Coming soon to a School Library Near You
Mel Hurtig talks about The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada, the first comprehensive reference work on Canada for young Canadians with 4,000 articles covering every aspect of Canada including nearly 1,500 biographies of Canadians from prime ministers to children's authors.
Publishing for children is again taking an innovative step. In 1990 Hurtig Publishers are bringing out Canada's first enyclopedia for children.
The swinging screen door at the entrance of Hurtig Publishers -- a screen in a wooden ornamental frame like those of our childhood memories -- announces the home of Canada's Junior Encyclopedia, and of its creator, publisher Mel Hurtig.
Mel Hurtig, a most astute businessman, has spent his entire career proving that he is not only all-Canadian but also successful. A publisher, businessman and showman, he is also a salesman extraordinaire -- a salesman of ideas, of Canada and of books.
And he will have to sell a lot of them to finance his most ambitious project to date: The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada. Planned for fall 1990, this is the largest publishing project ever undertaken by a Canadian publisher. Its first printing will produce 500,000 copies; it will have employed 2,500 people. It will hold one million words, 2,200 photographs, 3,000 illustrations, 300 full-colour maps, and all this will be contained in five volumes.
Hurtig's idea for a junior encyclopedia aimed specifically at Canadian school children aged eight to fifteen was born of an earlier project. The Canadian Encyclopedia first appeared in 1985. It was the first all-Canadian encyclopedia, in three volumes, and carried 500 illustrations.
It was a resounding success, having sold over 250,000 copies, and is still a best-seller today. But at the time many teachers and librarians thought it was too difficult for elementary and intermediate school children. Hurtig himself received letters from parents complaining that The Canadian Encyclopedia was too complicated for their children to use. Intrigued, he began to look into what encyclopedias were available to Canadian children; they turned out to be mostly American.
The U.S. books, naturally enough, emphasized American institutions, events and people. But Canadian students had no choice but to rely on them for information about Canada. Hurtig says he was appalled when he realized that many of the facts about Canada were simply wrong.
"U.S. encyclopedias were stating that Saint Laurent was Canada's first French-Canadian prime minister and that "God Save the Queen" was our national anthem," he says. Canadian students obviously deserved better. The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada will emphasize Canadian concerns and Canadian accomplishments and will be aimed specifically at the student.
"This is a first," says Hurtig. "We are providing a learning tool that was never available before. Context is also important in student development. When you are looking up the entry "Vancouver," what comes before and after can also be a learning experience."
The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada, which has been widely tested in schools across Canada since 1987, is being closely geared to the school market. "Across Canada there is no comprehensive educational policy because education is in provincial hands. "Therefore," explains Hurtig, "information is often uneven. It is our aim to eliminate the inadequacies, the imbalances."
Curriculum material from all provinces is being consulted in the compilation of the article lists, and students themselves have been asked to suggest topics and illustrations. The writing of the various entries has been contracted out to twenty textbook writers who have been assembling and re-writing the information for over two years.
Hurtig, along with his editor-in-chief, Jim Marsh, is acutely aware of the market he is aiming to both please and help. The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada is based on school curricula and is designed from a child's perspective. "It is astounding how concrete a child's mind is," says Marsh. 'They want to know about the Gretzky trade and about Japanese war reparations."
A basic difference between the original Canadian Encyclopedia and the Junior is the visual presentation. Instead the usual intimidating two or three columns of informational text, there will be charts, chronological tables and various illustrations and examples. The high percentage of illustrations to text is also no accident. "Children have to be drawn into the Junior. They must want to use it," says Hurtig.
Hurtig hopes to sell four to five times more sets of The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada, at $175 a set, than The Canadian Encyclopedia. And he will have to. Preparation, production and printing of 500,000 copies of the set will cost $12 million. Hurtig Publishers have already borrowed $7 million to help finance this project, the largest amount ever borrowed by a publisher in Canada.
But that's not the only record Hurtig is breaking. The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada promotional budget is $3 million; The Canadian Encyclopedia required $700,000. The largest promotional budget ever spent by a Canadian publisher before that was $100,000.
By the fall of 1990, two million Canadian mailboxes will be receiving information on The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada. This mailing effort will be reinforced by TV spots, endorsements and launches across Canada.
The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada will hit the bookstores in fall 1990, but the preparation has been under way for over two years. During 1988 and 1989, Hurtig Publishers have been working exclusively on The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada.
They hope it will all be worthwhile, both for Hurtig and for Canadian school children.
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