A Letter from Groundwood’s Publisher, Sheila Barry

A Sheila June 2015

Dear Readers,

When my daughter was seven years old, she and her best friend decided they would host a fun fair in our driveway. I paid little attention until a neighbor asked if there was going to be a bouncy castle and if we would be selling tickets for the rides. When I discovered that my daughter and her friend had distributed invitations promising pony rides, games of chance and thrill rides, I was worried that their friends would be terribly disappointed, but I was wrong. A wooden hobbyhorse, a game of hopscotch and a scooter provided all the fun anyone needed, and a good time was had by all. And I was reminded both that children have incredible imaginative powers and also that they are able to create entire worlds through what looks like simple play.

This spring’s list celebrates the resourcefulness and creativity of children of all ages. In Malaika’s Costume, Malaika has to find her own carnival costume since her mother has no money to send for one. Tokyo Digs a Garden brings us a boy who transforms an entire city with just three magic seeds, while in The Stone Thrower, creativity and dedication help the young Chuck Ealey find a way out of poverty and into a better life. And in Lisa Moore’s young-adult novel Flannery, a reluctant entrepreneur creates a love potion that has unexpected consequences.

Good books allow children to imagine — and then create — a better world. I hope you will find some inspiration in this catalogue that will help you do the same.

Sheila Barry,
Publisher Groundwood Books

Groundwood Logos Spine     Groundwood Logos Spine

Groundwood Logos Spine     9781554980765_HR

View the entire Groundwood Spring 2016 Catalogue here.

Portrait of a Groundwood Intern


This summer, we were very lucky to have the help of fabulous intern Rachel Fagan at Groundwood HQ. We asked her to write a few words about the day in the life of a Groundwood intern for our blog. Read on for a peek behind the curtain!

Groundwood is usually off to a leisurely start in the morning, and the office is quiet as the staff slowly trickle in; most of them with coffee in hand. Someone invariably comes bearing sweets to share.

I sit down at my desk and, as always, am greeted with a cheerful smile from Sheila who I suspect may actually live in the Groundwood office as she’s always in before me and is always there to wave goodbye when I leave.

The first thing I do is check my email, then I organize the newest mail pile and make sure none of them are for Anansi.

By mid-morning, the office is humming with activity. Michael uses my desk to spread out the newly arrived prints for the Fall 2015 picture books – very exciting stuff! I take a break from my emails to glance over some beautifully illustrated Pacific west coast landscapes from West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet written by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Karen Reczuch. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Suzanne stops by for a hallo! and offers me a manuscript to scour for grammatical mistakes. I’m just happy to read a new manuscript, but I get to work. Embarrassingly, I spend about ten minutes deliberating over a comma and then mention the potential intruder to Suzanne who spends another few minutes thinking about it as well. We’ll have to ask Nan when she gets in.

Soon I’m sent over to the bookstore to measure the books. Yes, that’s right. As Sheila and Suzanne calculatingly discuss the size of the upcoming fall season’s novels, they decide to send me to Type Books to do some research. I awkwardly ask the Type employees if they would mind me spending some time with my ruler in the children’s section. They happily comply. Five by eight seems to be the popular size, so I hurry back to deliver my findings.

At 3:30, the Groundwood staff file into the conference room for our production meeting. I’m just an observer, but everyone else intently scribbles away in their notebooks as Erin goes through the list of upcoming publications and delivery dates.

As the day comes to a close, I finish up any remaining emails and if I have time browse through some of the new material, trying to familiarize myself with the impressively large Groundwood catalogue. I generally get distracted until Sheila peeks out of her office and reminds me that it’s after five.

I pack up my bags, clean up my desk and arm myself with a manuscript to read at home, As I walk out of the office, I’m met with a barrage of smiling goodbyes and see you next weeks. Another busy day at Groundwood is over and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Groundwood Recommends: Summer Reading

Surely summer is the best time to read for pleasure, so today our is blog dedicated to reading just for fun! We asked some Groundwood staff members for their top picks for summer reads.

Almost every public library has a summer reading program designed to encourage children to read books that interest them — make sure to check out the program in your area for more recommendations!

Rosario’s Fig Tree is a perfect summer story, as it reminds us of the beauty and joy that can be found getting to know your neighbours, gardening and spending time in your backyard. Rosario reminds me of my own neighbour, who gifts me tomatoes and cucumbers throughout the summer! C’est magnifique! (Just ask the New York Times.)”

