How Kids Can Press is aging down activism

The publishing company is working with youth writers and releasing younger-skewing versions of existing titles to meet a demand for books that can break down complex social issues for readers as young as five.
May 26, 2023

Canadian children’s publisher Kids Can Press (KCP) is laying the groundwork for its next chapter, with new leadership preparing to execute a strategy that includes more activism-themed books and an expansion of its traditional target audience.

Lisa Lyons Johnston officially stepped down as president and publisher last week after 15 years in the role. Before her departure, Johnston spoke to Kidscreen about a key KCP franchise that she says will play a larger role in the company’s business moving forward. 

The CitizenKid brand is currently aimed at eight- to 12-year-olds, but KCP is seeing market demand from parents/educators of kids as young as five who want to learn about activism. And to meet this need, the publisher is expanding CitizenKid with new books and aged-down versions of existing titles, she says. 

CitizenKid is a book series dating back to 2009 that teaches kids about social issues—ranging from biodiversity and poverty, to sanitation and gender equality—while providing kid-friendly tips on how to be “more engaged citizens”.

“Each CitizenKid book is developed with one or more of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals in mind,” Johnston explains, referring to the org’s list of 17 goals for creating a better world, which includes preserving nature, reducing inequality and improving access to healthcare and education. 

In addition to CitizenKid titles, KCP is also publishing more environmentally-conscious titles outside the collection like Polar by L.E. Carmichael (pictured below), which released this month. The book explains how climate change is affecting animals at opposite ends of the planet in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. It also includes a section of ideas and resources for kids who want to understand how they can help slow down the effects of global warming.

Polar delves into how animals at opposite ends of the planet are impacted by climate change.

Kids’ interest in activism isn’t new, but there’s a growing industry awareness that even very young children are keen to contribute positively in their communities, says Johnston. She recalls reading a 2009 report by The Family Room that supported this idea that “kids as young as six years old think about helping people every day,” she says. 

KCP already has two new books in the works as part of this new approach to reach young activists. And one of its existing titles being reimagined for younger readers is One Hen by Katie Smith Milway, which explains how small loans can help transform someone’s livelihood. KCP will release a preschool version of this book in 2024. 

On the originals side, the first CitizenKid book for five to eights—Lion on the Inside: How One Girl Changed Basketball (pictured, featured image)—is set to launch in September 2023. It’s a biographical picture book about Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a former collegiate basketball player who advocates for Muslim girls in sport.

KCP wants to tap into kids’ philanthropic and activist spirit with these releases, and who better to understand—and relay—what being a young activist is like than the youth themselves? With that in mind, the publisher is also working with young writers, including 23-year-old Charlene Rocha, who is penning a kid-friendly guide to activism that is due out in 2024. 

While these titles highlight a lot of real-world issues and challenges, the goal isn’t to scare kids. So each book includes feel-good sections that highlight progress on topical issues and uplifting stories about changemakers. “While CitizenKid books sound the alarm regarding ecological and social justice issues, we are being mindful of the age of the audience,” Johnston says.

Looking beyond the popularity of the books themselves, there’s also a strong demand for adaptations, she adds, noting that environmental projects are on the rise especially and have strong co-viewing potential. “We are always [looking for] production companies [to reach] families with the powerful stories, images and messages that these books evoke.” 

Following Johnston’s recent departure, KCP has expanded the responsibilities of Lara Caplan (associate publisher of operations and business development), Naseem Hrab (associate publisher of creative) and Sarah Labrie (director of sales and marketing). And rights manager Alison Lapp now handles all licensing inquiries.

Updated May 29, 2023 at 8:50 am

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