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I had a very roundabout path to becoming an art director in Publishing. I earned a degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in Graphic Design. The school's design program was very studio-centric, learning about designers like Lester Beal, Alexy Brodovich, William Golden, Bradbury Thompson, and Massimo Vigelli. These were the designers who ran their own studios and ultimately worked in all areas of design including: branding, magazine, book, environmental, etc. We were taught what life was like for a studio designer, not the life of a designer specializing in any of those areas. 
 
When I left RIT, I had no idea where I wanted to work, and going “freelance” or starting my own business scared the life out of me. So, I just worked as many jobs as I could, as long as there was some challenge behind it. When that challenge passed and I lost interest, I would move on. All in all, the first part of my career I worked in almost every facet of the graphic design industry except one: Book Publishing. 
 
I am VERY fortunate (and forever grateful) that my then Creative Director Gail Doobinin and the folks at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers hired me. It literally changed the course of my life. It's how I met my wife!! As soon as I finished my first project, I knew I found my home as a book designer. For the first time in my career, I found work where every new project was just as exciting as the first. I love the process. I love the product. 
 
Over the course of my career at Time Warner and Hachette Book Group, I was fortunate to work at a few different imprints: LBYR, Yen Press, Orbit, and Redhook. I was able to get my hands dirty doing Kid Lit, Manga/comics, Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Commercial Fiction. 
 
The next significant step in my career was at Scholastic. I was very lucky to work under Ken Geist who made me fall in love with my career even more. Ken gave me something special by elevating the working experience to a place I didn’t think it could go, through humor, passion, and a love for a beautiful book. There was such a collaborative camaraderie in Ken’s team. We all worked through challenges together, made amazing books, and had a great time doing it!
 
At one point during my tenure at Hachette, I had interviewed for a Senior Designer position at First Second. I wrote Mark Siegel an impassioned email indicating how working at First Second would be a dream job. I didn’t get it, but knowing what I know now, Mark made the right decision. First Second had hired Andrew Arnold who was the perfect designer for the job. But when Andrew left to start his own imprint at Harper, Mark reached out when I was at Scholastic, and the rest is history.
 

This is a hard one to answer, because I don’t like to play favorites with my projects. But I will say Dragon Hoops by Gene Yang was a special project because of the hand of cards it presented and the path it ultimately took. When I started at First Second, this project was already late. I needed to pick this project up very quickly and get something designed yesterday. We had a design in the running, which we thought was a solid direction. But after some distance and great feedback, we decided to start over.
 
I had to dig deep and eventually came up with the current design. This was a journey and a VERY collaborative project, which is a big part of publishing. Publishing is supposed to be collaborative because it’s a collection of people who are experts in their field. It forced me to tap into ideas that I wouldn’t have on my own.
 
Once we settled on the cover direction of the basketball theme design, I needed to figure out how we were going to actually print it. A big part of the concept was to give the book a very tactile experience. I wanted Dragon Hoops to look AND feel like a basketball when the reader is holding it. It was a really fun challenge to construct the jacket mechanical to replicate that feeling of a basketball. I felt like a carpenter.
 
In the end, Dragon Hoops was not only a creative challenge but a technical challenge as well, all done in a compressed schedule. It was really hard, and very rewarding.
 

I’m a big fan of cheesy phrases and I like to say, “I like to see art that not only goes out on a limb, but hovers next to the tree and laughs at it.” Nothing brings me more joy than when artists experiment, play, and have fun. You can tell they are enjoying the process when looking at their portfolio and the artwork feels natural and fluid. 
 
However, there’s a realistic side to the industry. Some art styles elicit a visceral response from the audience by being either dated or very niche. Being self-aware of your own art and knowing your style's place in the marketplace is important. Maybe your style is dated or very niche, but can you push it to make it work in some way? Can you figure out a way to elicit a new response through different character designs or color palettes? If so, that’s when artists are pushing the boundaries and creating cool stuff.
 

