January Speaker Night: Educational Children’s Books with Kara Cybanski

Summary by Tom Vradenburg and Coryl Addy. Edited by Stephanie Mason

We editors like to think of ourselves as adaptable and curious about new subjects and other genres. However, our real professional lives often involve grinding through the same kinds of material day after day. 

Kara Cybanski gets to live our dream at DC Canada Education Publishing, a small firm based in — who knew — Ottawa.

On January 19, Kara joined us to discuss her many roles as an editor for children’s education. She discussed the multiple hats she wears and the facets of publishing she works on, including design, translation, content writing, and editing. As an editor for educational children’s books, she also ensures she has educational value in mind.

In any government department, specialized teams handle each of those roles. We’re told we should ‘collaborate’, but specialists are usually reluctant to step out of their lanes. 

DC Canada, like many small businesses, doesn’t do lanes. But it’s not a brand-new startup, either. Founded in 1999, its first title was an ESL book for Grades 1 to 12.

Kara highlighted the editorial process for DC Canada’s small team by noting that before reviewing submissions, searching for illustrators, and finally getting to designing and printing, the team ensures that their materials meet two criteria: 1) it’s a good book for children; and 2) it has educational value. Kara highlighted that a wide variety of materials can be considered “educational”, with recent release, Recess in the Dark, focusing on cultural education. 

Every new title goes through a similar submission process: three to five staff will read a manuscript and recommend accepting or rejecting it. As with all book publishers, marketability is a consideration, as well as whether it’s the right book for the company at the right time.

DC looks  for a balance of good storytelling and educational value, which may not always be apparent in the theme or subject of the book.

Recess in the Dark, for example, is about children going to school in the North; its title refers to winter school days of little or no sunlight. It does explain that dog teams are still used in the North because they’re more dependable than snowmobiles. But much of the text is poetry, and Recess in the Dark walks readers through the fundamentals of verse.

A notable asset of DC Canada is that it showcases educational materials in English, French and Chinese. The company began as a resource for teaching ESL learners and has since grown to include books, games, read-alongs, and a wide range of multimedia resources for children.

Kara also shared a few favourites she would recommend, including Our Farm in the City, which details the experimental farm in Ottawa to talk about science and nature, and One Story a Day, that illustrates a different topic for each day to stir a new conversation each day with your child (365 stories total!)

Kara’s  advice to children’s book authors was inspiring: “When you’re coming up with a concept for that children’s book, think about what’s unique about your book.” She went on further to say, “You have this responsibility to share important messages” about ideas like kindness, respect, immigration or historical events, for example. 

We ended our time with Kara by engaging in a short question and answer period, in which one of the interesting questions posed to her was, “Have you found guidelines or resources on ethics for children’s publishing?” They then noted that the issue they were pointing to is ‘massaging’ to ‘cover up the truth.’ Kara noted that it’s a fine line to tread, especially when introducing heavy topics, such as slavery, in an age-appropriate manner. She also noted that a story about a child with two mothers might not sell in countries that frown on homosexuality.

Overall, a wonderful and engaging night spent musing about the inner workings of an important piece of the publishing industry!

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