I studied Language and Communication at the University of Amsterdam. During my studies, I developed my interest in the publishing industry. For this reason, I applied for the selective dual master Publisher/editor. After my internship at the lovely publishing house Querido children’s books, I found a job as an editor at Moon publishers. There, I learned all the basic skills of an editor and I had the opportunity to learn a lot from the publisher. When she moved to another job, the managing board asked me to become the new publisher. Me? With only 26 years old?! It had always been a dream of mine to become a publisher one day, but this was very soon. Nevertheless, I took my chance and learned a lot. After two years of working as a publisher for Moon, the director of Singel publishers asked me to start a new children’s book imprint: Volt. I moved to Volt and I am working there now for 2.5 years, building on the new list!
Being a small publishing house has a lot of advantages: shorter lines of contact, quicker communication, more personal relationships and less bureaucracy. On the other hand, some disadvantages are less employees for bigger projects and an even higher workload when somebody gets ill. But I’m very happy that Volt children’s books is part of the bigger group of Singel publishers. So we are not ‘alone’, but part of the bigger ‘family’. Other publishing houses here are, for example, Querido, Nijgh & Van Ditmar and De Geus.
It’s a very small market. Everybody knows each other: the editors, the publishers, the writers, the illustrators, the booksellers, etc. Very intimate, but sometimes a bit oppressive. I think our level of illustrators is quite high: a modern and high quality (handmade!) style of illustrations and with a lot of humour. It’s very interesting to see that every country has its own illustration style and tradition.
My classic series: The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Junglebook of Rudyard Kipling and Oliver Twist of Charles Dickens. Well-known Dutch authors (Tiny Fisscher and Daan Remmerts de Vries, resp.) retold the classic stories for a new generation. Not just a shorter and easier version, but an integral translation. The books stand out and receive a lot of positive attention because of the wonderful illustrations of Mark Janssen and Annette Fienieg respectively, who took the stories to a higher level.
Another favourite project of mine is to work with new talent. To scout, to give them a platform and to let them develop their unique style. At the moment, I’m working with young talented illustrators such as Djenné Fila (De Vuurvogel, Toen Rups een vlinder werd) and Liset Celie (Het lekkerste bed).
Furthermore, I’m very fortunate to publish the work of Fiep Westendorp (1916-2004), one of the most famous illustrators of the Netherlands. Generations of readers grew up with her work. Westendorp has left behind thousands of illustrations and together with the Fiep Westendorp Foundation we create new books with this heritage. Especially the cardboard books for the youngest generation are doing very well.
I like the interaction of more complex projects. Such as the collaboration between the neuroscientist Erik Scherder, the children’s book writer Fred Diks and the illustrator Mariëlla van de Beek. It has been a challenge to structure all their enthusiasm and input, but at the end they each added an indispensable part of the final result of Professor S. en de verslaafde koning. Like a puzzle of three important pieces falling perfectly together. I think readers recognized this chemistry of the trio; the book became a bestseller.
I experienced a quite similar collaboration with the book Tim de kleine boswachter, about a very enthusiastic forester here in the Netherlands: Tim. He really wanted to write the book by himself, but after trying for months I decided to search for a very good author to write it with Tim’s input. I asked the award-winning author Jan Paul Schutten – who loves nature and animals – and added illustrator Emanuel Wiemans to the project. Three men with the same love for nature and children. After months of waiting with the one person project, the book suddenly developed very soon with this trio.
Develop your own style; be original in order to stand out from the wide range of illustrators. I really prefer illustrators who still work manually, or who start with a pen or pencil and edit digitally. Illustrations made from scratch with the computer don’t have my preference (but could still be beautiful of course). When I’m receiving portfolios, it’s very helpful to see a lot of diversity: colour as well as black and white; people as well as animals etc. The chance to find suitable projects will be higher with a complete and diverse portfolio. I see a lot of illustrators struggling with drawing people, especially the faces. To bring the characters to life and to give them emotions is very difficult. But I’m very happy with the richness of illustrators in the Netherlands. A lot of their picture books are published in other countries.
a) What’s working very well for us?
Professor S. en de gestolen breinbril and Professor S. en de verslaafde koning
Two books about Zhé and her grandpa who is a professor. Adventurous stories with a lot of funny facts about the brain.
Snelle Sam – De Kartcup and Snelle Sam – De Grand Prix
A popular series about Formula 1 and the little boy Sam who really wants to race himself.
Het grote Fiep kijkboek
A big cardboard book with very diverse themes to learn words. Perfect present for hours of fun.
b) Recently sold internationally:
A non-fiction book for children about fake news, fact checking, fallacies and censorship. A very current and urgent theme in these times.
De kleine prins
The retelling of the famous The Little Prince for children, with amazing illustrations by the internationally loved Mark Janssen.
My former publisher at Moon, Marieke, where I started my career. She believed in me from the first day. She didn’t treat me as an intern or a starter, but as an equal sparring partner. From her, I learned the ‘tricks’ of publishing.
Moreover, my current boss Paulien (even though she doesn’t like it when I call her ‘my boss’). She asked me to start the new imprint, which was a very special request. I am very grateful to her for the confidence and freedom she gives me.
So many! I loved Astrid Lindgren: the fearless Pippi Longstocking and the children of the Troublemaker Street. I also really enjoyed the funny stories of Ole Lund Kirkegaard from Denmark and the lovely Madelief books by the Dutch author Guus Kuijer.
A project that’s more than a book, with a bigger impact for young readers. A book is not just some sheets of paper and a cover. There is a bigger story behind it. I would love to make books which change the mind of children: make them laugh, make them wiser, happier and more inventive. My dream project would arise together with a creative team of e.g. a good illustrator and author, not just from my mind or bought as a license. The interaction between different creative minds is like 1+1=3. There are already so many books out there, I really hope I can add something to the children’s book market.
