Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Archive | Small Press Medley

News, infor­ma­tion, and pro­files fea­tur­ing small press­es and their books.

Penny Candy Books

Imag­ine walk­ing into an old-time dry-goods store.  Hear the wood­en floor squeak.  Peer through the glass case at the won­drous dis­play of pen­ny can­dy.  Close your eyes and taste your favorite … root beer bar­rels,  red-wax lips, ropes of red licorice.

Penny Candy BooksInstead of sug­ary sweets, Pen­ny Can­dy Books offers a selec­tion of books that delight, engage, and chal­lenge.  Their books reflect today’s glob­al con­cerns.  Pen­ny Candy’s vision is to work with a vari­ety of authors and illus­tra­tors to offer impor­tant sto­ries well told by a diver­si­ty of voic­es. Found­ed in 2015 by poets Alex­is Org­era and Chad Reynolds, Pen­ny Can­dy released its first title in the fall of 2016.  Pen­ny Candy’s imprint, Pene­lope Edi­tions, released its first title in Jan­u­ary 2017.

I asked Chad Reynolds, head of mar­ket­ing, to describe the vision of this new press.  I was struck with how sev­er­al of his phras­es echoed how I would describe their wide vari­ety of books: “few words, impor­tant ideas … small press, big con­ver­sa­tions … not afraid to take risks … an engaged world view.”  As stat­ed on the Pen­ny Can­dy web­site, we will not exclude any­one from our cat­a­log, we focus on under­rep­re­sent­ed, unheard, or for­got­ten voic­es.

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

HedyPCB: We are very proud of our Spring 2019 cat­a­log. We have five titles that touch on a vari­ety of sub­jects, such as Hedy Lamarr’s work as an inven­tor; how a lit­tle girl feels when her grand­moth­er in India dies; a book about a boy with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty; anoth­er one about depor­ta­tion; and a friend­ship book using com­pound words to tell a sto­ry. The “com­pound book,” Be/Hold: A Friend­ship Book,” feels both utter­ly unlike any­thing I’ve seen and also very famil­iar.

Intrigued, I asked Chad addi­tion­al ques­tions:

What is the pas­sion that gives you the courage to cre­ate and pub­lish books?

PCB: We were inspired by a series of op-eds in the New York Times sev­er­al years ago by Wal­ter Dean Myers and his son Christo­pher, who called out the lack of diver­si­ty in children’s lit. We want­ed to be part of a grow­ing num­ber of pub­lish­ers who val­ue real diver­si­ty and who want to have con­ver­sa­tions around that. It’s been grat­i­fy­ing and encour­ag­ing to see the enthu­si­as­tic respons­es our titles have been getting–and I don’t just mean sales.

A Card for My FatherFor exam­ple, when Saman­tha Thorn­hill vis­it­ed a school in D.C. to dis­cuss her book about a child who doesn’t know her father because he’s incar­cer­at­ed, there was one child in par­tic­u­lar who was real­ly engaged in the con­ver­sa­tion. Appar­ent­ly, this child had nev­er opened up, was always reserved and with­drawn, and in fact often got in trou­ble for pick­ing fights and talk­ing back. But when Sam vis­it­ed, he opened up and after­wards shared he could empathize with the main char­ac­ter because he too had vis­it­ed his father in prison and it was a scary place. It’s sto­ries like this that give us the pas­sion to cre­ate and pub­lish books.

What do you want librar­i­ans and teach­ers to know about your vision of a good book? 

Henry, the BoyPCB: We think our motto—small press, big conversations—does a nice job of cap­tur­ing what our books are about. We want to remem­ber who our main audi­ence is—kids.  We want our books to spark big con­ver­sa­tions between kids and adults about time­ly, impor­tant top­ics. We feel that our titles—whether they be about parental incar­cer­a­tion, a boy with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty, or the impor­tance of see­ing past stereotypes—will be a won­der­ful tool in many set­tings.

Also our aes­thet­ic is inten­tion­al­ly dif­fer­ent from most press­es. Our cus­tom­ary trim size at 6.5″ W by 8.5″ tall is a bit small­er than most pic­ture books because we want peo­ple to see a book and say, oh there’s a new Pen­ny Can­dy title! We don’t require our books to be a cer­tain page length—some have been 36 pages and oth­ers are up to 68! We don’t require peo­ple to sub­mit via agents. We want to cast a wide net, to give peo­ple out­side the nor­mal chan­nels a chance to let us fall in love with the sto­ries they’ve cre­at­ed.

We aren’t afraid to take risks.

What are your visions and hopes for the future of children’s lit­er­a­ture?

PCB: I think children’s lit­er­a­ture is bet­ter than it’s ever been. We’re in a good moment, with the #own­voic­es move­ment offer­ing some pro­found sto­ries and per­spec­tives and with the high qual­i­ty of pic­ture books, mid­dle grade, and young adult nov­els. I think kid-lit has always had a vital role in deliv­er­ing hard truths to kids in ways they can under­stand. Think Aesop’s Fables or Grimms’ fairy tales or the work of Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen. I think kid-lit can remain rel­e­vant if it helps chil­dren make sense of their world—and there’s a lot to make sense of now. 

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Blue Dot Press | KO Kids Books

Kathryn OtoshiMeet Kathryn Oto­shi, artist, author, edu­ca­tor, and the cre­ator of two award-win­ning indie pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies, KO Kids Books and Blue Dot Press. In 2016, SCBWI (Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors) rec­og­nized Blue Dot Press with their SPARK Award for excel­lence in inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing.

Kathryn O’s books are bright, col­or­ful, delight­ful, cre­ative, and just plain fun. Her newest book, Beau­ti­ful Hands, cre­at­ed with Bret Baum­garten, cel­e­brates and inspires cre­ativ­i­ty in many sur­pris­ing forms. Look at your own hands. Imag­ine all the ways they can be creative—from Beau­ti­ful Hands:

What will your beau­ti­ful hands DO today?
Will they PLANT
What can you plant? IDEAS?