— Jolise Beaton, Rights Assistant



“What’s the best part of summer? The mosquitoes, obviously. Griffin Ondaatje investigates the rich inner life of these omnipresent summer critters — and whether or not a leather jacket can make you cool — in his sweet new chapter book, The Mosquito Brothers.”

— Suzanne Sutherland, Assistant Editor



“Summertime for me, an indoor kid, meant unlimited time to read books and get delightfully lost in their adventures. Reading would ignite my imagination to come up with stories of my own, just like in Marie-Louise Gay’s Any Questions? and its exploration of how to be creative, featuring a very ferocious beast.”

— Cindy Ma, Publicist



“What I love most about Norman, Speak! is that it reminds me of the struggles some of my friends went through when they adopted their respective pets. Maybe things would have been easier for my friends if they learned Mandarin or Cantonese?”

— Neil Wadhwa, Technology Intern



“This enchanting picture book [Song for a Summer Night] makes me nostalgic for my childhood: those long summer nights when time and freedom were in abundance; when school was no longer part of the equation; and when friends and play were the only things that mattered!”

— Gillian Fizet, Rights Manager


No Safe Place

9780888999733This past weekend, hundreds of migrants (including an estimated 60 adolescent boys) died off Italy’s coast. Save the Children estimates that 2,500 more children could drown in the Mediterranean in 2015 if the European Union doesn’t restart search and rescue operations. In the face of human suffering on such a scale, and remembering that every day, all over the world, thousands of children are driven from their homes by poverty and war, it’s hard to know if there is any point in reading books.

But then I think of Deborah Ellis, who has made it her life’s work to tell the stories of children who are displaced, abused and killed because of the action — and inaction — of adults. In her novel No Safe Place, she tells the story of one boy’s lonely and dangerous journey from Iraq to England in search of security. The book isn’t easy reading. But then, why should it be? How could it be?

— Sheila Barry, Publisher

Download a sample of No Safe Place

Publishing Children’s Books That Matter By Sheila Barry


On a bad day in the office, I can feel as though my primary role as a children’s book publisher is to keep books out of children’s hands.

At Groundwood Books, we publish about 30 books from the 1,500 or so submissions we receive each year. For every book we contract, there are 49 others that won’t appear on our list. Day after day, there I am, saying no. Sometimes I say no regretfully, simply because our list is so small and we just can’t publish everything that’s good. But I also say no to books that don’t offer an original approach to a given topic or genre.

I say no to books that I feel I have read a thousand times before. I say no to books that are morally narrow, that offer simplistic solutions to complex problems. I say no to books that condescend to children. I say no to books that use a hammer or another blunt instrument to deliver a message.

I say no to books for all kinds of reasons, but I never say no to a book because I think its subject is inherently inappropriate for children.

So enough about the books that don’t make it onto our list. Let me describe some of the books that Groundwood has published and why.


For young adults, our Groundwork Guides non-fiction series includes books on democracy and hip-hop, but also on pornography, contemporary slavery, and genocide.

Our young adult fiction list includes books about LGBTQ issues (Jilian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s Skim, Paul Yee’s Money Boy), books about teen pregnancy, child prostitution, and relationship abuse (Martha Brooks’s True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, Martine Leavitt’s My Book of Life by Angel, Elise Moser’s Lily and Taylor), books about war and survival (Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca’s Lost Girl Found, Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner), and on and on.

We know that young adults and middle readers want books that take serious subjects seriously, books that take them seriously both as readers and as people in the world. We know because their parents, librarians, booksellers and teachers tell us, and we know because less frequently—but often enough—children and teenagers tell us themselves.

When we turn to books for much younger readers, things get a bit murkier.

We are not born knowing that books can teach us counting and the alphabet, can make us laugh, and can reflect our joy in being alive. We are not born knowing that books can offer comfort as well as entertainment. And we certainly aren’t born knowing that books can help us make sense of our deepest fears or most terrible experiences.

For very young children to learn all that books can do, adults have to read all kinds of books with them. But first, someone has to publish all kinds of books.

Groundwood has published picture books about children living under oppressive political regimes (Antonio Skarmeta’s The Composition), First Nations children being taken from their homes and sent to residential schools (Nicola Campbell’s Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe), and children who have been maimed by war both physically and emotionally (Ahmad Akbarpour’s Good Night, Commander).