I began my career in educational publishing; I’ve always had a passion for curiosity and learning, and so I put that to use creating classroom materials. That led me to take on the dual roles of curriculum and digital editor for National Geographic Explorer Magazines, where I oversaw both the curricular strategy and also managed all of the digital elements, from managing the website, audio resources, and social media presence to ideating and developing the app version of the magazines. I loved putting my skills and creativity to use to figure out how best to translate printed magazines in to an authentic, engaging app experience. I loved that aspect of my work so much that I then decided to join the NGKids Books team, where I could further work to marry best practices of pedagogy with best practices of trade: making books that curious kids want to devour!
I think for too long there’s been a pretty clear line drawn between educational/non-fiction publishing and trade publishing. A successful book needs to have elements of both: all of the trade-book hook, buzz, and energy plus all of the deep knowledge about how to present complex information. Kids are so naturally curious about the world and they find joy in the simple act of discovering new information. As adults I think we sometimes forget that, so harnessing that excitement can sometimes be a challenge. But when the book team themselves is actively engaged—everyone from the author to editor to designer to the marketing manager—when everyone can read the book and say, “Whoa! That’s amazing,” you know you’ve got a winner. That goes for adult nonfiction, too!
I’m so excited to see so many traditional trade publishers dipping their toes into non-fiction publishing. There are so many fascinating things in the world—and beyond!—that the more different angles we can approach content with, the better. For every kid who loves to read historical narrative nonfiction there’s another kid who loves to dive into fact lists. One challenge that a lot of great bloggers have pointed out is that the book industry, being story people, really tends to focus on narrative nonfiction like picture-book biographies. There’s so much more out there, though, that readers really want to read about, and so many more formats that appeal to readers that it behooves the industry (reviewers and award committees, especially) to keep an open mind about what a successful non-fiction book looks like.
Animals are endlessly fascinating—there’s no shortage of amazing, unbelievable facts about them! I’m also personally really interested in how our understandings have changed over time. Paleontology and space science, for example, are rapidly changing fields. I’ve even had a few books where we had to make changes in printer proofs because new information had come to light between when we’d finished the book and then.
For National Geographic Kids, our Weird-But-True series is an absolute juggernaut. It’s not a surprise, really, given how incredibly surprising all of the facts are. We recently reissued the first 10 books in the series, adding 50 new facts per book, to celebrate its 10th anniversary. You’d think at some point we’d run out of new facts, but that’s the amazing thing about our world (and space)! Of course, our atlases and encyclopedias are perennial favorites, too, and our fact-based-fiction series have found legions of fans. What’s more fun that a high-octane adventure story that includes all kinds of real-life future gadgets (Explorer Academy) or a pet hamster who’s convinced that he’s the Greek god Zeus (Zeus the Mighty)?
I asked our VP of NGKids Visual Identity to weigh in on this one. Here’s what she said: Since photography plays such an important role in how we illustrate National Geographic non-fiction content, we don't often hire illustrators for our books. When we do, we focus on the editorial concept and what style will complement the story to drive the atmosphere of the book. We also look for illustrators that have experience using very specific scrap and reference materials to help visualize a historic character or a real place in a specific time period. We also look for illustration styles that have active line work and a vibrant color palette.
Any project I walk away from having learned and been amazed myself is a rewarding experience for me. One such book is Welcome to Mars by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne Dyson. For that book, we set out to explore what it would take to settle on Mars. There are the expected needs, of course, like ways to get water and warmth, but then there’s also the “softer” aspects of building a settlement, such as the fact that a restaurant or communal dining hall would likely be one of the first businesses/structures built. Eating is such a social activity that communal eating would be an important way to build community on a new planet.
Another really challenging but rewarding project was Code This. For that book, we set out to try to teach kids the fundamentals of coding in an offline, super-fun format. The idea was that if you can help kids understand the underlying concepts, then they’ll be able to build on that base no matter what new coding language comes along in their future.
I keep coming back to it, but amazement is the key to everything. That extends to the book team, too. You can tell when you read a book that the author and whole team was really excited about—that eagerness to share what awesome thing you just learned absolutely shines through. Along with that, another method is keeping the text short and the visuals engaging. It can sometimes be difficult to find or create visuals that both accurately illustrate the content and also amaze and engage, but visuals are as much a part of the reading and content-delivery experience for nonfiction as the text is, so getting them right is really important.
One recent book I just did with the incomparable Melissa Stewart is Ick. This book is so chockfull of the grossest animal behaviors that no matter how many times I read it I’d always end up wonderfully disgusted. There are so, so many animal facts in this book that I had no idea about before working on it.
I also had the honor of working with NASA mathematician and “Hidden Figure” Katherine Johnson on her picture-book autobiography, One Step Further. We really wanted to dig into her life story in a way that hadn’t been done before, including weaving in her own daughters’ paths. At the heart of the story is a mother pushing gender and racial boundaries to make room for her children to push them even further. It’s incredibly inspiring.
Believe it or not, I actually loved reading the encyclopedia! We had a great children’s encyclopedia set in my house, and I would choose three entries within one letter volume to count as one “bedtime story” each night. I loved learning about all kinds of unrelated topics at once.
I absolutely loved working on Dining With Dinosaurs with paleocartoonist Hannah Bonner. I loved taking a look at dinos from a new angle, and Hannah’s humor in both her art and text is infectious and inviting.
I’m also currently working on our fact-based fiction series Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad, written by American Girl book series co-creator Valerie Tripp. This series stars an awesome girl gang of brainy, independent, authentically middle-school gals who “solve mysteries and reveal truths” (S.M.A.R.T., get it?) while dealing with all the challenges, anxieties, and excitements that come with starting sixth grade.
I sort of fell into publishing! But I guess I sort of fell into most chapters of my professional life, having done everything from comics to motion graphics to web design to animation to editorial cartoons to making fonts. Tundra was looking for an art director, and a friend forwarded me the job posting. I didn't come to the job with a ton of publishing experience, but I did come with an insatiable love of illustration, design, and books. Tundra publishes some of the best illustrators working today, and it's incredibly rewarding to do my part in helping shape and be a steward of their books.
