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.
I studied Book Art and Design (BA), at London College of Communication (UAL). During my last two years of the course, I had a part-time job as a nanny and was spending a good deal of time appreciating the likes of ‘There Are Cats in This Book’ by Vivian Schwarz in the local libraries, surrounded by toddlers. Yet at that time, I don’t think I would ever have thought to pursue a job in children’s publishing. A change in course leader meant that by my second year at uni, children’s publishing just wasn’t something that was talked about. In fact the new course leader very much looked down on children’s books and once told us that if we submitted an illustration project with talking animals she would refuse to mark the work!
Instead it was pure coincidence (and I’ll admit, sickening serendipity) that through an entirely separate work experience placement at a corporate finance magazine, my CV was kindly passed on to one of the directors at Walker Books. Just a few weeks after that, I interviewed for a rare design internship at Walker and got the job. And thank god I did.
Since starting as a Design Assistant in 2011, I have done everything from making dummies for book fairs, to presenting books at sales conferences and commissioning award winning talent. At each stage of my career I can honestly say that I’ve known without doubt that I was very lucky to have landed here at Walker straight out of uni. After all this time I still count myself fortunate to be here. There are always new and exciting things that happen that keep me inspired and excited to do my job – it’s a very special place to learn your craft.
As a Senior Designer I am involved in scouting new talent, formats and publishing opportunities, which includes commissioning projects. (I’ve always loved the fact that at Walker we have two publishers who come from a design background.) I support the Senior Art Director, Louise Jackson, with various management and coordination tasks – like helping our team meet publishing schedules and planning ahead for various editions of each project. And (to my geeky satisfaction) I’m tasked with rolling out any new in-house systems and training newer members of the team (normally with a bit of mentoring thrown in, where needed). Working as I do in such a dynamic and busy publishing team, often means having to dip in and out of other designers projects to help them reach the finish line when workloads are over stretched or when book fairs and sales events approach.
I am also assigned to certain picture book authors and illustrators (Emma Yarlett, Simon James, Marcia Williams…), offering continuity and crucial support both when developing new projects, and advocating on their behalf for past projects. It’s a responsibility that I cherish.
And of course I do the same job as any other book designer! – where aside from doing the actual designing (i.e. coming up with visual concepts and plans), I will source the right illustrator for a project, and brief and art direct them. A huge part of a designer’s role includes project management and collaborating and communicating with editors, art directors, production teams, sales and finance etc. It’s a very involved job.
I’d start with ‘There Are Cats in This Book’ by Vivian Schwartz (art directed by Ben Norland) because it was the first children’s book that I really appreciated as an adult in charge of a child. It’s very clever, yet also very simple – the art, the text, the design; they all work together in perfect coordination. Plus the book, as an object, is part of the narrative which is genius! I think for these reasons it’s a really good book to look at if you’re trying to write and illustrate for children but are feeling overwhelmed with where to start. Sometimes the simplest concept can produce really great results!
The second would have to be 'Dragon Post’ by Emma Yarlett. It’s a book that I helped commission, after a long period of trying to develop something with Emma. The story is wonderful and it's fabulously illustrated, and like ’There Are Cat’s in This Book’, it's another novelty book. Alex, the character in the story, receives letters and in the book these are presented as closely as possible to real ones. The detail and the imagination that Emma has poured into the project is to an exceptional standard – and although I had coveted Emma’s work for a long time, even as her art director I was blown away by what she produced. From stamps and air mail stickers, to hand drawn addresses, it’s a real lesson in how to go the extra mile and create a fully formed world that children will love to explore.
Next would be 'My Red Hat’, by Rachel Stubbs, who won the Sebastian Walker prize a few years ago. She’s a very exciting new illustrator that I helped bring onto our list with publisher Denise Johnstone-Burt. I just love Rachel's work. Her illustrations are emotive and rich, and yet light and open all at once. The story in this picture book debut is both beautifully quiet and imaginatively playful. It’s a genius offering of balance and opposites, and I think it’s a book illustrators will especially love to explore.
The fourth book would be 'A First Book of Nature’ by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld (art directed by a genius Walker alumni, Liz Wood). As a designer of illustrated books, there are some things that I get particularly excited about. One of those things is colour and I don’t think I can appropriately explain how well the colours in this book have been treated. Mark’s work is utterly faultless and the production quality is superb – I feel like the artwork literally sings on the paper (which isn’t always easy when you’re dealing with print). You’ll have to grab a copy to really see it for yourself, but I think it’s a great example for illustrators who are struggling with how to use colour in their work.
