The Beginning of Children’s Book Publishing in Canada

By Kirsti Granholm

In 1968, a University of British Columbia professor by the name of Sheila Egoff wrote to the Ontario Royal Commission regarding her concern for Canadian children’s book publishing. That same year, other countries were thriving; the United States had published over 3,800 titles and the United Kingdom had reached over 2,000 children’s books published. Egoff rightfully wondered why Canada had only produced 47 children’s books that year—the difference in the numbers was worrisome for Canadian culture.

Canadian publishing companies were fond of the idea of distributing children’s books, but there were a few constraints on starting the initiatives. Publishers claimed the domestic market was small and that Canadian librarians preferred imported books. Along with that, publishing in colour, using quality paper and illustration was not cheap. The children’s book publishing industry in Canada needed a push, but who was willing to take the leap?

Independent publishing companies across the country were astonished when decision to sell Ryerson Press to the American company McGraw-Hill Publishing in 1970 was made. This event lead to the formation of the Independent Publishers Association, an organization created to promote and protect independent publishing companies Canada-wide. This decision was significant; it lead to shaping the Canadian publishing industry into what it is today.

How the CCBC Came to Be

Irma McDonough Milnes

By 1972, Irma McDonough Milnes, an advocate for Canadian children’s literature, began to speak up on the issue. At the time, she was working as the Coordinator of Children’s and Young People’s Services for Ontario’s Provincial Library Services. If anyone was going to take a stand for publishing children’s books, it was her. She strongly believed that a full-commitment to publishing kids’ books would create higher-quality product, sparking sales within an untapped industry. Milnes suggested opening a centre for Canadian children’s books.

Clarke Irwin Publishing was on a similar agenda; they hired Janet Lunn, an author and lover of literature to commence their children’s publishing program. Finally, their efforts began to reap the benefits. Canadian publishers’ began to realize that writing children’s books was not just a hobby, it could become a successful, profitable market if they put the work in. Authors needed a stable market to begin their commitment to writing children’s books as a full-time career. The narrative of children’s book publishing began to shift, for the better.

While all of these changes in publishing were going on, Milnes decided to take on the challenge of founding the Canadian Children’s Book Centre in 1976. Multiple Canadian children’s book stores had opened within the last few years and the future of Canadian children’s literature was looking bright.

Forty-three years later, and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) is still supporting authors, illustrators and publishers from coast-to-coast-to-coast. After all of the success throughout the years, the CCBC has been able to continue to expand literary programs across the country. The CCBC has a small team, but together, along with the support of members and donors—we have had a large impact on Canadian children from all walks of life.

The CCBC’s impact

One of our most recognizable campaigns is Canadian Children’s Book Week. This program began in 1977, one year after the organization’s start-up in 1976. Years later, it was renamed TD Canadian Children’s Book Week, as it is known today. During TD Book Week, the CCBC sends 30 authors and illustrators on a Canada-wide tour. Throughout the tour, over 28,000 children have the opportunity to attend one of our 400 readings or events, spread across 175 different communities. Along with TD Book Week, the CCBC also organizes the TD Grade One Book Giveaway Program. Over 550,000 copies of the chosen Canadian picture book are distributed to every grade one student in Canada. In 2018, the book of choice was Giraffe and Bird by Rebecca Bender (Pajama Press).

The CCBC also produces and publishes two magazines. There is the quarterly magazine, Canadian Children’s Book News, along with the semi-annual selection guide, Best Books for Teens & Kids. Both of these publications review a variety of literary topics, provide recommendations on the top Canadian children’s books, and update readers on the publishing industry, Canadian authors and illustrators.

The CCBC has an impressive awards program for Canadian authors and illustrators, spanning over multiple literary awards. These awards include the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award/Prix TD, the John Spray Mystery Award, the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, and the Prix Harry Black. The CCBC is proud to say that over $180,000 is awarded annually to creators, through these awards. To learn more about the CCBC’s awards programs, click here.

Along with the awards, the CCBC hosts annual Get Published seminars  which are a popular event amongst CCBC members. These seminars give writers and illustrators the opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade from Canadian children’s book  professionals. The 2019 writing seminar is on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Toronto.

One of the most important features of the CCBC, which is the reason we are all here today, is the books! The CCBC has five library collections that span across Canada, the main collection residing in the Toronto office. While the other collections rest at educational institutions across the country. The CCBC has made their best effort to host as many Canadian children’s books as possible amongst the many collections.

The CCBC has strived to support the Canadian literary community from the beginning. Whether you’re an emerging writer or an expert illustrator,  the CCBC provides resources for everyone in the children’s book publishing industry in Canada. In just over 40 years, children’s book publishing has gone from nearly non–existent to a prosperous industry, that brings joy to people of all ages. The CCBC is proud of the progress made within the last four decades, and we are looking forward to what the future holds.

If you want to learn more about the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and our programs, visit our website:



The Perilous Trade by Roy MacSkimming (McClelland & Stewart)

Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing by Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman (University of Toronto Press)

Other information: