100 Scope Notes
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2013 Preview Interview: Kids Can Press

I recently got in touch with Kids Can Press associate publisher Semareh Al-Hillal to talk about their 2013 wares.

Travis: Hello, Semareh – how are things in Toronto?

Semareh Al-Hillal: Well hello, Travis! It’s sunny and warm here – in other words, perfect.

Okay, first question. I’ve always wondered this. As a Canadian publisher, do you notice differences between what works in Canada versus what works in the United States? Have you ever had a book that was a huge hit in one country, but not in the other?

We do see some differences. If the World Were a Village has sold really well in the U.S. and was recently named a Common Core Exemplar title.

Three guesses as to where ABC of Toronto (out August 1) will sell predominantly! We have also seen examples of books blurring the border and doing well regionally; for instance, Nicholas Oldland’s titles featuring the bear, the moose and the beaver have been really well received in the Pacific Northwest (Up the Creek is forthcoming for September 1).

Sometimes we publish a book knowing that it is going to appeal primarily to one country or the other, but more often than not we aim to publish books that will appeal equally well in both countries, as well as around the world. Scaredy Squirrel and Franklin the Turtle are perfect examples of series with mass appeal.

2013 book time. What do you have for the picture book crowd (PreK-2nd grade) this spring and beyond?

We are excited to have two new Scaredy Squirrel books from Mélanie Watt this year: Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping just landed in stores, and Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween, the second “guide book” edition is out August 1.

The titles pretty much say it all – and are perfect fodder for Scaredy Squirrel books.

Mr. Flux (out now), written by Kyo Maclear (author of Spork) and illustrated by Matte Stephens, is about a boy and his neighbours eschewing change until the intriguing Mr. Flux moves in and shows them that change needn’t be scary. Kyo’s writing has a thoughtfulness and cadence to it that sets it apart, and New Hampshire resident Matte Stephens has done brilliant work for his first full-length picture book.

Kindergarteners, those who are about to become kindergarteners and those who once were kindergarteners (how many times can we squeeze in that word?!) will really enjoy The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten (out now).

We had wanted to work with Atlanta-based illustrator Mike Lowery for a while – his illustrations wonderfully bring to life Maureen Fergus’s lively and funny story. A fresh new take on the classic story of role reversal.

In the Tree House (out now), written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Dušan Petricic, is a beautifully told story about two brothers who are growing up (and perhaps a little apart), an unusual summer night and a special tree house.

Andrew’s inspiration for this story goes back to his own childhood, growing up with his brothers, and the tree house he longed for. Dušan’s artwork hits the perfect note and the striking black cover drew many people to the book at this year’s Bologna Book Fair.

Loula Is Leaving for Africa (out September 1) by Anne Villeneuve is about a little girl who is fed up with her terrible triplet brothers and decides to run away to Africa.

Her mother’s chauffeur, Gilbert, is her accomplice. An imaginative journey depicted with charming illustrations, reminiscent of and a heartwarming reminder that we all feel the impulse to escape our surroundings from time to time.

We have more wonderful picture books forthcoming in the fall, but I know we have to move on to the next question.

Which is…any chapter books or middle grade (3rd-5th grade)?

I’m going to sneak in a graphic novel for the chapter-book set … Ashley Spires’s fifth and final book in the bestselling Binky Adventure series, Binky: License to Scratch will be out September 1. New and old fans of Binky will love this one!

We also released several chapter book sequels this season: In Jasper John Dooley: Left Behind our charismatic and funny main character is missing his beloved Nan, who is away on a cruise for a week.

In Daisy’s Defining Day, Daisy is determined to come up with an alliterative nickname so dazzling it sticks.

We also have A Narrow Escape and Spit Feathers (out August 1), the second and third books in The Lobster Chronicles, a trilogy about how life changes for three boys in a small coastal town when a giant lobster is caught.

How about nonfiction?

We’re excited to be publishing A History of Just About Everything (out August 1).

Authors Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinsky have looked at history going back over 6 million years and distilled it into 180 events, people and inventions that changed the world. What’s amazing about this book is that it’s written in a light, quick-moving style that doesn’t sacrifice accuracy and includes a unique “Ripples” feature that explores the ongoing impact of these key moments. A masterful example of researching, writing, editing, illustrating, fact-checking and proofreading, and what a great nonfiction book can do: provide context and connect the dots to today for kids (and adults!).

Razia’s Ray of Hope (out September 1) is the latest book in our CitizenKid collection, in which a young girl living in a small village in Afghanistan dreams of getting an education, even though girls in her village haven’t been allowed to attend school for many years. It’s based on true stories of girls who attend the school built by Razia Jan, an Afghani woman who lived in the United States for most of her adult life before returning to Afghanistan to start the Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation.

Boy Meets Dog (out August 1) is a picture book with a nonfiction bent to it – kids can explore language and spelling in this wacky word game adventure as one word changes into another, one letter at a time. A cool concept written by Valerie Wyatt and brought to life visually by Dave Whamond.

Anything for younger kids (0-4)?

Which Is Round? Which Is Bigger? (out now), a concept book that prompts the reader to compare pairs of objects and choose which one has a particular attribute.

But the answer is not as obvious as it seems!

We have fallen for Run Home, Little Mouse (out September 1), a large-format die-cut board book (do I get a triple double-barreled word score?) about a little mouse who must cross the dark woods to get home and the possible dangers lurking along the way. A great read-aloud with striking illustrations.

Also forthcoming in a large-format board book, City Signs (out September 1) is a very popular title offering bold photographs of familiar urban scenes, helping children recognize that words are all around them.

What’s the most unusual book you have coming out in 2013?

Can I pick three? Run Home, Little Mouse, which I just mentioned; The Line (out September 1), about a little girl who stumbles onto a line … and endless possibilities for what it might become;

and Black and Bittern Was Night (out August 1) – read it to find out what a skul-a-mug-mug is!

What’s your biggest crowd-pleaser?

I’m going to take that into the plural realm, as it’s impossible to pick just one. Franklin and Scaredy Squirrel really do light up not only children but also librarians, teachers and parents. Chester and Binky are also hugely popular. And Spork, by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault, is another a favourite.

Any gap fillers? These are books that fill a particular need, or tread on seldom-covered ground in children’s literature.

The books in our CitizenKid collection, which take global issues, such as microlending, food scarcity and biodiversity, and illuminate them for kids in a non-didactic way. As a result of Common Core, we’re finding a resurgence of interest in books like Ryan and Jimmy, One Hen and One Well because they fill a need.

Scaredy Squirrel is likely your most recognizable series in the U.S. What effect has Scaredy had on Kids Can Press?

We all read books for entertainment and pleasure, but it’s remarkable how many adults and children identify with Scaredy’s fears and anxieties. I think that’s at the heart of why Scaredy resonates with so many people – along with Mélanie’s great sense of humour and super-appealing illustrations, of course. It’s quite something to hear people proclaim their affection for Scaredy everywhere we go.

Anything we missed?

I’ll leave you with thoughts of everyone’s favorite turtle, Franklin. All 29 Franklin classic paperbacks are being released this year with new cover designs. In addition, we’re excited about a new series of books based on the popular 3D-animated television show on Nick Jr., Franklin and Friends – 12 titles are releasing August 1.

Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to highlight the amazing work of our authors and illustrators. All of us at Kids Can Press salute you!

Thanks for taking my questions, Semareh.

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.


  1. We really love the Binky series.