I’m struggling to pick a 5th book as there are so many to choose from! But something very different to the aforementioned would be the Football School Series, illustrated by Spike Gerrell. This is a great example of illustrating what you love – because it makes all the difference in the outcome. The series is art directed by Laurelie Bazin.
A good picture book illustration has to say the right thing at the right time. In my opinion the illustration should compliment and communicate what is happening in the text, telling the story consistently and truthfully. But it should also manage to both fill the spaces that the text leaves behind and also leave enough unsaid. What a paradox!
Good questions to ask are; does the illustration represent a truthful experience, both in the world of the story and in the world of the audience? Does it communicate well? AND – does this illustrator fit with the project? Are they right for the author and are they right for the audience (even if they aren’t expecting it!)?
Much of choosing an artist comes down to whether they are the right fit for the project, so it would be impossible to make any rules when it comes to portfolios. Any art, no matter what style, has it’s place.
It is true however that there are aproaches to illustration that in an unsolicited portfolio can seem tired, overused, or dated – and therefore it’s important to present your best, most exciting and engaging work. I’d suggest looking at current publishing trends when it comes to subject matter (right now this would include a lot of non-fiction and biographies), but also make sure you include things that you are passionate about and enjoy illustrating. Where possible show character designs (preferably both human and animal) as well as examples of composition and sequencing. And don’t be afraid to mix up the age range too (you might think you are best suited to illustrate picture books, but a designer may be able to spot an altogether different potential in your work, say for fiction covers for example). This will give you the best chance,no matter what your art style.
Taking a look across a publisher’s backlist of books will also give a really good idea of what the publishing teams enjoy working on, and whether your work would naturally fit within their list going forward. This doesn’t mean however that they will only be looking for the same as before – of course they will want to be innovative and exciting too, and finding new talent is so important for this!
In terms of sales, the most successful project I have worked on has been 'Dragon Post’ by Emma Yarlett. Since 2018 we have printed over 250k copies worldwide, in more than 10 languages – it’s been phenomenal.
The journey began in 2016, when I reached out to Emma to see if she would like to work on a project with us at Walker. It took a few attempts, but in February 2017 Emma sat at our creative meeting table with a dummy book embossed with the words “Dragon Post”. Denise Johnstone-Burt, Emma’s editor and publisher, started reading the dummy and before she’d reached the last line of the book it was clear that this was ‘the one’. We swiftly contracted the book and soon after began work on the edits, reworkings, rough sketches and dummies of the story, to check that everything worked as well as possible before Emma started painting the artwork. (It’s this stage that can often take the longest time – but it’s so vital and prevents any problems with colour art at final delivery stage.)
Once the structure of the story was in place, Emma started to look at how to characterise Alex, the protagonist and narrator of the story, and also the dragon, which was perhaps the trickiest task of all. After some thought we decided to use a neon pantone red for the dragon to really help him seem as magical and other-worldy as possible – and give an extra level of pizzazz to the book! We did some print tests at this stage and I also spent time working on creating cutter guides and glue points for the inclusion of the letters that the reader would be able to open and read as part of the story.
By November 2017 Emma had delivered all of the art and together we digitally added the pantone colouring to the dragon, making the final touches to the book just before Christmas. Once the book had been proofed we made some small tweaks to a few colours that had suffered in the printing process, and final files were signed off in March 2018 when the book went to print.
Since 'Dragon Post' was published we’ve also continued the series with 'Beast Feast' in 2019 and an exciting new title will be published later in 2020.
Some of the most challenging parts of my job are –
- Getting projects off the ground: Sometimes you can have a vision for something, but if other people don’t ‘get it’ or trust your instinct, it can be difficult to move things forward unless you can find a better way to present your ideas.
- Working with illustrators who aren’t open to direction: This is one of the reasons why relationships are so important in picture book making. An illustrator ought to be able to trust their art director, but it’s also the art directors job to understand their artist. It's a collaborative process.
The most enjoyable parts of my job are –
- Finding projects for artists: Nothing is more satisfying than getting work to the talent!
- I love helping people make their best work: It’s a real privilege to be part of someone’s creative process and sometimes just being an extra pair of eyes or offering encouragement can really help.
- I’m a total geek, and I really enjoy looking at figures: I find working with production on costings for projects very satisfying – especially when dealing with different formats and variables in novelty books. It’s fun to solve problems around the mechanics of printing and making a novelty book. Being business minded in this way also means being creative.