Kathryn O’s books show chil­dren impor­tant mes­sages. Per­haps her most well-known book is One. In this pic­ture book, Blue is a qui­et col­or. Red’s a hot­head who likes to bul­ly Blue. The oth­er col­ors don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand—until One comes along and shows all the col­ors how to stand up, stand togeth­er, and count. As read­ers learn about num­bers, count­ing, and pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary col­ors, they also learn about accept­ing each other’s dif­fer­ences and how it often takes only one coura­geous voice to make every­one count.

One Two Zero

Then came Kathryn’s books Zero and Two. What might these books be about? Just a hint—Two is best friends with One, until … Three comes along. You guessed it—this “tri­an­gle” friend­ship soon has prob­lems.

I had the plea­sure of ask­ing Kathryn Oto­shi a few ques­tions. Enjoy read­ing Kathryn’s thought­ful respons­es. They are an inspi­ra­tion as are her beau­ti­ful books.

What are your hopes when a child opens one of your books?

My hope is that when the child opens the book and fin­ish­es read­ing it, they will clutch it to their chest like a dear friend and not want to let it go! And when they become teenagers and see the book, they will be com­pelled to pick up the book, and page by page, read through it from begin­ning to end, with a smile on their face. And when they grow old, if they see its tat­tered cov­er on the shelf, my hope is they pick it up with cher­ished fondness—and per­haps even love.

What is the pas­sion that gives you the courage to cre­ate your own pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny?

It is the sto­ries them­selves, the mes­sages and themes in them, and the spe­cif­ic vision I had for each of the titles (the writ­ing style, the illus­tra­tions, the design and the nar­ra­tive itself) that drove me to cre­ate my own pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny with my hus­band. Most of the issues in my sto­ries are based on issues, prob­lems, or sit­u­a­tions I expe­ri­enced in my own child­hood. When I pub­lished sto­ries about belong­ing, inse­cu­ri­ties, find­ing val­ue in our­selves and in oth­ers, I couldn’t be sure it would have mean­ing or val­ue to any­one else but myself. But I did know I want­ed to share these themes, not just with chil­dren but with adults too. Because I feel these char­ac­ter-build­ing issues are rel­e­vant for every­one.

As far as courage goes, I’m pret­ty sure it was naiveté that drove me to start my own pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny! But I will say it took per­se­ver­ance (and yes, a lit­tle courage) to keep going past the fif­teen-year mark.

What is most reward­ing about being a pub­lish­er?

To see how a sin­gle title can impact a child’s life. And cer­tain­ly I didn’t know that was pos­si­ble when I first began. I learned that a book, just like a per­son, can influ­ence oth­ers. Just like a key con­ver­sa­tion can change someone’s life’s direc­tion, words in a book can “speak” to some­one right at the most need­ed moment. I learned that beyond the phys­i­cal cov­er, spine, paper, words and illus­tra­tion of a book, the mes­sages inside it can some­how live and breathe in the real world.

One time, after I did a pre­sen­ta­tion, a woman came to me almost in tears and told me her son was get­ting bul­lied at school. She then told me the prin­ci­pal read the book One to all the class­rooms. The boy end­ed up stay­ing at the school after much live­ly con­ver­sa­tion had been gen­er­at­ed. The book cre­at­ed a spark, but it was the stu­dents, par­ents, and teach­ers them­selves who took it way beyond the book and made their own sto­ry in real life. Now that is tru­ly mag­i­cal.

What are your chal­lenges as a pub­lish­er?

For me, the chal­lenges that face a pub­lish­er are two-fold: cre­ative chal­lenges and prac­ti­cal chal­lenges. For me, enabling the cre­ative process is key. So what­ev­er cre­ative chal­lenges a pub­lish­er might face (need­ing to make the sto­ry longer, thus hav­ing more pages affect­ing more paper thus mak­ing it more expen­sive) must be sup­port­ed by the prac­ti­cal. Not the oth­er way around. If ‘how much a book costs’ ulti­mate­ly dic­tates how a book looks or what it must be, then the book will like­ly not live up to its full poten­tial. Of course, mar­ket­ing is always key. With­out it, how will peo­ple know your book exists? You need to mar­ket to make peo­ple aware. There is a very low prof­it mar­gin in the pub­lish­ing indus­try, so it’s always a tricky bal­ance with how much mar­ket­ing you do, how real­is­ti­cal­ly you can hope this book will per­form, what your bud­get should be, and—with all this in mind—still enable the book. When your book is “born” and released into the world, it will have it’s own per­son­al­i­ty and tra­jec­to­ry. The mar­ket­ing plan you decide on at first might not ulti­mate­ly be the right one for the book. It’s impor­tant to evolve to what the book tells you it needs once it’s out in the world.

Tell us about one or two of your books and why they are unique.

The book One is spe­cial to me because it’s the first book I cre­at­ed that had illus­tra­tions that were sym­bol­ic. The main char­ac­ters are col­ors and num­bers, but they also rep­re­sent emo­tions and dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. In the begin­ning, I was told this book would nev­er sell. A major chain book­store rep­re­sen­ta­tive told me “kids won’t ‘get it.’ It’s too con­cep­tu­al.” It was also sug­gest­ed that I “should have a more col­or­ful cov­er like Rain­bow Fish, which has a very beau­ti­ful, col­or flashy holo­graph­ic foil on it. Pub­lish­ers must some­times “pro­tect” our books like par­ents. We must know what the book inher­ent­ly and authen­ti­cal­ly needs and stick to it. I knew the cov­er and sto­ry of One need­ed to be thought­ful, yet sim­ply told. I’m glad I stuck to my guns! One is now in its 24th print­ing!