We published these picture books and others like them not because we want to frighten children or push them into the big world before they are ready, but because we know that young children are already living in the big world, whether we like to admit it or not, and some children are already frightened, at least some of the time.

We apply the same principles whether we are publishing a picture book on a light-hearted subject or a potentially difficult subject. The book should be as well written and as beautifully illustrated as possible. Before anything, it should be a work of literature and a work of art.

Whatever sequence of events it describes should be seen from a child’s point of view. The book should depict children as active participants in the story. And it should emphasize the fundamental human rights all children are entitled to, even if it also shows that sometimes those rights are not respected by adults.

A picture book about war does not have to solve the problem of war, any more than a book about annoying siblings needs to solve the problem of siblings. But the book does have to suggest to young readers that hope is possible. No child should finish reading a book and feel more alone and more afraid than she did before she started it.

It would be lovely to think that every book with something important to say will find its way easily to the reader who needs it most. But children do not necessarily know what books are available to be read, and the younger the child, the harder it can be for him to find out.

If bookstores display only bestsellers, then parents might not know how many other books are out there and how broad is the range of subjects. If parents are not regular library users, then their children might not know the wealth of material available at a public library.

Many children are not free to visit a public library or bookstore independently, but every child is required to go to school. And this is why school libraries must ensure that all Canadian children have access to all kinds of books.

Like many children’s book publishers, I have a bit of missionary zeal for the importance of publishing books that will give children access to information or stories or insights that they might not be able to find elsewhere. If we don’t have librarians in our schools who are able to purchase these books and then recommend them to (or read them with) the children in their care, then publishers’ efforts are wasted and our children are deprived.

At the risk of preaching to the converted, I would like to close this essay with a bit of a manifesto.

Every Canadian school should have a library and a librarian.


School libraries should be open every day that the school is open.


Children should be able to visit the library both with their classes and on their own at recess or lunchtime.


School libraries should contain a wide range of reading material on a wide range of subjects.

If we can say that all these conditions are met in our schools, then we will be able to say that Canadian children are free to read. But without properly staffed and properly stocked school libraries that are open every day, our children do not have freedom of access to books, they do not have freedom of choice in what they read, and their right to read exists only as an abstraction.

And while we publishers might produce the most wonderful books imaginable, we will be publishing books that not nearly enough children are reading.

This article was written for the Book and Periodical Council’s Freedom to Read Week. Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This year the week falls on February 22-28. Download your kit here.


Behind the scenes of a picture book translation

When we came across the beautiful picture book À La Sieste! (Naptime!) by Iris de Moüy, we knew we had to bring it to an English audience. But there are lots of things that go into making a picture book that the average reader might not think about. In the case of Naptime!, all the text in the book was hand-lettered to match the illustrations. We knew that to make the English translation as beautiful as the French version, we had to hand-letter our text too.

Groundwood Art Director Michael Solomon was up to the task. He let us document the process, and gave us some insight into his thoughts. Have a look!


About to attempt the English lettering for our edition of Iris de Moüy's Naptime. The text will print as a greyscale layer in the final production and I wanted to match the dark and light tones of the original as much as possible (it's not a solid black). I assumed I would need to use a transparent coloured ink or watercolour, but I couldn't find any that were dark enough or that pooled the pigment in the right way. Finally I settled on this Windsor and Newton India: less black than Pelikan but strong enough in the heavy strokes and then yielding a nice grey when the brush runs dry or the pressure is less. Perfection! (The ink, not me).

I’m about to attempt the English lettering for our edition of Iris de Moüy’s Naptime!. The text will print as a greyscale layer in the final production, and I wanted to match the dark and light tones of the original as much as possible (it’s not a solid black). I assumed I would need to use a transparent coloured ink or watercolour, but I couldn’t find any that were dark enough or that pooled the pigment in the right way. Finally I settled on this Windsor and Newton India: less black than Pelikan but strong enough in the heavy strokes and then yielding a nice grey when the brush runs dry or the pressure is less. Perfection! (The ink, not me).

The original. Ours will be a conventional jacketed trade picture book, not a board book. But it will print in these 4 yummy spot inks.

The original. Ours will be a conventional jacketed picture book, not a board book. But it will print in these four yummy spot inks.

