[Grand angle] Celebrities and Children’s Literature: Art or Marketing?

Coeur de pirate, Sarahmée, Patrice Michaud, Émile Proulx-Cloutier, Stéphanie Boulay, Guylaine Guay… The list of Quebec personalities who have tried the adventure of children’s literature continues to attract new work. The trend, which has long existed in the English-speaking world – Paul McCartney, Madonna, Natalie Portman and Kate Richards are just a few of the celebrities who owe it to the game – was on the rise in Quebec in 2011. the last five years.

However, is there really an advantage to putting a celebrity’s name on the cover of an album or children’s novel? Do these books sell better than others? The answer is more complicated than it seems.

First, a clarification must be made. If we get the impression that an entire catalog of artists is in the process of reinventing themselves as children’s authors, it’s largely because their work has attracted so much media attention. “Every year in Quebec, about 1,000 children’s books are published,” says Rachel DeRoy-Ringuette, a professor of elementary reading and writing at the Université de Quebec à Trois-Rivières who specializes in children’s literature. Among them, the ones written by a well-known personality are less than that. So it remains a small market. However, when Coeur de pirate is launched Nail. We are all different! (Auzou, 2022) everyone talked about it this summer. An unknown author, even one of exceptional talent, can never count on so much vision. »

Horse Be forced, this claim is confirmed. A celebrity who has tried himself in literature has a very high chance of getting on the cover of the “Oxu” notebook.

Medium effect

“Does this fame act as leverage for sales? Yes, it helps, but it’s far from stratospheric, says Martin Balthazar, vice president of the Ville-Marie Literature group, which notably includes Éditions de la Bagnole. When Mariana Mazza or Marina Orsini release a book for adults, they stay at the top of the charts for weeks. This is very rare in children’s literature. »

From January 2022 to November 2022 only Coeur de pirate, We (The fall of Sparta2018) and Patrice Michaud (Matcha soup2021) were included in the Gaspard list among the 100 best-selling books in the category of children’s albums and novels recorded by the Société de gestion de la Banque de Titres de Langue Française. Elise Gravel and her celebrity Potatoes on a bike (Short Scale, 2016).

Above all, for a publisher, having a well-known artist in its ranks allows the rest of its catalog to reach new readers. “We don’t always realize that the publishing industry is dangerous,” emphasizes Luca Palladino, founder of KATA publishing house. Like everything else in the art world, the survival of a box depends on one bestseller or success. We need these engines to publish more books and promote our work to more people. Collaborating with a celebrity can help with this, but it’s pointless if it’s done without artistic thought. »

Above all art

Luca Palladino himself approached Sarahmée and offered to adapt the lyrics of her song My skin (Kata, 2022) in an illustrated album. “It was a dream come true for me,” he said. Each of his songs created images in my mind. We chose a piece suitable for the editorial of the house and approached it from a music lover’s point of view. We wanted to offer something new by commenting on the visual aspect, refrain and repetition in musicality. As the book is currently on the shortlist for the Prix des libraires jeunesse, the literary community has accepted this proposal as a bold one.

While a few publishers take a similar approach to showcasing the work of artists they respect, they mostly receive manuscripts and ideas from up-and-coming authors who want to tell a story. After that, everything is just a matter of love.

“Text by Edith Cochrane behind my chair (La car, 2022) is one of the most perfect and well-built cars I’ve seen in my life, “raises Martin Balthazar, whose house has served as a springboard for Catherine Trudeau, Stephanie Lapointe and Guylaine Guay.

In fact, the vast majority of children’s works written by well-known figures have nothing to envy to books written by experienced authors, and many are applauded by the literary community. In Fonfon editions, albums Anatole, which never dries up (Stephanie Boulay, 2018) and Matcha soup won the TD Award for Canadian Literature for Children and Young Adults and the Prix des libraires for ages 6-11, respectively.

For Véronique Fontaine, general manager of Fonfon publications, the success of Stéphanie Boulay and Patrice Michaud – the latter’s album is the best-selling album in the catalog – is inseparable from their artistic value. “I would never publish a text I had never heard of. These two carried me from the beginning. Perhaps because there are connections between writing fiction and the profession of author-composer-performer, I didn’t feel like I was dealing with novices. I don’t think I was wrong because we were able to sell the rights to these two books in China, Spain and UK Canada. Author fame is not a selling point in international markets. »

Therefore, it is difficult to say that it is the name or the quality that allows books to find buyers. “I think we’re on the wrong track if we limit creators to a single area of ​​expression. It is enough to open your eyes to recognize the universe and style of each of the artists in their work in children’s literature. It’s an extension of their art, and it works very well for that,” concludes Rachel DeRoy-Ringuette.

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