Beautiful HandsBeau­ti­ful Hands was done for Bret Baum­garten, who was diag­nosed with pan­cre­at­ic can­cer. When we found out, it was at stage 4. It was heart­break­ing. He and I both want­ed to do a book for his chil­dren, Noah and Sofie. I found out every day he would hold his kids’ hands in his and ask them, “What will your beau­ti­ful hands do today?”

I want­ed every­one whom Bret loved to be in this book. We arranged for his fam­i­ly and friends (mine too!) to make hand­prints as part of the illus­tra­tions in the book, so that they could par­tic­i­pate and be a part of this nar­ra­tive. Over 100 people’s hand­prints are in the rain­bow at the end of the sto­ry. So many peo­ple loved Bret, we didn’t know where to put our grief. The book became a pos­i­tive way to remem­ber the mes­sage he want­ed to impart most: love, cre­ativ­i­ty, com­pas­sion, and our con­nec­tion with one anoth­er.

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Catalyst Press

Catalyst PressCat­a­lyst Press has a bold and dar­ing mis­sion. 

As a new inde­pen­dent press, Cat­a­lyst Press brings to Amer­i­can read­ers books from the African con­ti­nent writ­ten by Africans and/or about Africa, con­tem­po­rary and his­tor­i­cal. One of Catalyst’s first books is the star­tling graph­ic nov­el, Sha­ka Ris­ing: A Leg­end of the War­rior Prince.  It is writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Luke W. Molver, and is the first of an African Graph­ic Nov­el series. It re-tells the sto­ry of Sha­ka, the most famous king of the Zulus in South­ern Africa, who con­sol­i­dat­ed dif­fer­ent clans into one  strong king­dom to pro­tect his peo­ple from the slave trade. It’s quite a book. Sha­ka Ris­ing is a grip­ping sto­ry with strong dar­ing graph­ics. What an oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand one’s knowl­edge of Africa, its his­to­ry and its peo­ple, beyond the his­to­ry of apartheid in South Africa.Jessica L. Powers

Jes­si­ca L. Pow­ers, the cre­ator and pub­lish­er, plans to expand Catalyst’s mis­sion to not only pub­lish authors from Africa but also indige­nous writ­ers from oth­er parts of the world, all with the goal of pub­lish­ing lit­er­a­ture that expos­es the truth and pur­sues jus­tice and peace.

Her goal is to bring to West­ern read­ers books that reveal the world from dif­fer­ent perspectives—tilting, revers­ing or tweak­ing the stan­dard West­ern under­stand­ing of what’s real, true, nec­es­sary, or beau­ti­ful. Her moti­va­tion to cre­ate this press is her belief that books can be the fire and fuel for change. One book in the hands of one child can change—and has changed—the world for many.

Story Press AfricaI asked Jes­si­ca Pow­ers to explain her press’s imprint, Sto­ry Press Africa, and describe its rela­tion­ship to Jive Media Africa.

Sto­ry Press Africa, as an imprint of Cat­a­lyst Press (USA) and Jive Media Africa (locat­ed in South Africa), is a col­lab­o­ra­tive lit­er­ary plat­form for shar­ing African knowl­edge. Both press­es pub­lish sto­ries by Africans about Africa for a glob­al audi­ence; both pub­lish sto­ries that are authen­tic, chal­leng­ing, and some­times express controversial& visions of the con­ti­nent that birthed humankind.

Jes­si­ca, what is your back­ground that fuels your inter­est in the African con­ti­nent and cul­tures and how did it ignite your pas­sion to risk cre­at­ing a press to bring books about Africa to West­ern read­ers?

I have two master’s degrees in African his­to­ry and have spent sig­nif­i­cant time in East and South­ern Africa. But it wasn’t until my son was born that the seeds for Cat­a­lyst Press and its imprint Sto­ry Press Africa were plant­ed. As I spent time in my library look­ing for books that would intro­duce young read­ers to Africa, I real­ized that there are not enough good children’s books about Africa and/or writ­ten by Africans. What is rep­re­sent­ed? Folk tales/animal tales and Nel­son Man­dela. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love folk tales and I love Nel­son Man­dela but come on. Africa is the cra­dle of humankind. It is an enor­mous con­ti­nent with many coun­tries and cul­tures, thou­sands of lan­guages … yet in the Unit­ed States we often fail to see val­ue in expand­ing our knowl­edge of coun­tries and cul­tures beyond our own bor­ders.

What is your own expe­ri­ence as an author and edi­tor that has helped make this dream endeav­or pos­si­ble?

I’ve been writ­ing for young adults and chil­dren for a long time—my four young adult nov­els, The Con­fes­sion­al (2007), This Thing Called the Future (2011), Ami­na (2013), and Bro­ken Cir­cle (2017) were rec­og­nized with a vari­ety of awards. I’ve also been work­ing for the inde­pen­dent mul­ti­cul­tur­al pub­lish­er Cin­co Pun­tos Press since 2002. So the world of books and the real­i­ty of pub­lish­ing are not mys­te­ri­ous to me. Armed with pas­sion, expe­ri­ence, and knowl­edge, I decid­ed to go for broke and start this endeav­or, which launched in 2017. I wish “going for broke” was just a phrase. Pub­lish­ing is a very expen­sive propo­si­tion!

Cat­a­lyst Press began in 2017 and already has launched sev­er­al books. Please tell us about them.

Cat­a­lyst and its imprint, Sto­ry Press Africa, are still very new so we don’t have a lot of books out yet, but our books are unique, emerg­ing pri­mar­i­ly from Africa—by Africans about Africa. I’ll men­tion two that came out this year.