We're all working from home now, so my typical day looks a little different in 2020 than it did in previous years. But on any given day I might be laying out type and designing the elements of a picture book, scouring the Internet for illustrators to work with, meeting with editors (on the phone or online these days, of course), or reviewing proofs and printed samples, all from my home office.
Some of our earliest titles like the beloved Canadian classics The Hockey Sweater and Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two are still in print.
Some of our other titles include Ben Clanton's Narwhal & Jelly series...
The Darkest Dark by Astronaut Chris Hadfield and illustrated by the Fan Brothers...
Isabelle Arsenault's Mile End Kids series...
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Júlia Sardà...
This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad...
and Phoebe Wahl's Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning Sonya's Chickens....
I'm pretty proud of how the design of this picture book written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Dena Seiferling turned out. Dena's illustrations are so lovely and timeless. This little king needed a royal treatment, with gold foil details like a crown stamped onto the faux-cloth case, and a shiny, regal bookplate.
I grew up listening to Sharon, Lois and Bram records, and watching them on TV, so it was a true delight to get to work on the picture book version of their signature song, even if it did take months to dislodge that particular earworm. I adore Qin Leng's work, and she was a delight to work with.
How to Promenade with a Python
This soon-to-be-released book from Rachel Poliquin was the perfect opportunity to work with illustrator Kathryn Durst. It's the first in a hilarious non-fiction series about predators in the animal kingdom. We wanted the book to be hand-lettered, but the complexity and logistics of making the book necessitated a font. Or in this case, several fonts. This was a fun opportunity to create three different fonts based on Kathryn's diverse lettering styles, each with multiple alternating characters to help keep everything from looking too mechanical or artificial.
Fight Like a Girl
In discussing this Sheena Kamal novel with the editor, she described wanting to see a loose, expressive illustrated figure on the cover. Sometimes the right synapses fire at the right time; I immediately thought of Lauren Tamaki's work, and didn't even have to source any other illustrators. The result is one of my favourite book covers of the last year.
How to Give Your Cat a Bath
Is it cheating to pick a book I illustrated? I was contracted to illustrate this book (written by Nicola Winstanley) for Tundra before I began working there as art director. So, in a strange twist, once I had the job, one of the first books I was art directing and designing was my own. I was very pleased when the book was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Awards.
There are some practical considerations when I look through portfolios. Typically I'm looking for images of people, kids, animals, and well-rendered backgrounds and environments. But those are just basic subjects that should be in a portfolio of anyone looking to work in children's publishing.
In terms of the style or quality of the art, every story has its own requirements for illustration, and more than anything I want a book's illustration to feel as if it is an inextricable part of the story. I think my advice to any illustrator, regardless of whether they are trying to appeal to Tundra, is to be themself and allow their portfolio to be the truest most authentic representation of the kind of art that they want to make. For the most part, it doesn't matter what their work looks like — if it's good, and it's authentic, I fully believe that the right opportunities to make more of that work will present themselves.
Of the books I've written, the three I am most proud of are the three books I've published with Koyama Press. It's sad to see Koyama Press no longer publishing books as of this year, but the good news is that all three of these — A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories, Burt's Way Home, and Evie and the Truth About Witches — have found a new home at Tundra. I'm grateful and excited for these books to have a second life with such a great team behind them. Tim and Evie will be published in Summer 2021, with Burt to follow.
Absolutely. My parents have always been my biggest champions. Both of them actively encouraged my artistic side, enrolling me in art camps and cartooning classes, or driving me to the library or the art store. The drawing table I use today is the same one my dad gave me when I was a kid — a vintage industrial drafting table that my dad rescued from being thrown out at the factory he worked at. I have great memories of sitting at this table for the first time, and how it made me feel like a real pro. Every little act of encouragement and reinforcement of my love of drawing pushed me further along the path of my eventual career.
I'm constantly absorbing art in some way. I have a pretty big library, most of which is related to picture-making in some way: illustration, comics, art, design, animation, advertising, picture books, typography, photography, etc. So, I'm never far from an endless source of images that excite me. And I'm grateful to have made many friends who are artists, all of whom inspire me constantly with the amazing work that they create.
I'm currently illustrating a book called Crocodile Hungry by author Eija Summer. It will be published by Tundra in Spring 2022. I think it'll be pretty fun!
I'd love to do make book in 3D — the kind with the red and blue glasses included. As a teenager I amassed a small collection of 3D comics, and learned how to draw my own 3D images with the right coloured pencils. It's such a low-tech old school gimmick, but I couldn't get enough of it back then, and I still love it.
My role as an art director is delightfully multifaceted. At Candlewick, I oversee the design and development of four Imprints and one Division:
Candlewick Entertainment - our media-focused Imprint that creates projects like movie tie-in editions; licensed character programs like Peppa Pig, Gigantosaurus, and Dungeons and Dragons; and non-fiction collaborations with institutions like the
Big Picture Press, Templar, and Nosy Crow - our UK-based Imprints that yield gorgeous projects ranging from heavily illustrated non-fiction to interactive novelty board books.
And lastly, I art direct our newest Candlewick Division: Walker Books US , which specializes in commercial middle-grade and YA fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels. So on any given day, I’m wearing quite a few hats! I have video conferences with
colleagues from the UK, phone calls with licensors around the world, and am in constant communication with our in-house team in Somerville, Massachusetts, as well as our local office in Brooklyn, New York.
I love variety, so I’m fortunate to work across all of these Imprints on books of all shapes and sizes. My job is three-fold: As an art director, I collaborate with illustrators and mentor junior staff. As a designer, I brainstorm and execute projects from concept to completion. And as a visual storyteller, I work closely with our editorial staff to craft projects where art is integral to the story. At the end of the day, the most important aspect of any book is the story. And my job, all parts of it, is to use design and art direction to continue telling the story. I like to describe design as the glue that holds a book together. Design is a seamless thread that unites cover to interior and enhances the storytelling experience.
