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A View of Our Past

CM Turns 20 with a Retrospective on Kids' Books

Volume 19 Number 6
1991 November

CM celebrates twenty years of writing, illustrating -- and reading -- in Canada with a fond look back at reviewing Canadian materials.

This is a very special issue of CM, marking its twentieth year. In addition to the usual features and reviews you will find a capsule history of CM over those twenty years and a look at children's publishing in Canada. The Editorial Board, which usually labours in anonymity (if not obscurity) has been offered the first word in the birthday celebration.

As well as inclining us to look back, a birthday reminds us to extend thanks, and I am pleased to do that on behalf of the board--to the staff who have so capably seen the publication through all the perils of infancy and adolescence, to all the reviewers and writers who have generously shared their time and skills, and of course to the subscribers for their loyal support through the years and for their comments and suggestions, which have helped us to shape CM to meet their needs and interests.

And of course a birthday is also an occasion to anticipate good things to come. Further innovations like the recent introduction of video reviews will continue to enhance CM's usefulness, not only to public and school librarians but also to all who are concerned with providing the best of Canadian materials for children and young adults.

It is a pleasure to extend best wishes to CM for a very happy birthday and to express the heart-felt wish that there will be many more to come.

Pat Bolger is the Convenor of the CM Editorial Board

If you go to your local bookstore or library you will find a wide range of Canadian children's and young adult literature to choose from. Such a selection no doubt leads many to believe that the publication of such material has a long tradition in this country. In fact, Canadian children's literature is relatively new.

That is not to say that there have not always been books available in Canada for children to read. The earliest examples were European imports and what would now be considered adult books (Pilgrim's Progress). Later, survival novels (Canadian Crusoes by Catharine Parr Traill, for example) and stories of the great outdoors -- Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton, among others-- dominated the offerings. Former high school teacher-librarian Kathryn Broughton, a CM reviewer for many years and a member of the editorial board responsible for the 1972-73 edition of Canadian Materials, remembers her frustration with these early Canadian children's books because "they were so far removed from the life of the children reading them." But all of that changed.

Valerie Hussey, co-owner of Kids Can Press, explained that "the [fledgling children's book publishing] industry had to learn on its own. We had no history of publishing (children's or otherwise) in this country so had no true role models. Early publishing efforts show flaws as a result of that inexperience. This was evident in all phases of publishing; writing, editing, illustrating, printing, marketing. But the industry learned quickly. Once it was known that publishers were looking for Canadian material to publish, writers started submitting their work. The more they submitted, the more work for editors and illustrators, and so on. Benchmarks were set based on the international market, which resulted in high standards. Those standards translated into the high quality that we see in Canadian children's publications today."

Ted Monkhouse, educational media consultant for the Wellington County Board of Education in Guelph, Ontario, has been a CM reviewer for many years. Currently a member of the CM Editorial Board and convenor of the board from 1981 to 1983, Monkhouse agrees with Hussey's assessment of the high quality of Canadian children's publishing today. "It used to be we would buy something simply because it was Canadian. Now, there are so many quality Canadian children's books to choose from that we have to pick and choose."

Many, including Roy MacSkimming, director of the Association of Canadian Publishers, feel that the contribution made by the Canada Council and other funding bodies to Canadian book publishing cannot be underestimated. As well, the various publications and programs of the Canadian Children's Book Centre helped to make Canadian children and adults much more aware of this nation's literary output for juveniles. Critical evaluation and promotion of Canadian children's literature have been, and continue to be, equally important to its growth. And that is the role of CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People.

Established in 1971 under the name Canadian Materials, it began life as an annual bibliography. Beverly Wood, assistant coordinator for resource services at the North York Board of Education in Toronto, Ontario, was a member of the 1971 editorial board. "It was a really exciting experience," Wood recalled. "It was a lot of work, but we had a vision of sharing information with readers regarding what was available in terms of Canadian children's literature. There had been nothing available with such a strong Canadian focus. To my knowledge, there still isn't. I'm very proud to say I was involved in getting Canadian Materials started. I believe it is still as useful today as it was when we began it."

Alixe Hambleton, professor of children's and young adult literature and teacher-librarianship in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina and past CM board member, felt that "getting Canadian Materials off the ground was very gratifying. Those of us involved supported it and fought hard to keep it going, even in times of financial difficulty. I'm not certain that the Canadian Library Association board [the Canadian Library Association publishes CM] always agreed or appreciated its importance."

"That may have been true at one time," counters Nancy E. Black. Black is a children's librarian with the Unionville Library (Markham Public Library) in Unionville, Ontario, CM board member, and councillor-at large on the Canadian Library Association Executive Council. "The most fundamental change here is a philosophical one. I think today's Executive Council is very supportive of CM. I'm sure most council members will support the publication, even under tough economic circumstances."

"The truly amazing part," maintains Adele Ashby, editor of Canadian Materials from 1975 to 1985, "is that the annuals were put out by volunteers. People were so committed to the project that they were willing to give their time freely. Unfortunately, those same volunteers also had to return to their other commitments such as work and families. It almost meant the end of Canadian Materials."

After lapsing for one year, the publication returned, this time in the form of a journal published three times a year, which later increased to four times a year. Working on the publication continued to excite those involved. Judy Sarick, past CM board member and long-time owner of the Children's Book Store in Toronto, remembers a particular board meeting in the basement of the old store, "a really great atmosphere for discussing children's books."

In 1986, the publication schedule was increased to its current six issues a year (now published in January, March, May, September, October and November). It was then that the name changed to CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People, more commonly known as CM and occasionally still as "Canadian Materials." In the mid-1980s the focus of CM was also broadened from schools to include children's librarians in public libraries.

