New Publisher Named at Groundwood Books

April 5, 2018 — Sarah MacLachlan, President of House of Anansi Press and Groundwood Books, is pleased to announce that Semareh Al-Hillal has been named Publisher at Groundwood Books. Al-Hillal will take up this position on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Al-Hillal is currently Associate Publisher at Kids Can Press, where she has been for 18 years. She is highly regarded by authors, illustrators, agents and publishing colleagues around the world, and is known for her diplomacy, thoughtfulness and collaborative approach.

“I am honoured to be given the chance to build on the strong foundation laid by founding publisher Patsy Aldana and continue the wonderful work of Sheila Barry and other Groundwood staff past and present. The thought of being able to uphold and further Groundwood’s stellar reputation and prestigious list is very exciting to me,” said Al-Hillal. “I’m looking forward to working with all of the talented creators and staff to create important, magical, diverse books that engage, transport and reflect young readers.”

MacLachlan, who is also Publisher at House of Anansi Press, said about Al-Hillal: “We look forward to having Semareh join the Groundwood team, and I know that Nan Froman, Editorial Director, Michael Solomon, Art Director, Shelley Tanaka, Fiction Editor, Emma Sakamoto, Managing Editor and Giselle Wenban, Editorial Assistant, will flourish under Semareh’s leadership. I couldn’t be more thrilled that Semareh has agreed to join us.”

“Semareh’s extensive experience and expertise in the publishing of children’s literature makes her a fitting replacement for the outstanding leadership of Sheila Barry,” said Scott Griffin, owner and Chairman of the board of House of Anansi Press and Groundwood Books.

For any questions:
Contact: Cindy Ma
416-363-4343 x 250

Groundwood Publishes Very Good Books

Holiday season is upon us, and the Anansi Elves have been hard at work! Visit to find great deals (and gift packages!) throughout the holiday season! (Don’t miss out on the Buddy & Earl Gift Pack, or the Groundwood Gift Wrap!) Happy holidays from everyone at House of Anansi Press and Groundwood Books!

TWO Groundwood Titles Win #GGBooks Awards!

Governor General’s Literary Awards Winner Calvin by Martine LeavittWe’re thrilled to announce Martine Leavitt’s Calvin has been selected as the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award in the Young People’s Literature (text) category! Congratulations, Martine!

In Calvin – part romance, part adventure story, part quest novel — Martine Leavitt brings her inimitable gentle wit, humor and compassion to a story about a teenaged boy struggling to gain control of his own mind and destiny.

“In Martine Leavitt’s Calvin, a boy newly diagnosed with schizophrenia makes a pilgrimage across a frozen Lake Erie. Told in spare, beautiful prose, this transcendent exploration of reality and truth is funny, frightening and affirming. Calvin is an astonishing achievement.” — #GGBooks Jury Statement

Governor General’s Literary Awards Winner Tokyo Digs A Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen HatanakaBut, it doesn’t stop there… there’s a whole garden’s worth of good news today. Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka has won the Governor General’s Literary Award in the Young People’s Literature (illustrated books) category!

Tokyo Digs a Garden marries text and illustration in a richly ornamented dream landscape that simultaneously suggests a digital and an organic world. Kellen Hatanaka’s illustrations are inventive and groundbreaking and the hypnotic text by Jon-Erik Lappano conveys its message in a darkly humourous and elegant manner. A book for any age.” — #GGBooks Jury Statement

Congratulations, Jon-Erik and Kellen!

About Calvin

In the town of Leamington, Ontario, a seventeen-year-old boy is suddenly stricken by a schizophrenic episode and wakes up in hospital. The boy’s name is Calvin, and he is plagued by hallucinations.

As the hallucinations persist, Calvin comes to believe that the answer lies in performing one grand and incredible gesture.

And so he decides to walk across Lake Erie. In January. The temperatures have been below freezing for weeks. The ice should hold…

The lake, it turns out, is more marvelous, and more treacherous, than Calvin had ever imagined — populated by abandoned cars (joy ride!), ice-fishing eccentrics, psychokiller snow beings, and a not-so-mythical sea witch named Jenny Greenteeth.

