Annual Report from the CCBC’s Executive Director

Presented at the CCBC’s Annual General Meeting – June 2014

As you know, the overall mission of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre is to bring Canadian books and young readers together to foster a lifelong love of reading. Our aim is to do this by supporting and encouraging the creation, promotion and distribution of Canadian children’s books. Over the years, we have done this through programs and services such as the TD Grade One Book Giveaway, TD Book Week, the various awards and through publications such as Canadian Children’s Book News and Best Books for Kids & Teens.

But our strategic plan for the past year, and going forward, has been to specifically focus on ways to help teachers to use Canadian children’s books in the classroom and to help librarians learn about Canadian children’s literature so that they can be specific in helping children and parents to read those books.

Part of being able to help, of course, is to know and understand what is currently going on in Canadian classrooms. What do teachers need and want as the Canadian children’s book publishing world changes at a rapid pace. So, we have partnered with Story Planet, another not-for-profit organization, to examine the impact of electronic publishing on school children. Other partners in this project include Kids Can Press, Groundwood Books, TV Ontario and EBoard Canada, which is the digital arm of the Association of Canadian Publishers. Some of the information being sought was:

  • What types of content do educators look for in digital books?
  • What types of embedded content (e.g., sounds, dictionaries, games, puzzles, pictures) are perceived as promoting literacy or are a distraction in early reading students?
  • What kinds of content do teachers see students being attracted to?
  • What access do students currently have to digital books?
  • What platforms are they accessing digital books on or would be ideal?
  • How are digital books in schools purchased, and from where?
  • What is the library or school budget for digital book purchases compared to traditional books?

The CCBC contributed to the study and the results will be published in July. This is one example of how the board of directors and staff work to fulfill the goals of the strategic plan.

A second and equally-important part of our strategic plan is to provide educators, librarians, parents and children themselves with information about and access to the full range of Canadian reading opportunities. In January of this year we launched our great, new, monthly newsletter for educators and librarians. Before we launched it though we surveyed almost one thousand teachers as to whether or not they wanted a newsletter aimed at helping them in the classroom and, if so, what did they want to see in it. The teachers were almost totally in agreement and enthusiastic that they could use our expertise and they also let us know what information would be most helpful. This new newsletter reaches over 700 teachers, librarians and even parents who have signed up. We share interviews with authors, activity suggestions for teachers, a themed book list and more. The newsletter’s audience continues to grow each month. This month the newsletter celebrates Aboriginal History Month. It includes an interview with Swampy Cree graphic novelist David Alexander Robertson, an aboriginal-themed booklist and a classroom activity.

Another new project directly aimed at teachers is our new searchable database of Canadian history children’s books. Working with Historica Canada which has developed lesson plans for Grades 4 through high school, and based on current curricula from across the country, we reached out to publishers and asked them to supply titles and other relevant information including reading and interest levels, ISBNs and cover scans for any of their Canadian history books in print that correspond to the lesson plans. We expected to receive about 150 titles. To date we have received over 400 titles and they are still coming in. Publishers are really enthusiastic about this new venture which hopefully will see teachers using their books in the classroom.

The lesson plans go all the way from Pre-1600 to the present day and include the early explorers, the Iroquois Confederacy and aboriginal history, Black History including the Underground Railroad, the CNR, Canadian political history, immigration, Upper and Lower Canada, the last spike, the North West Mounted Police, the Gold Rush, law and order, and sports to name but a few.

This new program should be up and running just as teachers return to school in September and, at that time, we will also be able to offer some readings by various authors whose books will be part of the database. It is our plan to continue to grow the Canadian history database while at the same time doing the same for other Canadian books genres for young people.

We are very grateful to Historica Canada for partnering with us on this very important project and to the Canada Book Fund for supporting us in this new venture.

We know that our website needs a transformation in keeping with the strategic plan (i.e. focusing on changes that will help educators and librarians to bring great Canadian children’s book to the attention of Canadian children). To that end, we are currently working on the redesign of the backend of our website to make it more user-friendly and organized, both for us and for those who come to the site. This is a big job and one that may take more than a year but we have begun the process through the generosity of PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada. They have a volunteer program whereby they match the expertise of their staff with the needs of not-for-profit organizations. We were lucky to have the services of three of their web designers who analyzed the current state of our website and offered solutions that will make the website more relevant to our key constituents as well as to our members. This first step was quite a long process both for them and for us but now we know just what it is that we want to do with the website and PriceWaterhouseCoopers has offered to help us with this next step.

We are very proud of partnering this year with the International Reading Association and the National Council of English Teachers on a policy paper in regard to leisure reading, or what is also called reading for pleasure or independent reading. Research shows that leisure reading enhances students’ reading comprehension, vocabulary development, general knowledge, and empathy for others, as well as their self-confidence as readers, motivation to read throughout their lives, and positive attitudes toward reading. Given the ample evidence showing the benefits, the International Reading Association (IRA), the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) take the following position:

Policymakers and administrators should support teachers in providing opportunities for leisure reading in classrooms. Teachers and family members should support students in developing leisure reading habits that will continue throughout their lives. Please click here to download the full policy statement.

Most of you know by now about the brand-new book fair which begins in November called INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair. It is a three-day fair open to the public and will offer a great deal of programming. In keeping with our strategic plan, we are working with their people to offer programming specially geared to parents, teachers and youngsters. A program that will be available more than once will be sessions with the author and illustrator of the TD Grade One Book Giveaway. At the time of the sessions, all children in attendance will receive a copy of the book, and later at our booth the author and illustrator will be available for signing. There will be a TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award showcase featuring the winning book and the author and/or illustrator as well as the five runners-up. We hope to showcase the French-language winners as well. And there will be separate presentations of all of the CCBC Literature Award winners.

