Children's Literature in French

In the periodical L'Oiseau bleu, published by the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montréal, Marie-Clarie Daveluy's serial story Les Aventures de Perrine et Charlot (1923) can be found. This story is considered to be the first Québécois text specifically written for children. The children's press as well as the editor Albert Levesque and publishers Beauchemin and Granger at a later stage, inspired authors such as Marie-Claire Daveluy, Ernestine Pineault-Leveille, Eugene Achard, Marie-Rose Turcot, Maxime, Blanche Lamontagne-Beauregard, Marie-Antoinette Grégoire-Coupal and Harry Bernard to write their stories. A sad event favoured an explosion of local publishing: World War II reduced the supply of European books. At this time, Fides and Paulines publishing houses brought out numerous works intended for young readers. New periodicals appeared: Stella Maris (1938-1947), JEC des Jeunes (1939-1942), Sais-tu (1945), Hérauts (1944-1965), François (1943-1965), Vie étudiante (1946-1964) and Le Front ouvrier (1944-1954). Lucille Desparois (Tante Lucille) led a weekly show on CBC radio from 1948 to 1971. Many of today's French-Canadian adults have fond memories of these passionately rendered tales. This rapid expansion ended after the war when the resurgence of overseas publishing activities created stiff competition; several local publishers could not survive. And yet, one should not forget the famous Ristontac collection (1945) by Andrée Maillet, a large-sized picture book inaugurating the beginnings of the picture book genre for the little ones. In 1948, Beatrice Clement founded the Association for Writers of Youth Literature and launched numerous projects. She also set up a co-operative organization called Les Éditions Jeunesse. Several prizes for literature were founded. Starting from this time, the works of authors such as Paule Daveluy, Monique Corriveau and Suzanne Martel were recognized for their literary merit, and their works are still available today.

Tales, biographical, historical and naturalistic accounts mixed with poetry and several plays. For a few decades, the collection entitled Connaissances usuelles, published by the brothers of the Écoles Chrétiennes, proudly served librarians, who helped their young patrons complete their scholarly assignments. Afterwards, the emergence of television favoured the creation of a number of collections of tales based on the different synopses of television shows. One can find these primarily in the collections Cano d'argent and Les Albums de l'érablière.

From the Quiet Revolution to the Eighties

The Quiet Revolution in the sixties drastically changed Québec society and gave rise to a crisis in the book industry. A committee investigating the book trade was formed in Québec (1963). The famous Bouchard Report recommended that a strong and state-controlled central book institution be created, bookshops be accredited, school textbooks be approved by the Québec Ministry of Education, and a set of different measures be taken for a serious policy on book consumption in Québec. Unfortunately, this inquiry was suspended for about 10 years. The well-established habit of handing out books to students as a reward at the end of each school year was broken. Without this substantial market, publishers no longer took the risk of bringing out books for a practically nonexistent market. The decline was finalized with the publication of only 6 titles in 1969.

In 1971, Communication-Jeunesse arose under the capable leadership of Paule Daveluy. This association, which brought together a number of professionals in the book industry, intended to reassert the value of French-Canadian literature for young people. The relentless efforts of its members, the recommendations following their first colloquium (1972), as well as those submitted to the socioeconomic conference on the cultural industries of Québec (1978), all bore fruit. The provincial government subsidized literature for the youth through different programs, and the federal government also offered assistance through the Canadian Arts Council. The seventies witnessed the rise of the Le Tamanoir editions (rebaptized La Courte échelle in 1978), which introduced the concept of the picture book which combined literary content and aesthetically pleasing illustrations. The collection Théâtre pour enfants was launched in 1973 at Lemeac publishers, and the Goeland collection in 1974 at Fides offered high-quality novels. Intended for a larger public, the collection Pour lire avec toi at Heritage publishers (1976) is still liked, as well as the excellent collection Deux solitudes, jeunesse by Pierre Tisseyre, translator of English-Canadian novels that are selected from some of the most interesting works published in the country. The Jeunesse-pop collection (Paulines publishers rebaptized Mediaspaul in 1995) contains for the greater part science fiction and fantasy novels. The magazine called Video-Presse was launched in 1971 at Paulines publishers and enjoyed popularity until its dissolution in 1995. Heritage publishers brought out Hibou, which was the equivalent of the English-Canadian periodical Owl and Coulicou (Chickadee). The periodical Passe-Partout enjoyed the same amount of success as the television series of that name and was broadcast on Radio-Québec.

In 1978, 2 periodicals devoted to youth literature appeared: the first, Lurelu, was exclusively devoted to Québécois youth literature. The second, Des livres et des jeunes, dealt with the totality of francophone literature. Universities in Québec offered courses in youth literature as part of their programs. Public libraries played an important role in the promotion of books for children and youth. An advisory position on youth literature was created at the National Library of Canada in 1975. The International Year of the Child in 1979 gave rise to an ambitious promotion campaign with its show La Balade des livres ouverts being staged all over Québec.

Current developments

The 1980s were marked by a considerable expansion in the production of youth literature. The situation never ceased to improve, to the extent that the youth market often became more profitable than its counterpart for adults. A number of publishing houses specialized in the publishing of books for young people and spent a large part of their budget on the production of this type of literature. Québec/Amérique jeunesse, besides its novel collections, published its Contes pour tous series, based on film scenarios by Rock Demers. Raton Laveur publishers marketed picture books with both amusing and serious topics that were illustrated with great humour. A strong passion for books encouraged the veterinary Michel Quintin to found a publishing house specializing in the documentary book, on tales and novels dealing with animals and nature in general.

In the nineties, publishers managed to consolidate a production of books that was now viable and thriving. Publishers now aim at all audiences and the competition is strong and healthy. The majority of universities offer courses or certificates in youth literature. There are numerous colloquiums. In their coverage, the media now reserve a solid place to youth literature. In 1995, the Explorations collection at Québec/Amérique jeunesse was devoted to catalogues that helped to choose, analyse and promote the children's book. This is an undeniable proof that the environment is thriving. As well, the place that the Québécois book for youth occupies on the international scene is a sure sign of its vitality. The leading series Caillou at Chouette publishers, with its hundreds of thousands of copies and its many translations in a large number of countries, is yet another strong indication. The same is valid for the very popular novel collections at La Courte échelle publishers. As for the Plus collection by Hurtubise HMH, which includes texts by francophone authors all over the world, these texts are intended for immersion classes, for classes on French as a second language and ortho-pedagogy, as well as for an illiterate audience.

New provincial regulations on the development of cultural institutions and subsidy programs to promote publishing and enthusiasm among readers and publishers were factors favouring the rapid development of youth literature throughout the 1980s. The first university program specifically devoted to youth literature has been offered at the Université du Québec in Montréal since 1985.

As for Communication-Jeunesse, its reading awareness campaigns continue to take shape through its reading clubs Livromanie and Livromagie, which are tremendously popular with the youth. The activities around the book business intensify exponentially, including those organized by the publishers, who turn them into a tool for promotion. Author promotion tours multiply, and encounters with writers in book lounges or elsewhere are popular. Numerous independent workers now discover their reading talents on stage.

At the end of this century, some 15 publishing houses in Québec annually produce approximately 200 books for the youth. Three of them, by themselves, are responsible for half of the production of books for the youth (Héritage, Pierre Tisseyre and La >Courte échelle). Outside Québec, a few publishing houses bravely market children's books in French. These are primarily Annick publishers, those of the Centre franco-ontarien for pedagogical resources, Vermillon, Scholastic, Toundra publishers, the Prise de Parole publishers in Ontario, Acadia publishers in New Brunswick and Plaines publishers in Manitoba.