Engaging. 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.
I 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.”
Kathleen 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 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)—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—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.
Great questions and thoughtful answers! I enjoyed reading this interview – thank you for sharing it with us!
Thank you, Jen, and thank you for the amazing books you have created with Eerdmans. A RIVER of WORDS continues to be one of my favorites. The poetry of William Carlos Williams inspires and engages, whatever my mood, whatever the age of the person who is listening.