Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Views from the Bookstore - Part 2

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Wendy Mason, children's literature specialist at Indigo Yorkdale

I'm back again with WENDY MASON, the children’s literature specialist at Indigo Yorkdale; HEATHER KUIPERS, owner of the independent Toronto children’s book store Ella Minnow; and CATHY FRANCIS, former co-owner of the beloved Flying Dragon book store. Hope you enjoy today's discussion. (Canadian publishers, please take special note!)

ME: Wendy, you choose which books will appear for sale on the shelves of the Indigo Yorkdale bookstore, and you choose from a variety of books from across the continent and maybe even from other English-speaking countries. There's lots of competition for shelf space. What advice would you offer to Canadian publishers who want to increase their book sales? Is there a particular age group that they should target? Is there a genre that is becoming most popular? How could a visiting bookseller make your heart thump?

WENDY MASON: I am fortunate to be able to select titles for display purposes on my Canadian Author/Illustrator bay, the Award Winners bay and the Thematic bay. So many worthy titles get “spine shelved” and that means they might get lost unless someone is paying attention. It is an enormous help when publishers send ARCs [advance reading copies] and I must say that Canadian publishers are the best for sharing.

As a bookseller I know my clientele...they are the children, young adults, parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians. I track their interests so when publishers send AC copies, it gives me a chance to preview them and share the excitement of the upcoming!

The emergence of graphic novels has been a vital contribution to keeping kids reading the printed word. In GOOD BOOKS MATTER, Dr. Larry Swartz and Shelley Stagg Peterson point out that a number of books have been transformed into graphic novels to appeal to a new generation of readers who are engaged with striking visual images on the page, just as onscreen.

My heart always thumps and pumps when someone comes to me for book-talk. It all happens when I can share possibilities...fables, myths, legends, poetry, nursery rhymes, novels, non-fiction, picture books, joke books, riddle books, books about magic tricks...I could go on and on. Good books for kids are magic and they always will be.
I like to quote I.B. Singer’s NAFTALI THE STORYTELLER AND HIS HORSE, SUS AND OTHER STORIES: “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts ... only for the day. Today, we live, but by tomorrow today will be a story. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.”

The Forest of Trees and the T.D. Canadian Children's Book Centre awards are testimony to Canadian talent. There is nothing I enjoy more than selling and featuring Canadian!

ME: Heather, do you feature Canadian books at your independent book store? What advice would you give to Canadian publishers based on your expertise as a bookseller?

HEATHER KUIPERS: Canadian books generally sell well at Ella Minnow, and I think that has to do with our customers. They have chosen to come to an independent book store and are generally looking for a real depth to the selection. They are actively looking for Canadian books for the children and students.

For Canadian publishers to increase sales? Keep putting out great stories! I agree with Wendy that ARCs help a lot, and that our sales reps are great at getting them to us. Authors who actively tour and spend time in schools sell well too.

One weakness we sometimes see in novels in general and sometimes also in Canadian novels is cover art. I understand that book production is costly, but when a cover doesn't appeal to a child, they WILL NOT read the book, even if we beg them too! I could see such an interesting program where publishers set up focus groups with students at different schools to get input on cover art. I think teachers would be thrilled to have their kids participate as part of their media studies units. The kids do know what they like.

I also agree with Wendy that graphic novels are key, both as original stories and as alternate formats for already popular novels. Young readers come to us with widely varying skills at interpreting text. A keen child who is learning English as a second language or with limited reading skills who can tackle the graphic novel version of a book popular with peers finds him or herself able to participate more fully wherever books are being discussed. This child is now a participant in a place where they were previously excluded. He or she now knows the characters and the plot that the other kids are talking about. They can choose at a later date to tackle the full text version as their reading skills improve, but they don't need to feel left out right now, especially since their more text fluent friends have probably read and enjoyed the graphic version as well. So, more graphics please -- both original stories and adaptations!

At Ella Minnow, we get very excited about well-written primary level novels (roughly grades one to three), especially if they form a series. Children want to know when they invest main character that they will be able to have a long friendship with that character. Children do love the fairy and magic series, but with patience and persistence, they can be lured towards other genres and plots if they have strongly voiced, fun, and have main characters that kids can relate to. We need more of these characters! We need them for boys and girls, and we need them to reflect all different types of Canadian kids.

We also need these characters and interesting plots to keep parents engaged in this transitional period of literacy for their children. Daily we encounter parents who are begging for new material. They are DONE with the fairies and want read-alouds and read-togethers that make everyone happy. Canadian children's authors we challenge you: introduce us to some new young friends.

ME: And now, Cathy Francis. Tips for Canadian publishers please!

CATHY: As the industry is in a time of change with the advent of electronic publishing, I hope that the publishers will do their utmost to keep the highest quality of both p-books and e-books available. It may be a while before we see what combination of the two is feasible for both publishers and writers.

It is tempting for publishers to follow a trend but more important for them to be creative and set the trend. Some trends like the HARRY POTTER books have rejuvenated a wealth of backlist titles in a genre while others tend to encourage a few brilliant books but a slew of poor ones.

Over the past 10 years I have watched such a dramatic change in what the customers is asking for. People used to want recommendations of great titles. Now they ask, “What’s new?” It seems the publishers' focus has driven the marketing towards the new releases and forgotten the backlist. I hope that somewhere in the future of publishing there will be a way to incorporate these hidden gems and give them a new and longer shelf life.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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