  • Shaka RisingSha­ka Ris­ing: A Leg­end of the War­rior Prince, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Luke W. Molver, is the first of an African Graph­ic Nov­el series. It re-tells the sto­ry of Sha­ka, the most famous king of the Zulus in South­ern Africa, who fought many bloody bat­tles to bring trib­al nations togeth­er to his peo­ple from the slave trade. In pre­vi­ous tellings of Sha­ka, the slave trade was nev­er a promi­nent or even vis­i­ble part of the sto­ry. Euro­peans feared Sha­ka and demo­nized him in their por­tray­als, large­ly because they want­ed to jus­ti­fy col­o­niza­tion of south­ern Africa and he was a major threat. We specif­i­cal­ly approached this from a non-Euro­pean under­stand­ing and once you remove Euro­pean por­tray­als of Sha­ka, you find a much dif­fer­ent pic­ture and under­stand­ing. Of course, sources about Sha­ka are scant, so we can’t claim to be telling THE true ver­sion of Shaka’s sto­ry, but we based this sto­ry on the most recent his­to­ries of Sha­ka and the Zulu nation as his­to­ri­ans have tried to unrav­el Euro­pean bias in writ­ten sources as well as being cre­ative and look­ing at arche­o­log­i­cal, geo­log­i­cal, and oth­er types of records to pro­vide more nuance.
  • We Kiss Them with RainWe Kiss Them With Rain by Futhi Ntshingi­la. Set in a squat­ter camp out­side of Dur­ban, South Africa, this grit­ty young adult nov­el presents us with a tru­ly bit­ter­sweet com­ing-of-age sto­ry that involves HIV-AIDS, teen preg­nan­cy, child aban­don­ment, and poverty—but does so with humor and enor­mous hope! Kirkus gave it a starred review.

Jes­si­ca, will you share with us your hopes for the future of children’s lit­er­a­ture?

I have a deep com­mit­ment to devel­op lit­er­a­ture that rep­re­sents all chil­dren, and to build a canon of tru­ly diverse lit­er­a­ture, both as a writer myself and as a pub­lish­er. One of the things that I think gets left out of that equa­tion some­times is world lit­er­a­ture for chil­dren. As a pub­lish­er of African-authored and African-based books (writ­ten by writ­ers from all over the world), I would love to see a strong cel­e­bra­tion and embrace of inter­na­tion­al lit­er­a­ture with­in the Amer­i­can children’s lit com­mu­ni­ty. It’s such a dif­fer­ent and unique and won­der­ful world and we have a real oppor­tu­ni­ty to open Amer­i­can youth’s eyes to issues, cul­tures, and ways of life out­side of North Amer­i­ca.  If you’re not sure where to start, you can go to USBBY’s won­der­ful annu­al list of the best inter­na­tion­al­ly pub­lished books.

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Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Eerdmans Books for Young ReadersEngag­ing.  Diverse. Page-turn­ers. Spir­i­tu­al.  Sur­prise! Gen­tle. Com­pas­sion. Old – over 100 years old! and Clas­sic.

Wm. B. Eerd­mans Pub­lish­ing Com­pa­ny has been, and still is, an inde­pen­dent, fam­i­ly-owned pub­lish­er since 1911. Their new imprint—Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers—began in 1995 and has been pro­duc­ing over a dozen new children’s books each year.  Each year many of their books are top award-win­ners.

There is a rea­son why this press has sur­vived and con­tin­ues to pub­lish impor­tant books—books of diver­si­ty, com­pas­sion, and authen­tic­i­ty.

Kathleen Mertz, Eerdmans Acquisitions and Managing EditorI asked Kath­leen Mertz, Acqui­si­tions and Man­ag­ing Edi­tor:

What is the pas­sion that gives you the courage to con­tin­ue pub­lish­ing books? Her reply reflects the pas­sion many edi­tors feel about cre­at­ing excit­ing, won­der­ful, and impor­tant books for young read­ers.  One book in the hands of one child can make a difference—in one child’s world, in one entire nation’s world. It hap­pens.

Kath­leen answered, “Pub­lish­ing books does take a lot of courage. It’s a tough industry—the prof­it mar­gins are often nar­row, the mar­ket is always chang­ing. And there are so many good books—and great books—being pub­lished that it can be easy for even a won­der­ful title to get lost in the shuf­fle and not find its way into the hands of the read­ers who would fall in love with it.

Most of us in pub­lish­ing do what we do because we love it, and I’m no excep­tion. I’m grate­ful to work with a small team of incred­i­bly pas­sion­ate peo­ple who care deeply about the books we pro­duce. I’m grate­ful to be able to have a hand in bring­ing so many books from oth­er coun­tries to a U.S. read­er­ship that might not oth­er­wise ever encounter them. I’m grate­ful to work for a pub­lish­er that tries to pub­lish brave, hon­est books that speak tru­ly about the world. These are the things that sus­tain my pas­sion for the work I do.”

RainKath­leen describes two new­ly released books that reflect this pas­sion and also the inclu­sion of books from oth­er coun­tries: 

Rain—This col­lec­tion of haiku was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Swedish, and is struc­tured around a very broad con­cept of “rain”—including not only the driz­zle that might first come to mind, but also flur­ries of snow, show­ers of ash­es, gen­tle drifts of cher­ry blos­som petals. It’s an evoca­tive book that cel­e­brates nature, poet­ry, and cul­tures from around the world—and it’s a book that looks beyond the obvi­ous for the unex­pect­ed com­mon threads.

I'll Root for YouI’ll Root for You—A wit­ty and whim­si­cal book of poems about sports of all sorts, but with a unique focus. This one is for all the folks who don’t come in first: “Today we’ll root for the losers. / Today we’ll cheer the oth­er way round. / Today we’ll love every­body / whose som­er­sault / nev­er got off the ground.” It’s a joy­ful and encour­ag­ing reminder that win­ning isn’t every­thing.”

Inspired by Kathleen’s descrip­tion of the pas­sion that fuels the pub­li­ca­tion of books, I then asked Kath­leen “What is most reward­ing about work­ing in pub­lish­ing?” I was again inspired to hear Kath­leen speak about com­mu­ni­ty, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and the excite­ment of shared cre­ation.