Oh, wow. I could fill this entire interview with the lessons I’ve learned and those who have helped me along the way. Publishing is a village and I certainly had help getting to where I am today. A few of the most important lessons that I still hold close to heart are from these four mentors:
Molly O’Neill: Molly is a terrific editor now terrific agent who was my first NYC roommate and inadvertent kick-starter of my publishing career. Back then, Molly would give me (her art school roomie) marketing design projects from Clarion Books where she worked. By the time I graduated from Parsons School of Design, I had a children’s marketing design portfolio. But the most important thing Molly ever gave me was the nudge to get outside of our little apartment and let New York inspire me. She watched me wrestle with the creative process, seeing how desperately I just wanted to have all the great ideas without understanding where great ideas come from. Molly taught me how to walk away from a project in order to refill my creative well. I still have a card she wrote, with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.
Erik White: Erik was my first Art Director in publishing. He hired me shortly after college to work in the children’s marketing design department at HarperCollins. Erik was a very good manager. He was patient, skilled at interpreting feedback, and very aware that a team should work hard and have fun. He once let me and another designer take the afternoon off to go see all three, extended edition Lord of the Rings movies back to back at the Ziegfeld Theater (which has never been well-known for comfy seats!). It is for sure one of the best—and nerdiest—things I’ve ever done and I think Erik wished he could have come with us. Erik kept a sign on his desk that said: You are not making art. It wasn’t meant to downplay our job or the creative process. It was a reminder not to let the work become too precious.
Chad Beckerman: Truly, Chad taught me most of what I know about making books. Chad was the Creative Director at Abrams Books and he hired me as a book designer even though I didn’t have any formal book design experience. He encouraged my design instincts, indulged my meticulous pace (which I know drove him crazy!), and advocated for me as I grew into an art director. Chad taught me the importance of thinking outside the box, looking for illustrators everywhere, and most paramount for this introvert: how to save time by talking to someone face-to-face instead of sending an email. Chad had an eye for talented people and team chemistry, and he constructed the best group of designers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. After nearly 10 years, when I was leaving Abrams to begin a new venture at Random House, Chad gave me what is now my favorite bit of advice. He said, Give yourself time to be great.
Martha Rago: Martha is the Executive Creative Director at Random House Children’s Books and I have her to thank for giving me one of the biggest breaks of my career. After rising through the ranks at Abrams, I was ready for a change but not sure where to go. When Martha offered me the opportunity to be the Art Director of the middle-grade team at Random House, I felt like I’d won the lottery. Being an Art Director is equal parts directing projects and people, and I was spring-boarded into full time management. Martha showed me how to have a passion for books and a compassion for people. She nurtured everyone around her and always focused on creating strong partnerships. I learned how to be a mentor from Martha. I’ve been at Candlewick now longer than I was at Random House, but year after year, Martha still remembers my birthday and reaches out. Meaningful relationships matter.
When I was a kid, around age 8, white Keds sneakers were all the rage. I remember begging my mom for a pair so that I would fit in with all the girls at school. My mom, who has always marched to the beat of her own drum, asked me, Why would you want to fit in when you can stand out? That kind of thinking didn’t really work on a shy, slightly insecure 4th grader who thought fitting in was the only way to be cool, but it resonates with me now.
I like to keep publishing trends in my periphery; just aware enough to know what’s going on without being directly influenced. It’s good to keep an eye on what’s selling and what kids are into, but what’s popular now might not be popular two years from now when the projects I’m currently designing hit shelves. Publishing is a slow industry. It usually takes years for a book to get from submission to store shelf. As a creator, I never want to replicate what’s already been done, even if it’s the easiest way to capture an audience’s attention. I’m always looking for new and authentic ways to tell a story.
That said, I don’t design in a bubble. I do make it a point to get to bookstores as often as I can. I love holding finished books in my hands and appreciating the hard work of the creators. I usually scroll through newsletters from PW, Goodreads, and local bookstores when they arrive in my inbox. I also talk with my editorial counterparts about the literary trends they’re noticing and how those fit with our publishing programs.
I like to balance my awareness of what’s trending in the children’s book world with visual inspiration outside of the industry: Movie posters, subway art, Instagram posts, fashion, museum exhibits, graffiti, gaming apps, magazine covers, current events, storefront typography, etc. When an image or an idea resonates, I write it down, drag it onto my desktop, or take a photo to catalog it for later. I also think about what kids are looking at, how they’re interacting with one another, being entertained, and gathering information. Those formats and platforms don’t always translate into books, but they can offer a lot of food for thought.
Funnily enough, white Keds, 30+ years later, are back in style. Maybe I do know a lasting trend when I see one :)
Every publishing house, imprint, editor, and art director has their own aesthetic. And while I certainly have my own preferences, styles that I liked five years ago aren’t necessarily those that I gravitate toward today. For me, and most of the folks that I work with, any preference for a specific illustration style is usually project specific.
Candlewick has a long-standing reputation as a publisher of beautiful books. Both Candlewick and Walker Books US work with illustrators with styles ranging from highly commercial to fine art. While Walker Books US was established to be more of the commercial arm of Candlewick, our goals are the same: Craft beautifully made, authentic stories that kids will want to read over again.
Behind every published project is a team of people working tirelessly toward the goal of helping a book perform well. Critical acclaim alongside commercial success celebrates and rewards that hard work. Even so, not every title becomes a bestseller. While accolades are amazing, for me, the most valuable part of creating a book is knowing that it met the author or illustrator’s expectations and that it touched the life of at least one kid. Here are a few of my favorite projects from throughout my career:
Make work that you love. Don’t worry about pleasing a potential art director or client with your personal work. If you create what you love, people will hire you to make projects that they will love.
Don’t apologize. If you feel like you need to explain a piece of art or defend it in some way, ask yourself if it’s ready to be shown. You should never feel like you need to apologize for anything in your portfolio. You should be proud of each piece you include.
