The roots of Annick Press extend back to 1975 when Rick Wilks and Anne Millyard founded Books By Kids with the aim of publishing books that children would choose for themselves. The following year, Books By Kids got a new name (Anne + Rick = Annick), but the mission remained the same. Milyard and Wilks wanted to put out books that represented a diversity of voices, that were educational but also fun, and that would spark a lifelong love of reading in kids. It proved to be a formula for success—Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess, one of their early acquisitions, became an international best seller (with more than 7 million copies in print to date). And today, Annick is one of Canada’s most respected independent presses, with a reputation for publishing cutting edge fiction and non-fiction for kids and young adults.
I spoke to cofounder and owner Rick Wilks about Annick past, present and future.
In June of 2019, Annick moved its long-time headquarters from a lovely old house on a residential street in North York to a cool industrial space at Carlaw and Dundas. Was it all about the commute, or aesthetically were you wanting to swap out clapboard and hardwood for soaring ceilings and polished cement? How is the new space working out?
By and large there was a strong desire among the staff to retire as major commuters. Almost all of us live downtown and the trip to North York, which is always a timely proposition, was becoming ridiculously long.
That said, we miss our old home environment. I recall once telling a visitor from Oxford University Press in the U.K. that we worked out of an old home. I found him standing outside the Annick house with a perplexed look on his face. He told me he thought I said it was an old home. “It is”, I replied, “about 100 years old”. His perplexed look didn’t vanish. It was, however, a lovely and creative environment.
Now we’re closer to many of our creators and love welcoming them into the new space.
The Paper Bag Princess recently went into its 100th reprinting. How important has that title been to Annick? Any plans to mark the book’s 40th anniversary in 2020?
Most satisfying of all is that The Paper Bag Princess has established itself as a fixture in Canadian culture with generations of parents, teachers, librarians and many others, citing it as a cornerstone experience in their development. Munsch has written a story that combines great storytelling with a magnificent message: trust your inner Elizabeth, be confident and don’t marry a bum. Words to live by.
This spring we will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a special hard cover edition of the book. The full story is accompanied by a Preface by Chelsea Clinton, a Foreword by writer Francesca Segal (a deeply insightful homage to the power and importance of this story) and an Afterword by Ann and Bob Munsch, reflecting on 40 years with the Paper Bag Princess. The slipcover of the book becomes a poster. On March 7th, 2020 we’ll be celebrating the first annual Paper Bag Princess day. Booksellers, librarians and teachers will receive a kit from Annick that will help them celebrate in grand style. We have 500 sign-ups from all over North America and from as far away as New Zealand and Korea.
Your submission guidelines are wonderfully open. You welcome unsolicited manuscripts in all the categories you publish, and encourage LGBTQ2SIA+ writers, Indigenous writers, writers of colour and writers living with disabilities to send their work. Have you noticed more diverse submissions in the last several years? And have you discovered any unsolicited gems?
We’re deeply committed to diversifying the list and have made major efforts to reach out and engage with diverse communities, writers and artists. It’s key to the Annick philosophy that all youth in our society have the opportunity to see their lives and experiences reflected in our literature. And the world that youth witness in books should reflect the diverse communities of this country. The results are reflected in our list, with more to come. We’re deeply proud of our indigenous publishing program (BookNet data reports that 6 of the top 20 Indigenous titles for youth were published by Annick.)
We are pleased to welcome writers and artists such as Michael McCreary (Funny You Don’t Look Autistic: A Comedians Guide to Life on the Spectrum) and Danny Ramadan (Salma The Syrian Chef, coming in 2020), among many others.
Being an independent press gives you greater editorial freedom. Do you think Annick has taken risks with books that may not have found homes elsewhere? Do you ever come across submissions you love, but suspect won’t sell very well? Do you publish them anyway?
Yes, we’re not afraid of the tough subjects. The criteria are that the themes resonate with youth and open them up to new possibilities and ways of both understanding and participating in their communities. Books like Manuelito (by Elisa Amado, illustrated by Abraham Urias), a graphic novel that tells the story of an unaccompanied minor’s treacherous trip from Central America into the United States, or the novel A Cave in the Clouds: A Young Women’s Escape from ISIS ( by Badeeah Hassan Ahmed and Susan McClelland), to cite but two examples, can be difficult but they are deeply important. I would argue that the key point is that they are authentic and significant reflections of what life can be all about. Kids have radar for the truth so when we’re able to capture that in a good story, it will be embraced (and sell well).
It won’t be long before Annick is marking its 50th anniversary. Does it feel good to think about all the kids who’ve connected to your books over the years?
I have to recover from the shock of seeing that number. Since day one, it was of the utmost importance for Anne Millyard and me to bring books into the world that supported and encouraged kids to not only become self-confident, critically thinking and aware people, but to also provide a joy of reading experience. Reading kids do better in virtually every facet of life: academically, socially, higher levels of empathy, more engaged in civil society, etc etc. If our titles make a contribution to these goals, we’ve brought good into what can be a very difficult and overwhelming world for young people.
Elyse Friedman was born in Toronto, where she still lives. She has written three novels (The Answer to Everything; Then Again; Waking Beauty), a book of short fiction (Long Story Short, a Novella & Stories), and a collection of poems (Know Your Monkey). Her work has been shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award, the Toronto Book Award and the Relit Award. Her short fiction has appeared in the Journey Prize Anthology and Best Canadian Stories, and she won the Gold National Magazine Award for Fiction for her story The Soother. Know Your Monkey was selected as a Foreword Magazine Book of the Year. Elyse has also written for screens large and small, radio, magazines and the stage.