Kath­leen said,  “I still remem­ber what it felt like to receive the fin­ished copy of the first book I edited—a book whose every word I’d pored over, a sto­ry that would go out into the world and find read­ers who would fall in love with it them­selves.

One of the great­est joys of being an edi­tor is get­ting to watch (and have a hand in) how a sto­ry grows from man­u­script to fin­ished book. It’s incred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing when I can help an author hone their sto­ry in a way that will help it reach an audi­ence even more effec­tive­ly. And then I get to see the artist take that sto­ry and bring their own bril­liance to it—those days when we get sketch­es or final art in for a project are tremen­dous­ly excit­ing.  

To work on children’s books is to be part of some of the most won­der­ful communities—the dri­ven and end­less­ly cre­ative peo­ple who dream up words and art to tell the world new sto­ries, the pas­sion­ate and thought­ful peo­ple who invest their lives in pub­lish­ing, the teach­ers and librar­i­ans and read­ers of all ages who find end­less joy in sto­ries and are always on the look­out for the next book to fall in love with.”

I want­ed to hear more about Eerd­mans’ new books. Kath­leen, tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

Here are two more of our fall books that I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ed about:

Paul Writes (a Letter) and The Little BarbarianPaul Writes (a Let­ter)—Chris Rasch­ka is just bril­liant. Each spread of this book depicts Paul writ­ing to his friends, cap­tur­ing a core idea or two from each of the epis­tles. It’s earnest and warm and sur­pris­ing­ly funny—a more human depic­tion of Paul than I’ve ever seen before.

The Lit­tle Bar­bar­ian—This is the first com­plete­ly word­less pic­ture book we’ve pub­lished. It might be short on words, but it’s not short on adven­ture or imag­i­na­tion! With the help of his trusty steed, our fear­less lit­tle bar­bar­ian must bat­tle one ter­ri­fy­ing adver­sary after anoth­er. I love the dis­tinc­tive for­mat of this book, and the look of delight on people’s faces when they get to the sur­prise twist of an end­ing.”

I have always enjoyed re-read­ing many of Eerd­mans’ books. So many are excel­lent ways to begin mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions with read­ers or to enrich the study of many top­ics with “sto­ry.” I asked Kath­leen, “What recent ‘old­er’ books of yours would you espe­cial­ly rec­om­mend to teach­ers and librar­i­ans?”

Nile Crossing, Hidden City, Story Like the Wind

Nile Cross­ing—I describe this book as a back-to-school sto­ry set in ancient Egypt. It’s about a young boy named Khep­ri who is leav­ing his life as a fish­er­man to start scribe school. It’s lyri­cal­ly writ­ten, the art is stun­ning, and it’s got a ton of addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion at the back—perfect for any class doing a unit on Ancient Egypt.

Hid­den City—A col­lec­tion of poems cel­e­brat­ing the ways that nature exists even in the mid­dle of our cities. The poems are acces­si­ble, the art is col­or­ful and fun, and there’s some real­ly good addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion at the end of the book. This is a great way to encour­age kids to keep an eye out for the flo­ra and fau­na that they might encounter in their own lives.

Sto­ry Like the Wind—This is a beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed mid­dle-grade nov­el about a group of refugees adrift at sea in a tiny raft. One of them, a boy named Rami, takes out his vio­lin (the only thing he’s man­aged to bring with him) and with it tells a sto­ry about an indomitable stallion—a sto­ry that helps them all remem­ber the past and find some hope for the future. It’s a pow­er­ful book that tack­les hard sub­jects and also reminds read­ers how impor­tant sto­ries can be.”

Check out an Eerd­mans’ title at your local library or inde­pen­dent book­store.  You will enjoy a fresh way of see­ing, a deep­er way of think­ing.

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Groundwood Books

Groundwood BooksGround­wood Books cel­e­brates diver­si­ty. In the words of the late Sheila Bar­ry, for­mer pub­lish­er, their com­mit­ment is to pub­lish “the most excit­ing Cana­di­an voic­es we can find. Whether it’s a pic­ture book from Nunavut in the Arc­tic or a Car­ni­val sto­ry about a new Cana­di­an from the Caribbean ….”  

Ground­wood pub­lish­es not only all things Cana­di­an but much more—stories about First Nations peo­ple, refugees, chil­dren caught in the ter­ror of war, the grief felt by immi­grants as well as the gift of their expe­ri­ences and tal­ents they bring to their new coun­try. Themes are uni­ver­sal. Sto­ries are spe­cif­ic. Voic­es are authen­tic. Their books say take notice, these are pow­er­ful, impor­tant sto­ries. These are beau­ti­ful sto­ries. Often, these are “in our own voice” sto­ries.

Regard­ing immi­gra­tion and refugee sto­ries, one of my favorite pic­ture books about the strug­gle of fam­i­lies to seek asy­lum in the Unit­ed States con­tin­ues to be Two White Rab­bits. Oth­er Ground­wood books on this top­ic that speak to chil­dren are Migrant and Malaika’s Cos­tume.

Two White Rabbits, Migrant, and Malaika's Costume

The Bread­win­ner tril­o­gy and also Chil­dren of War, both by Deb­o­rah Ellis, are some of the most pow­er­ful and poignant books about the courage of Afghan and Iraqi chil­dren. The Bread­win­ner Tril­o­gy is now avail­able as a graph­ic nov­el and just recent­ly, an ani­mat­ed movie. Deb­o­rah Ellis’s books—fiction and nonfiction—give voice to chil­dren and teens caught in war or flee­ing from war. Deb­o­rah Ellis is a mas­ter sto­ry­teller who has received the high­est lit­er­ary awards giv­en in Cana­da. She has donat­ed near­ly $2 mil­lion in roy­al­ties to orga­ni­za­tions such as Women for Women in Afghanistan, UNICEF, and Street Kids Inter­na­tion­al. Check them out.

