April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Remembering Sheila Barry, Publisher of Groundwood Books

The kid lit community is mourning the death of Sheila Barry, publisher of Groundwood Books, who died after a battle with cancer on November 15. She was 54.

At Groundwood since 2012, she achieved international recognition for the publishing house, including multiple Governor General awards, a Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year for North America, and having four titles named to the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books list, including this year’s Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith.

Author Mary Beth Leatherdale served on the executive committee of the Canadian division of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) with Barry. She remembered that “Sheila championed diverse voices, tackled difficult subjects, and was exacting in her high standards for writing and illustration.” Leatherdale told School Library Journal that “she opened up how we thought about Canadian children’s literature at home and internationally.”

In a blog post from 2015 entitled “Publishing Children’s Books That Matter,” Barry wrote, “I have a bit of missionary zeal for the importance of publishing books that will give children access to information or stories or insights that they might not be able to find elsewhere.”

Her colleagues at Groundwood also expressed their fondness for Barry. “Sheila’s warmth and caring inspired great affection, which brought out the best in everyone who worked with her,” said Nan Froman, Groundwood editorial director. Illustrator Matt James, who has several books published by Groundwood,  including Northwest Passage (2013), which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration, recalled first meeting Barry: “She was just so nice and so positive that I was taken aback.” James considers her to have been instrumental in shaping his career.  “I was pretty nervous and sorta uptight about writing my first book and Sheila helped to turn what could have been stressful and worrisome into a loose and wonderful experience.”

The need for school libraries and school librarians was not lost on Barry. She wrote, “without properly staffed and properly stocked school libraries that are open every day, our children do not have freedom of access to books, they do not have freedom of choice in what they read, and their right to read exists only as an abstraction.”

Born in Labrador City, Quebec, on September 27, 1963, Barry grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She received a music degree at Memorial University and a Ph.D. in English Literature from York University.

Robert Bitner, instructor in Interdisciplinary Studies at Okanagan College, summed up the feelings of the children’s literature community: “Sheila will be missed greatly, but her passion and the books and people she impacted will keep her memory alive for a long time.”

Barry is survived by her husband, Kim Michasiw, and her daughter Miriam.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.



  1. Susan Watts says:

    Labrador City, although close to the Quebec border is firmly a part of the great Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (that’s the province’s official name, not Newfoundland, since 2001)! Another great Newfoundland resource taken over by Quebec!

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Leave a Reply to Susan Watts Cancel reply