This Was Our Pact is pretty much up there as one of my favorite children’s graphic novel. This book taps into my childhood of riding bikes and exploring the woods behind our houses, new and growing friendships, and owning my own actions. The artwork in This Was Our Pact is so beautiful and whimsical…. I’ve read it about 6 or 7 times and it never gets old. 

An art director does more than make a pretty design. Art Directors are overseeing projects, collaborating with artists, and often managing teams. One needs to develop skills beyond just good design. Communication is key. How do you talk with creators and try to get the best work out of them? How do you manage your team so they grow and develop their own style and voice? Organization is important too. How do you navigate all of your projects so there’s enough structure for your colleagues yet providing your creators with flexibility to work the way they need to? How do you do all of this and manage your own projects?  
 
The art director also needs to be a resource for creators in every way imaginable. Especially in comics, because there are so many ways one can create comics these days. Between different types of traditional media, a wide range of software, and creative drives to push the comics medium. The art director really has to be available as a resource for the creator. It could be helping figure out glitches in software. It could be helping the creator push their ideas so they’re getting more impact in their book.
 
Nothing (and I mean nothing) feels better than when you, your team, and creators are catching a wave of working together, bouncing ideas off of each other, and pumping out great books! There’s never a straight line from start to finish, so when an art director can get everyone to enjoy the ride…. That’s when everyone enjoys the end destination the most!
 

Include style(s) that look and feel developed with multiple samples of each style. Please don’t include random one-off images… that doesn’t communicate to me that you can handle an entire book. Only include samples that you enjoy doing, because if I ask you to work on a book in a style, I want you, the artist, to be stoked to do an entire book that way.
 
Having multiple styles is great… Just curate your selection. We’re not looking for a set number of styles. We’re looking for quality. So if you can execute your work in multiple ways, all of them you do really well, and have fun doing…. Flaunt them!
 

To be willing to explore and play. On rare occasions, a solution presents itself right away. But many times, the best solutions require exploration. Opening up your brain to investigate and play is a skill set in of itself. Don’t lock yourself into a solution, because something extraordinary always presents itself after some searching. Remember, until we’re holding a book in our hands…. Nothing is set in stone. Use that time in the beginning to play and communicate what’s working and what’s not. Does that mean compromise? Yes, absolutely. But the best books come from artists who take the time to find that amazing solution.

The best products and books come out of collaboration. It’s important to remember that a balance needs to be had between the creator and the publisher. If a creator wants full control, they can always self publish. But if a publisher is fronting the capital to make an investment on your project, there are going to be expectations the publisher needs met. Working with the editor and designer/art director is important. Finding the best solution and communicating in an amicable/respectful way from all sides is key. Publishers need to remember that these projects are a creator's brain child and creators need to remember that publishers don’t work in a vacuum.

Easy, working at First Second. There is never a day that I don’t appreciate the incredible talent I get to work with every day. Not to mention, my colleagues are some of the most talented people in the industry who are genuine and have a heart of gold. As far as the comics industry goes, it’s filled with creators/contributors/readers who just love the medium. They love the craft of sequential art and are constantly pushing the art to new levels. Being a kid who grew up reading comics and dreaming of one day working in the industry, this job is very special to me. I’m very lucky.

As an art director, everything becomes inspiration. Everywhere I go, I’m looking at how different people use type, imagery, and what makes them tick. Depending on what kind of project it is and what that project is about, I need to understand how to best communicate that subject matter. That opens up the door for taking deep dives in different cultural worlds. It’s in those deep dives where you discover symbols and visual languages that you can use. Whether it’s New England folk art paintings to Basquiat, a film by Hayao Miyazaki to Bob’s Burgers, Blue Note album covers by Reid Miles to underground club fliers, watching The Great British Bake Off to Binging with Babish, watching a SpaceX launch to a crazy maker build with Mark Rober, listening to acapella by Pentatonix to thrash metal by Slayer. As an art director, the more culture you’re exposed to, the more you can understand what creators are communicating in their work. It's an endless pursuit, but one that never gets old!