I sent Fred Hor­ler, mar­ket­ing man­ag­er for Ground­wood, sev­er­al ques­tions. I’ve nev­er had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask a mar­ket­ing man­ag­er why they love their job: sell­ing books, not just any books, but Ground­wood Books. I think you will enjoy read­ing Fred’s reply.

Fred Horler

Sto­ry­time with Fred’s daugh­ters (2012). Pho­to used with per­mis­sion.

Ques­tions to Fred Hor­ler:

What is most reward­ing about work­ing in mar­ket­ing?

There is a lot that I love—I work in children’s books after all—but one aspect ris­es above the rest: work­ing at an edu­ca­tion or library con­fer­ence and shar­ing my favorite books with the atten­dees.

I recent­ly had a con­ver­sa­tion with a librar­i­an at one of these con­fer­ences and we talked about the plea­sure of read­ing a pic­ture book for the first time. That feel­ing of dis­cov­ery as you move from one page to the next—being tak­en on a trip that has been so care­ful­ly and painstak­ing­ly plot­ted out by the books’ cre­ators. (And which is why I have been known to chas­tise those who insist on flip­ping through a pic­ture book from back to front.) That first read­ing can be a pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence and will nev­er be repeat­ed in quite the same way.

Grant­ed, there is a lot to be gained by mul­ti­ple re-read­ings, but you will nev­er get that first-time expe­ri­ence again. Except that I do—I get to relive that jour­ney every time I intro­duce a favorite book to a vis­i­tor at my booth who is will­ing to take a few min­utes to ful­ly immerse them­selves. And while I may appear to leave them alone while they read, I am very aware of the emo­tion­al ride they are expe­ri­enc­ing. And I get to trav­el along with them shar­ing the goose bumps, the laugh­ter, and some­times even the tears. That’s a gift I nev­er get tired of receiv­ing.

What helps you mar­ket Ground­wood books?

Children’s pub­lish­ing is a crowd­ed market—walking through the exhibits of a library con­fer­ence quick­ly illus­trates the chal­lenge of get­ting our books noticed. For­tu­nate­ly, we pub­lish very good books—we wouldn’t get any­where with­out that. But that isn’t enough—there are a lot of great books being pub­lished every year.

We are very grate­ful to the review jour­nals that take the time to con­sid­er our books and pub­lish their reviews. Awards are also very grat­i­fy­ing, though, as a Cana­di­an com­pa­ny who pub­lish­es direct­ly into the U.S., I may have been over­heard grum­bling about the num­ber of awards for which we are not eli­gi­ble. And we adver­tise and still pro­duce a print­ed cat­a­logue – with all that gor­geous art in our books, we can’t help but show it off.

But ulti­mate­ly, I still think it’s that old stand-by—word of mouth—that con­tributes the most to sell­ing our books. Fans of children’s books are incred­i­bly enthu­si­as­tic about the books they love—just try and stop them from talk­ing about their favorites. And so part of my job, not unlike that of a children’s librar­i­an, is to match the right books with the right readers—and then let them take it from there.

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique?

I love our books that elic­it a vis­cer­al reac­tion. We just pub­lished a beau­ti­ful pic­ture book about a young girl’s expe­ri­ence at her first funer­al. Matt James’ The Funer­al is sen­si­tive and hon­est and can affect peo­ple in very dif­fer­ent ways but invari­ably evokes a very per­son­al response.

The same is true for Louis Under­cov­er by Fan­ny Britt and Isabelle Arse­nault, and Walk with Me by Jairo Buitra­go and Rafael Yock­teng. Both these books have the abil­i­ty to touch peo­ple in pro­found ways. More than once I’ve had peo­ple who have had to walk away after read­ing them because their emo­tions made them unable to even talk. That’s pow­er­ful stuff.

Ground­wood has always had a strong rep­u­ta­tion for pub­lish­ing sto­ries that per­haps can’t be found else­where and I am par­tic­u­lar­ly proud of our books from North Amer­i­can Indige­nous cre­ators such as the bilin­gual (Eng­lish and Cree) pic­ture books nipêhon / I Wait and niwî­ci­hâw / I Help. We have made free audio book ver­sions avail­able on our web­site for both of these titles so peo­ple can hear the lan­guage spo­ken aloud.

And this fall we con­tin­ue this tra­di­tion with a list that includes a book set in Haiti (Aun­tie Luce’s Talk­ing Paint­ings by Fran­cie Latour and Ken Daley); a sto­ry about a Black com­mu­ni­ty in Nova Sco­tia that was demol­ished in the 1960s (Africville by Shauntay Grant and Eva Camp­bell); a tale about a friend­ship between plants from an Iran­ian author and illus­tra­tor (I’m Glad That You’re Hap­py by Nahid Kaze­mi), and a book that cel­e­brates Jew­ish cul­ture (Bit­ter and Sweet by San­dra V. Fed­er and Kyrsten Brook­er).

Nan­cy: Ground­wood Books is a trea­sure trove of edi­tors, authors, and illus­tra­tors whose sto­ries speak to the hearts of read­ers with poignan­cy, authen­tic­i­ty, and pow­er.

Take a look! And don’t miss their resources for teach­ers and librar­i­ans.

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Pomelo Books

Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

What do a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor from Dal­las and a lawyer from Prince­ton have in com­mon?

Both are pas­sion­ate about poet­ry, specif­i­cal­ly, poet­ry in the class­room for every­one, every­day, and about any­thing, even alge­bra. Sylvia Vardell, pro­fes­sor and author of edu­ca­tion­al books for teach­ers, and Janet Wong, lawyer and author of sev­er­al dozen books for chil­dren, com­bined their knowl­edge and poet­ry pas­sion and cre­at­ed Pome­lo Books. Their goal was to pub­lish books that make poet­ry avail­able and accessible—and fun—in the class­room.

