CM Archive
CM Archive feature Story line
Notable Canadian Materials

An Overview of 1986 in Canadian Children's Literature

By Marian Press

Volume 15 Number 6

My task here is to briefly present an overview of the year 1986 in Canadian children's book publishing and audiovisual production and thereby to create a context for the more specific discussions that will follow in the next few issues. And 1986 is a good year, because, from every point of view, the year was a very successful one in Canada for children's books and films.


1986 marks the end of a decade that has seen the great expansion of the children's book publishing industry in Canada. At the beginning of the 1970s, things looked very gloomy for Canadian children's literature. Indeed, the publishing industry as a whole seemed to be in trouble, its depressed state symbolized by the sale of Ryerson Press to an American company. The number of books published tells the story of these years. From the 1950s to the end of the 1960s, thirty to forty children's books were all that were published annually. For 1986, we are looking at a figure of about two hundred.

The circumstances that led to the dramatic rise not only in the quantity, but also the quality of Canadian children's literature from 1976 to 1986 have been outlined elsewhere many times. In the early years of the 70s, rising Canadian nationalism, the first small alternative presses for children's books, the opening of the Children's Bookstore in Toronto the first international children's literature conferences to be held in Canada, and the establishment of the Children's Book Centre all contributed to publishing momentum. Since then with many ups and downs along the way, we have now reached the point in Canada where our children's literature, at its best, has the style and originality in writing, illustration, and book design to compete anywhere on the international scene.

And it is a sign of the improvement in the quality of Canadian children's literature and the growing sophistication of those who publish it that these books are now becoming known to an international audience. This is being achieved by major co-production agreements among Canadian, U.S., and British publishing houses and the sales of rights to Canadian children's books being made by publishers at such international events as the Bologna and Frankfurt book fairs.

The improving quality of Canadian children's publishing has also been recognized in the last few years in another way: the growth of awards for books for children. There are now added to the earlier awards such as the Canadian Library Association's Book of the Year Award, the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award, and the Canada Council Children's Literature Prizes, such awards as the Young Adult Canadian Book Award sponsored by the Young Adult Caucus of the Saskatchewan Library Association, the Elizabeth Cleaver Picture Book Award, Groundwood Books's International Children's Fiction Contest, and the National Chapter IODE Award. The growing body of committed Canadian children's authors and illustrators are, in this way, now more and more receiving the recognition they deserve.

Kathy Lowinger, Executive Director of the Children's Book Centre, writing in the Spring 1987 issue of School Libraries in Canada, describes 1986 as a bumper one for fine Canadian novels, both for children and young adults. She mentions Monica Hughes's Blaine's Way, Janet Lunn's Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, Karleen Bradford's The Nine Days Queen, and Sarah Ellis's The Baby Project as being particularly outstanding examples. All of these have been chosen for discussion.

In the area of illustrated and picture books, we are also looking at a particularly fine year. Eighteen of these books published in 1986 met the standards required to be considered for the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award. The flourishing state of illustrated books in this country is all the more dramatic, as it is in this area that most pessimism was felt in the past. Today, to quote Judi Saltman from her new work, Modern Canadian Children's Books, "the picture-book genre is the fastest growing, most aggressively marketed, and most vital sector of the industry in Canada."

Children and young adult non-fiction tends not to receive the same kind of critical attention that picture books and works of fiction do. Over the last three to four years, however, Canadian non-fiction has increasingly shown variety of content and a high calibre of writing, as well as an over-all quality of book design. The 1986 non-fiction year was no exception to this trend, and the material published is equal in quality to anything produced in recent years.


But this series of articles is not being devoted only to books for children and young adults. Audio-visual notables will also be featured. Canada has become what Virginia Davis described at the Canadian Images Conference last year as a world leader in not only creating stories that capture children's imaginations, but also in producing equally skillful interpretations of these (and other) tales in other media. We have had the National Film Board and TVOntario with us for some time, but more recently the independent film companies, such as the outstanding Atlantis Films, have begun to contribute original and technically excellent films to the repertoire for children and young adults.

1986 was not, however, only an especially good year for children's publishing and media production. It was also marked by other events that highlighted children's publishing m this country.

The first of these was the tenth anniversary of the Children's Book Centre, which was established to promote the reading and writing of Canadian children's books. Over the years, the Centre has provided reference services, maintained a complete collection of Canadian children's books, produced print and audio-visual materials on books, authors and illustrators, given courses for writers, and organized its annual National Festival.

Another major event during the year was the Canadian Images Canadiennes Conference, sponsored by the Manitoba School Library Audio Visual Association, which was held in Winnipeg in October. Billed as a conference on Canadian children's and young adult literature, the word that became the catchword for the three-day event was "celebration." The word was used constantly, not only in the conference literature, but by speakers and audiences alike, because there really was an atmosphere of celebration among the five hundred people who attended. No one was downplaying the problems that Canadian children's publishing faces, but there was a feeling that children's and young adult literature had come of age and all the dire predictions of the 1960s and early 70s had finally and unequivocably been proven wrong. It had been a decade since the first children's literature conferences in Canada, of which Canadian children's literature had formed just a small part. Now Canadian children's books and their authors and illustrators over-filled three action packed days of story, song, and that word again,"celebration."

I hope I have given you some idea of the year 1986 into the context of which you can place the discussion of the notables each contributor has chosen. I am sure you will find that my personal enthusiasm about the year in publishing has not been misfounded as you read the discussions of each person's own choice of notables.

line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

francaisDigital Collections / Collections Numérisees francais