Be organized. You can leave your bed unmade or your kitchen a mess, but do not present a disorganized portfolio! It makes a bad first impression and can be hard to see through, even if your work is good.
Allow time for distractions. Distractions—especially in this day and age!—are unavoidable. Don’t berate or cut yourself off from them. Give yourself permission to use them as fuel for imagination . . . then get back to work!
Yesterday? The day before? :) I work with so many talented illustrators. They all come to the table with different kinds of creativity and ways of seeing the potential in a project. I find that the best kind of creativity happens when there’s collaboration and an open dialog between us. I like to give loose guidelines at the beginning of a project because I’m very interested in the ideas an illustrator will have. I never ever want to limit the scope of a project’s potential or hamper an illustrator’s creativity by levying too many restrictions or presenting my ideas first. I’ll share initial thoughts, but I prefer to leave it up to the illustrator to add to or disregard my ideas in favor of a better one. Two heads are always better than one.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. I don’t remember having many favorite picture books. I do remember desperately wanting to know how to read for myself. (I came home from the first day of kindergarten in tears because I didn’t learn how to read that day!) I was about nine the first time I read Charlotte Doyle and I remember reading it over and over again. I loved her spunk, her determination. I loved that she didn’t conform to society’s notion of what a young lady was supposed to be. She did her own thing her own way. It resonated.
I am incredibly lucky to wake up every day and do a job that I love. So really, each book is a dream project. If I had to ask one thing of the universe, my request would be that the books I create ignite the imaginations of as many kids as possible - that children can find in the pages I’ve designed a better way of seeing the world and perhaps a more loving and accepting way of seeing themselves. Books are designed to be a mirror for the reader. They have the power to transport us, inform us, challenge us, and ultimately, help us see ourselves more clearly. That’s how books shaped me. I learned about the world through stories. And when I grew up and experienced the world for myself, I knew how to ask questions, exercise compassion, and open my imagination to endless possibilities.
gestalten is an international publishing house focusing on illustrated design books which I co-founded in 1995. We had regularly worked with illustrators, many of which had continued to become very well known in the world of children’s books. The books these individuals created appealed to our aesthetics and ethics. They energized, excited and inspired us to start "Little Gestalten” known as “Kleine Gestalten" in Germany.
I am an Industrial Designer by trade and by education. When the first computers became affordable in the early 90s I was intrigued by the new possibilities and the self empowerment they lent to creativity. At gestalten, we were exploring desktop publishing and started working in communication design and curating design shows.
In Great Numbers - How Numbers Shape the World we Live In is a book that aims to spark children's fascination with numbers, and explains how the world came to be what it is today through them. I learnt quite a bit myself when we did the book.
The World of Whales - Get to Know the Giants of the Ocean: children and adults are fascinated by these majestic animals that, in many ways, seem to be familiar to human beings but live in an environment that is as unknown to us as outer space.
Precious Planet - A User’s Manual for Curious Earthlings is a book about Earth that conveys deeper insights by comparing our planet to a human household.
Life and I - A Story About Death is an optimistic story about death. Death is not portrayed as a scary monster but as a rather normal companion to life without which life could not exist. Grown-ups and children alike may find solace in this story and I think it is a great book to start a conversation about this often complicated subject.
The Big Book of Treasures tells joyful stories about how in the course of history great treasures were made, lost, and eventually found again. Raphael Honigstein, the author of The Big Book of Treasures is a well-known football journalist in the UK.
Easy Peasy - An Introduction to Gardening with Kids: the playful artwork by illustrator Aitch captures your imagination in a mesmerising way. The planting can also be realised indoors for children without a balcony or a garden. We always try to stay inclusive with any books we create.
All my Animals: Polish illustrator Dawid Ryski was part of our publishing programme from its beginnings on. He has a very good understanding of the children’s eye and their perception, matching his artwork to their particular age group.
Goliath - The Boy Who Was Different: The title represents the Little Gestalten publishing programme very well as the illustrations are marvellous. The pages are rendered in very bold and striking colours, shaped in geometric ways - reflecting that no one's life ever follows a linear path. The story of the boy Goliath, an attempt we follow in all our children’s books, is to help children who feel different to other children verbalise their feelings and eventually find their own place in the world.
What Do Grown-Ups Do All Day? Do you remember what it was like when you were a child and wondered what the grown-ups do all day? This book tries to give examples of what kind of professional occupations there are, and wants to inspire children to make use of different opportunities. Our fourth book with Dawid Ryski breaks up gender stereotypes and empowers children to become what they want to.
First of all we would like to inspire children’s endless curiosity for the world that surrounds them. We try to show the value of compassion, appreciation and respect without preaching to the kids. We would like to open the door a little bit more and hope that children are inspired to walk through it and explore and appreciate the beauty of the real world as an addition and alternative to the digital world.
If you are hoping to impress the most critical of all audiences (the children, not us), get your story straight, make your characters approachable and not square, make your designs unique and try to employ a light approach to the creation process.
We saw a surge in children’s book purchases during a time when families spent more time together. Having to cope with homeschooling books became more popular. We were very fortunate to fill in this need with a plethora of educational and entertaining material and activities from our books that our reading parents found very worthwhile engaging their children with. We thank our audience for this tremendous feedback during the harder times this year. We were also able to offer a lot of the stories and content from the children’s books digitally, to offer equality to all. We wish everyone to stay healthy and for the pandemic to come to an end soon. It is impressive how seriously children take the situation and how well they implement the distancing measures when returning to school.
Portrait photography by Dan Smith
After completing my Arts degree (majoring in literature and cinema studies), I spent 8 years working for a variety of large publishing houses (both educational and trade publishers) in Australia, Europe and North America. I then moved out of publishing and worked for communication and marketing companies for 8 years. All these experiences gave me a solid foundation in publishing as I pursued my next step.
With a deep appreciation of the arts and literature, it was my life-long ambition dream to create my own publishing house, focussing on children’s books. The enormous scope for creativity in children’s books is the perfect fit for me. The ability to marry my love of the visual arts and literature has been a dream come true.