Not to mention the man-eating tiger that looms just out of his sight lines as he treks.

But the biggest surprise of all is that Calvin finds himself accompanied by Susie, the girl of his dreams. Or is it his dreams that have conjured up Susie?

Part romance, part adventure story, part quest novel, Martine Leavitt brings her inimitable gentle wit, humor and compassion to a story about a teenaged boy struggling to gain control of his own mind and destiny.

About Tokyo Digs a Garden

Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings with his family and his cat, Kevin. For years, highways and skyscrapers have been built up around the family’s house where once there were hills and trees. Will they ever experience the natural world again?

One day, an old woman offers Tokyo seeds, telling him they will grow into whatever he wishes. Tokyo and his grandfather are astonished when the seeds grow into a forest so lush that it takes over the entire city overnight. Soon the whole city has gone wild, with animals roaming where cars once drove. But is this a problem to be surmounted, or a new way of living to be embraced?

With Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka have created a thoughtful and inspiring fable of environmentalism and imagination.

A Note About Flannery O’Connor from The King of the Birds

In The King of the Birds, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

The last page of the book includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor — but for those who haven’t had a chance to pick up the book yet, we thought we would put the note up here on our blog just so everyone could learn more about Flannery O’Connor:

This story was inspired by the life and writings of Flannery O’Connor, who was born in Georgia in 1925 and departed our world at the age of thirty-nine, surrounded by her collection of ducks, swans, guinea hens and — of course — peacocks.

The real Flannery described her young self as a “pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex.” When Flannery was six, she really did appear in the news because of a chicken she had trained to walk backwards.

Ms. O’Connor and her “I’ll-bite-you complex” went on to write stories that un-hid people’s ugly, mean parts and proved that everybody — even preachers and grandmothers — needs to be forgiven.

When you are older, go read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and let us know what you think.

Acree & Natalie

THE KING OF THE BIRDS Written by Acree Graham Macam Illustrated by Natalie Nelson

In this picture book, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.

As for Me and Your House

By Sara Cassidy

I grew up in a series of large brick houses with room for my parents and four older siblings, and ample cushioned places to curl up with a book. More often than not, though, I was outside, climbing trees and drainpipes, biking secret trails through riverside woods, or collecting bottles to cash in at the local store. I was fully encouraged “to get out into the world, to see and touch and do” as my father would say. I am lucky my parents were yea-sayers who dove in, accepting all invitations. I could read anything that I wanted to, listen to any record that interested me, go anywhere in the neighborhood. As long was I was home in time, I was never questioned about where I had been.

So, my inner life was my own. The joyous privacy of forging, unfolding, mapping the world as I saw it, protected, honored. Once in a while, my mother, passing through the room where I sat reading or simply staring into space, would sing penny for your thoughts. In my memory I see her offering an actual penny! But she didn’t really expect anything, was only shining a light on the small copper door, the way in and out.

In A Boy Named Queen, Evelyn develops her inner life in a different set of circumstances. Instead of a respectful distance, her parents, without rich inner lives themselves, are unaware of hers, and this gives her the privacy to develop it. But her mother also warns her not to let her imagination get away from her; she certainly never points to the copper door.

A Boy Named Queen gently considers gender identity and gender expression, and bullying, but it is primarily about the friendship between Evelyn and Queen, both outwardly unalike, but intellectually robust. Evelyn is from a house that is routine bound, quiet, even depressed. Queen’s house is filled with music, candlelight, other creatures. His parents are artists and musicians. They cook interesting meals and let the dog eat at the table once a week. Meeting Queen’s family shows Evelyn that her imagination is viable: the world has plenty of room for such colors.

I realized after writing A Boy Named Queen that it has roots in my mother’s childhood and a story she often told about her friend Molly. My mother grew up in a stark, suburban house where conversation was thin, much like in Evelyn’s house. Down the block, though, Molly’s house had wide, open rooms, a piano, frequent parties, jazz music, laughter, women — and men — in flowing clothes! Molly’s house opened the world to my mother (who became a fierce intellect and writer).