I am going to need complete silence.

I am going to need complete silence.


The weapon of choice.

Silence, I say! Mmmm... Smooth white card stock...

Silence, I say! Mmmm… smooth white card stock…

Oh, yeah!

Oh, yeah!

I'm lying. I want to have a nap. Right now.

I’m lying. I want to have a nap. Right now.

Excess feathering and other irregularities: Photoshop will see to that!

Excess feathering and other irregularities: Photoshop will see to that!

Destination: page 5

Destination: page 5

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 11.48.14 AM

And the final result!

The Spring 2014 Playlist (or, More Music to Read By)

Suzanne and Eva

The Spring 2014 list from Anansi and Groundwood looks nothing short of fantastic. Editorial Assistant Suzanne and erstwhile Sales Assistant Eva have teamed up once again to choose a few of the books and put together a playlist full of songs that remind us of these fantastic stories. They can be enjoyed while you read, or can be experienced on their own. What other songs would you pick to go along with these amazing books?


El NiñoEl Niño by Nadia Bozak

Available May 2014

Inspired by J. M. Coetzee’s DisgraceEl Niño tracks the survival of one woman and a young, undocumented migrant as they journey through the no-man’s-land of a remote southwestern desert.

These are the songs we’d want to hear on a lone desert road.

  • Make it Rain by Tom Waits | 
  • Higgs Boson Blues by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds |  (shout-out to Neil Turok, author of Universe Within)
  • Woman King by Iron and Wine | 
  • The Desert is on Fire by Murder by Death | 

Birding with YeatsBirding with Yeats by Lynn Thomson

Available May, 2014

A delicately rendered memoir on motherhood, family, and the beauty of the natural world.

Check out a few of our favourite birdish tunes.

  • Rooster Moans by Iron and Wine | 
  • Fly by Nick Drake | 
  • Pulling our Weight by the Radio Dept. | 
  • Backyard by The Good Lovelies | 

Based on a True StoryBased on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti

Available June, 2014

Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti’s debut novel is a hilarious look at what happens when a washed-out celebrity and a tabloid reporter go on a wild trans-Atlantic road trip in search of revenge on a former boyfriend.

Serving up some sweet tunes with an ’80s twist and a generous shot of revenge.

  • Jump (For My Love) by the Pointer Sisters | 
  • Back to Black by Amy Winehouse | 
  • Bang Bang (My Baby Shot me Down) by Nancy Sinatra | 

This One SummerThis One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Available May, 2014

The highly anticipated following up to Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s award-winning graphic novel Skim is an investigation into the mysterious world of adults through the eyes of Rose and Windy, two summer friends at Awago Beach.

Everyone loves a summer song — here are a few of our favourites.

  • Animal Tracks by Mountain Man | 
  • Abducted by Cults | 
  • Boyfriend by Best Coast | 
  • Saturday Morning by Eels | 

The Tweedles Go ElectricThe Tweedles Go Electric by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Marie Lafrance

Available March, 2014

Meet the Tweedles: Papa, Mama, daughter Frances and her brother, Francis. It’s the dawn of a new century — the twentieth century! — and the Tweedles have decided to buy a car. But no gas-guzzler for this modern family. Only an electric car will do for them.

The Tweedles aren’t the only ones who’ve gone electric!

  • Odessa by Caribou | 
  • Boy from School by Hot Chip | 
  • Honey by Moby | 

Lord and Lady Bunny — Almost Royalty!Lord and Lady Bunny — Almost Royalty! by Polly Horvath, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Available February, 2014

Literature’s most endearing rabbits are back in this sequel to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny — Detectives Extraordinaire! While the Bunnys’ human friend, Madeline, worries about saving money for college, Mrs. Bunny is more concerned about how to become a queen.

Here are some sweetly twee but driving hits for our favourite literary bunnies (though maybe we should have included more hip hop?).

  • Paperback Writer by the Beatles | 
  • Don’t Stop me Now by Queen | 
  • Girls and Boys in Love by the Rumble Strips | 

Hold Fast: the story of a Canadian classic

The evolution of the cover of Hold Fast. On the left is the 1978 Clarke Irwin edition; followed by the 1995 edition published by Stoddart Kids; then the 25th anniversary Groundwood update; and on the right, the 35th anniversary movie tie-in edition.

