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2015 Preview Interview: Owlkids Books

Owlkids is a Canadian publisher that more folks in the U.S. should know about. I tracked down Owlkids publisher Karen Boersma to reminisce on 2014 and look ahead to 2015.

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Travis: Any surprises from last year? Things you were especially happy about at Owlkids?

Karen Boersma: Probably the biggest surprise was The Flat Rabbit—if there’s one Owlkids book that really got noticed last year, that was it.

We loved the book from the moment we saw it at a German publisher’s stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Even though my German is very bad, I could read enough to know that I wanted the book for our list! So off I went to track down the original publisher, BFL, who are based in the Faroe Islands.

Back home, we weren’t entirely sure whether anyone else would share our enthusiasm. But then the book received two starred reviews, from Booklist and Kirkus, great reviews in Brain Pickings, The New York Times and from Julie Danielson and you! I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote that it’s not often you find a book for children about roadkill, and that it’s even less often that you find one uses that the topic of roadkill as a way to explore death and compassion.

It’s great to see a truly unique book like Flat Rabbit get some attention.

So, looking at 2015, what do you have for very young readers (age 0-4)?

You might remember Windblown (100 Scope Notes review) by Édouard Manceau, which we published about two years ago—we have a new book from Monsieur Manceau called Look!, which is a fantastic oversized board book that invites readers to discover the world around them: when the book is opened, a die-cut in the middle of the book frames what’s in front of you—kind of like the viewfinder of a camera.

Then the book prompts you to look for the things presented on each spread: numbers, letters, colors, textures, sizes, shapes, you name it.

This looks like a good one for kids who love The Book With a Hole by Hurvé Tullet, which is much-loved in my school library.

How about lower elementary (ages 5-7)?

And What If I Won’t? by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by the wonderful Qin Leng is about a little boy whose imagination takes him and his mother on a wild ride.

The Potato King by Christoph Niemann is story of how the potato was popularized in Prussia (illustrated entirely with potato prints!),

and The Candy Conspiracy by Carrie Snyder and Claudia Dávila tells the delicious story of a terrible tyrant, some very smart children, and the fight for a kingdom that all kids will want to read about: a place called Candyville.

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

Interestingly, we only really have one upper elementary book on our list this spring, and that’s a non-fiction title—The Book of Languages.

It’s a great overview of languages around the world, with spreads about Arabic, Korean, French, Bengali, Swahili, and many, many more. What we hope is that by inviting kids to learn about different languages and try out basic words and phrases, this book will whet their appetites for learning more about other cultures, too.

Speaking of Nonfiction, what else do you have coming out in that area?

We have two wonderful non-fiction picture books this spring — Wild Ideas by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, which is all about letting nature inspire your thinking,

and Wandering Whale Sharks by Susumu Shingu, which introducers readers to the world’s largest fish, the whale shark.

Both books feature incredible art: Soyeon’s amazing dioramas spring to life in Wild Ideas and Susumu Shingu’s illustrations play with perspective and seem to actually move with the natural energy of the water.

I recognized Soyeon Kim’s style right away from her last book, You Are Stardust. Amazing stuff!

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

Robot SMASH! Two first-timers—filmmaker Stephen W. Martin and video-game artist Juan Carlos Solon—team up for a joyful story about a little blue robot who likes to … SMASH!

Doesn’t matter what it is, he’ll gleefully SMASH it to smithereens. One day, though, he finally meets something he doesn’t feel like smashing: a giant, stylish, super-smashing purple robot. He’s smitten. But while he’s deep in daydreams about their robot romance, the other robot smashes him flat. We describe it as a story about suffering your first CRUSH!

I think kids will really be drawn to the pixelated-looking artwork here.

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

Well, this is from our fall 2014 list, but my pick would be Dojo Daycare by Chris Tougas.

It is a fantastic read aloud about six mischievous ninjas and their longsuffering dojo master—great rhyming text, a perfect refrain, and lots and lots of humor.  And there is a second book coming in fall 2015—Dojo Daytrip—which involves a trip to the farm. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how much trouble a bunch of ninja kids can get up to while feeding pigs and painting barns…

Most children’s publishers don’t have a magazine publishing side, as Owlkids does – are there advantages to that? Disadvantages?

Definitely more advantages than disadvantages—in fact, I can’t actually think of any disadvantages!  We talk to the magazine editors all the time since they are directly connected to kids and their parents and have interesting insights on what kids are looking for.

We also like to give each other the scoop on new authors and illustrators whom we’ve enjoyed working with. Sometimes we get book ideas from the magazines; sometimes they get ideas for articles from books we’re working on. It’s just a great collaborative atmosphere—and lots of fun, too, which you’d expect from a bunch of people who spend their days working on kids books and magazines!

Keep up the good work, guys!

Thank you for taking my questions, Karen! And thank you to Allison MacLachlan for helping to arrange this preview.

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. All of these look fun – cheers!