"It's the comprehensiveness of CM that sets it apart from its competition," Monkhouse insists. "It is exclusively Canadian. That's a real help to those using it as a selection tool, especially when so many buy Canadian materials whenever they can."

"There is a tremendous amount of commitment on the part of those involved with the publication," asserts Don Mills, chief librarian with the Mississauga Library System in Mississauga, Ontario, and CM ex officio board member. "Volunteers are still a big part of its production since none of the reviewers gets paid. Yet CM is able to compete with commercial publications. Its long life is another indication of its quality and usefulness."

CM, however, is not without its critics. For example, Don Hamilton, education librarian at the University of Victoria Library and convenor of the CM Editorial board from 1978 to 1980, maintains that the focus of the publication has been lost. "CM was to have been aimed at school librarians," he explained. "It was to have provided these people with information regarding Canadian materials that they could then use in the school setting. Since their needs are considerably different from those of a public librarian, I personally feel that, by moving away from that original focus, the publication no longer serves the school library community."

Ken Haycock was convenor (1976 to 1978) of the editorial board that was responsible for reviving Canadian Materials. Now editor/ publisher of Emergency Librarian and currently a principal with School District 39 in Vancouver, Haycock concedes that although CM has grown in design, editorial content and number of reviews, he agrees with Hamilton's statement and feels strongly that CM should have retained its original focus. "There is still a need for this sort of resource for school librarians," he said, "but that audience needs to be focused on more. I'm not convinced that public libraries use reviewing journals enough to keep CM viable."

"We have so very few independent sources of information on Canadian materials for children," counters Irene Aubrey, chief of the Children's Literature Service at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, and CM board member. "If the time ever comes when there are many, perhaps one will be exclusively devoted to schools."

Dave Jenkinson, a long-time CM reviewer who has served two terms on the editorial board since 1978, also disagrees. Jenkinson, who teaches children's and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, argues, "The vast majority of CM's reviewers are school based, and the recommended designations include grades. If critics mean CM should be including more explicit curriculum applications, they should realize the impossibility of carrying out such a demand. Education is a provincial responsibility and, therefore, the details of curriculum content vary markedly from province to province."

Jenkinson went on to defend the subscription price against those who describe the cost as "too high": "A subscription can be a shared resource between or among schools. School librarians certainly don't have the time to examine personally every item before I purchase. Consequently, their reading quality reviews is a must. As is still too often the case, purchases are made solely on the basis of publishers' catalogues, and 'mistakes' will definitely be made. Because each 'bad' purchase translates into wasted money, in the end, a subscription to CM could be a real money saver."

Donna Adrian, who served as editorial board convenor in 1978 and still writes reviews, supports Jenkinson's view. As coordinator of libraries for Laurenval School Board in Laval, Quebec, she feels that school librarians find "information in the reviews, and feature articles spur thought regarding teaching ideas."

Indeed, reviews alone do not a valuable journal make. And books are not the only purchases made by children's librarians. In July 1990, CM published its first theme issue. The topic was literacy. Since that time, theme issues have appeared on a regular basis and have included such topics as the environment, history and AIDS education. Theme issues on sports (featuring an interview with Kurt Browning), computers, and whole language (featuring an interview with Dennis Lee) are also planned.

In addition, bibliographies and filmographies have been included. The bibliography of recommended Canadian books for French Immersion by Irene Aubrey was especially popular. Retired high school librarian Pat Bolger has been convenor of the editorial board since 1989 and is a reviewer. She is especially pleased with the tear-out Notables section, which is based on a presentation of the best children's and young adult books in five categories, given each year at the Canadian Library Association annual conference. "With these new features," she said, "the publication becomes more valuable with each new issue."

CM has also expanded its non-print review section. Videos are especially popular. Virginia Davis, vice-president of marketing and development for Maclean Hunter Library Services (formerly The Learning Tree) in Mississauga, Ontario, was convenor of the editorial board from 1984 to 1988 and is currently a video reviewer. Davis is pleased to see the move in this direction. "Like the publishing industry, Canadian filmmaking has improved markedly over the last few years. It used to be that the National Film Board of Canada was the only one doing anything. The industry owes the NFB a tremendous debt but we have expanded in other production houses as well. Video has made filmmaking so much more affordable from both a creator's and a purchaser's point of view. It's no wonder videos are so popular." In an effort to meet the demand for more information on videos, CM published a mediography of Canadian films and videos on the environment in the September 1991 issue.

Other changes have also occured in and to CM over the years. The design, paper quality, and format have been altered in an effort to make it more readable and ultimately more useful. Features have been added to provide greater information than a review is capable of. In theme issues, the importance of the features is underscored.

Even Don Hamilton concedes that during the past two to three years the magazine has had an enlightened editor.

All these changes are not without purpose. "In all areas of the publishing industry, the challenge is to keep renewing yourself," stated Rick Wilks, co-editor of Annick Press. "You can't get too formulated because the world is constantly changing, and in order to maintain your market you have to adapt."

To say that CM has come a long way in twenty short years seems a gross understatement on one hand. On the other, ours is a changing world and the publication will need to continue to improve as resources allow. Regardless of its future form, the most fundamental aspect of CM, its dedication to Canadian content, will remain constant. Truly Canadian and proud of it, CM is unique in terms of its content and concept. CM is, as Ted Monkhouse said, "a national institution."

Janet Collins writes for Feliciter, the newspaper of the Canadian Library Association.

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


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