Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Views from the Bookstore - Part 3

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Cathy Francis, former co-owner of children's book store Flying Dragon

I’m enjoying the opportunity to speak to kidlit book sellers CATHY FRANCIS, WENDY MASON, and HEATHER KUIPERS about their views on children’s book publishing. Today is the final posting in our three-part discussion.

ME: Finally, we know technology has brought great changes to the book industry. I’m curious about what you each think the future holds for children's book writers in Canada. Cathy, can you speak first about this?

CATHY FRANCIS: The future definitely holds challenges but whatever format the story is told in it still needs the writer. I believe there is room for all formats. Children still need the tactile, sensory experience that a traditional book gives. Other formats will give different experiences.

Writers above all need to keep writing, but I hope that they will be curious enough to look into the future and explore the possibilities. In 1960, Marshall McLuhan said, “We are just trying to fit the old things into the new form instead of asking what is this new form going to do to all the assumptions we had before…” Imagine the potential of this new media.

ME: Wendy, what’s your perspective on this? What do you think the future holds for Canadian children's book writers?

WENDY MASON: The landscape is changing, however children's book writers who have the talent to create stories that resonate emotionally, contextually and intellectually will always find their books in the hands of readers. The OLA Forest of Reading “tree” awards are testimony to the enthusiasm, interest, and excitement that an appealing book can bring to a variety of ages and stages of kids in their reading development and interests.

I think selection is becoming imperative. Writers should keep writing but with an awareness that the audience they are writing for might have moved beyond what they are writing about. Still, universal story speaks for itself -- and so do illustrations that advance a text when we address a picture book. Canadian children’s book writers need to keep writing. The field will narrow but always excellence will shine through and be recognized.

ME: Heather, are you as optimistic about the future for children's book writers? Based on what you've seen in your children's book store, do you think there will be a continuing place for creators of children's stories despite the changes technology is bringing so fast and furiously?

HEATHER KUIPERS: I do think there will be a continued place for children's book writers in paper format. Kids adjust easily to new ways of doing things (for example, e-readers, but they are also mimics; they will do what they see being done. If significant people in their lives read physical books, they will too, especially if those significant people are the ones purchasing the physical books for them! Lots of adults have a strong preference for paper books.

I also think adults want to continue buying physical books for children. They know from their own experience that some electronic devices are notoriously distracting; it is so easy to quickly check email, update a status on a social networking site, or watch a quick video before or during a reading period. If adults fall prey to this, they know their kids will as well. Adults want to help kids stay focused so they can enjoy, and benefit from, the stories available to them.

Also, if an adult sees a child across the room curled up with a book, they can easily see what book it is and whether the child is actually reading. If they look across the room and see a kid on a tablet, phonem or laptop, there is no quick non-intrusive way of being certain THAT the child is reading, or WHAT for that matter. Conscientious parents and teachers DO want to know what children are reading at any given time.

Does this mean that physical books are the best or only good way of getting stories to children? Of course not. Regardless of the format, kids need stories. They need worlds bigger than they can experience on their own. They need to see options for living that they can't see looking only at their own small slice of life. They need stories so they can get inside the heads and hearts of others in order to grow into fully aware and empathetic people. They need stories to prompt their understanding that the people who tell the stories have a point of view and a reason for telling it the way they chose to. Stories have been around so long and there have been people to express them in so many forms -- there is no reason to believe that going forward this will change!

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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Susan Hughes

Susan Hughes is an award-winning author whose books include The Island Horse, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed, Earth to Audrey and Virginia.

Go to Susan Hughes’s Author Page