"Your value is not only in the work you create.” (A lesson I’m still trying to learn!)
I think when you work in a competitive creative industry such as publishing, and you appreciate how lucky you are to do what you love, it can be easy to feel a huge amount of personal pressure. This can make it hard to put boundaries in place. But at the end of the day, whilst it’s good to be invested and to go the extra mile, we’re still just making books – we’re not saving lives – so it’s ok to go home and switch off!
I have always valued the input that I get from my manager, Louise Jackson, at Walker. She has worked on some incredible books and won many awards, so she’s a real inspiration. Similarly across the company there are many other colleagues who I have learnt from and been inspired by in various ways, not just in design. Caroline Muir, our Forign Rights Director, is someone I very much admire – she's a role model in how to build and lead a team that consistently outdoes their own performance.
It’s also my peers and my friends at work who at the end of the day challenge me and encourage me – normally over a cheap glass of wine!
Charlie Moyler portrait (c) Donna Ford 2020
I worked as a children’s book editor at several publishers - from indie presses to the largest publishing houses - before launching Illustoria. My first job was in sales at Heyday Books, a publisher in Berkeley with a regional focus, where I started, on the side, acquiring children’s book manuscripts and in the evenings studying to become an editor. I went on to become a children’s book editor at Tricycle Press/Ten Speed Press, and stayed there through its acquisition by Random House Books for Young Readers/Crown Publishing. After Tricycle, I was fortunate to land at Lucasfilm - where I saw so many forms of storytelling (from film, television and music to books, games, and toys) come together in one place - and stayed there through its acquisition by Disney Publishing Worldwide.
During this span of about a decade, I learned from wonderful colleagues and extremely talented and generous artists and writers - many of whom I was fortunate to fold into some part of Illustoria, whether as advisors or guest contributors (Tony DiTerlizzi, Cece Bell, Aaron Becker, Laurel Snyder). I also became a mom of two kids and experienced that tenuous balancing act of parenting, working/commuting/traveling, spending quality time with my kids, and satisfying my own creative outlet. Meanwhile, “A Picture Book Manifesto” was proclaimed and signed by contemporary children’s book heroes I highly admired, and there was a cultural movement by makers, artists, and writers toward craft and purposeful living. As a parent, the need to slow down from our fast-paced, digitally driven culture seemed a necessary and important shift to make with my kids. Illustoria was developed with those ideals in mind - to capture in a print publication for kids and adults a sense of craftsmanship, beauty, meaning, and playfulness that would encourage slowing down, making things, and discovering worlds through fresh approaches to storytelling and art.
In its first iteration I served as publisher and editor-in-chief; my partner, Mark, as co-founder and sounding board; and the core staff of Beth as art director and Claire as publishing assistant. I was very fortunate to lean on friends who contributed as advisors and consultants, and we had occasional part-time help in sales and marketing. To be honest, running an indie magazine required that I wear many hats—from production management to bookkeeping. Since McSweeney’s took over as publisher in the summer of 2019, under the leadership of Amanda Uhle they’ve kept on the talented core staff and have their own extraordinary in-house editors, designers, sales, operations, and fulfillment teams that contribute greatly to the publication.
From the onset balancing the appeal of the design aesthetic has been of utmost importance, as the magazine’s audience is “creative kids and their grownups.” When curating the first eight issues, I approached the visuals in a similar way to how I would approach text. With text, there is the “read-aloud” quality—do the words ring true and authentic when read aloud to a six-year-old as much as when read alone by a twelve-year-old, teenager, or adult? With art and design, is there integrity in the aesthetics so that we are treating our young audience as equals to adults? Are we making sure nothing is saccharine or “dumbed down”? My firm belief is that children are incredibly sophisticated in their visual understanding and appreciation. It’s impossible and absurd to imagine there’s a litmus test for an image, typeface, palette, or illustration to prove equally appealing to children and adults, but I think there has to be a commitment to beauty (in the sense of true-ness, not “prettiness”) and universal understanding. Those qualities I find in the best picture books, and have tried to cultivate in the magazine.
Lisa Brown’s cover art for Issue #3: Outside-In must be one of the most imaginative and outside-the-box interpretations of a given theme. I love that there are literal, symbolic, figurative, and comical elements to her execution. The well-known, folkloric figures of the smug, ravenous wolf and the put-out Little Red Riding Hood—who looks grumpily inconvenienced more than anything—gives us the sense that we all know how this story plays out, but Lisa Brown’s unexpected treatment of the tried and true brings out a whole new dimension of enjoyment and possibilities…which gets right to my fascination with the endless paths and threads in storytelling.