Another project is A Map to the Sun by Sloan Leong. Sloan's artwork for this is just beautiful and perfect for the story. As soon as you experience the artwork, you're immediately transported to the hazy lifestyle of the west coast setting sun. There is this cinematic feel to her work that really plays into the tempo of the story as well. I can hear a soundtrack (haha... for me it was Ratatat and Kavinsky) with her pages as the story played out.

Sloan's colors are just bonkers. Her distinct palette sets the story perfectly in California and her use of color holds really propel the artwork into this otherworldly place. The palette changes throughout, not in a drastic way, as if you're watching a sunset. But because the colors of a sunset shift slowly, that subconscious association plays a role in the pacing of the story.

When we worked on the cover design of this project, I really wanted something that was going to echo the beauty of the interior and really convey the experience in an instant. After some back and forth to get an idea of where Sloan's head was at, we settled on the type driven cover where the type was integrated into the art. I could see the movement in this direction, as if it were opening credits to a film, and felt it was showing off the best parts of her art.

Lastly, The Well written by Jake Wyatt with art by Choo was an absolute blast to work on. I've been a fan of Choo's work whose style rides this fine line of complex with lots of information yet feeling simple and effortless. When you look at Choo's work, you notice they use gradients sparingly and color blocks to define the elements in the art. Their distinct style sucks you into the story, because you get lost in the details hoping to find easter eggs.

I worked in Sci Fi/Fantasy for many years and Choo's style is such a refreshing stylistic contribution to the genre. Their visuals are just so fluid and effortless, paired with Jake's story.... I would find myself halfway through the book in what felt like a blink of an eye.

When we got working on the cover this was another challenge where it was important to showcase Choo's distinct style along with Jake's big fantasy adventure in a blink of an eye. Taking the old ornate frame and picture window book design style, we built on that to make Lizzy, our main character, look as if she's about to jump INTO the book itself to go on her adventure, making eye contact with the reader and pulling them in too.

The colors, the pacing, character design….. It’s just a magical story! I got my son into the book too, and we both love to go on our own adventures when we go camping.

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I've loved writing since I was a kid and I've always had a passion for early education and history. The idea for Honest History was born out of a desire to combine these areas of my life—and when I researched available options for kids, I was disappointed at the lack of history resources that were creative, fun and inspiring. I decided then to create a brand that would provide these missing elements to kids across different forms of media.

At the heart of our company is a notion that creativity and education can be combined to create compelling stories brought to life with original illustrations and great design. There are other titles on shelves that are creative and titles that lean more academic, but the way we combine these two elements creates a uniquely engaging magazine for kids. Our goal is to present a fact-based view of history that allows kids to make their own decisions on how they feel about the people, cultures, and events that shaped our world. Our magazine is meant to be a jumping-off point for kids, parents, and teachers to explore topics of interest and discover how history can be fun for everyone. 

That's a great question! Each issue of the magazine has its own style and feel, but we love hand-drawn or painted illustrations that use primary colors. We also love working with illustrators from a variety of backgrounds who have a connection to the topic we are covering in any given issue. 

Draw what you love! I have found that an artist's passion really comes through when they are drawing something that sparks joy. Draw in the style you love and draw the things that make you happy. We almost always choose illustrators whose personality comes through most in their work, regardless of whether they've drawn anything even closely related to the topic of an issue we're working on. 

We worked with illustrator Jordan Houston-Taylor for the feature story on Mansa Musa in Issue 13 (The Golden Rule) and I loved Jordan's enthusiasm. She was so willing to make changes and was really careful to represent Mansa Musa's image with historical accuracy. Jordan was great about asking clarifying questions and had terrific communication during the whole process, so it was a pleasure working with her and I can't wait to work with her in the future.   

This is such a tough one! I would say the Issue 7 (Into the Deep) cover by Cynthia Cliff is one of my favorites because it really shows what the magazine topic is about. Issue 9 (An Era of Exploration) is also very near and dear to my heart because it was hand-drawn by Nate Burbeck and it still amazes me every time I see it (there are so many tiny details he added that surprise me every time I look at it). The cover of issue Issue 11 (Journey Through the Jungle) is also a favorite of mine.  Daniela Galliski did such an amazing job on the cover and I think she really understood the look and feel we were hoping for. 

