Happy Canada Day from Groundwood Books

Sheila Berry, President and Publisher of Groundwood Books

Sheila Barry, President and Publisher of Groundwood Books

I have long wondered what on earth drove my mother’s family to leave Ireland in the 1780s and settle in Conche, Newfoundland. Conche, current population 225, can be found way up on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula—and if you don’t know where the Great Northern Peninsula is, that’s okay, you can find it on a map.

Most of the time, I assume it was sheer eccentricity (to use the polite word) that saw my ancestors leave relative civilization for a place that was pretty harsh, and I’m not just talking about the weather.But deep down I know that they moved to Newfoundland because however hard life there was, it was still an improvement on what they left behind.

I was thinking about what people leave behind and what they hope to find as I waited at the passport office today. The lines were long, and some of the staff were, if not actively hostile, certainly walking a thin line between bureaucratic indifference and willful withholding of information. And yet there we all were, waiting patiently for the document we needed in order to been seen as Canadians in the world. Many of the people in that office were not Canadians by birth, but they are now Canadians by choice. And I guess that means that no matter what they left behind, they hope to find something even better here. On the dawn of the Canada Day long weekend, I hope all their dreams come true.

Happy Canada Day from all of us here at Groundwood Books!

On YA literature with LGBTQ characters

Suzanne Sutherland, editorial assistant at Groundwood Books

Suzanne Sutherland, editorial assistant at Groundwood Books, and author of When We Were Good, published by Three O’Clock Press. You can follow her on Twitter @sutherlandsuz, and read her blog.

In September of 2011, my mom was nervous.

“I was listening to Q,” she said, “you know, with Jian Ghomeshi?”
“Uh huh?”
“And he said that no one buys YA with gay characters.”
“Oh, really.”
“He’s says it’s very hard to get published.”

I then proceeded to totally interrupt her story (about co-authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith being asked by a major literary agent to ‘straighten out’ a gay character in their post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger) to spout off a list of exceptional young-adult literature with LGBTQ characters. A list that started with Groundwood’s own Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.

My mom was concerned because I had just sent my first novel off to a publisher for consideration. The book was (and is) called When We Were Good and was (and is) about two girls falling in love, among other things.

The coming-out speech I gave my parents was unlike most.

“I’m not gay,” I told them, “but my book is.”

Though they were, and always have been, unconditionally supportive of my work and of me, my mom was worried that I would be asked to change my story—that maybe they’d tell me to turn my leading lady, Katherine, into a Kurt or a Kenny.

But so many of the novels I read as a teenager, during that formative time when books hit harder than they ever will again (if you’re lucky), reflected the lives of the people around me who identified as LGBTQ. Ariel Schrag’s autobiographical high school comics (particularly Potential) shocked and amazed me with their gutting honesty, and local Toronto authors like Mariko Tamaki (with her first novel, Cover Me) and Debra Anderson (Code White) inspired me to write more stories about our city.

So, as it happened, my mom worried for nothing.

When We Were Good book coverWhen We Were Good found a perfect publisher in Sumach, and as I worked with my editor, Sarah Wayne, to bring the manuscript to its finished state, I noticed that there seemed to be more and more new works of LGBTQ-themed YA.

In addition to Groundwood’s own excellent contributions to the field—shout-outs to Paul Yee’s Money Boy, Tamara Bach’s Girl From Mars and Diana Wieler’s Bad Boy, which was particularly trailblazing when it was published in 1990—there is a wealth of fantastic queer YA being published right now.

Happily, Brown and Smith’s co-authored novel, Stranger, eventually found a home with Penguin’s imprint Viking in 2012, and is due out in 2014, reportedly with its gay characters intact.

And my own novel, When We Were Good, was released in May, appropriately feted with a launch at the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookshop, Glad Day.

National Aboriginal Day

On Friday, June 21st, Canadians are invited to participate in National Aboriginal Day, a celebration of the many contributions made by First Nations, non-status, Métis and Inuit peoples. Since the day is only an official holiday in the Northwest Territories, it is fair to say that June 21st might look a lot like business as usual here in Groundwood’s Toronto office. But our busy-ness is very likely to include putting the finishing touches on two very important books that will be released this fall: a special anniversary edition of the award-winning picture book about a First Nations’ child, A Salmon for Simon, and a new collection of interviews from critically acclaimed author and activist Deborah Ellis called Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids.

At Groundwood, we will be celebrating National Aboriginal Day the best way we can — by publishing books for and about Indigenous children, just as we have done for the past thirty-five years.

How will you be celebrating?

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On Father’s Day

Marketing Manager Fred Horler, reading with his girls.

Marketing Manager Fred Horler, reading with his girls.

This Sunday is Father’s Day, an occasion that will be marked in my house. I have two daughters, which makes me a dad, as was my father before me, and his father before him and… well, you get the picture.

My father died when I was young and I came late to the Dad role myself. I was forty-seven when my first daughter was born and it was three years before my second daughter decided to make an appearance. This meant that I had a thirty-five-year drought between Father’s Day celebrations. Perhaps that’s partly why the day is so special for me. But it also freaks me out. I can’t look at my girls without marvelling at the absurdity of being personally responsible* for such delightful, complex, and intriguing people.

First of all, my two girls are so damn smart. In just a couple of years they became fluent in a language — that’s incredible! (Fluent: the ability to talk on and on and on about such topics as the Tooth Fairy industry or skipping rope etiquette.)

But it’s not just their smarts that make them so remarkable. Now, I know that all parents feel their kids are special, but in my case this really is true. My girls are kind and generous and always get their chores done. Oh wait, I’m thinking of Laura and Mary from Little House on the Prairie. We’ve been watching the DVDs and sometimes I get confused. But my two are kind and generous.

I (mostly) treasure the time I get to spend with them. Unlike my own father, and probably many of his generation, I choose to hang out with my kids a lot. Lately I’ve been taking the half-hour walk to school with them in the morning. (I even let them wear shoes, unlike when I was a kid.) The girls take turns making up stories to pass the time and I marvel at the ease with which they can create an entire universe and populate it with characters and creatures. What a gift!

And sometimes we talk about more serious topics such as their playground dramas, wiggly teeth, or future aspirations. For example, on one of these walks my youngest shared her plans to be a Princess-Librarian when she grows up. A wise career choice, it seems to me. Not only does it capitalize on her love of books but, after a hard day working in the stacks, who wouldn’t want to grab their favourite tiara and head over to the Prince’s palace for some down time?

Whatever my girls decide to do with their lives, I know that I will be proud of them (as long as they never wear torn fishnet stockings with shorts. I don’t think I could ever forgive them for that).

Being a dad also means that I don’t have as much time for the quiet things I used to do. Romantic dinners with my wife have been replaced with loud and cheerful recounts of everyone’s day as we eat and laugh together. Hitchcock thrillers have been replaced by Shrek I, II, and III (and the Shrek Christmas and Halloween specials)! And settling down with a good spy novel has been replaced by one of the highlights of my day. Because no matter how much bad behaviour has taken place, whether it is me swearing, me losing my temper, or me forgetting to serve the kids fruits and vegetables, at the end of the day I know I’ll have one of my girls snuggled up to me as we share a book together.

To all the dads out there — Happy Father’s Day!

– Fred Horler


*I admit that it should read “partly responsible.” This reminds me of something I heard the other day:
Questions kids ask their Mother: “Mom, where are my shoes?” “Mom, what’s for dinner?” “Mom, can you get me a band-aid?”
Questions kids ask their Father: “Dad, where’s Mom?”

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