When commissioning for the magazine, I looked for variety and diversity because each issue intentionally represents different styles and voices. It was important to me to show kids that there’s not one right way to be an artist or to be good at something; there are many forms of expression that are valid and worthy of celebration. Some common traits that spark interest include playfulness, originality, and a distinct point of view. All in all, it is such a pleasure to see artwork from artists around the world who reach out. I’m always amazed and inspired by the beautiful work that is shared with us. (Please note that the team under McSweeney’s is now acquiring for the magazine.)
This is always the hardest question for me, but if I had to choose three to highlight these would be…
Issue 1: Beginnings, because the first always holds such a special place being an introduction, an opening of possibilities, a landing place for all the big ideas and granular, fine-tuned details of a project at its loving infancy. This issue features beloved kid-lit author Cece Bell’s illustrated depiction on the making of her incredible graphic novel, El Deafo; and master-musician Andrew Bird’s essay on learning to play the violin as a young child and the gentle, inquisitive guidance of his mother. I love the idea that by asking questions, a parent and child can learn together. This issue contains so much heart and soul, and I feel all my intentions for what Illustoria could be came together beautifully thanks to all the amazing contributors.
Issue 8: Home is another favorite. The theme is such a powerful one for kids and adults alike, and a timeless one that carries with it such emotional importance—perhaps now more than ever. The cover by Carson Ellis and the interview with her and Colin Meloy about balancing home life and creative work are especially charged with warmth and joy. This was also the last issue I worked on as editor-in-chief before taking time off to be more involved with my kids and my own personal projects, and I think it really speaks to how we all look for balance and meaning in our homes and also in our contributions to the larger world.
Issue 10: Color is a new favorite. This was the second issue under McSweeney’s (and, for the record, I was not directly involved in it aside from reviewing it in the broadest strokes). This issue beautifully brings together everything I love about Illustoria in a glorious celebration of color, art, and creativity while integrating the mission of The International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers by including delightful writings by young contributors and inspiring articles on youth activism. Longtime contributors Alexis Joseph and Lindsay Stripling have an extended, gorgeous piece on the history of color that is a must-read.
As a child, I enjoyed poring over the stories and comics in Highlights and Cricket. I was also fascinated by the otherworldly photography found in National Geographic.
Great books, museums, nature walks, and, most of all, having down time to be with my children and let the conversations and meanderings go at their pace—these things all get my creative juices flowing. Art materials and a journal always being readily available, and space and time to make freely, so that one idea can be played around with and given the time to marinate and lead to the next. And of course the process of making itself always spurs more creativity.
My three kids vary in age—from fourteen to two-and-a-half—so their creative needs and expressions vary dramatically. A key element in my household is having materials easily accessible to dip into and just as easily to put away. We have these “art drawers” where we store materials, but I find that nothing happens until the materials are out and visible and ready to go! Aside from active engagement, I find that getting outside for walks, foraging, gardening together, listening to music, and cooking and baking—these activities encourage relaxation, connection, and a desire to experiment. It seems when we aren’t focused on “making art” or doing “creative writing,” but just exploring materials together or discussing something the kids are passionate about, that’s when the real creativity happens.
It’s humbling to admit, but I feel the future of Illustoria is here! With McSweeney’s as the magazine’s new publisher, and The International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers committed to sharing the work of young writers from around the world in its pages, Illustoria has reached a new level of commitment to and engagement with its readers. I’ll have to defer to Amanda Uhle, the magazine’s new executive publisher to answer that question, but in the meantime I am working on some new projects under Illustoria Studio which include artful collaborations in and out of the print space—so stay tuned!
I started as editorial assistant at Hodder Children's Books after temping at Walker in my university holidays, which is where I discovered my passion for children's books.
As a Fiction editor, I had the pleasure of working with a range of talented writers, like Michael Morpurgo, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), William Nicholson, Anne Fine, Jamila Gavin and Jenny Nimmo; as publisher with broader responsibilities across the whole Fiction and Picture Books list, illustrators like Helen Oxenbury, Jan Fearnley and Lydia Monks; and now we publish talented author-illustrators on the list like Jim Smith and Laura Ellen Anderson.