Pet CrazyEach book (twelve books so far and more on the way) has a unique focus. The books in The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy series offer a vari­ety of verse and also short edu­ca­tion­al guides, resources, “Take 5 lessons,” and oth­er appli­ca­tions that cross cur­ricu­lum lines. Each verse entry in the Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book series pro­vides white space for reluc­tant writ­ers, prompts for writ­ing, and sug­ges­tions of places where stu­dents can sub­mit their own poems for pub­li­ca­tion.

In their own words, Pome­lo Books are unique books “that will puck­er your lips, reduce cho­les­terol, cure scurvy, curb glob­al warm­ing, and make young peo­ple hap­py while teach­ing them lots.”

What is most reward­ing about being a pub­lish­er?

CelebrationsSylvia Vardell: There have been so many rewards in this ven­ture: col­lab­o­rat­ing with the ener­getic Janet Wong and 100+ poets across the globe, see­ing a project come to fruit in print, and watch­ing teach­ers thumb through the book and say, “Yes, I can DO this!”

But prob­a­bly my favorite thing is how much I have learned along the way! I love try­ing new things and cre­at­ing Pome­lo Books has pushed me to try many, many new things such as the ins and outs of soft­ware pro­grams, exper­i­ment­ing with book design, cre­at­ing pro­mo­tion­al graph­ics, and pre­sent­ing to all kinds of audi­ences. And that doesn’t even include all the new things I’ve learned about poet­ry

Who do you hope is read­ing and talk­ing about your books?

Janet Wong: Recent­ly Sylvia and I have been booked at sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty con­fer­ences to speak to pre-ser­vice teach­ers, as well as recent grads. This, to me, is the ide­al audi­ence: new teach­ers who are eager to find their own best ways of reach­ing all kinds of kids. They under­stand that time is tight, and a five-minute poet­ry les­son can be used to teach mul­ti­ple con­tent areas. It’s so great to see them snap­ping tons of pho­tos of Sylvia’s Pow­er­Point slides!

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

The Poetry of ScienceJanet Wong: One of the most dis­tinc­tive things about our books in The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy series is the sheer size of them: in 4 books (our orig­i­nal K-5 book, the Mid­dle School book, the Sci­ence book, and the Cel­e­bra­tions book) we have 700+ poems by 150 poets. That’s a whole lot of diver­si­ty (of all kinds)—diverse voic­es, diverse top­ics, and diverse approach­es.

And in our recent Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book series (You Just Wait, Here We Go, and Pet Crazy), we’re pro­vid­ing Pow­er­Packs that are filled with pre-writ­ing activ­i­ties, men­tor poems, and writ­ing prompts—plus the poems, woven togeth­er, tell a sto­ry, Plus there are exten­sive back mat­ter resources on where kids can get pub­lished and a whole lot more. Our mot­to is “Pome­lo Books = Poet­ry Plus!” and we’re doing our best to live up to it!

As an edu­ca­tor, what do your books add to my stu­dents’ class­room expe­ri­ence?

Here We GoSylvia Vardell: This is where Pome­lo Books is unique. As Janet point­ed out, we are so proud to fea­ture 700+ poems by 150 poets in our var­i­ous antholo­gies, but added to that are “Take 5” activ­i­ties or mini-lessons for every sin­gle one of those 700+ poems. We pro­vide the short­cut that a busy teacher can use to pause, share a poem, and pro­vide a tiny lit­er­a­cy les­son that is engag­ing and mean­ing­ful. For the busy edu­ca­tor, our books are very search­able and prac­ti­cal, offer­ing poems on top­ics that are rel­e­vant to children’s lives and con­nect­ed with cur­ric­u­lar areas. We make it easy for the novice teacher to begin as well as for the expe­ri­enced edu­ca­tor to add vari­ety and cre­ativ­i­ty to poem shar­ing. 

Pome­lo Books web­site

Pome­lo Books twelve pub­li­ca­tions are:

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy (K-5 Com­mon Core)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy (K-5 TEKS)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Mid­dle School (Com­mon Core)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Mid­dle School (TEKS)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Sci­ence (K-5 Teacher/Librarian Edi­tion)

The Poet­ry of Sci­ence: The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Sci­ence for Kids

The TEKS Guide to The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Sci­ence

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Cel­e­bra­tions (Teacher/Librarian Edi­tion)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Cel­e­bra­tions (Children’s Edi­tion)

You Just Wait: A Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book

Here We Go: A Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book

Pet Crazy: A Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book

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Cinco Puntos Press

The Story of Colors / La Historia de los ColoresCon­tro­ver­sy and noto­ri­ety were not the rea­sons that Bob­by Byrd and Lee Mer­rill Byrd began their own pub­lish­ing house, Cin­co Pun­tos Press. They believed in giv­ing voice to ideas, issues, and writ­ers whose voic­es need­ed to be heard.  In 1999, Cin­co Pun­tos pub­lished the book The Sto­ry of Col­ors / La His­to­ria de los col­ores writ­ten by Sub­co­man­dante Mar­cos, the leader of the Zap­atista Army of Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion in Mex­i­co. The Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts at first applaud­ed the pub­li­ca­tion but lat­er with­drew its praise and mon­e­tary grant. The Lan­nan Foun­da­tion pro­vid­ed Cin­co Pun­tos Press with twice the amount of the lost fund­ing and in 2005 rec­og­nized the coura­geous and impor­tant work of Cin­co Pun­tos with the Cul­tur­al Free­dom Fel­low­ship for Excel­lence in Pub­lish­ing. Dur­ing a time of heat­ed con­tro­ver­sy when many issues were added to the mix, pub­lish­er Bob­by Byrd stat­ed:

It was a strange media fren­zy, a true boon to Cin­co Pun­tos. But real ideas and issues got lost in that fren­zy, the most impor­tant of which is the indige­nous strug­gle for auton­o­my and land in Chi­a­pas.”