That’s true. At the time, I was disappointed by the diversity of children’s books available in Australia. The contrast was highlighted on a family trip to Europe in 2009, where I appreciated the diversity of creative and imaginative books children were reading in places such as France and Finland. Why weren’t Australian children being enriched to this extent? This was the catalyst for me to start Berbay Publishing. I was inspired to create enriching children’s books to help shape the way they see the world.
Thus, Berbay was formed. Our mission is to publish books that inform, delight and challenge children with intelligence, ingenuity and fun. We publish books that allow children to be adventurous visually, emotionally and intellectually and to inspire wonder and curiosity.
The advantages are that we are nimble and can take creative risks. We are in charge of our own creative agenda. Our publishing list is not driven by an accounts department. This has served us well: by focussing on what books we love and believe in our list has grown and received many accolades.
The challenges are always on the financial side. Operating a functional business within the constraints of limited working capital is always challenging and made even more difficult in a worldwide pandemic
We work with a diverse range of creative people - from ceramic artists to paper-cut artists; from watercolours illustrators to oil painters. I am always looking for fresh, innovative and surprising artists and illustrators and I’m particularly attracted to the art of “hand-made” work. But most importantly, the illustrations or artwork, not matter what medium we use, must be accessible for children.
For me, nothing beats the sound of a child laughing. Humour is a great tool to engage a child and their imagination. It allows a child to relax and be creative, be absurd and ridiculous but it also has the power explore serious topics and deep thinking.
Two very funny picture books Berbay has recently published are Norton and the Bear by Gabriel Evans and Sneaky Shadows by SC Manchild and illustrated by Sam Caldwell.
Norton and the Bear is a hilarious story about copying someone else’s behaviour that explores the good and bad of every kid’s least form of admiration.
My husband is my most significant and influential mentor. His business acumen and “go get them” attitude has allowed me to dream big. He allows me to bounce ideas and creative concepts, he challenges me with new ways to see things and, importantly, he makes me laugh daily with his wicked sense of humour.
Heads and Tails Insects by John Canty has been a standout success. Its strong sales have been boosted by several prestigious awards, including winning best international picture book at the CCBF in Shanghai last year in November (being the first Australian book to ever win this international award) and receiving a Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour award (Australia’s most prestigious children’s literary awards).
We have also licenced this to North America, the UK, France, Germany, Korea and China.
Our other best-selling series is the Chihiro Takeuchi board book series with the Wall Street Journal voting it one of the best board books of 2019.
The impact of the pandemic has been hard for a small publishing houses who already work on thin margins. Bookshops and libraries closed due to lockdown restrictions and international bookfairs cancelled have been devastating on domestic and international sales.
Our focus is making sure that we have the strongest possible titles ready to share as the industry recovers. We cannot control the market or COVID-19, but we can ensure that the books we produce offer readers something special and different that inspires them to keep returning to our list. Our 2021 list will be our largest list by far, but it’s still as highly-curated as ever, with a focus on satisfying and responding to the natural curiosity that children have
Original and innovative books always stand out and help with success in a very saturated market. These original and innovative books encompass universal themes such as friendship, family, courage, loss and love.
Sneaky Shadows uniquely showcases the limitless possibilities of shadow-casting in a book of imagination and absurd misdirection.
I started my working life in publishing as a Project Editor with a small company called Tempus Publishing, soon becoming Commissioning Editor and later Acting Publisher. After a couple of years there, I realised that my passion lay in children’s publishing so I wrote to Barefoot Books and was fortunate enough to land a job as their Group Publishing Manager. I was based in their Bath offices in England for seven years but also spent a year in their US office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By then, I had two small children so I took a break from my full-time role to spend more time with my family. I set up Conker House Publishing Consultancy with an ex-colleague which led us to many stimulating and rewarding collaborations from educational resources for Ghana to papers for the World Economic Forum, alongside plenty of children’s books, too. In July 2019, Barefoot Books offered me the role of Editorial Director which I happily embraced so here I am!
I would have to talk about the same project on both fronts. In 2011, we published the Barefoot Books World Atlas, written by Nick Crane and illustrated by David Dean. It is a truly stunning book, packed with information and beautiful illustrations. A project that already felt rewarding and challenging became even more so when we turned it into an all-spinning and all-dancing app. The globe literally spins at the touch of your finger, the soundscape changes as you navigate the globe and it is populated by loads of incredible animations. Needless to say, the world of app development was quite different from book publishing so there were many challenges but we are so proud of the product we created. We have recently upgraded the Barefoot World Atlas App and it has been featured by Apple as ‘App of the Day’!
What I particularly love about the creative process at Barefoot Books is that it is never formulaic. Sometimes it’s a manuscript which captures us all with its language and prose. Other times the visuals can lead the development of a book. Sometimes we start with a concept and build out from there, finding the right contributors and bringing in inspiration from far and wide. We work very collaboratively across sales, design, marketing and editorial so everyone pitches in with ideas including our children. They are often the best at coming up with fabulous concepts!
i) From My Window was released in March 2020 and epitomises all that Barefoot stands for – an #OwnVoices book about the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The book poses the question, “What do you see from your window?” which feels so relevant as we all deal with the current lockdown around the world.
I’d recommend having a good look at the existing Barefoot Books products. We have a very distinct look and feel to all our publishing, with a particular love for a strong palette, rich textures and the ability to capture character. We’d rather see a smaller but well-curated portfolio which is tailored to what we are looking for than a range of too many different styles.
Creating a Barefoot book is a collaborative process from start to finish so we definitely look for artists who are happy to exchange ideas and respond to feedback. Enjoying being creative is really key!
I think the coronavirus pandemic has to be mentioned in answer to this question. We are all still waiting to see what long-term impact it will have on the world of children’s publishing. I really hope that the children’s book fairs will be able to get back up and running again soon.
Having grown up in the Lake District, a picturesque part of England and home to Beatrix Potter, I would have to mention Peter Rabbit and his friends. There was so much to love in the various characters, the intriguing plot lines and the beautiful scenery as a backdrop.
