A is for Alphabet! Sleeping Bear Press is known for their intriguing and informational alphabet books. But Sleeping Bear also produces a variety of both nonfiction and fiction books for readers young and not so young. Like me. Every time I read a Sleeping Bear book with a student, I learn so much and “see” a topic with a new perspective.
For example, a monstrously magnificent book, M is for Monster, written by J. Patrick Lewis, former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, follows the alphabet but is marvelously full of menacing monsters that lurk in many surprising places (except under your bed at night). In this delightful book for the any-age reader, one learns about the origins of Frankenstein as well the Loch Ness Monster, Baba Yaga, Xing Tian, the giant, and other monsters from around the globe and across generations. What a way to learn geography!
Another favorite of mine is D is for Desert, a World Deserts Alphabet by Barbara Gowan and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Imagine “capturing water” in one of the driest places on earth, the Atacama Desert, by erecting enormous fog nets.
Sleeping Bear’s long list of outstanding books also includes biography. I recently discovered a new favorite, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story, by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen. Gwen Frostic did not let physical disability or social prejudices keep her from going to school, achieving her goals and expressing her passions in words and images. Nature’s Friend inspired me to learn more about this publisher.
I asked Barb McNally, their senior children’s editor, to describe why she is excited about the books created by Sleeping Bear Press.
Tell us about a few of your recent publications and why they are unique.
One of the things I enjoy most about the Sleeping Bear publishing program is that, even with a relatively small list (we publish 28-30 titles per year), we have offerings for almost every age—from board books up to middle grade. It’s wonderful to have a hand in creating books for these different ages. That said, we are known for our beautiful picture books and we have some titles on our fall ’19 and spring ’20 seasons that are standouts. One book in particular, A Boy Like You, is on trend both in art and message, and has gotten a fabulous response from reviewers and consumers. It’s a beautiful celebration with a focus on pushing back against some of the confusing and toxic messages boys are often sent on what it means to be a male. It’s always a joy when you feel an author is coming into their own and we have an author on the spring ’20 list who has two titles: Bread for Words and Fly, Firefly! Both titles were inspired by true stories yet are very different in their approach and execution. I’m excited to see the response from young readers.
What is most rewarding—and challenging—about being an editor or publisher?
I have been in the book industry for almost 30 years and I continue to be surprised and amazed by the sheer volume of wonderful stories that are published each year. There is a never-ending well of talent, both from new voices as well as long-established authors and artists whose work continues to inspire, entertain, and engage the young reader. That sense of excitement and discovery is what brings me to the office each day. I think the challenge for any publishing program is to ensure that every reader is able to connect with something on your list and make sure that you are offering opportunities for diversity in stories, voices, and perspectives. I think the more we know and share with one another, the richer our lives become.
What are your visions and hopes for the future of children’s literature?
Having been in this industry for many years, I remember when we all groaned and wrung our hands about what would happen to printed books when eBooks came about. Well, eBooks came and still the printed book remains strong. In my opinion, there is no replacement for the unique experience of a parent and child holding a copy of a book and reading together, and research supports the value of reading aloud to a child. My hope is that, despite the many distractions of devices and demands on their time, parents will continue to see the importance of developing their children’s lifelong reading habits. I’m not worried about educators and librarians—they already know this. But habits and routines start in the home and parents set the example. The importance of reading with a child cannot be overstated.
Thank you, Barb, for your insights about books and readers. I strongly agree with your statement, “The importance of reading with a child cannot be overstated.” And, besides being so important, reading with children is fun.