May 7, 2019 5:15 pm
Updated: May 13, 2019 6:48 pm

How children’s books have changed

WATCH: Author and illustrators Jon Klassen and Barbara Reid explain how they think children's books have changed over the past few decades.

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Book sales have been decreasing in Canada, but sales of children’s books continue to climb, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada. From 2014 to 2016, total sales decreased by $3 million, but sales of children and juvenile books increased from $58 million to $68 million.

In 2016, 2,332 children and juvenile books were published by Canadian authors.

More Canadian kids’ books are being published every year, and certain trends are emerging.

Global News spoke to three literary experts to ask them what they believe have been some of the biggest changes in kids’ books.

Watch below: While figures suggest book sales have been on the decline in Canada, children’s books are bucking the trend. As Kim Smith reports, more books for children are being published every year.

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Jon Klassen, illustrator and author

Jon Klassen is an award-winning Canadian writer, illustrator and animator. He’s from Canada, but now lives in Los Angeles and is known for his children’s books, titled I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat.

In an interview with Global News from his home in L.A., Klassen said books today don’t necessarily guarantee a “happily ever after” like they once did.

“What you end up with is a book that might be open-ended. You don’t finish the book saying, ‘And then everything was fine’ because it wasn’t, necessarily,” he said.

“I think for kids, that’s a major moment is to find out that we’re not done. The world isn’t finished yet. As a culture, we haven’t reached our final point. There is no final point … As a broader lesson, that’s so important and so interesting to make picture books out of.”

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Klassen also said he’s seeing a lot of kids books about historical events, important issues in our history and changes in our culture.

“All of a sudden, there’s a huge appetite on the part of kids and adults reading to them to explain, ‘How did we get to where we are as a culture?'” he said.

“A big lesson for kids is we don’t get to where we are organically. We have to fight for a lot of this stuff.”

Barbara Reid, illustrator and author

Author and illustrator Barbara Reid has 35 years of experience in crafting children’s picture books. Her award-winning artwork is created with plasticine.

Reid spoke with Global News from her home in Toronto where she said over the past three decades, the language in her books has become simpler.

“My feeling is, over the years, they have become skewed a little bit younger and the language has become a little more simple,” Reid said. “I’m constantly working at peeling back the story to the very basics — less words, stronger images.”

Reid said the change has not only been in the composition but also in content.

“Canadian book publishing and picture book publishing has exploded in the last 30 years in Canada,” Reid said.

“Our books are being read around the world, and they have a very inclusive mindset, which makes our books work well internationally, and that, I think, has changed. It’s not just one culture, the books are reflective of the country.”

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The one thing Reid has noticed is that despite these changes, the subject matter and lessons learned from some of the classic folk tales remain relevant.

“While some of the tales in those books are dated, the themes are very powerful, and they haven’t really changed that much,” she said. “Empowering the underdog … how to deal with family dysfunction — like Hansel and Gretel.”

Some of her best-known books include Picture the Sky, Perfect Snow and The Subway Mouse.

Kelly Dyer, children’s buyer at Audreys Books

Kelly Dyer is a manager at Audreys Books in downtown Edmonton and said she’s seen an increase in books portraying diversity.

“There’s definitely been a change in the last 10 years. Even in the last two or three years, there’s been a significant change,” Dyer said.

She said there are more kids’ books showcasing Indigenous culture, Canadian refugees, strong female characters and diverse families. Instead of these books being mainly sold at specialty or smaller book stores, Dyer said they’re found more widespread at most bookstores.

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One big change, Dyer said, is often these themes are not the focus of the story but integrated within the lives of the characters, such as in the book Harriet Gets Carried Away, where the main character’s parents are two dads.

“It’s just a storybook where the parents are two fathers so rather than that being the focus, it’s just part of the book, and that, I think, is the biggest change,” Dyer said.

Some of her book recommendations portraying diversity, inclusion and empowerment include Pink Is for Boys, Cece Loves Science, My Beautiful Birds, Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes and All Are Welcome.

—With files from Global’s Jasmine Graf 


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