Scholastic Canada’s North Winds Press imprint is issuing a new edition of I Am Canada: A Celebration, Heather Patterson’s free-verse children’s poem, at the end of May. When it was originally published in 2006, the book featured photos rather than illustrations. The new edition, which maintains Patterson’s text, showcases some of Canada’s most notable illustrators, including Barbara Reid, Marie-Louise Gay, Jeremy Tankard, Qin Leng, and Jon Klassen.
The project was initiated by Diane Kerner, Scholastic Canada vice-president of publishing, who edited the new edition, and was the driving force behind last September’s re-issue of The Story of Canada, another title aimed as a sesquicentennial tie-in.
“I wanted to do something with the poem for a long time, but the idea came about last fall when we were tossing about ideas for celebrating Scholastic’s 60th anniversary, and of course, Canada’s 150th,” says Kerner. “And the idea just clicked. I realized it was an opportunity and it just felt right and came together really quickly.”
Kerner presented the idea in October, and by the end of November, all 13 illustrators had signed on, delivering their contributions by early- to mid-January. “And then we put it all together and sent it off to press. It may be the fastest we’ve ever produced a book, actually,” she says.
The illustrators were chosen from a longlist of suggestions mined from fellow Scholastic staffers. “There are so many great illustrators to choose from,” says Kerner. “So we kind of made a list of what we wanted, which was art with freedom and motion and joyful children, a diversity of styles and perspectives. We wanted illustrators from different backgrounds, different parts of the country, and also different ranges of experience.”
Once all 13 were on board, Kerner, working with art director Andrea Casault, set about assigning lines of Patterson’s text to each artist, a process that involved printing out the text, cutting it into strips, and trying to match each section to the tone and style of each illustrators’ previous work.
“We thought, ‘Who do we know? What have we seen? How do we think a person would respond to a particular line?’ And everyone seemed happy with what they got and did a tremendous job.”
Each artist was provided with Patterson’s complete text (with their lines highlighted) in order to give them a sense of the whole story and where their sections fit into the narrative. Though none of the illustrators knew who else was involved in the project, their combined efforts had a surprising commonality: every scene is set outdoors, a fact that Kerner and Casault only realized once they had all of the images laid out before them. “Even with each piece and each person being so different, Heather’s text just seemed to pull them together to create a unified vision,” says Kerner.
The new edition, which features a blurb from each artist describing what Canada means to them, will be issued in both English and French versions. The English edition bears cover art by newcomer Danielle Daniel (Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox), while the cover of Le Canada, c’est moi is illustrated by Geneviève Côté.
“When we think about our 60th-anniversary motto, which is “sharing stories,” I would love to see I Am Canada inspiring that,” says Kerner. “So kids and adults sharing their own stories in whatever way inspires them for this special anniversary year.”