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2015 Preview Interview: Kids Can Press

About time we caught up with Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, right? I talked to Michaela Cornell about what’s on the horizon.

Travis Jonker: Greetings from Michigan! How’s Toronto?

Michaela Cornell: Toronto is fantastic! New Year, new mayor — things couldn’t be better!

Wow, yeah, that whole situation was really something. The new year is looking up already! So does Kids Can Press have a New Year’s Resolution?

We’re big fans of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings newsletter here at Kids Can Press, and she’s posted Woody Guthrie’s handwritten (and illustrated!) resolutions from 1942. Number 19, “Keep hoping machine running,” is simply delightful and should be a golden rule for a children’s book publisher. Let’s call that our resolution.

I saw that post! A great way to approach the new year, I say. Before we get to new stuff, were there any surprises from last year? Things you were especially happy about at Kids Can Press?

The Most Magnificent Thing was quite simply the most magnificent thing. The book took off right away and is currently in its fifth printing. We knew we had something special in Ashley Spires’s picture book about a little girl who “builds stuff all the time,” and when we promoted it as the perfect book for library and school MakerSpaces (complete with mini “hackable” editions) we saw a spike in interest in the book – and sales, too. We expected The Most Magnificent Thing to do well, but we’re still blown away at how well it’s done, and we’re keeping the momentum (and the hoping machine) going!

We were also pleasantly surprised at how many of our 2014 books made it onto “Best of” lists. The Mermaid and the Shoe; If: A Mind-Bending New way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers; Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin and The Most Magnificent Thing were all end-of-year picks, from the New York Public Library to A Mighty Girl.

Plenty of good stuff there. Looking at 2015, I see a couple familiar characters and creators in your upcoming books – what’s the sequel report?

I’m happy to report that Jasper, Otto and Max are back! We have another hilarious adventure in Caroline Adderson’s highly acclaimed early chapter book series featuring the adorably quirky Jasper John Dooley. You’re in Trouble sees our hero get up to no good after accidentally buying an energy drink from a vending machine. It’s funny and it’s age-appropriate, as is the entire series. For readers 7 to 10.

Otto, the irrepressible elephant, returns in the third and final book of Bill Slavin’s Elephants Never Forget graphic novel trilogy for young readers, with Big Star Otto. This time, his gag-filled adventures find him and his parrot sidekick, Crackers, in Hollywood. And Max Monroe returns with his trusty sidekick, the ghost of his great-uncle Larry, to solve their second mystery in Case #2: The Missing Zucchini, by L. M. Falcone.

You probably also noticed the return of Bear, Moose and Beaver, the beloved characters in Nicholas Oldland’s Life in the Wild Series that began with the bestselling Big Bear Hug and is now five books strong, with Walk on the Wild Side out this March.

What do you have for very young readers (ages 0–4)?

I really can’t stress enough how excited we are about The Bus Ride, the new picture book by Marianne Dubuc (perhaps you’ve heard about her most recent The Lion and the Bird?).

That was a great book! I reviewed it a while back.

This book works for preschool to second grade, and its unique format mimics the length of a city bus and follows a little girl and a cast of animal characters as she takes her first solo bus ride to visit her grandmother. With minimal text, it’s ideal for little ones, but sharp-eyed slightly older readers will notice the minor changes in the illustrations from bus stop to bus stop and page to page. Adults will appreciate the subtle humor in the changing newspaper headlines read by one of the riders. It’s a delight and already has a starred review from Kirkus.

How about lower elementary (ages 5–7)?

Children suddenly become clever little paleontologists at this age, putting their teachers and parents to shame with their seemingly boundless knowledge. Dinosaurs from Head to Tail takes an unconventional look at dinosaurs by offering extreme close-ups of various dino parts and challenging readers to guess which dinos they belong to. For each question, the answer is revealed on the following spread.  Debut illustrator Kwanchai Moriya’s paper collage art will delight this age range, too.

That looks like fun.

Unfortunately, many children at this age are too busy playing to eat, just like the main character in Eat, Leo! Eat!, the second book by Caroline Adderson on the list this season. Eat, Leo! Eat! stars a very inventive Nonna who encourages her grandson to eat his weekly Sunday lunch by telling him a serialized story featuring each dish’s particular pasta shape in a starring role. Naturally, Leo suddenly becomes hungry for more pasta … and more of the story.