Tessa Strickland, co-founder of Barefoot Books, is someone I have always seen as an important role model. She approaches every challenge with integrity and thoughtfulness – something that I aspire to do, too!
I’d like to think we have several of these in our product development process right now. We are always looking for topics that will captivate young minds, build strong characters and make reading a pleasure and not a chore. A book that incorporates all those elements stacks up to be a dream project in my mind. As I look at the world around me, children’s publishing could not feel more important than it does now.
ii) I Took the Moon for a Walk is a real Barefoot classic and has been a bestseller for many years. Carolyn Curtis’ lyrical text captures young minds while Alison Jay’s imaginative artwork continues to delight on every reading.
iii) Ready, Set, Go! is another recent publication well worth shouting about. Coming from a family crazy about all sorts of sports, this has been great fun to develop alongside Celeste Cortright and Christiane Engel . As ever for Barefoot, the book is diverse, inclusive and opens children up to a whole world of possibilities.
According to the ol’ family lore, my dad asked me as a kid what I wanted to do when I grew up and I simply replied, “read,” so my dad told me to figure out how to do that—and that’s been my goal ever since! I studied English and Anthropology in college, while interning at the Wake Forest University Press, and then earned my MFA at Emerson College in Publishing & Writing, which is how I wound up in Boston. My focus has always been on books for young readers, so I did internships at The Horn Book and Candlewick Press during that time and finally landed at HMH Books for Young Readers.
Happy to! The goal of Etch is to publish graphic novels that make a mark. I am personally so excited for the launch of an imprint that is dedicated to publishing graphic novels for every young reader. Etch publishes authors and artists that exemplify the best in art and storytelling of all genres and reflect the diversity of our readers.
The romantic answer would be that I read all day, sipping tea and staring off moodily out the window. While that is certainly part of it (!), every day really does bring something new. I field a lot of emails, I read submissions and bring exciting titles to our team to consider for acquisition, and negotiate contracts. At the same time, I need to edit manuscripts, review copyedits, write flap copy, search for artists to pair with graphic novel scripts, and offer feedback on cover comps. I love being able to work directly with authors and artists, in addition to my colleagues from design, managing editorial, publicity, and marketing. Making a book is a collaborative labor of love with so many moving pieces!
There is nothing quite like connecting with a submission—that fluttery feeling when you just know you have to work on something. With graphic novels that have separate authors and illustrators, one of those magical moments is when you get to see the artist’s interpretation of the characters and world after working solely on a script for months. It’s such an exhilarating, exciting experience!
As a reader and editor, it feels like we’ve entered a sort of golden age of graphic novels. It’s amazing to not only see all of the incredible books being published across a range of genres and age categories, but also the uptick of graphic novel submissions in my own inbox over the past few years! There appears to be a real hunger for visual storytelling, and the market seems fairly fluid in that readers are reading up and down in age groups. It’s also lovely to see the critical reception and accolades titles have been receiving—Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Awards and Honors, oh my! Last ALA I was cheering for every graphic novel that was honored, which goes to show how passionate the comics community is. I’m very lucky to have two amazing comics shops in my town—Comicazi and Hub Comics in Somerville, MA—but I’ve also seen the graphic novel shelves grow at my local indie and B&N. The market is really primed to support expansion of this category.
I was obsessed with making stories and illustrating them as a kid (I think my mom has kept them all, and since I am no artist, she has a lot of blackmail should she decide to use it), and I still have a SpongeBob notebook filled with an unfinished comic from middle school. As a teen, my best friend and I would spend hours on the floor of our local bookstore reading manga, and so my love of long-form visual storytelling organically expanded from there. I enjoy reading across genres, age groups, and mediums—serial comics, graphic novels, manga, web comics—and it’s really informed my editorial tastes and the type of projects I want to work on. On the subway a few months ago, I saw a young boy reading an incredibly beat-up copy of Sisters by Raina Telgemeier and as soon as he finished, he flipped to the front page and started again. I got a little misty-eyed seeing that kind of passion—it reminded me of that complete joy and absorption I experienced reading graphic novels as a kid (and as an adult).
Our Etch launch list has seven titles that span various age groups and genres, so there is really something for everyone! There are dinosaurs, video games, an appearance from the elusive Carmen Sandiego (if you can catch her), bird detectives, gods and goddesses going to middle school, and a new edition of the Will Eisner nominee and Asian/Pacific American Young Adult Literature Honor book Ichiro by Ryan Inzana.
If you’re looking for humor, I recommend Dinomighty! written by Doug Paleo, illustrated by Aaron Blecha. If you love mythology, be sure to keep an eye out for the first in the Oh My Gods! series written by Stephanie Cooke and Insha Fitzpatrick, and illustrated by Juliana Moon. For mystery readers, Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renee Treml is a delightful museum romp. I could go on and on! It’s a wonderful list with such talented creators.
As the home of Alison Bechdel on the general interest side, HMH has a long tradition with graphic novels. Over in the books for young readers, we have Kayla Miller’s brilliant, funny, and heartwarming Click and Camp (the election-themed next book in the series, Act, comes out this summer!). We also publish the award-winning graphic nonfiction of Don Brown including Drowned City and The Unwanted. And we’ve recently published graphic novel adaptions of Newbery Award–winning titles The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and The Giver by Lois Lowry. It has been incredible to see these beloved books reimagined in another medium.
Personally, there are two things I look for when reviewing artist portfolios to pair with a graphic novel script:
1.) character studies
2.) panel work.
Not every artist can/wants to do everything (nor should they!), so when I am looking for an artist for a fantasy, for example, I love seeing creature sketches—mermaids, wolf people, vampires—or magical locations like moon palaces, haunted swamps, or undersea cities. It’s really helpful to see a range of character expressions (whether human or otherwise) to help determine whether an artist can nail the various emotional beats of a script.