When I was eight, only one child in my grade three class had divorced parents. My first sleepover was at her apartment (apartment!), where she lived with her mother. How different it was from my house. Yet it was happy. Full. It was only a different permutation of family. In grade four, another friend’s mother greeted me at the door in a housecoat, in the middle of the afternoon. I learned, from her mistimed embraces and the liquid tilt of her movements, that she drank. I worried about her, but mostly I got on with playing with my friend, bouncing for hours on her bed, perhaps dispelling darkness, restoring my friend’s rightful ball of fortune.

Some of my childhood friends’ families were more rollicking than ours, others strangely quiet. One friend’s father smoked cigarettes in the darkness of his office. Another friend’s parents never touched. I observed it all, felt and smelled it all.

The houses we step into as children reveal the world to us in the same way that novels do. And they show us, by contrast or familiarity, our own homes, and ourselves. For Evelyn in A Boy Named Queen, the colors of Queen’s house reflect and confirm her rich inner life. In the last scene of the book, she is emboldened to share it.

A BOY NAMED QUEEN by Sara Cassidy

Evelyn is both aghast and fascinated when a new boy comes to grade five and tells everyone his name is Queen. Queen wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos.

How will the class react? How will Evelyn?

Evelyn is an only child with a strict routine and an even stricter mother. And yet in her quiet way she notices things. She takes particular notice of this boy named Queen. The way the bullies don’t seem to faze him. The way he seems to live by his own rules. When it turns out that they take the same route home from school, Evelyn and Queen become friends, almost against Evelyn’s better judgment. She even finds Queen irritating at times. Why doesn’t he just shut up and stop attracting so much attention to himself?

Yet he is the most interesting person she has ever met. So when she receives a last-minute invitation to his birthday party, she knows she must somehow persuade her mother to let her go, even if it means ignoring the No Gifts request and shopping for what her mother considers to be an appropriate gift, appropriately wrapped with “boy” wrapping paper.

Her visit to Queen’s house opens Evelyn’s eyes to a whole new world, including an unconventional goody bag (leftover potato latkes wrapped in waxed paper and a pair of barely used red sneakers). And when it comes time for her to take something to school for Hype and Share, Evelyn suddenly looks at her chosen offering — her mother’s antique cream jug — and sees new and marvelous possibilities.

Sara O’Leary on A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Sara O'Leary A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Seeing Qin Leng’s final art for this book was full of joyful surprises. My sons and I sat and turned the pages, taking it in turn to point things out and make little exhortations.

There is such a lovely lightness of touch to Qin’s work but when you slow down to look you see joy imbued in each of the family groups. The loveliest surprise for me was turning to the final page and seeing that within the narrative of the story, the classroom functions as another family.

My mother, June McDonald, was a teacher for years. She taught Special Ed at a number of schools in Saskatoon and I know that for many students she was the loving, stabilizing influence in their lives. Lately on social media, I’ve noticed acquaintances talking about favourite teachers from childhood. I know there will be many adults out there who remember my mother the same way.

My first school was Elsie Dorsey School in Regina, Saskatchewan. This picture shows me and my classmates at about the same age as the narrator and her classmates in A Family Is a Family Is a Family. After this year, my family moved away and I no longer remember the names of most of the children arrayed in rows here. But I do remember being at the school and staring at the page of an old Dick and Jane reader. I remember the moment that the letters on the page suddenly shifted for me and became the word “wagon.” I remember how in that moment the code was broken and I could read. Reading (and writing) became one of the great joys of my life.

The narrator in my story is nervous because she thinks she is not the same as everybody else in the group. Her nervousness arises from her family situation but there are all sorts of reasons for children to feel different. I’d like to pay tribute to all teachers where the classroom becomes a place where difference can be celebrated and explored and where the tentative, anxious child can be made to feel at home.

Sara O'Leary A Family Is a Family Is a Family

When a teacher asks the children in her class to think about what makes their families special, the answers are all different in many ways — but the same in the one way that matters most of all.

One child is worried that her family is just too different to explain, but listens as her classmates talk about what makes their families special. One is raised by a grandmother, and another has two dads. One has many stepsiblings, and another has a new baby in the family.

As her classmates describe who they live with and who loves them — family of every shape, size and every kind of relation — the child realizes that as long as her family is full of caring people, it is special.