For early elementary students studying family trees, award-winning illustrator Dušan Petricic’s debut book as author-illustrator will turn learning genealogy on its head — well, almost. My Family Tree and Me features a young boy’s ancestry along his father’s line from the front of the book to the center. Then, flip to the back of the book and follow his mother’s family tree back to the center. With Petricic’s  characteristic humor imbued throughout, My Family Tree and Me is a playful tool for teachers, parents and children alike.

Upper elementary? Middle grade (ages 8 and up)?

We have a stunning new book from award-winning author-illustrator Cybéle Young (Ten Birds, Ten Birds Meet a Monster) that is ideal for readers in this range. The Queen’s Shadow: A Story About How Animals See is a most unusual mystery starring a range of animals involved in the investigation of the Queen’s missing shadow. While each subject pleads his or her case, we learn fascinating facts about how each creature (from the shark to the snake to the sea urchin) sees. Kirkus has given it a starred review.

Readers in grades 2 to 5 will love the antics of the Ghastly McNastys, twin pirates who wreak havoc in the town of Little Snoring on their hunt for treasure. This chapter book series — already a success in the UK — starts with The Lost Treasure of Little Snoring.

What’s new in nonfiction?

Golly, we have a lot of great non-fiction on the list this season! (Yes, I just used “golly” in a sentence; it calls for it!)

Gollys are welcome here.

From the CitizenKid collection, which takes global issues and makes them kid-sized, we have The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle. When a boy realizes that he’s outgrown his beloved “Big Red,” he cleans it up and hands it over to a bicycle donation program. We then follow the bike to West Africa as it takes on new roles: helping a family bring goods to a market, then serving as a makeshift ambulance. It’s a wonderful way to show how such a simple gift can make a significant impact on another’s life a world away.

We’re also very excited about Look Where We Live!: A First Book of Community Building by Scot Ritchie, whose previous books, Follow That Map! and Look at That Building! have become teachers’ favorites for social studies, particularly for units about urban communities and neighborhoods. Look Where We Live! follows five friends as they explore their neighborhood during a street fair, learning about the businesses, public spaces and people that make up their community.

Kids Can Press’s community is buzzing right now, as the Pan Am Games will be hosted by Toronto this summer. Luckily, we have a new book on hand that we can dip into to learn the essentials of the sports taking over our town. Benoit Tardif’s Sport-O-Rama is an illustrated wordbook that covers terms from twenty-three different sports — from badminton to fencing to volleyball — with bright, funny illustrations that fill the page.

And, finally, no school library would be complete without School Days Around the World by Margriet Ruurs (author of Families Around the World). With playful illustrations by Alice Feagan, the book features fourteen real-life students on a typical school day, from a boarding school in Germany to a rural school in Honduras, to a home school in the United States.

What’s the most unusual or unexpected book on the horizon?

Jumping ahead a season to Fall 2015, one of the most unexpected books from Kids Can Press is a graphic novel in the CitizenKid collection (a first!). Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War is the true story of Michel Chikwanine, who was kidnapped at age five by Congolese rebels and forced into warfare. Co-authored by Jessica Dee Humphreys and illustrated in graphic-novel format by Claudia Dávila (the Future According to Luz series, Super Red Riding Hood), Child Soldier deftly and delicately tackles a very difficult subject matter. The reading level is slightly higher than the other CitizenKid books, too, geared toward ages 10 to 14.

Wow – that looks really interesting.

Is there a book that you think will work particularly well as a read-aloud?

Kids will get a kick out of hearing adults speak the Oinky-Boinky language in Me, Too!, written by Annika Dunklee, whose debut New York Times Notable Book My Name Is Elizabeth! was also a great read-aloud. Me Too! tackles the all-too-real fear of a third wheel entering a “bff” relationship. Handled with light humor and bright illustrations by Lori Joy Smith, it’s sure to strike a chord with grade-schoolers.

My Name is Elizabeth! That was a good one. I’m looking forward to this.

That wraps it up! Thanks for taking my questions, Michaela.

Thanks for posing them, Travis!

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.