Catherine Mitchell on Top Grade

Monday, February 16, 2015 2:17 PM | Lena Coakley

After CANSCAIP President, Bill Swan, welcomed us all, Sylvia McNicoll leapt up to introduce her new book with Tundra, Best Friends Through Eternity, which was inspired by the true story of a teen who was killed at a railway crossing.

Charis Cotter, visiting from Newfoundland, also had a new book, a first novel, which is already garnering praise, including a Kirkus star! The Swallow is a ghost story that takes place in 1960’s Toronto.

Jennifer Maruno introduced the evening’s speaker, who she had the pleasure of meeting at TD Book awards. 

Catherine Mitchell is a publishing consultant in Rights, Sales and Marketing. She was the Director of Foreign and Special Markets for children’s book publisher Tundra Books from 1998-2010, and was previously involved with sales, marketing and promotions at Tundra. Prior to her career in publishing, Catherine was an elementary school teacher. Catherine has served on boards and committees for many organizations, including the Montreal Children’s Literature Roundtable, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, the Association of Canadian Publishers, and the Fun of Reading International Forum on Children’s Literature. She is a post president of IBBY Canada.


One of the initiatives of ACP is a program called Top Grade, and this is what Catherine came to tell us about. There are fewer and fewer school librarians in Canada and this is a major concern.  For years, Catherine and Liz Kerr were co-chairs of the Canadian Coalition for School libraries.  They worked on ways to connect publishers with schools in order to get Canadian books into the hands of Canadian children.

Catherine was very passionate about her quest to get OUR books into schools.  Canadian children should be reading Canadian books, she believes, but with budget cutbacks, a greater onus is now on teachers, who do not always have information about building a collection and culling a collection.

We, the authors, are “foot soldiers” in the classrooms and can have an influence.  Publishers have the books, but are not always the ones in the classrooms.

The objective of Top Grade is to reach key educators in school boards in all Canadian provinces and territories through a book sampling program which brings them new and recently published, ACP-member books suitable for use in classrooms and libraries in kindergarten through high school.

Top Grade also serves to connect to school boards to key cultural institutions and to promote the authors and illustrators creating the books.

Catherine believes in a simplified process.  She doesn’t want to make things difficult for teachers.  The program happens in the fall and spring. Boxes of books go out to educators in 10 provinces and 3 territories. Each box contains:

ARCs, F&Gs or finished books

-Publishers’ catalogues

-Promo material

-A Top Grade catalogue

-Order sheets

-Canadian Children’s Book News

(CCBN is an important inclusion, Catherine told us, because this is where teachers should be getting this info, but they might not know about it.)

So far, Top Grade has been a big success. High School teachers were particularly thrilled with the initiative, which tells Catherine that A) they don’t see enough of this sort of program, and B) they have the will to support Canadian books.

Want to know if your publisher is involved? The Top Grade page of the ACP website lists participating publishers and includes downloads of flyers, catalogues and order forms.