Cin­co Pun­tos Press con­tin­ues to pub­lish books that have a fresh voice, spo­ken with hon­esty, with­out hes­i­ta­tion.

Thus it is no sur­prise that Cin­co Pun­tos has won sev­er­al awards and their books—fiction and non­fic­tion, adult, YA, juve­nile, and pic­ture books—continue to rise to the top of best book lists as impor­tant books to read. Their awards include The Lan­non Foun­da­tion Cul­tur­al Free­dom Fel­low­ship for excel­lence in pub­lish­ing, the Amer­i­can Book Award from the Before Colum­bus Foun­da­tion, and the South­west Book Award for excel­lence in pub­lish­ing from the Bor­der Region Library Asso­ci­a­tion.

Lee Merrill Byrd, publisher

Lee Mer­rill Byrd, pub­lish­er

I asked Lee Mer­rill Byrd how and why she and her hus­band, Bob­by Byrd, began an award-win­ning press.  Some of her respons­es will sur­prise you.

What is the most reward­ing aspect about being a pub­lish­er?

Friends, authors, illus­tra­tors, col­leagues, work­ing with our son and work­ing with each oth­er, find­ing writ­ing that is full of vital­i­ty, quirk­i­ness, ener­gy, find­ing writ­ers who know how to write, even find­ing writ­ers who don’t yet know how to write. Watch­ing read­ers who love the books we’ve pub­lished. See­ing writ­ers we’ve pub­lished pros­per. It’s all good.

What was the pas­sion that gave you the courage to form Cin­co Pun­tos Press?

This is a great ques­tion: I don’t think we had either pas­sion or courage when we start­ed Cin­co Pun­tos Press in 1985. We were two writers—I’m a fic­tion writer and Bob­by is a poet—with three kids—and we were tired of work­ing for oth­er peo­ple and wish­ing we had more time to write. (Pub­lish­ing is not the answer to hav­ing more time to write, by the way.)

We vis­it­ed Richard Grossinger and his wife, Lindy Hough, who ran North Atlantic Press in Berke­ley. They had pub­lished a book of Bobby’s poems, called Get Some Fus­es for the House. They told us they were mak­ing about $25,000 a year as pub­lish­ers. It was 1985, and that sound­ed real­ly good! So, with­out know­ing any­thing, we decid­ed that we would become pub­lish­ers. For­tu­nate­ly we had a friend down the street, Vic­ki Trego Hill, who knew how to design books and anoth­er friend two blocks over with a short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Dagob­er­to Gilb, (Win­ners on the Pass Line) who lat­er became famous and prob­a­bly for­got all about us. We didn’t have dis­tri­b­u­tion. We prob­a­bly didn’t know what dis­tri­b­u­tion meant. We didn’t have a phone num­ber in the phone book, so when Alan Cheuse reviewed Win­ners on the Pass Line on NPR, no one knew how to find it!

All this is to say that I think the very best thing that we have had going for us is that we didn’t know any­thing at all about pub­lish­ing when we start­ed. And the fact that we live here on the U.S. / Mex­i­co bor­der, far from the so-called cen­ter of pub­lish­ing in NYC. That has allowed us to be unfet­tered by the kind of com­pe­ti­tion that pre­vails in New York and also to have our own par­tic­u­lar vision of what makes a good sto­ry. And, of course, to be deeply inter­est­ed in cul­tures that are not like the ones we grew up in.

As an author, what can I do to give my work the best chance to be pub­lished by your press?

This is a toughie with no guar­an­tees, but I think the best thing a writer can do to get pub­lished by Cin­co Puntos—or by any press—is to write. If you want to be a writer, make writ­ing a dai­ly habit and write from your own heart and write for your own under­stand­ing. Don’t write to get pub­lished, but write to get at what you want to say.

In my sub­mis­sion guide­lines on our web­site, I ask aspir­ing authors to call me on the phone and tell me what they would like us to con­sid­er. I gen­er­al­ly don’t hear peo­ple who are writ­ers. I hear peo­ple who want to get pub­lished more than they want to write. That should not be the dri­ving force.

What recent pub­li­ca­tions are you espe­cial­ly excit­ed about?

I’ll men­tion a few.

Feath­ered Ser­pent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mex­i­co by David Bowles.

Our first-ever Span­ish edi­tion of The Smell of Old Lady Per­fume by Clau­dia Guadalupe Mar­tinez. This book in Eng­lish is a clas­sic, just as good as The House on Man­go Street, in a Span­ish edi­tion.

When a Woman Ris­es, by Chris­tine Eber, the sto­ry of two young women grow­ing up in Chi­a­pas dur­ing the begin­nings of the Zap­atista rev­o­lu­tion, going very dif­fer­ent ways.

Iron Riv­er by Daniel Acos­ta, a YA set in the late 1950s in L.A.

From Nan­cy: One book—a pic­ture book—I will add to your recent list of award-win­ning books is All Around Us, a debut pic­ture book writ­ten by Xele­na Gon­za­lez and illus­trat­ed by Adri­ana Gar­cia. All Around Us was select­ed as an Amer­i­can Indi­an Library Asso­ci­a­tion out­stand­ing pic­ture book hon­or, received nation­al recog­ni­tion with the Pura Bel­pré 2018 Illus­tra­tor Hon­or Book, won the Tomas Rivera Best Pic­ture Book Award, and was named as the best pic­ture book by The Texas Insti­tute of Let­ters.

Thank you, Lee, for being “brave and fool­ish” and con­tin­u­ing to pub­lish books that mat­ter. 

Cin­co Pun­tos Press con­tin­ues to be a small press that takes risks, pub­lish­es new voic­es, cel­e­brates a diver­si­ty of sto­ries, and offers the best in good books, well-writ­ten. If you are not yet famil­iar with their books, I encour­age you to seek them out.

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