NOTES from March 8, 2017 Meeting; SPEAKER: Sarah Ramsey

Thursday, March 23, 2017 10:40 PM | Helena Aalto (Administrator)


President Sharon Jennings welcomed everyone including newcomers, and introduced attending board members and staff: Helena Aalto, Jennifer Maruno, Lorna Poplak (noting that Lorna has a Dundurn book coming out, moving her from the CANSCAIP ‘Friend’ category to the ‘Member’ category), Bev Katz Rosenbaum, Theo Heras, Patricia Storms, Holly Main, and Heather Camlot

Sharon warned us that her monologue tonight would be more of a Rick Mercer rant.  She noted that a social media post ‘The Ugly Truth About Children’s Books’ is currently circulating. The post shows a mother and daughter going into a library and finding many books without female characters, or with females who don’t speak, or have no dreams or aspirations. Sharon found this odd because our colleagues have published many books with strong female characters. It turned out the authors had set up a fake argument to advertise their self-published book of female biographies.  She told us: Don’t click ‘like’! 


On March 6, CANSCAIP held its first webinar. There were 50 people registered ($25.00 fee), with 15 participating live and the others requesting the video link. The webinar topic was publisher contracts, and lawyer Warren Sheffer, partner with Marion Hebb, showed participants five pages of a book contract, highlighting relevant sections, and took questions. Thanks to Angela Misri for her technical help. The office plans to organize more webinars and reach more members across Canada, who don’t have opportunities to attend CANSCAIP’s monthly meetings and annual conferences in Toronto. CANSCAIP members who wish to get the link to the webinar can still pay $25.00 to do so through the CANSCAIP office. 

Helena also serves as volunteer promotions officer for IBBY Canada (International Board for Books for Young People). IBBY Canada is issuing a call for submissions for their Illustrator in Residence program. This position offers published illustrators a month in a public library (Northern District Branch of Toronto Public Library in October 2017), plus school visits. The residency pays $4000 for the month. Watch for submission details. 


Sue Todd illustrated African Alphabet, a board book written by Eric Walters (Orca Books), introducing readers to the animals of Africa. Sue described her mixed analogue-digital process: she does a linocut first, then scans the carving, then colors the black-and-white image in Photoshop. Orca has also approached Sue about illustrating an African folktale by Eric. 

Susan Marshall presented her first YA novel, releasing on April 4th, entitled NemeSIS, about sister bullies, published by the indie press Blue Moon. 

Deb Lougheed presented The Secrets We Keep (Dundurn), a YA novel about secrets, lies, guilt, and moral dilemmas faced by four characters who think that they are to blame for a tragedy. Sylvia McNicoll and Deb had a co-launch recently in Burlington. 


Theo Heras said that IBBY is looking for a CANSCAIP liaison officer to share news and info between both organizations. There are six meetings a year. The meetings take place in the Orchard View Library, but if from outside Toronto, the officer can do it via phone. IBBY believes books for children can build bridges to understanding and to help children talk about what they are going through. 

Alfonso Ruano, the acclaimed illustrator of The Composition (Groundwood, 2003), is donating his original art from We Are Like the Clouds (by Jorge Argueta) to the IBBY/REFORMA Children in Crisis project, directed at Central American children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who are in grave danger in their home countries. They’ve fled to the US but their refugee claims are being denied and they are being detained and returned to their countries, where they face an uncertain fate.  You can go to the IBBY website ( to see the artwork and make a bid. The auction is running from January 20th to Wednesday, April 5 

IBBY Canada and the Toronto Storytelling Festival invite you to a luncheon with one of Newfoundland’s favourite sons, Andy Jones, a founding member of CODCO, on March 31st, at the Free Times Café. Seating is limited. RSVP to Theo. Andy’s books will be available to purchase.  

IBBY’s English language Claude Aubry award for contributions to children’s literature in Canada goes to Gillian O’Reilly this year. As many of us know, Gillian, an editor, writer, and board leader, has been a tireless advocate for children’s literature for many years, notably as editor for the CCBC’s Book News. 


Sharon introduced our guest speaker, Sarah Ramsey, Manager of the Book City in Toronto’s Bloor West Village and media co-ordinator for the four stores. Sarah is a former social worker who counseled abused women and children. She transitioned to working in restaurants, but after working at The Cookbook Store in Toronto, this lifelong lover of books moved to her current gig. One of her favourite quotations is by John Waters: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t (ahem) them!” 

Sarah said she has always loved books. She has been a bookseller for 16 years. ‘Books are my comfort, my life.’ How many times, she said, have we been told to never judge a book by its cover? But people do it all the time – even the youngest readers. They will look for books that look like others they have. Sarah herself owns eleven editions of a favourite book, Candide

Sarah pointed out that children’s book covers carry a unique challenge, as they must be designed to appeal to three buyers: kids, parents and grandparents. She notes that young kids are playing a bigger part in the buying decision process than ever before, as corporations are appealing them to more and more. Technology plays a big part. Young children are using iPhones and apps, and can operate the remote, etc. Sarah tries to steer kids away from big, commercial stuff. 