The evolution of the cover of Hold Fast. On the left is the 1978 Clarke Irwin edition; followed by the 1995 edition published by Stoddart Kids; then the 25th anniversary Groundwood version; and on the right, the 35th anniversary movie tie-in edition.

Thirty-five years ago, I got my first real job, as an editorial assistant at a now-defunct publishing company called Clarke Irwin. The salary was $6,000 a year, and I worked in a little cubbyhole where I spent a lot of time wrestling with carbon paper and Wite-Out, typing address labels on an old manual typewriter, and rejecting manuscripts.

My biggest job perk was that I got to read the slush pile. Clarke Irwin was mainly an educational publisher, but it had started to get into trade books, including children’s books.

One of the manuscripts that came across my desk was a young adult novel written by a schoolteacher in Newfoundland. The novel was called Hold Fast. I was knocked out by it. I sent it on to the Powers That Be, and the decision was made to publish it.

That’s when I was assigned the best task in publishing. I got to tell the author that we wanted to publish his book.

I phoned Kevin Major. He was very nice. Very polite. We talked for a short while and both said goodbye. But in that second as I was putting down the receiver, I heard him on the other end of the line, shouting with joy just before he hung up the phone. I think he screamed “Wahoo!”

An illustration from Hold Fast

An illustration from the first edition of Hold Fast

That was the start. For Kevin it was the beginning of a stellar writing career, with fifteen books, a heap of awards and publication around the world.

For me? Hold Fast was my introduction to YA books, and it spoiled me for anything else. That book taught me everything I needed to know about voice and authenticity, about character-driven stories, about sense of place, about making readers feel something. After that, I knew I wanted to edit books for young readers, and I’ve spent the rest of my own career doing so, with Hold Fast setting the bar.

Kevin? Are you out there? Do you remember that Wahoo moment? It’s been thirty-five years. Can you believe it?

Shelley Tanaka is an award-winning author, editor and translator. She lives in Kingston, Ontario.

Now Hold Fast is a major motion picture produced by Rock Island Productions. The movie premiers in Canada on Friday, December 6th in St. John’s and Halifax. The national release will be in 2014. If you’re a lucky east-coaster, we hope you’ll check it out. The rest of us will have to make due with the trailer for now.


Music to Read By

EvaandSuzanneAlthough we make very good books around here at Anansi and Groundwood, we also spend a lot of time thinking and talking about music. Several members of our staff are musicians, and others have headphones plugged at their desks around the clock.

Stemming from a conversation on Twitter, Eva O’Brien (Sales Assistant) and Suzanne Sutherland (Editorial Assistant) decided it was time for some Anansi and Groundwood-themed playlists to emerge.

These books are some in-house favourites and these songs are what we think the characters might have listened to (ignoring time, location and access to technology almost entirely). We hope you enjoy!

978-1-77089-259-0The Outlander by Gil Adamson

In 1903 a mysterious, desperate young woman flees alone across the west, one quick step ahead of the law. She has just become a widow by her own hand. Two vengeful brothers and a pack of bloodhounds track her across the western wilderness.  Gil Adamson’s extraordinary novel opens in heart-pounding mid-flight and propels the reader through a gripping road trip with a twist — the steely outlaw in this story is a grief-struck young woman.

978-0-88784-234-4Holding Still for As Long as Possible by Zoe Whittall

What is it like to grow into adulthood with the war on terror as your defining political memory, with SARS and Hurricane Katrina as your backdrop? In this robust, elegantly plotted, and ultimately life-affirming novel, Zoe Whittall presents a dazzling portrait of a generation we’ve rarely seen in literature — the twenty-five-year olds who grew up on anti-anxiety meds, text-messaging each other truncated emotional reactions, unsure of what’s public and what’s private.

978-0-88899-753-1Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Skim is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth stuck in a private girls’ school in Toronto. When a classmate’s boyfriend kills himself because he was rumoured to be gay, the school goes into mourning overdrive, each clique trying to find something to hold on to and something to believe in. It’s a weird time to fall in love, but that’s high school, and that’s what happens to Skim when she starts to meet in secret with her neo-hippie English teacher, Ms. Archer.

Is there a song that reminds you of your favourite book? Tell us about it and while you’re at it, find us on Twitter @houseofanansi, @sutherlandsuz & @evakmo.

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