Notes from January 11 2017 CANSCAIP meeting in Toronto
Speaker: Christie Harkin, Clockwise Press
President Sharon Jennings welcomed everyone and commented how meetings have been starting later and later – everyone loves to chat!
NEW CREATIONS AND MEMBER ANNOUNCEMENTS
Rina Singh presented Diwali, Festival of Lights, which came out in September, and has already gone into second printing. It’s the second book in Orca’s Origins series, after Monique Polak’s Passover: Festival of Freedom. The book explores how Diwali is celebrated around the world. Included are photos, recipes and personal stories.
Joanne Levy presented Crushing It, which came out January 10th. It’s a tween version of Cyrano de Bergerac with a gender twist. And humour.
Josephine Vaccaro-Chang was excited to announce she was recently approached by two schools to deliver workshops.
Gillian O’Reilly announced that three children’s authors were recently awarded the Order of Canada: Deborah Ellis, Jan Andrews and Jacqueline Guest. All are CANSCAIP members. As well, Annabelle Slaight, co-founder of Owl.
ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTOR’S UPDATES
Helena Aalto announced that CANSCAIP has embarked on a strategic plan, and the office will be sending a survey to all members.
Helena also introduced meeting attendee Terry Ibele, who, among other things, put together a complicated e-mail merge for the Children’s Writing Competition that gave each candidate feedback from the various readers.
GUEST SPEAKER: CHRISTIE HARKIN
Jennifer Maruno introduced speaker Christie Harkin, co-founder of Clockwise Press, which has a mandate of promoting diversity in children’s literature. Jennifer mentioned how President Obama, in his farewell speech, promoted diversity, and Jennifer said she cried when she read Missing Nimama, Clockwise’s first picture book, which recently won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. Before starting Clockwise, Christie worked as a bookseller and an editor at other Canadian publishing companies, and has published many prominent Canadian writers.
Christie started by talking about her own background, and how she is aware of her own privilege. She is trying to use her privilege to do what she can. She may be screwing it up, but she’s trying!
The books she’s making now are the ones she wants to make. She and her partner Solange Messier look for books that will fill in some of the representation blanks in the marketplace, and they focus on contemporary, not historical, books.
She is not looking for issue/problem books, just stories that include characters from under-represented communities. Ideally, stories about under-represented communities would be by authors from those communities. Who is the right person to tell these stories? Are you the author who should tell it?’ It’s up to you, your publisher and your editor to figure this out on a case-by-case basis.
When she was working at Fitzhenry and Whiteside, she bought a story called Sasha’s Search for Circles. It was about a boy who goes on a bedtime flight of fancy before settling in to sleep. There was no reason the character had to be named Sasha, or be white. She and the author decided to give Sasha a Caribbean name. At a conference, an African-American stopped by the booth, picked up Tadeo’s Search for Circles, and exclaimed, “Wow, a book about a black boy who isn’t being oppressed.” Diversity in the US tends to be more about racial controversy, but it doesn’t need to be.
We hear books should be windows or mirrors. Christie wants Clockwise books to be both. She wants all kids to see themselves (mirror) as normal kids getting into trouble, solving problems, etc. But readers should also get to see who and what else is out there (window).
Christie brought in some books she’s worked on at both Fitzhenry and Whiteside and Clockwise.
With When Mama Goes to Work, by Marsha Skrypuch, she and Marsha tried to include all kinds of different jobs and different forms of daycare. The book reveals common ground in all scenarios-- universal experiences: the moms and kids all have lunch, miss each other, etc.
The second book was Gabby by Joyce Grant. Her friend Roy is indigenous. Joyce discussed the book with a band leader, said she didn’t want to be disrespectful. He gave her suggestions for a symbol for a tee shirt that wasn’t a cliché. He said stay away from feathers and dreamcatchers, and suggested a circle with lines through it of different colors representing different bands. The band leader was credited at the front of book.
Next, Christie showed us That Squeak by Caroline Beck, illustrated by Francois Thisdale. (That Squeak was also nominated for TD award this year.) This is the story of a boy whose best friend has died. Nothing in the story makes it about a white kid, so why not mix it up? The author and publisher have been criticized. One person objected to a blond woman writing about the black experience. Christie says they were going for the childhood experience. They didn’t see the story about a black boy who lost his friend, but about a boy who lost his friend.
Finally, Christie showed us Missing Nimama. This was Clockwise’s first picture book. It’s about a young girl growing up without her mother – one of the missing, murdered indigenous women. Author Melanie Florence (who is Cree) has been criticized for writing the story because it didn’t happen in her family. Christie said there is always going to be a hurdle/conflict. The tricky part is deciding when the pros of publishing outweigh the cons and who is going to be negatively impacted.
Christie mentioned the Clockwise One to One series, set in high school with a Best Buddies Club. This real, international organization pairs up kids with developmental handicaps with peer buddies. Each book focuses on a pairing. The first book is about an autistic guy and girl trying to get into pre-med program. The book is about their relationship, not about autism. Author Lorna Schultz Nicholson does not have an autistic child, but she researched the heck out of the topic, talked to families and kids. Then Clockwise had parents of autistic kids read it, tell them what was clichéd, realistic, etc.
Another One to One features a girl with traumatic brain injury. There were still people who said there was no way certain things could happen, but when Christie went back to her vetters, they said she didn’t screw up—those people just had a different experience from the people she and the author talked to. You can’t represent everyone, Christie said, but you can try.
She also talked about a non-fiction series on the topic of immigration. One book is about a fellow from the Congo who came to Winnipeg with his family. He started a music outreach program for youth and won civic community awards. Music saved him, and he saved others. By reading a book like this, a kid can look at a kid who doesn’t speak English yet, and think, ‘This is the potential.’
Christie noted that Missing Nimama was printed in a dyslexia-friendly font, as most of their books will be. Someone asked what about it makes the font dyslexia friendly. Christie said it weights the bottoms of the letters, which helps anchor the type to the page so the letters and words are less likely to flip or turn or duplicate in the reader’s brain. Some non-dyslexic readers find it ugly. Some dyslexic readers find it too easy—they are so used to straining!
Q and A
An attendee asked how the books have been accepted in schools. Christie mentioned that some teachers and librarians – the gatekeepers – have said they don’t have indigenous kids, or theirs is a pretty white neighbourhood. Christie is trying to get the gatekeepers to understand that if you have a really white classroom, this is what they need. Clockwise has awesome sales reps, and they go to book fairs, and Christie does talks on creating the inclusive bookshelf. She wants the gatekeepers to go beyond what kids identify with now.
An attendee mentioned Ezra Keats, who created a black character and was criticized. But he saw these kids in his Brooklyn neighbourhood. Christie responded once again: You have to decide if you’re the right person to write this story. Some people have told her the story they have brought to her came from friends who gave permission to tell the story. Not everyone is a writer, and sometimes it’s just a matter of helping to bring a story to the world. Christie said you have to be willing to share credit.
Someone asked how long the submission window is. Christie said, ‘Till I get overwhelmed!’ Clockwise is currently only publishing four books a year.