeed languages) and scattered across a vast distance, making distribution and promotion erratic and expensive” (Egoff and Saltman 307). There are some tensions between English and French publishers and collaborations are still unusual. “ Quebec is practically an island of its own, with its closest publishing ties to European countries such as France, Switzerland, and Belgium” (Eichler, “ Montreal” 17). Many French publishers publish only French language titles.

Canadian publishers produce small print runs and therefore, have higher printing costs than the United States or Britain (Egoff and Saltman 307). This means that the cost of Canadian children’s books published in this country can be higher compared to imported books published elsewhere. Canada faces extreme competition from imports while being, “the largest book-importing country in the world” (Egoff and Saltman 307). This is especially true for children’s publishers. “The high costs of illustration, colour printing, quality paper, and durable binding compounded the usual problem of pricing books low enough to meet foreign competition” (MacSkimming 275). Traditionally, Canada has imported most of its books.

Tyrrell points out that marketing in Canada can be a problem, as “it lacks sufficient volumes to allow for cost-effective marketing techniques.” If Canadian publishers to an ALA trade show, they will spend thousands but will see thousands of buyers. Publishers spend similar amounts to go to CLA conferences but will only see hundreds of buyers (Tyrrell).

Canadian publishers depend on school and public libraries to buy their books. Public, and particularly school, libraries have had falling budgets due to government cutbacks (MacSkimming 390). Tyrrell also points out that school libraries are forced to spend more on new technology, there are fewer teacher-librarians, and libraries are choosing more electronic media as opposed to print media. It is up to provinces to restore book purchases in libraries and it up to citizens to demand change.

Grants are lacking for authors and illustrators of children’s books (Egoff and Saltman 307). Most Canadian authors do not make a lot of money and, when successful, they often move from small Canadian publishers to the larger, multinational corporations (Mcintryre). This is an obvious problem for Canadian publishers. They prefer to hold onto money-making authors. The problem is that while many authors would love to be loyal to their Canadian small-press roots, they also want to eat.

Bob Tyrrell, of Orca Books, suggests that Orca, and other Canadian publishers, have not marketed their books strongly enough in Canada and take the Canadian market for granted. He finds that not all Canadian librarians and book buyers even know his company exists (Tyrrell).

Canada lacks reviewing media for children’s books and for Canadian books in general (Egoff and Saltman 307-8). There are a few reviewing journals and magazines specifically for librarians and teachers, but not many for children and parents, more potential buyers of these books. Also, “there is no journal that supplies the comprehensive and comparative reviewing necessary to evaluate our books in the context of an international children’s literature” (Egoff and Saltman 308). Therefore, though there are great Canadian books in the market, most people never hear about them. Some media outlets reviewing Canadian books have cut back. Adult literature by Canadian writers gets more attention than children’s literature (Paul and Hamilton). CanWest Global newspapers review coverage in Canada, of children’s literature, dropped 49 percent between 1997 and 2002 (MacSkimming 390). American journals often miss or ignore Canadian books! .

Canada has a problem with young adult books. There is a “persistent ‘gap’ in Canadian publishing and book retailing, in which children’s and adults’ books are well supplied but comparatively little exists in between” (Wright 124). Wright estimates that, in bookstores, YA titles are given “about ten percent of the space dedicated to children’s books” (124). Publishers and booksellers do not appear comfortable marketing to young adults. “Given the superior literacy skills of contemporary youth in Canada, and the rather overwhelming evidence that they were weaned on some of the world’s finest children’s literature, the question may not be whether young people have abandoned books but whether the book trade has abandoned young people” (Wright 124).

As mentioned before, the Chapters/Indigo chain has taken over retail sales of children’s books and has pushed out independent bookstores. Orca found that in 1995, independent bookstores were 70% of their business, but by 2000 they made up less than 50% of sales ( Hammond). The Association of Canadian Publishers commissioned a retail market study of the Canadian book industry. In 2001, they found that Chapters/Indigo had “a market share of 68.8% of the total retail book market in Canada. If internet sales are included, that figure rises to 75%” (Eichler “Study”). There is a shortage of “community-based, independent retailers” to compete with the chains (MacSkimming 389). Chapters promotes best, books whose publishers pay for the best shelf space and books that appeal to the masses. Most of our children’s publishers are not wealthy enough to pay for the best shelf space. It seems especially sad that their books! would otherwise receive that space, if the stores placed books just according to quality. There is growing concern that publishers are “making decisions about what books they publish based on the criterion of what Chapters will carry and promote” (Wright 50).

Another complaint about Chapters is “that the company’s mainly part-time staff lack the expertise to hand-sell kids’ books” ( Hammond). “Bookstore staff need to know their customers” ( Hammond).

Most Canadian children’s publishers do not have strong “popular backlists” to provide steady, expected income (Egoff and Saltman 307). Egoff and Saltman argue this makes it difficult for publishers to take chances on unproven authors, illustrators, or risky projects (307).

