Sophie Partridge Interview

Sophie Partridge

EVP, Publisher Phoenix International Publications, Inc.

As Publisher for Phoenix International Publications, you're known for expertise in children’s entertainment, including working with Disney and Nickelodeon and brands such as Peppa Pig and PJ Masks. Could you give us a brief overview of your career and how you came to your current role?

I was selling foreign rights for a local children’s publisher when a position opened up and allowed me to make the move onto the creative side. A few years later I ended up at Parragon, where I had my first adventures with licensed titles and spent many happy years in Bath before they offered me the opportunity to relocate from the UK to New York to establish a US-based publishing group­­–of course I jumped at the chance! After a few amazing years in NYC, and with great timing, Phoenix offered me this opportunity in Chicago so here I am. 

Could you highlight some of Phoenix International Publications' bestsellers?

Some of our bestselling titles are Potty Time with Elmo, a sound book including fun flushing sounds, our PAW Patrol Me Reader, an 8-book set with electronic reader which helps children to make the transition from being read to into being able to read independently, and our Disney Baby My First Library, 12 chunky board books which introduce young children to early learning words and concepts.

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Diversity, inclusivity, and kindness all feature strongly in your picture book list. Could you share some of your favourite titles with our audience?

Sesame Street are a great partner and always tackle subjects in such a brave and touching way that we loved working with them to represent non-traditional family units for our recent picture book Big Bird’s Road Trip with its message of acceptance and understanding. We also recently launched a new imprint, Sunbird Books, as a home for our non-licensed titles and one of our first series is a range of graphic novels called It’s Her Story which features inspirational women of courage from across history, and I love the warmth of If You’re Happy and You Know It illustrated by the wonderful Julianna Swaney.

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Which books on your current list help draw in reluctant readers from different age groups?

Our books are designed to appeal to the senses, they often rely more on pictorial than verbal content, and of course all the fun sounds which we compose and record in our own studios help stimulate kids to understand and interact with the books meaning that many of them work for reluctant readers. We’ve also had some touching feedback from parents of children with autism who report that the songs and music on many of our books really help them to engage and enjoy.

When browsing illustrators' portfolios, what specific things do you look for?

Hunting out the right illustrator for a project is such a privilege and one I really enjoy working on with my brilliant Art Director, Kris Dresen. We’re both pretty good at filing people away for future use, they might not be available, or quite right for the timing but we do often remember and revisit portfolios when we feel the fit is right. We like working with artists to find the best and most appropriate look for our books and having that eureka moment when you all know you’ve found it. There isn’t a blanket one thing I’m looking for, it’s more an emotional response.

What's the most fun project you've had the pleasure of working on?

All of our projects are fun and I’m immensely proud of them all so picking just one is tricky but I have to confess I loved working with the team on our Merriam Webster picture books Wild Goose Chase, and A Loveliness of Ladybugs which visually represent interesting idioms and animal nouns in fun ways. We all had a lot of fun with those.

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Which territories are the most important for Phoenix International Publications?

We have offices around the world, but most of our creative comes from the team in Chicago and while our main territories currently are the English speaking, we also have fantastic teams who are driving business for us in Germany, Spain, and Latin America.

What are Phoenix International Publications' main goals for the future?

We always want to make books that make a difference in children’s lives, that always underpins everything we do. We’re best known for our licensed sound books and our amazing partnerships with the biggest and best brands in the world and those continue to be of utmost importance to us, but we also have some great momentum building behind our new imprint, Sunbird Books and I’m excited to see where that takes us in terms of publishing around new formats and topics.

How do you stay abreast of changes in consumer behavior/consumption and what key changes have you made in response to the shift in children’s' habits in reading and watching TV?

We have access to a lot of data and industry reports from within publishing and the broader business world which help to guide our thinking, and we use our own experiences within our families and our extended networks for inspiration. Plus, we’re regularly out visiting retailers to see how the landscape is shifting and how each retailer is responding to market challenges.

Which children's books do you fondly remember from your own childhood?

I had a collection of Greek myths which I read and reread endlessly, they did such a great job of keeping the thrills and editing around the less salubrious problematic aspects. And when I was young I absolutely loved The Church Mice series by Graham Oakley who did such a beautiful job with the friendship between Samson the church cat and the adventurous mice by adding details that had me poring over the pages for hours looking for something I hadn’t spotted before. The warmth and gentle humor in these books are so winsome, they’re definitely worth hunting down if you’re not familiar with them, just perfect picture books.

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