As Managing Director, my role is strategic and managerial, and I take great pride in our company mission 'To make all children proud readers' and to ensure a child-friendly portfolio that offers entry points into reading for all children. It's a pleasure to see this come to life through our broad portfolio, which is underpinned by unique data and research that aims to bring down barriers to reading for pleasure and book buying. My biggest challenge is the lack of hours in the day!
So many! Let me share some fantastic recent successes during lock down:
From our Picture Book list: Thank You, Baked Potato! by Matt Lucas - turnaround in just one month and published this month (May) in aid of FeedNHS.
From our Fiction list: Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson, which also published in May and made #2 in the bestseller charts in one of the most challenging retail environments to date. Last year, Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder was the bestselling children’s and YA debut of the year. It recently became a NYT no.1 bestseller.
From our Brands & Licensing list: The Royal Engine, a brand new Thomas-the-Tank Engine story. The TV episode is introduced by Thomas fan, Prince Harry!
To support our mission to make all children proud readers, especially as reading for pleasure is declining, we invest in research that shows how children who are reluctant readers can be turned into passionate readers, and there is plenty of research and data to show how children who read for pleasure have better academic and life chances. Our research studies can be found on our website, including our Stories and Choices study, where we worked with a school in Stock-on-Trent and showed how daily story time for pleasure - with no academic agenda - has a dramatic impact on children's independent reading (and reading attainment). We are now campaigning to have daily story time made a part of the statutory curriculum.
We have a number of plans in place to maximise sales of our books where consumers can still buy them, whilst protecting the health and safety of our staff. I am tremendously proud of the excellent team work that continues even whilst everyone is home based.
I’m delighted to say that Egmont was the first children’s publisher to create a bespoke website, providing dedicated entertainment and educational support to families and children during Covid-19.
14stories14days.co.uk provides parents, educators and families with activities, resources and guidance to help keep all children occupied from pre-schoolers to teenagers. Egmont understands the importance of reading for pleasure, so the site features not just a wealth of activities, videos and puzzles for children of all ages but also support for parents too. There is an abundance of downloadable resources across our Picture Book & Gift, Fiction and Brands titles which will appeal to all children, from reluctant readers to those confidently reading during this unprecedented period.
On the Picture Book list, on top of Matt Lucas’ Thank You, Baked Potato! we’ve recently acquired the hilarious Kittens on Dinosaurs from Michael Slack. I can see these dino-climbing kittens quickly becoming a favourite for children and parents alike.
On the Fiction list, we’ve snapped up the YA debut from K-Pop royalty Jessica Jung – former lead singer of superstar group Girls’ Generation. Inspired by her personal experience of the industry, Shine will bring the hyper-colourful, hyper-competitive world of K-pop to life.
On the Brands & Licensing list, this October we are set to publish the first ever official annual celebrating the legendary fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.
Our commissioning editors are actively working with agents, based in the UK and beyond, to improve the inclusiveness of our list. We want children to see their family and lives reflected in our books, whether it’s a picture book being read to them, an exciting adventure devoured under the covers or an inspiring, life-affirming novel-in-verse. We’re particularly excited to have just revealed the cover for BB Alston’s debutl, Amari and the Night Brothers.
Winnie-the-Pooh! I have a photograph of me in my cot having a very earnest chat with my toy Pooh Bear, which I still have. Then, he was the same size of me; now, I have the honour of being the publisher of those wonderful books.
An absolute passion for what children love - writers, illustrators, brands, toys, games, films, TV - and an eye for what their parents will buy for them!
I've been wanting to go into publishing since I was about 16 years old. I grew up reading a lot of manga and at that time I was adamant about becoming a manga editor. So I really focused on my Japanese and English Literature classes, did two internships with PRH my freshman and sophomore summers of college, then another internship with Kodansha USA my junior summer, and then landed my entry-level job with First Second two weeks before graduating Williams college.
A year before applying for my job at First Second I had an informational meeting with Calista Brill who gave me a copy of In Real Life (Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang) and broadened my whole trajectory from 'just manga' to 'comics' in general. I'm really grateful that I met her— I couldn't think of a more perfect job or industry for me.
This question always makes me laugh because our boss and founder, Mark Siegel, has explained it to me various times now and I can never explain it the same way to other people. So, from my understanding, one of the many meanings—and the one I always remember—behind the name First Second is 'the very first second (the interval of time) you see something that leaves an impression on you'. It captures that very brief window of catching someone's eye and heart, and instantaneously leaving a mark.
Hmm, for young readers I would have to recommend John Patrick Green's InvestiGators series and Graham Annable's Peter & Ernesto series!