Strong Canadian content books have been traditionally seen as difficult to export. Some argue this is true today and some argue it is not. There are differing opinions. Picture books seem to be able to travel regardless of Canadian content because “pictures speak a universal language” (Egoff and Saltman 311). On the other hand, Groundwood claims that picture books work better in the United States, rather than Europe. They claim that this is due to “differences in visual sensibility” and add that Canadian YA fiction is more successful in Europe (MacSkimming 289).

Unfortunately, there has been a problem getting some librarians to appreciate Canadian produced children’s literature. Librarians are “the gatekeepers of children’s literature” (MacSkimming 274). We have the responsibility, and honour, of choosing what literature many children can access. We do not like to admit it, but there is a prejudice in favor of imported British and American books. There are people, including librarians, who look down on anything Canadian. Bias is a terrible thing when it denies access for a child.



Life has never been easy for Canadian children’s publishers. They are latecomers facing strong competition from imports and have many financial struggles. I do not want to see a Canada “in which foreign imports determine the cultural development of its children” (Egoff and Saltman 314). Traditionally, we have imported British and American culture through publishing (Godfrey and Lorimer 265). Britain and the United States are the “two friendly giants” overshadowing the Canadian children’s market (McGrath 41).

However, Canada has grown and developed its own voice. “A nation can be judged by how it enriches its children” ( Hudson 1). It is now inadequate to provide only foreign voices to our children. Children need to hear our Canadian voices and see themselves in the literature we create. Canadian librarians have to make sure the Canadian voice is accessible to our children.

As a librarian, I am concerned about losing Canadian children’s books, which would also be the loss of an important element of our culture. Canadian children’s literature is now internationally respected and studied and yet many Canadians are unaware we have a struggling acclaimed industry. Canadians create wonderful children’s literature and we should be proud of it, promote it, and fight for its survival. If we will not fight for our own publishing industry, who will?


Works Cited

Egoff, Sheila and Judith Saltman. The New Republic of Childhood: A Critical Guide to Canadian Children's Literature in English. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1990.

Eichler, Leah. “ Montreal Fair Highlights French, English Publishing Differences.” Publishers Weekly 13 Dec. 1999: 17. Library
Lit. & Info. Sci. FTX. 13 March 2006 <

---. “Publishers Staggered by Chapters Returns.” Publishers Weekly 2 April 2001: 12. Library Lit. & Info. Sci. FTX. 13 March 2006<

---. “Study Shows Chapters’ Dominance in Retail Market.” Publishers Weekly 2 July 2001: 17. Library Lit. & Info. Sci. FTX. 13 March 2006 <

Godfrey, David and James Lorimer. “Publishing in Canada.” Read Canadian: A Book About Canadian Books. Robert Fulford, David Godfrey and Abraham Rotstein, eds. Toronto: James Lewis & Samuel, 1972. 264-73.

Hade, Daniel. “Storyselling: Are Publishers Changing the Way Children Read?” The Horn Book Magazine Sept./Oct. (2002): 509-17.

Hammond, Karen. “Goodbye Hockey Sweater, Hello Casey at the Bat: As the Local Market Dwindles, Some Canadian Children’s Publishers are Tailoring Their Titles to a North American Audience.” Quill and Quire 66.10 (2000): 24-5, 29. ProQuest 17 March 2006 <

Hudson, Aïda. Introduction. Windows and Words: A Look at Canadian Children’s Literature in English. Ed. Hudson and Susan-Ann Cooper. Reappraisals: Canadian Writers 25. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 2003. 1-9.

MacSkimming, Roy. The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada’s Writers. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2003.

McGrath, Joan. “The Red & The White: Canadian Books for Children.” School Library Journal 27.1 (1980): 41-3.

Mcintyre, Scott. “Literary Life Support.” Maclean’s 3 June 2002: 52+. Academic Search Premier 14 March 2006 <>.

Paul, Karin and Donald Hamilton. “Talking with Roch Carrier, National Librarian of Canada.” School Libraries in Canada 21.1 (2001): 35. Library Lit. & Info. Sci. FTX. 13 March 2006 <

Saltman, Judith. “Canadian Children’s Literature at the Millennium.” Windows and Words: A Look at Canadian Children’s Literature in English. Ed. Aïda Hudson and Susan-Ann Cooper. Reappraisals: Canadian Writers 25. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 2003. 23-34.

---. Modern Canadian Children’s Books. Perspectives on Canadian Culture. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1987.

Tyrrell, Bob. “The School Library Market: A Canadian Publisher’s Perspective.” School Libraries in Canada 21.1 (2001): 27-8. Library Lit. & Info. Sci. FTX. 13 March 2006 <>.

Waterston, Elizabeth. Children’s Literature in Canada. Twayne’s World Authors Ser.: Children’s Lit. 823. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Wright, Robert. Hip and Trivial: Youth Culture, Book Publishing and the Greying of Canadian Nationalism. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’, 2001.