In terms of colour, studies in marketing science say young kids prefer red, pink and blue. It’s hard to know whether the gender stuff has been shoved on them or is innate. Also, they prefer cool colors over warm colors. Older buyers seem to prefer soft, kind, gentle illustrations in soft tones. Again, it’s a struggle to market to three different buyers. 

As kids get older, they start associating colors with emotions—yellow is joy, etc. Language plays a part in this, e.g. ‘I feel blue today’. This leads to color associations. 

Sarah says really simple images are key. A cover doesn’t need to be crowded or complicated. The cover is trying to achieve two things: give the reader a preview of the story plus entice the reader to buy it. Style, colors, and font—all these elements play key roles. 

There is a current trend to retro design. Little Golden Books is celebrating a big anniversary this year. Reissues of classic books are coming out. 

As a bookseller, Sarah advises against black or white covers (they get dirty), and she says font choice is important (no comic sans!) Cutouts on dust jackets look amazing but are easily torn.  Simple is best. 

Sarah advises making friends with booksellers to sell your book. 

 Q & A 

Sharon Jennings noted that authors have very little control over their covers. She brought Connecting Dots, a two-year-old book of hers. The girl looks seven (she’s twelve), and there’s a movie projector on the cover when there’s no projector in the book. (The heroine wants to be an actress.)  The girl looks cute and young, but this is a book about how she’s been abused.  The content and the cover don’t match. Sarah said this cover would probably appeal to grandmas. It has a dated feel. If she tried to sell it to a reader, she would be told she’s square.  Savvy MG readers would not be into it.  Kids want flash. Sarah reminded us that the first edition of Harry Potter was really ugly. Sometimes cover design doesn’t matter if the book is getting good word of mouth. Sharon added that different booksellers have different ideas about covers. A lot is about taste and preference. 

Jennifer Maruno asked about store placement. Sarah said that in her store, order quantity determines placement (table, face out, etc.). Six or more books get table placement, four get face out, three get spined. Publishers pay for windows and end caps. In other (big chain) stores, publishers pay for table placement. Jennifer talked about how difficult it was to match books to readers at Chapters when she worked as a bookseller there. She would frequently recommend books the store had only one copy of, and she often couldn’t find the book! 

Sylvia McNicoll noted it’s hard to get kids away from Diary of a Wimpy Kid type stuff. Sarah noted that’s the type of stuff that’s aggressively marketed, even at schools, in the Scholastic flyer. Sarah tries to make sure her ‘book army’ is educated about other books. ‘We’re better than algorithms.’ Sarah advises kids to sit and read a chapter, and tells parents to take a book home and return it if their kid doesn’t like it. She doesn’t recommend the big huge books. She stays on top of what’s happening in the Canadian kid lit scene. 

Gillian O’Reilly talked about cover trends in YA lit such as floating girls. Sarah says teen readers are a little more willing to pick something up based on merit, content. They’ll read what their friends tell them to read. Sarah mentioned that she originally ordered only one copy of a YA book based on the Black Lives Matter movement, and when it sold, she cautiously ordered two more, and has now sold twenty copies. 

Sarah puts tags on books if she doesn’t like a cover, saying she thinks this book is good – ignore the cover! She also noted that parents enforce gender stereotypes at the store. They won’t buy books with male protagonists for girls, etc. 

Theo Heras asked for examples of standout covers and stinko covers.  Sarah gave the example of Nicola Yoon’s YA novel The Sun Is Also a Star as a great cover, even though it’s white and gets dirty. Readers have responded strongly to both this one and Yoon’s Everything, Everything. In picture books, Sarah likes Sometimes I Think I’m a Fox. It’s simple. But she noted the trim size is too small and it gets lost on the shelf. The Night Gardener (by the Fan brothers) is really good. Kenneth Opel’s The Nest got a great response. 

Sharon commented about how some publishers go for simple images while others go for busier covers. 

A discussion about stock art ensued. Sarah has seen several books with the same stock art. 

She also addressed the trend to the word ‘Girl’ in titles. This seems to be going away now. 

She noted that kids look at the cover first, then the back cover, then will read some of the book. Again, after age 12, they don’t care as much about covers as about recommendations from their friends. Grownups will ask a bookseller for recommendations. 

Trends are cyclical. Lately, a trend in children’s books is to different trim sizes, which is frustrating to Sarah because a small sized book gets lost on the shelves.  She has also seen a lot of green and blue lately. 

She noted that brown books don’t sell. 

RE: CDN vs. US books, Sarah says kids get very excited about the Forest of Reading books. Sarah uses the list as a jumping off point to talk about other Canadian kids’ books. 

Heather Camlot said she has found it’s a good idea to take reluctant readers to meet authors. Kids will line up for a signed book and get a kick out of talking to authors. 

Jennifer said maybe the author’s picture should be on the back cover.


Sharon concluded by advising us the April 12th meeting is our Annual General Meeting. It will start at 6:00 p.m.  and will be at the Lillian H. Smith library at College and Spadina. After the AGM, attendees will be given a private tour of the Osborne Collection, as well as refreshments.