There isn't one! I think as long as the art style is polished and consistent, any style can work for a graphic novel as long as the artist knows how to move across a page and direct the panels in a way that reads well. Of course, there are art styles that work better for middle grade and others that feel more adult, and some art styles read more literary and others more commercial. There are also art styles that 'feel more indie' and would work at some publishing houses but not in others. It's all a case-by-case basis. Publishing professionals who work with graphic novels have a sense of what art style fits into what age category, as well as how it's usually received by the market, and can direct an artist to where they think their art will fit best.
I'd first like to say I don't love using the word "commissioning" in this case because it feels really cold and a bit dismissive of how involved artists are in our overall process. At First Second when we acquire a solo project from an artist or even sign up an artist up for a project with a writer, they are being welcomed into a family and have become a key team player. So, to move back to the intent of the original question - the other qualities I look for in an artist so that we can get through our partnership and collaboration as smoothly as possible are passion, clear communication, and responsiveness.
First Second's most popular middle-grade series would be the Real Friends series by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham!
Huh, that's a tough one. I feel like the hardest part of any project I've worked on so far is definitely the development stage—how do I get this story to be the best story it can be with the vision the creator and I have in mind. There is a lovely project I've been working on that leans more toward what you'd call 'slice-of-life'. A lot of the challenges we had at first dealt with balancing the story so that there is breathing room and scenic imagery, but also plenty of cohesive, meaningful moments spent with the characters the reader is supposed to get attached to. We went through many rounds of the script and a few hour-long calls to work out how to best form the arc for these characters so it drives the story. I think we landed at a pretty good place.
I think my biggest mentor has definitely been Calista Brill, co-Editorial Director at First Second. She's my direct manager and there are many books on her list that I have assisted on or co-edited. She's really helped shape how I go about editing books, building my career, and even my many failed attempts at working on my poker face (my emotions show on my face a bit too much). Aside from her, I've found mentors in coworkers that are just one or two positions ahead of me and that I can talk to as comrades. One great thing about publishing is that you can always learn something from the person next to you, no matter what their position is, because of just how varied people's journeys into publishing are.
There are many lessons I've received: "publishing is about books but ultimately it's also a business", "everyone has imposter syndrome at first", "a lot of editing is about having good instincts", and probably one of my favorites "once you give up on the illusion that you'll ever catch up, everything becomes easier".
If we are talking about American comics, I didn't read many as a kid (it's something I started getting into as an adult). But in the case of manga—the series Prince of Tennis completely took over my life starting from the age of 12. It was the first time I was participating in a fandom, and I was collecting pins, posters, bookbags, and absolutely anything I could that had Prince of Tennis on it. It started my deep love for sports manga and will forever have a place in my heart.
There are so many good books coming out I don't even know how to choose, so I'll name a few:
- Julia's House Moves On by Ben Hatke
- A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong
- Displacement by Kiku Hughes
- The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux
- Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter
Our ambition for our 80th year is to be a loud, proud voice for the power of stories, in all their forms, and this time of enforced isolation has shown that stories, their ability to connect people, and the power of the imagination have never been so important. So we have adapted our original plans to make sure that stories are still accessible to as many children as possible – we broadcast daily Puffin Storytimes (free author readings & illustrator draw-alongs) during lockdown (reaching over one million families); in June we launched a week-long online Festival called the Puffin Festival of Big Dreams (viewed by over 500,000 families); we also launched a Puffin Podcast; and provided as many resources as we could on our own Puffin Schools website, and with partners such as TWINKL and the BBC, to facilitate home-learning.
We’ve also been really interested in understanding how children’s reading has been affected during lockdown, and partnered with the National Literacy Trust on a survey of their reading habits. It was gratifying to learn that 59% of children said that reading made them feel better during lockdown and 50% said that reading helped inspire them to dream about the future. The study also found that the time they spent reading each day had increased by 35%. Children’s enjoyment of reading has also increased, and audiobooks were identified as providing a vital route into stories for more reluctant readers. We hope to help to encourage some of these positive habits into the future.
In September we are launching a wonderful piece of celebratory publishing, The Puffin Book of Big Dreams, which includes contributions from Puffin authors and illustrators new and old, and also from children who attend some of the schools we support with our Puffin World of stories initiative. And look out for a few other surprises intended to inspire children to dream big in 2020 and beyond!