A warm and whimsical look at many types of families, written by award-winning author Sara O’Leary, with quirky and sweet illustrations by Qin Leng.

Book Uncle and Me: Paying It Forward

A Guest Post by Uma Krishnaswami

I grew up in India. That was where I learned to read, and where I scribbled secretly in notebooks, acting on my first writing impulses. I became a writer, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

I never know exactly where stories come from. In many ways, most of them seem there already, lurking somewhere and waiting to be pulled out and made clear. I suppose, more than any other books I’ve written, Book Uncle and Me came out of those early reading and writing days.

Yasmin Kader, my nine-year-old protagonist in Book Uncle and Me, is an avid reader who decides she’s going to read a new book every day for the rest of her life. As a child, I was an utterly manic reader. I read everything I could lay my hands on. There was a great shortage of books for children in India back then, so I had to reread all the books in the house several times over. I read Enid Blyton, of course, and tattered copies of A. A. Milne and Beatrix Potter, a couple of Noel Streatfeilds, and quite a bit of Kipling. It was an odd diet for a child from a south Indian family, growing up all over the northern part of the country.

People talk a lot about the importance of having children see themselves in the books they read. I didn’t see myself in anything I read, but then I didn’t expect to. Instead, books taught me how to become other people, fleetingly, temporarily, but in some way indelibly. I’m not saying this is either good or bad. It’s just how it was.

Unlike Yasmin, I didn’t try to read a new book every day. But I could have, quite easily, had there been a ready supply handy. Perhaps that is why I ended up creating Yasmin to do what I might have wanted to do. After that, it seemed only natural to place her in a family that was not exactly like the other families in the community, in a community made up of many different kinds of people. As a writer for children, my own childhood, long ago as it was, remains a vital source of material and emotional memory. Perhaps in the end, writing is about paying it forward.

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami

Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library next to her apartment building. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something.

But what can she do? The local elections are coming up but she’s just a kid. She can’t even vote!

Still, Yasmin has friends — her best friend, Reeni, and Anil, who even has a black belt in karate. And she has grownup family and neighbors who, no matter how preoccupied they are, care about what goes on in their community.

Then Yasmin remembers a story that Book Uncle selected for her. It’s an old folktale about a flock of doves trapped in a hunter’s net. The birds realize that if they all flap their wings at the same time, they can lift the net and fly to safety, where they seek the help of a friendly mole who chews a hole in the net and sets them free.

And so the children get to work, launching a campaign to make sure the voices of the community are heard.

An energetic, funny and quirky story that explores the themes of community activism, friendship, and the love of books.

Jane Ozkowski on Writing Watching Traffic

Watching Traffic by Jane OzkowskiSeven years ago, my friend Gwen came home from a trip to Germany with a box of her grandmother’s gold-capped teeth. Gwen studied jewelry design and metalsmithing at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and using the gold from those teeth would save her from having to spend hundreds of dollars on gold in school that year. It was a logical explanation, but the idea of someone’s grandmother giving them a box of old teeth stuck with me. I started imagining other situations where a grandmother might pass on such a strange and somewhat disgusting gift. I asked myself: Who might the grandmother be? Who would she give her teeth to? What would the receiver do with a box of gold-capped teeth? A few weeks later, I had the opening for Watching Traffic written.

When I began writing Watching Traffic, I didn’t necessarily realize I was writing a novel. I was twenty years old, and my main purpose for working on this strange little story about a girl and a box of teeth was to learn how to write. I didn’t set goals for word counts or chapters or even expect that I would ever finish the story. I just wanted to write for a set number of hours each day in order to experiment and find my voice as a writer. As I came back to my desk each morning, I found it was much easier to continue working on one story rather than to face a blank page each day. Slowly, an early version of Watching Traffic took shape.

Seven years later, I still can’t quite believe that Watching Traffic exists as an actual real-life book. I’ve dreamed of being a writer my whole life and have been devoting myself to writing since I was seventeen. It took years of waking up before sunrise to write before work and prioritizing writing over movie nights, barbecues, picnics and sometimes even sleep. Now that I have an actual book I feel a little stunned. I feel as though I should still be editing and making adjustments. After seven years, it’s hard to let the story go. I keep trying to tell myself that the story doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s time for it to go out into the world and find a new home in other people’s minds.