As for panel work, the questions that come to mind when I’m reviewing a portfolio: Are they playing with layout in an exciting, dynamic way? Is there variation in paneling across spreads? How does the artist use white space? Even if it is just a miniature comic, it’s great to see how an artist handles the movement and progression of a scene. I also like to get a feel for whether an artist likes to work in full-color, two-color, or both.
Hmm…this is a tricky one as I feel each project I’ve worked on has been a meaningful experience with its own challenges and triumphs! Regarding graphic novels, I have two forthcoming titles that I’m really excited about: Oh My Gods! and ParaNorthern and the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse. Both are funny, heartfelt middle grades, but I will discuss Oh My Gods! here as that title is out first in January 2021 (right around the corner 😉). This series has three creators—two authors and an illustrator—and the team already had existing friendships, so it was incredibly fun to work with them. They are a welcoming and creative bunch! It had such an energy of organic collaboration and humor that it reminded me of being in middle school and making comics with my friends again.
Editorially, we worked on finalizing the script while the artist created a character lineup so we could offer feedback on what was working. Once the script was copyedited, the metaphorical baton was passed to the artist, and our brilliant designer Andrea Miller came aboard to help offer feedback throughout the process. It has been an incredibly rewarding and collaborative project, and I am looking forward to readers meeting Karen and her god and goddess friends (while squeeing over the adorable art!).
Whenever I get this question I completely freeze—you’d think I’d have an answer handy and at the ready! Sometimes I don’t even know a project is a dream of mine until it arrives in my inbox , and you never know what’s going to knock your socks off. But in the interest of answering your question, what type of graphic novel am I dying to read right this second?
1.) A romantic, coming-of-age YA—all those longing glances and blushes on the page! Something hopeful in these trying times.
2.) Having just finished The Great on Hulu, I’d love an anachronistic, hilarious historical, which could be so fun visually with the palaces, period clothing, and decadent food!
3.) I’m always looking for #OwnVoices projects and stories that offer diverse perspectives and experiences in both MG and YA.
We are both prolific writers and readers, and upon having our own children and becoming more engaged in young children's literature, especially, we really developed a passion for a particular type of children's books. They were books that subtly and creatively focussed on the big issues that are critical to the future of society and the planet. E.g. climate change, equality (of all forms), and sustainability etc. We decided we wanted to release our own range of books that focussed on these issues, whilst still seamlessly weaving them into narratives that carried timeless appeal to young children.
The trick is finding an angle that makes these themes accessible/relatable to young minds. In our books thus far, that angle has been using a character that is intriguing to little minds (e.g. Mother Nature) or embedding a protagonist that is sweet, disarming and approachable (e.g. a sea turtle or a young polar bear). Once the little reader is interested in the character, it's easier to extend that interest into the theme that character is exploring or unpacking. We are also very particular about the theme being embedded in the sub-text, rather than an overt driver of the storyline. The intention here is to provide some subtle but meaningful points of conversation that parents can then pick up with their children at the end of the story.
It is critical. Reading is a way to transport the mind anywhere - even to fantastical places - and kids grow and learn the most when they're challenged to think outside the box and leverage their imagination. The majority audience that is purchasing our books are progressive, self-aware parents/grandparents/relatives, who want to instill the same qualities in the next generation.
Alvin was the first illustrator we hired, and his work has been immensely successful. We selected Alvin originally because we felt his illustrative style really nailed the "disarming" element of our books that we noted earlier. Alvin is also deeply passionate about nature and conservation, and having this values alignment meant (and still means) that he was invested in the outcome of our books even beyond the practical level. The most notable work of Alvin's is Stu's book, Remembering Mother Nature, which has absolutely cemented the presence of our business in just a few short months.
Absolutely. The ability to show a diverse style is critical: by "a diverse style", we mean the ability to draw/create a wide range of things without breaking from a distinguishable and consistent aesthetic. Creating people, animals, landscapes, cityscapes etc. and having them all recognisable as "your own" is exactly what we're looking for.
Running an ecommerce business is especially rewarding, above all things. We can work from anywhere we want, whilst automating so much of the customer experience lifecycle. Closer to home, as passionate writers and readers, running a business that is grounded by these things is also emotionally, creatively, and intellectually satisfying. Conversely, yes, the challenges are extreme at times. Given we're still heavily embedded in the mobilisation phase of our business, the workload is extremely high. We both have a strong growth mindset and we're never fully happy with anything, which means we're always refining and optimising - this takes time and is often draining. The ultimate reward, though, is having all the foundations in place - including more staff - which will enable us to focus more exclusively on the creative parts of the publication process, which is what we're most passionate about.
Firstly, and quite simply, that there is a lot to learn and reading is a way to learn it. At the more micro-level, we want children to learn how to question the norm and challenge the status quo. If nothing else, though, we simply want kids to develop a love for reading, and for our books to be the catalyst for this.
We are most positively influenced by businesses that are doing something new, and in a socially-equitable way. We adore brands like Canva for this reason. Perhaps, though, the biggest influence on our business is our own children. Seeing them thrive in reading the books we've published is the most heart-warming and inspiring experience. It's invaluable motivation to push harder and further.
It would have to be anything Winnie The Pooh. Simple, endearing and disarming, these books always demonstrated the power of kindness and acceptance.
First and foremost, we want to remain to true to our vision and only publish books that promote a positive and healthy message. Secondly - and regardless of how large the business becomes - we also want to remain fun, personable, approachable, sustainable, and socially-equitable.
Francisco is a more recent hire, but someone we've had our eye on since before we launched the business. His style is absolutely unique and his alone. The way Francisco draws cities and streetscapes is otherworldly. There is a level of realism, but also a tweak of fantasy and abstractism, that is like nothing else we've seen. His first book with us is actually also the work of the first author we signed-up, Priscilla Pho.
Pris's debut book, Just a Rabbit, explores inequality in the most incredibly fluid and endearing way. The gentleness of her language is beatifully juxtaposed with the progressiveness of Francisco's illustrations, and this combination has created a deeply special book.