Nothing is exactly typical, right now! However, usually my day would involve a lot of face to face meetings, where we’d be discussing a variety of topics, whether that’s live projects (discussing illustrator ideas for new picture book texts, for example), books we want to buy, reviewing the performance of one of our well-established brands, looking ahead at next year’s debut titles and refining our plans, or collaborating with the leadership team on budget planning or strategy. I might also meet an agent or colleague in another part of our business for breakfast or lunch at an actual restaurant…
I think this current situation probably goes down as the biggest leadership challenge I’ve faced – trying to stay in touch with and support the team of nearly thirty editors and react to the rapidly evolving situation, while making the best possible decisions for our authors and books, all from my spare room, has required adjusting my approach.
I regularly feel incredibly proud of the team and our authors’ and illustrators’ achievements so it’s really difficult to pick one. Probably though, I am most proud of being given the responsibility of running the Puffin team, when Puffin has meant such a lot to me throughout so much of my life. To now be looking after a list that includes the likes of Roald Dahl and some of my other literary heroes, plus contributing to creating so many new ones, is not something that I ever imagined for myself back when Puffin books were helping to define my childhood.
I think that’s probably down in large part to the genius of Allen Lane. Choosing the Penguin and, later, the Puffin to represent our books just seemed to capture the public’s imagination in a way few other brands have, and shows the power of great design. And I don’t think we’ve ever forgotten the purpose of our brand, which since it began has been about making stories accessible to as many readers as possible. I think that endeavour is part of our DNA and we’ve been lucky that many readers have understood that and taken it to their own hearts.
The non-fiction market has been dominated for many years by a handful of authors, and publishers like DK, however recently we’ve seen an expansion of this market into the gifting space, and it’s been brilliant to see the way that consumer and retail appetite for design-led, beautifully packaged non-fiction and reference has grown, together with a desire for books that tackle big subjects.
Puffin started out publishing non-fiction, so we are thrilled to be reviving this area of our publishing. Sabina Radeva (a scientist, author and illustrator) is one of the non-fiction authors I’m very proud to have on the list, in making Darwin’s theory of evolution accessible to a younger audience, as well as Lucy Hawking. Her recent collection, Unlocking the Universe, brings together some of her father’s greatest thinking with that of a diverse number of other scientists - covering a range of topics from climate change, to genetics, to black holes, and more. I love all of Vashti Harrison’s work, and have gifted titles in her inspiring and important non-fiction series, Little Leaders, many times over. Under Penguin, we are also really proud to have published Scarlett Curtis’s conversation-starting and award-winning anthologies - Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies and It’s Not OK to feel Blue and Other Lies.
We like to do both! There’s something very exciting about helping to bring someone like Sabina Radeva or Dapo Adeola to wide attention, however equally, watching Quentin Blake or Helen Oxenbury breathe new life into a rediscovered Beatrix Potter, for example, is a complete joy and privilege.
It’s hard to define this in a few words and I’m not sure there’s a magic formula. We’ve been struck by the success of Tom Fletcher’s In Your Book series internationally - Greg Abbott’s endearingly cheeky characters have had wide appeal across borders. Ed Vere has also had now well over a decade of strong rights sales – his style manages to be at once sophisticated and child-friendly, and of course incredibly distinctive, which does seem to be one of the key requirements. We’re very hopeful for our newest author-illustrator, Al Rodin, whose illustration style also seems to share some of these hallmarks.
Look Up! is one of my favourite picture books from last year, and unusually, Nathan and Dapo came to us as a pair. We knew the text was really special – it had a wonderful message delivered in a funny and acutely well-observed story, and even though at the time there were just a few character sketches, Rocket totally leapt off the page. Joe Marriott, Editorial Director in the picture book team, and Monica Whelan, Design Manager, worked really hard with Dapo and Nathan on their debut title to keep the freshness of the voice and unique feel of Dapo’s style and deliver a world-class picture book, which was recently named as the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize Overall Winner. We have also just published the brilliant follow-up - Clean Up!
We are proud to continue to work closely with the BBC and to be children’s publisher for Dr Who – we are also delighted to be partnering with them on a new endeavour, which is to create a range of illustrated non-fiction titles based on their phenomenal and award-winning BBC Earth series. We continue to look for new licenses for which we feel we can create really exciting publishing that will genuinely add to and extend story universes of all varieties.
This is always the hardest question! One of the books I remember going back to time and time again is Shirley Hughes’s wordless picture book Up and Up, and dreaming about being able to fly. I think that was probably my earliest understanding that a story could take you to seemingly impossible places – and I didn’t even need to be able to read it.
