Publisher Interview: Patricia Aldana of Groundwood Books

Patricia Aldana was born and brought up in Guatemala. She came to Canada in 1971, after attending university in the United States.

She founded Groundwood Books in 1978. Groundwood’s mandate was and has remained the publication of the highest quality Canadian children’s books for all ages. Increasingly this has meant finding and developing authors from all of Canada’s peoples–from the first people to the latest arrivals.

Established as a publisher in the United States in 1996, Groundwood also publishes a list of Spanish language books, Libros Tigrillo, and is dedicated to bringing North American children the best books from around the world, especially those coming from outside the mainstream of world publishing.

Patricia Aldana has been the publisher of Groundwood Books since its beginnings, and the list is acknowledged to be a reflection of her discernment.

Groundwood Books authors and illustrators have won an unprecedented 19 Governor General’s Awards, as well as numerous other Canadian and international awards. Groundwood is known in Canada and around the world as the publisher of the very best Canadian books for children and for its commitment to its authors and illustrators. As one of the early pioneers in the industry Groundwood helped to set a very high standard in Canadian children’s publishing.

Aldana is active in Canadian and international organizations. She is President of IBBY (elected 2006)(International Board on Books for Young People, an NGO comprised of reading promotion organizations from 72 countries ) and Canada’s representative to the Inter American Publishers Group. She was the founding president of the Canadian Coalition for School Libraries and the Organization of Ontario Publishers. She was president of the Association of Canadian Publishers for two years in the late seventies and on the founding board of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Aldana’s international work through IBBY has focused on bringing children and books together, especially in countries which have not had a reading tradition. She was a leader in establishing the IBBY Fund for Children in Crisis, which is running projects in Lebanon, Gaza, and Colombia for children who have suffered extreme trauma due to war and civil disruption.

In all these cases, such children are using books to learn to speak about their experiences, to understand what has happened to them, and to find a way to move past the trauma.

In the IBBY Yamada workshop program, publishing and reading promotion skills are being taught in workshops in countries around the world ranging from Mongolia, to Bolivia, to South Africa, to Uganda and Rwanda.

Aldana has been invited to speak on children’s books in such countries as Singapore, Japan (at the National Diet Library), at the International Federation of Library Associations in Pretoria, South Africa, as well as in Malaysia, Brazil, Cuba, Iran and Colombia.

What kind of young reader were you?

Voracious. My mother also read to me for years.

What inspired you to make children’s-YA literature your career focus?

A lack of books for children in Canada.

How did you prepare for this career?

I worked in a children’s book store and at various publishing houses in many different capacities before starting my company.

What do you love about it?

Being able to bring books that would otherwise never be published to children in Canada, the U.S., and around the world.

What are its challenges?


Could you tell us a bit about Groundwood Books?

Groundwood is a small independent children’s house that specializes in Canadian authored books, Spanish language books, translations from around the world, and a non-fiction line aimed at young adults.

What makes Groundwood special, different from other houses?

We publish voices of people who are marginalized–Black, Native, Hispanic, or less well known international voices. We believe that children’s books should tell the truth.

We are driven by the quality of the writing and art, and by the uniqueness of the voice–not the market.

In addition, we believe children want to know about the lives of people different from themselves. We also believe that they need to know about these lives.

With regard to U.S. writers, do you take submissions from agents, from writers directly, or both?

We only accept submissions from Americans who are Hispanic, of African origin, or Native American. They can come from an agent or the author.

How should illustrators approach you?

The same applies.

What back-list titles do you feel most embody the spirit and philosophy of the house (and why)?

Angel Square
by Brian Doyle; The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis; The Illustrator’s Notebook by Mohaddin Ellabad; Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki; The Black Book of Color by Menena Cottin and Rosaria Farias.

What new titles should we look for?

Off to War and Children of War by Deborah Ellis; The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter; My Great Big Mamma by Olivier Ka, illustrated by Luc Melanson.

Over the course of your career, what are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the field of publishing books for young readers?

The abandonment of the once great British and American houses of the tradition of the editor-driven list for a new reign of TV tie-ins, merchandising, and the need to make more and more money.

What are the bright signs? The challenges?

Some wonderful books continue to be published, but we are drowning in the over-publishing of mediocre books that no one needs. It is almost impossible for an independent house like Groundwood with our mandate to survive.

What do you do outside your editorial/publishing life?

Travel, IBBY, grandchildren, opera.