US author drives to Toronto to give a Cdn launch to her book Summer Island

Class Assignment, Review a Literary Event. Done!

I was the anomaly. I was the only white senior citizen without a grandchild in tow, attending last Saturday afternoon’s Canadian launch of "Summer Island" at the Different Booklist Bookstore in downtown Toronto. The 36-page picture book was written by American author Deborah C. Mortimer and illustrated by Canadian artist Ken Daley.
Beyond its role as Toronto’s only major Black bookstore, A Different Booklist serves as a community hub, hosting events, author readings, and discussions that spark cultural understanding within the Black community. It actively promotes diverse voices, making it a vital and cherished institution within Canada's literary landscape.
While it is often said that an author can’t make a living in Canada, the industry and federally funded BookNet have recently issued a report on 'KidsLit' that shows, as of 2022, children’s literature is selling very well, thank you.

'Juvenile and Young Adult' titles make up a vital portion of the Canadian book market and Canadian library circulation every year, Booknet reports. 'According to our annual report, the Canadian Book Market 2022, there were over 150,000 Juvenile and Young Adult ISBNs reporting sales last year, a combined 23% of all ISBNs reported.'
While sales are strong, there is a downside to what children are being read. Most of the titles available in Canada are BIPOC underrepresented. 'It's important for children of all backgrounds to have windows and mirrors in the books they read instead of perpetuating damaging stereotypes,' reports BookNet. 'In 2017, Scholastic Canada reported that one in five children and parents look for ethnic and cultural representation, characters with disabilities, and characters who break stereotypes when choosing a book for fun.


It was with this in mind I decided to attend my first KidsLit Launch. Summer Island breaks stereotypes … Big Time. It was written by a Black woman whose parents are from the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad/Venezuela). The book is set in the 1980s, The main character is not a white male, it is a young Black girl who has finished junior school and travels to Trinidad with her mother to meet her grandmother and cousins for the first-time. It is a fun, eye-opening barefoot summer, free of TV and hamburgers and sleeping in. She learns to dance in the rain, eat Caribbean food, play a steel drum and become part of a small family community.
Waterloo artist Ken Daley was born in Ontario to parents who emigrated from Dominica, West Indies. He is well-acquainted with the Caribbean and expresses his art through vibrant island red and yellow colours. In this book, the majority of the children are girls, while the boys are portrayed as happy back ground playmates, including them in all their games. The only white individuals in the illustrations appear as the family gathers at a Pennsylvania airport, waiting to board their plane to the Caribbean.
At the Bathurst St bookstore event, most of the 30 attendees self-identified as Canadian-born Trinis. As the author read the book and showcased Daley's artwork, they offered warm words of encouragement. The few children present either slept in their strollers or lay on a rug near the podium, colouring black and white drawings supplied by Daley.

What I found amusing, although I believe most of the audience missed it, was the American author dropping her Philly twang and slipping into a Trini accent as she read her book from cover to cover. The children in the room seemed indifferent to the reading, only showing excitement when an expensive food service was brought out, featuring Island patties, Sweet breads, and Jamaica cake. I estimated the spread cost the author a couple of hundred dollars.
During the question-and-answer session, of course I was the only person to ask a question: "How did you and your artist meet up, given you live in the US and he lives here?" The short answer from both was Instagram.
The author spent 20 minutes asking her own questions of the audience, mainly comprising 30-44 year-olds, prompting them to describe their first trips back to the Caribbean. This turned out to be a good move, as the shared experiences brought forth waves of laughter in theroo. According to BookNet, this age group is the largest group consumer for children's literature.
The three-hour event concluded with a book signing, resulting in about seven book purchases at $23 each. If I were giving advice to the organizers, I would have insisted on starting on time (they were 30 minutes late waiting for the food to arrive) and suggested having the author and illustrators sign books as people entered the room. When the reading and food ended, the author needed someone to stand beside her and keep the actual signing talk/time to a minimum. The author spent so much time talking to individual buyers about their Caribbean memories that the slow-paced line-up deterred people wanting to buy a book and joining the line-up (that's when I left).
Earlier this week, I contacted the author to inquire why she bothered to drive up from Pennsylvania, rent a space, feed the audience, and sell only a handful of books.
"Deborah came for Black History Month and because the illustrator, Ken Daley, is Caribbean Canadian," wrote her manager Tres Chambers. "The goal was to expand internationally by beginning to connect with the global Caribbean community."

Job well done (aside from the lack of sales) 


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