I graduated from the University of Michigan School of Art and Design many years ago. My first job out of college was working for a large software company in their marketing and design department. After that, I worked in Advertising for a while then over to a small boutique design firm where Sleeping Bear Press was one of our clients. After designing a coffee-table book on former Detroit Tiger Kirk Gibson, they asked if I would consider coming on board as a designer and to (eventually) build a creative department. I was thrilled to join the team at Sleeping Bear Press since I’ve always had a love of book design and children’s book illustration.
Sleeping Bear’s publishing program really changed when we released our first children’s book in 1998, The Legend of Sleeping Bear. Prior to that, we were a regional publisher known for our coffee-table books featuring Michigan sights and attractions. The first couple of years after The Legend of Sleeping Bear, we focused on Michigan-based legends and then started work on our popular state alphabet series. Now we publish almost every category of children’s book, from board books to readers, picture books to middle grade offerings. Fiction as well as nonfiction. It’s been exciting to watch our growth.
Well, as creative director, of course my focus is on art, design, and production, and I am very proud of the standards we have set for ourselves. We pride ourselves on publishing high-quality, beautifully illustrated and designed books, and we are known for that. We are committed to producing distinctive children’s books with rich content, whether it’s a board book series for the youngest readers or a historical fiction middle-grade offering by bestselling author Sandra Dallas. We feel that our publishing program offers something for every young reader.
This is tough as there are several that I have recently enjoyed. We just completed a book with illustrator Deborah Melmon, Letters from My Tooth Fairy. Deborah is such a joy to work with and she really went the extra mile to make this book so special, funny, and endearing. I also got the chance to recruit my 12-year-old son to provide the handwriting for many of the letters in the book and write a few articles for a fictional newspaper, the Tooth Fairy Times. So, for me, this book is extra special.
That depends. If I don’t have a particular manuscript that I’m researching illustrators for, then I like to see a variety of themes. I also look for consistency in an illustrator’s style. When I do have manuscripts, and I’m in need of finding the right talent, I look for themes in their work that might be reflected in the stories I have in front of me. I will typically compile a list of folks and then present them to the editor on the project. Often the editors will weigh in early on and give me an idea of what style they are visualizing for the story. I’ll take that information and try to line up illustrators that reflect their vision, but also give them several more options with artists whose styles they might not have considered. It’s an exciting process and always an adventure finding just the right artist.
I think staying on top of the workload is one challenge that comes to mind. We’re a small company so many of us here wear a lot of different hats. We’re responsible for not only producing books but also all marketing materials. We have to be flexible because one minute we’ll be working on a picture book and the next we’re designing promotional/trade-show materials, industry ads, the company catalog, etc. Also, helping to keep projects on schedule and meeting all deadlines is a challenge for all of us on the production team.
Both. Established illustrators are always a joy to work. But I absolutely love finding those unknown illustrators out there that want to break into publishing and have incredible enthusiasm and amazing talent. I love to watch them grow and help break them into the business.
The very first children’s book we published, The Legend of Sleeping Bear, by Kathy-jo Wargin and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen is our all-time bestseller. This book has become a classic and is now the official children’s book of Michigan. It’s such a beautifully written and illustrated story. As a mother of two boys, I still can’t read it without getting emotional.
I love it when one kernel of an idea just bounces back and forth between myself and the illustrator and then you get something really unexpected or amazing that pops out of the back and forth. I really enjoy seeing how the illustrator interprets a manuscript and how the rough sketches evolve over time to become a beautifully illustrated book. Getting to know our illustrators on a personal level is a special perk. We really feel like our illustrators (and authors too) are family.
We’ve got some really neat titles on our fall ’20 list, a great mix of fiction and nonfiction. We have Acoustic Rooster's Barnyard Boogie Starring Indigo Blume, which is about a little girl struck with stage fright. It’s written by New York Times-bestselling author Kwame Alexander, and accompanies the musical premiering at the Kennedy Center this fall.
The title that I referenced earlier, Letters from My Tooth Fairy, is about a young girl and her devoted tooth fairy exchange letters, asking and answering questions about some of childhood’s most important moments. It is so sweet and funny!
Two great nonfiction offerings are Tails from the Animal Shelter and Letters from Space. Tails from the Animal Shelter shines a spotlight on the good work of community animal shelters. Terrific art and a great message for kids on how to adopt an animal in need. Letters from Space (illustrated by Susan Batori) is from retired astronaut and national speaker Clayton Anderson and gives a funny and fact-filled behind-the-scenes peek at life in space.