Tara Walker, vice-president and publisher of Tundra Books (a division of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers), will be speaking at our annual Illustrator’s Breakfast on November 16. This year’s theme is a tribute to the late Sheila Barry a highly regarded publisher at Groundwood Books and a beloved editor to all who worked with her. Her legacy includes many wonderful award-winning books for children.
What is your favourite memory of Sheila?
My fondest memories of Sheila are the regular check-ins we used to have with one another long after we worked together at Kids Can. Mostly our meetings consisted of funny stories we traded back and forth of everyday happenings at work and at home. There were many laughs and very little discussion of actual work. Almost all of them began with Sheila saying, “Tara Walker, I have the funniest thing to tell you” and many of them ended with “I love you, Tara Walker.”
What particular quality or ethic did Sheila bring to her editing work?
Sheila had a feather-light touch and gave her authors and illustrators—and her editors—a lot of freedom to roam in their work. That’s what I loved most about Sheila as my editor-in-chief: I felt she gave me a safe space to be creative and let me realize my vision for a book in a way that I never could if I didn’t feel so supported.
What three qualities do you think a great picturebook possesses?
The best picture books don’t talk down to children and don’t let the words do all of the storytelling. Truly great picturebook makers leave room for the art to do much of the talking, and they create memorable characters that kids can identify with, whether it’s a bear who wants his hat back or a boy who is sent to bed without his supper.
What are some of the books that you’ve edited?
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey
This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary & Julie Morstad
We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen
The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield & the Fan Brothers
Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear & Isabelle Arsenault
Scaredy Squirrel series by Mélanie Watt
Narwhal and Jelly series by Ben Clanton