________________ CM . . . . Volume III Number 16 . . . . April 11, 1997
CM Feature

Publishing in BC.

Brian John Busby

Reprinted from the Winter 1997 issue of the Children's Book News a publication of the Canadian Children's Book Centre.

IT IS NO COINCIDENCE THAT the growth of a strong and vibrant West Coast publishing industry has brought with it a collection of British Columbia children's books that have won awards across the country. Twenty-five years ago, the number of B.C. children's books was an extremely small one, mirroring that of B.C. publishers.

The reason Howard White, head of Harbour Publishing, gives for entering the children's book market is a common one. "Originally, I felt there was a need for children's books dealing with the West Coast," he says. In 1983, the press published its first title for children, a picture book entitled A Whale Named Henry. Over two dozen have followed, most noticeably Anne Cameron's series of West Coast legends. Like her writing for adults, these illustrated books have been both critically and commercially successful. Although it has been two years since Harbour's last children's book, White sees this as an "unusual gap"; indeed, over the coming years he expects Harbour's percentage of children's titles to increase from the current 20 per cent.

Another publisher intending to concentrate more on children's titles is Whitecap Books, B.C.'s second largest book publisher - after Douglas & Mclntyre (whose own successful children's line Groundwood Books is based in Toronto). Roughly half of Whitecap's children's titles are nature books by Diane Swanson. Lavishly illustrated, these books have proven popular in both the home and classroom. Co-publishing has allowed for expensive productions that might otherwise not be possible given the size of the Canadian market. Although Whitecap has yet to release a work of children's fiction, publisher Colleen Macmillan is currently considering the idea of expanding into this area.

Back to the Cabin Perhaps the best-known B.C. publisher of children's books is Victoria's Orca Book Publishers. Founded in 1984, it wasn't until the '90s that Orca produced its first children's title. Since that time, books like Waiting for the Whales and Siwiti - A Whale's Story have won Orca an impressive collection of awards and accolades. According to publisher Bob Tyrrell, children's books make up 50 per cent or more of their titles - a number he feels will only increase. Four of the seven new titles published by Orca this past fall were children's books; and the list included established names like Ann Blades and William Bell.

One in a Million Polestar Book Publishers, an eclectic press publishing first fiction, hockey books and award winning poetry titles, has achieved considerable success with its children's list. Dreamcatcher, a young adult novel by Meredy Maynard, was nominated for the Silver Birch Award, while Ellen Schwartz's Starshine series, detailing the adventures of an overly-active 10-year-old, has gone through several printings. Although the press has published picture books, in recent years Polestar has concentrated solely on young adult titles. Its most recent children's book, One in a Million by Nicholas Read, helped launch Sirius, a new imprint focussing exclusively on dog books.

Currently celebrating its 25th year, Beach Holme continues to add to its list of children's titles. The publisher entered the children's market in the early '80s with a series of picture books. However, for the past ten years, it has devoted its children's list to regional historical young adult fiction. Perhaps the most popular of these books is Julie Lawson's White Jade Tiger. A story of time travel, set primarily in Victoria's Chinatown of the 1880s, the book received the 1993 Sheila A. Egoff Award for Children's Literature. The press has prepared a practical guide to White Jade Tiger for teachers, librarians and home-schoolers that has seen use across the country.

Another publisher with considerable success in the educational market is Theytus Books. The press has the distinction of being the first Canadian publishers under First Nation ownership and control. During its 16 year history, Theytus has published more than 30 books, a third of which are children's titles. Jeanette Armstrong's Enwhisteetkwa is a good example of the work Theytus publishes. Illustrated by the author, Enwhisteetkwa provides a view of what life might have been like for a young West Coast child in the middle of the last century. Other Theytus children's titles deal with legends, First Nations history and the environment.

Publishers since 1971, Pacific Educational Press is a department of the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Education. As such, part of its mandate is to publish books for children as well as educational material for parents, teachers and librarians. Non-fiction titles have dealt with such topics as multiculturalism, self-esteem, forestry and the environment. One of Pacific Educational's greatest accomplishments to date is the Queen Charlotte Islands Series, a collection of 13 picture books written in collaboration with Haida people. The series covers Haida art, lifestyles, tradition and the islands themselves in an informative, yet entertaining, manner.

Throughout this past decade, under director Catherine Edwards, the press has moved much of its focus to young adult fiction. The Golden Rose, Dayle Campbell Gaetz's story of a l9th-century immigrant family's attempt to establish a farm in B.C., is a recent example of the press's output.

While B.C. publishers are not immune to the difficult atmosphere of shrinking government grants and rising production costs experienced throughout the country, the presses are healthy. They are maintaining the number of children's titles they publish, and, even more encouraging, some are seeking to expand their children's lists.

Brian John Busby is co-editor of Classics Canada and Contemporary Canada, a series of ESL textbooks incorporating poetry, prose and drama. He is currently researching a book on Black Canadian writing.

This electronic version of the reprinted article has several minor non-textual changes from the original print version.

Reprinted with permission of the Canadian Children's Book Centre.

Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364