We are planning on presenting our new history project at INSPIRE, as well as a “Read to Remember” panel for children highlighting the theme of this year’s Book Week tour which honoured the 100th anniversary of Canada’s participation in World War I.

This last mention leads me to Book Week 2014, which took place at the beginning of May with 29 authors, illustrators and storytellers on tour across Canada and reaching many remote communities on the Lower North Shore of Quebec, Labrador, Northern Ontario, the interior of BC, the Yukon and northern Saskatchewan; 195 communities in total. Every host school, library and bookstore received a free poster this year to help them promote Book Week. As usual, we are receiving wonderful feedback from host teachers and librarians about the presentations their students heard. The theme guide for Book Week featured 70 titles and included interviews with Linda Granfield, Hugh Brewster, Deborah Ellis, John Wilson and Sharon McKay – all authors who have written books on the theme of war. The call is out for applications for Book Week 2015. We will be celebrating Aboriginal stories being published by and about members of our First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. Our slogan is First Peoples, Contemporary Voices – Celebrating Aboriginal Stories. At the same time as English-language authors and illustrators tour Canada, as part of the TD Book Week tour, the four Quebec finalists and the winner of the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award or the Prix TD as it is known in French, tour around Quebec where they visit students of disadvantaged schools through our Adopt-a-School program. These tours have been a great success. I must thank the TD Bank for recognizing that it is almost impossible for these poorer schools to find funds to pay for readings and donating the funds so that we can offer them for free. The Bank also funds the Adopt-a-School readings for the English-language tour for schools and libraries that could not afford the reading fee. Shannon Howe Barnes, the Book Week programmer, left for maternity leave in March and we were lucky enough to find Sandra O’Brien who successfully finished the programming and who is now in the midst of writing final reports.

Most of you know how the TD Grade One Book Giveaway operates so I won’t go through the whole process. As usual, last year’s giveaway book, Boy Soup, an Annick book written by Loris Leysinski and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, was a huge success resulting in hundreds of letters, e-mails, class projects, posters, drawings, and post cards from Grade One students from all over Canada, as well as from their teachers and parents and grandparents that come to me, to Meghan Howe, and to the President of the TD Bank. Just about 600,000 copies were given out in both official languages. Loris and Michael went on a cross-Canada tour, delighting youngsters in many cities and towns, and there was lots of media coverage. This is the only book giveaway program that doesn’t base its distribution on need: every Grade One student in Canada is entitled to receive a book. This is the program that the Bank’s employees have voted the one of which they are most proud to be associated. It is entirely funded by TD Bank.

This year we will be giving Canadian Grade One students an Orca book, called Doors in the Air written by David Weale and illustrated by Pierre Pratt.

Now we come to our seven awards, six in English and one in French. I will just mention them by title, beginning with the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for the best English-language book of the year and the Prix TD for the best French-language book of the year. Then there is the Marilyn Baillie Award for the best picture book of the year, the Norma Fleck Award for the year’s best non-fiction book, the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy and the John Spray Award for the best mystery book of the year. For those of you who have been to one of them, you know that each fall, we put on the best parties in Canadian publishing, one in Toronto and one in Montreal, and they are truly gala occasions with a total of over 900 guests between the two events. We give out cash prizes totaling $180,000. We are so proud to be the hosts, along with TD Bank, of these two literary gala events and to be able to give generous cheques to some of our outstanding authors and illustrators. Just now we are in the midst of the jury meetings to find the winners and finalists for this year’s awards. The shortlists will be announced in early fall. As I mentioned last year, I feel very privileged to host the jury meetings. The jurors are extremely knowledgeable, don’t mind reading hundreds of books and are professional and generous in coming to what are difficult decisions in getting their long lists down to a shortlist and then the winner. We are very grateful to them for their great contribution to the success of our awards program. I must also thank Meghan Howe, our librarian, who does a brilliant job of coordinating the awards program.

But there is one award still missing in our family of awards and it is an award for the best young adult book of the year. We are doing our best to bring this about with another new project that began this January which was conceived and then inspired by Amy Mathers, a YA enthusiast who believes in the CCBC and knows there is a need for this award. Amy was inspired by Terry Fox and Rick Hanson’s marathons and suggested that funds could be raised for this new award through donations that would come as she reads across Canada, one YA book a day (and a review of it posted to her blog) for a year. So, she began on January 1st and has so far read her way almost to Manitoba. You can calculate for yourself just how many books she has read so far! She has received an outpouring of support from all over the country and she has been in touch with countless authors who have thanked her for her efforts in promoting their work. She maintains an active presence on social media and posts weekly videos and blog posts detailing her experiences as she reads her way across the country. She has been interviewed several times on national TV programs, on the radio and has been invited to speak at many events. So far, approximately $13,000 has been raised. We owe a great deal to Amy!

What can I say about Canadian Children’s Book News, which just gets better and better thanks mainly to its fantastic editor, Gillian O’Reilly. Articles over the past year have run the gamut from a roundtable discussion with five authors of colour; an art director explaining how illustrators are chosen; writing non-fiction books for the picture book and early reader child; Canadian books being adapted for films; how books help all of us to remember and understand about war and peace; and new resources for teachers to bring authors to the classroom. Our other publication, Best Books for Kids & Teens, has greatly increased its advertising revenue since we changed to two issues per year and with our publication dates closer to those of the children’s publishers fall and spring launches. We were also happy to receive new funding for Best Books from the Canada Book Fund. The first two issues we published bi-annually also saw an increase in the number of books that we were able to include from the 250 total for the previous one issue for the year to 395 when we published twice in 2013.

Charlotte Teeple
Executive Director
Canadian Children’s Book Centre