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Canadian children's entertainer Al Simmons.

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Canadian authors don’t get much love from their compatriots. The English-language share of sales of books by Canadian authors in this country fell to only 13 per cent in 2017 from 27 per cent in 2005, according to the 2018 More Canada report from an ad-hoc think-tank of industry veterans, which included publishers, librarians, broadcasters and booksellers.

On February 19th, I Read Canadian Day is being launched as a nationwide initiative to inspire families, schools, libraries, bookstores and organizations to support and celebrate the abundance, diversity and scope of Canadian literature. Children’s author Eric Walters brought the effort to life, collaborating with the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC), Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP), and the Ontario Library Association (OLA) – all uniting to raise excitement among Canadian youth to read Canadian books.

A recipient of the Order of Canada, Walters is the multiaward-winning Canadian author of more than 100 books, which have been translated into 14 languages. Throughout 2020, Walters will travel the country to talk with 125,000 youth about diversity, acceptance and social justice – the values that make Canada special.

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Eric Walters spoke with The Globe and Mail about the landscape of youth Canadian literature and the significance of I Read Canadian Day.

Canadian illustrator Ruth Ohi. On February 19th, I Read Canadian Day is being launched as a nationwide initiative to support and celebrate Canadian literature.

Why do we need I Read Canadian Day?

I got the idea back in November, 2018, in response to some frightening numbers – the sales of Canadian books have gone down by 50 per cent. I asked the CCBC, the OLA and CANSCAIP to have lunch with me and I put this idea forward. We held a literary summit in June, 2019, and invited people from the writing community to prepare for this day in 2020.

What we’re hoping is, by exposing young people and celebrating our books through schools, daycares and libraries, it will reverse that trend. It will help people see the great Canadian writers and books that they have available, and at the same time mirror their own culture in their own lives.

There will be activities and events planned throughout Canada the week of February 14 to 21. The idea is to challenge the nation to “Read Canadian” for 15 minutes on February 19th.

Canadian author Jeanne Beker. While the Canadian market is producing more books than ever, it's selling less.

Can you give us a sense of how vibrant the Canadian market is now?

We are producing more books than ever before. We have more diverse writers. The issue is – while we’re producing more, we are selling less.

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Juvenile and young adult books continue to make up a big segment of the market, but many are U.S. books. How can we change that narrative?

We should be looking at schools and libraries purchasing a percentage of Canadian books. We have to make sure Canadian books are on display in bookstores, and that schools are aware that books are Canadian – and sometimes they don’t know the difference. We are asking publishers to consider putting a red maple leaf on the spine of all Canadian books. We are talking a lot about how important it is for kids to hear their own voices in stories. The Canadian voice is such a diverse voice, whether it’s a First Nations or East Indian or black Canadian, we are all Canadians.

What are kids reading today?

They are reading a variety of books, but are being influenced by the mass-market books – the Dog Mans of the world. Dog Man is a very good book, but it’s not Canadian. I love Harry Potter, but it’s not a Canadian book. When you look at terms and phrases and concepts that are American or British, they don’t relate to us.

Canadian ballerina Sonia Rodriguez. Kids today are reading a variety of books, but are being influenced by the mass-market books, rather than those from Canada.

Has childrens’ literature changed in this country?

I think it has become more diverse, which is wonderful and more sophisticated.

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Can you recommend Canadian books that we should be reading now?

The best place to look for Canadian books is the Forest of Reading run by the Ontario Library Association as well as the Rocky Mountain Book Awards, The Saskatchewan Diamond Willow Awards and the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award.

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