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Last Modified: March 4, 2024
In white text against a red background is the following, “Accidental Publisher On a Mission to Tell Children’s Stories”. Beside the text is a photograph of Ayesha Clough, of Red Barn Books, standing behind a table displaying her recently published books.
“Accidental” Publisher on a Mission To Tell Alberta Children’s Stories

I interviewed Ayesha Clough of Red Barn Books Inc. via zoom as well as listen to her speak to my university library students in Canadian Children’s Literature. Both instances were refreshing and invigorating, as Ayesha’s enthusiasm for what she is doing as a publisher and where she is living in rural Alberta is infectious. Growing up in small town Alberta myself, I found strong correlation with Ayesha’s high regard for the history and emotional connections to the land and people. I am focusing here on Red Barn Books as one of Alberta’s only publishers specializing in children’s materials.

Red Barn Books was the Emerging Publisher of the Year for the Book Publishers Association of Alberta in 2020. In the few years since that designation, they have developed into a strong voice, especially for the youngest citizens, about the often unknown and unrecognized historical faces who had a significant role in forming this province although, as a micro-press, only one to two titles are published a year. Red Barn Books also successfully advances contemporary local Albertans by having them create the content for their material. The thorough research and production of each title has gathered numerous additional awards: Howdy I’m John Ware was the winner of Alberta Children’s Book of the Year in 2021 as well as the Heritage Calgary Storytelling Award 2021; Alberta Blue was the Alberta Children’s Book of the Year winner in 2022; and Howdy I’m Flores Ladue in 2023.

Ayesha spoke about her impetus for launching this endeavour. She told us of her attempt to find suitable current and age-relevant books on horse care and local Alberta history for her young son at the local library. Her solution to her lack of success was to create a line of books that would enchant her son and his contemporaries. The books they published celebrate cowboys, western heritage and the Calgary Stampede, rural contemporary life, and horses. She also spoke to the fact that as she was an immigrant to Canada and to rural life, diversity in the materials she published and the people she hired is a major focus to the publishing house (stable?). Her young son was also the thrust behind the first book that she published. His fascination with the songs of the Wardens, a singing group of park wardens, led to the adaptation of one of their songs, “Government Cowboy.” Rocky Mountain Rangers: Guardians of the Wild is illustrated with linocut art created by the publishing house’s creative director, Lia Golemba. This project introduced her to local, and helpful, organizations such as the Book Publishers of Alberta. She established a series of books, Howdy, I’m John Ware and Howdy, I’m Flores Ladue, illustrated by comic book artist Hugh Rookwood in a hybrid comic book style with dialogue balloons interspersed with the story text. Howdy, I’m Flores Ladue is also illustrated by Keegan Starlight from the Tsuut’ina Nation. The additional material in these books include photographs of the subjects and, in some cases, relevant recipes. My university students, when reading and discussing these books, were attracted by this back material so I think it may be safe to say that these books are not just for young readers. Ayesha was adamant about the importance of historical fiction with accurate research, especially for young readers. Flip Flop Flapjack: Wildhorse Jack and the First Stampede Breakfast, written by Wildhorse Jack’s granddaughter Brenda Joyce Leahy and illustrated by Melissa Bruglemans-LaBelle, also includes historical artifacts, photographs, and recipes. The board book, Alberta Blue: A Prairie Sky Lullaby, written by Pat Hatherly and illustrated by Jesse Horne is based on the song, this time by the Travelling Mabels, and published in collaboration with them. It is filled with evocative landscapes and colours celebrating the Alberta skies I see outside my windows.

Ayesha is an “accidental” publisher who has transformed her master’s degree in journalism from the University of British Columbia and her Bachelor of Business Administration from Simon Fraser University into the backbone of her conviction and determination to provide Alberta children with relevant, accurate, and attractive reading materials. She spoke of the challenges that small publishers face in Canada, from acquiring grants to getting their books into the hands of readers. Ayesha’s commitment is not in doubt. She was a reporter for the BBC News in London, England, a reporter and editor for CBC both in Vancouver and Calgary before settling down in Carstairs, Alberta, and is currently working on her Bachelor of Education through the University of Calgary. At the moment, she has stepped away from researching and writing the books to focus on editing and marketing and, because she is a student right now, the publishing of new titles is on a brief hiatus.

Ayesha believes strongly that Canadian children’s materials should be more of a focus for selection in Canadian schools and public libraries, perhaps by offering bundles of recently published books to purchasers as well as an obligation to select relevant Canadian titles for collection development by library staff. Her compelling belief is that Alberta children should grow up with Alberta stories and this drives her to provide fresh takes on the old west while making the stories applicable to contemporary life of the readers.

Teaching guides for the titles mentioned in the article can be found at Red Barn’s website. Red Barn’s YouTube channel, comprised of videos augmenting the print materials, is linked here.

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About the Author

Gail de Vos lives a full life as storyteller, author, and adjunct (associate) professor in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Alberta. She is the author of, among others, The Watkins Book of Urban Legends (forthcoming October 2024)

Featured Books

Howdy, I’m John Ware

Ayesha Clough (CA)

Published: Jun 01, 2020 by Red Barn Books
ISBN: 9781999108786
Howdy, I’m Flores LaDue

Ayesha Clough (CA)

Published: Mar 08, 2022 by Red Barn Books
ISBN: 9781989915042
Alberta Blue: A prairie sky lullaby

Pat Hatherly (CA)

Published: Oct 10, 2021 by Red Barn Books
ISBN: 9781989915028
Rocky Mountain Rangers: Guardians of the Wild

The Wardens (CA)

Published: Sep 01, 2019 by Red Barn Books
ISBN: 9781999108700
Flip Flop Flapjack: Wildhorse Jack and the First Stampede Breakfast

Brenda Joyce Leahy (CA)

Published: May 15, 2023 by Red Barn Books Inc.
ISBN: 9781989915110