Watching Traffic by Jane Ozkowski

Emily has finally finished high school in the small town where she has lived her whole life. At last, she thinks, her adult life can begin.

But what if you have no idea what you want your new life to look like? What then?

While Lincoln gets ready to go backpacking in Australia, Melissa packs for university on the east coast, and a new guy named Tyler provides welcome distraction, Emily wonders whether she will end up working forever at Pamela’s Country Catering, cutting the crusts off party sandwiches and stuffing mushrooms. Is this her future? Being known forever as the local girl whose mother abandoned her in the worst way possible all those years ago? Visiting her spacey grandmother, watching nature shows on TV with her dad and hanging out with Robert the grocery clerk? Listening to the distant hum of the highway leading out of the town everyone can’t wait to leave?

With poetic prose and a keen eye for the quirks and ironies of small-town life, Jane Ozkowski captures the bittersweet uncertainty of that weird, unreal summer after high school — a time that is full of possibility and completely terrifying at the same time.

A Peek at Spreads from Groundwood’s September Releases

We’ve got FIVE new illustrated books publishing on September 1st (and available at a week early on August 25th)! If you can’t wait until then (and we don’t blame you), take a peek at a spread from each book to help tide you over (click on the image to enlarge!):

Turn On The Night
by Geraldo Valério
Turn On The Night by Geraldo Valério

A Family Is a Family Is a Family
by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Qin Leng
A Family Is a Family Is a Family illustrated by Qin Leng

The Moon Inside
by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro
The Moon Inside Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

Bear’s Winter Party
by Deborah Hodge, llustrated by Lisa Cinar
Bear's Winter Party illustrated by Lisa Cinar

The King of the Birds
by Acree Graham Macam, Illustrated by Natalie Nelson
The King of the Birds illustrated by Natalie Nelson

(And hey! We’ve also got two young adult books forthcoming in September: Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami and llustrated by Julianna Swaney, and Aluta by Adwoa Badoe.

Gold-Medal Olympic Reads from Groundwood

The 2016 Rio Olympics are underway! While the athletes are going for gold on the running track, we’re taking it a bit easier and going for gold with a reading marathon. If you’re looking for Olympic-themed reads for kids, we have a few gold-medal picks worth exploring:

Swimming, Swimming by Gary Clement

Swimming, Swimming by Gary Clement

Drawing on his own memories of the best days of summer in the city, Gary Clement brings us an illustrated version of the beloved classic “Swimming, swimming in a swimming pool,” full of fun and humor.

The illustrations show a young boy and his friends spending a carefree day at the neighborhood pool. We see them walk to the pool together, change into their trunks and then spend hours swimming, cavorting, splashing and diving. The pool is full of moms, dads, other kids and babies, all enjoying a chance to cool off on a hot summer day. The boy returns home, tired but happy, and falls asleep holding onto his goggles in anticipation of another delightful day at the pool.

Includes a short explanation of the hand gestures for the song and a link to a video demonstration.

Jimmy the Greatest! Written by Jairo Buitrago, Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng

Jimmy the Greatest! by Jairo Buitrago
Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng

Listed as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2012 by Kirkus, honored with the Horn Book Fanfare, and selected for the School Library Journal’s 100 Magnificent Children’s Books of 2012

Jimmy lives in a small town by the sea where there is just one tiny gym. The owner of the gym suggests that Jimmy start training, and to inspire him, he gives Jimmy a box full of books, as well as newspaper clippings about Muhammad Ali – “The Greatest.” Jimmy is swept with admiration for Ali. He begins to read and run and box like crazy, even though someone at the gym has taken his shoes. And as he does so, he makes a great discovery: you don’t have to leave home to be “the greatest.”

Unlike many stories about emigration, Jairo Buitrago’s simple, profound text is about someone who decides to stay in his small remote town in Latin America. Combined with Rafael Yockteng’s humorous illustrations, this book will be especially appealing to boys and boxing aficionados.

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