The whole team sends a list of ideas every few months and, using those lists, we collaborate and decide as a team which topics we are most excited about. The ideas usually are a mix of things our young historians have asked us to cover or topics that we feel need to be presented in a fun or different way. One of our most requested topics from young historians is to cover Native Americans and WWII, one of which, we will be coving for our spring issue in 2022.

There is so much important, yet overlooked history. In school, we all learn about the same big people or events and the same stories and images are used again and again. We believe that giving kids a wider lens to view history will not only spark their interest but will teach them about the world they live in today. History is for everyone because every topic has a history. By giving kids the tools to think about the past and make their own decisions on how they feel about past events, we believe we are equipping the next generation of critical thinkers who can go out and make a positive impact on the world.

My love for history really ebbs and flows depending on what I'm reading. At the moment, I'm very interested in ancient world history and have been particularly fascinated by ancient Greece. My all-time favorite is definitely the early 20th century. I have a particular soft spot for the changes in literature during the Great War and how the wars affected writing during that time. 

A while back, we had two kids write in and thank us for covering the history of espionage in Issue 6, A Secret Mission. The kids wrote us a letter with a list of questions about how they can join the CIA. I wrote them back and we actually had a short back and forth correspondence with the kids asking some really thoughtful questions. It was so great to hear that a topic resonated with these kids and that they found the idea of having a career with the CIA so fascinating.

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We rebranded in 2019 and were very deliberate about the new name. “Margin” has an obvious literary reference, but it also evokes things that are not in the mainstream. This connotation evokes our mission of publishing underrepresented voices. We chose “West” to set ourselves apart from another idea of mainstream—that most well-known publishers are based on the east coast. Thus, “West” also signals that we do things differently in our company. It also refers to our physical location in Northern California.

Our children’s books have strong story arcs and high-quality artwork. We add an educational element whenever we can, in the form of back matter, sidebars, and book guides. We seek out underrepresented groups as much as possible—BIPOC, LGBTQia+, neuro-divergent, and more—both in the characters, collaborators, and freelancers. But above all, our children’s books are always fun.

The Zee Files is a fantastic series of books for tween readers. Written by bestselling author Tina Wells, the series revolves around a bi-racial girl named Zee who heads to London for boarding school.

Where Thuong Keeps Love by Thu Buu tells the story of a young Vietnamese girl who learns about love from her friends and family.

My Way West, written and illustrated by Elizabeth Goss, features stories from real kids who traveled the Oregon Trail on their way out west in the 1800s, accompanied by stunning papercut art.

Include a wide variety of samples so that our art director can get a sense of your skillset. If you work in different styles, be sure to include a range of examples.

This happens all the time! It’s so fun to see the ideas that illustrators bring to the table. The little unexpected details are the best.

Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires by Emma Bland Smith. This is the true story about a goat-herding dog who miraculously survived a giant brushfire and was discovered alive, still protecting the herd.

Why Worry, by bestselling author Eric Kimmel. Here, a cricket and a grasshopper work together to ease anxiety and find hope.

Lucy’s Blooms by Dawn Prochovnic. It’s a story of a young girl who learns about self-esteem, resilience, and love from her grandmother.

My current boss – he is more like a coach than a boss and he gives everyone on his team the credit they deserve. I can’t think of any explicit advice, but he has taught me to believe in myself and trust my decisions – I always know that he has my back.

Like most children’s book publishers, I read industry magazines and browse bookstores to see what is garnering reviews and generating sales. But I mostly rely on the moms on my team to tell me what their kids like. For me, it’s more about what our young readers enjoy rather than keeping up with the competition.

Recently, a young reader wrote a handwritten letter to author Tina Wells care of us. They told Tina that they read The Zee Files with their dad and that they can’t wait to read the next book in the series. It’s so wonderful to hear directly from kids that they are enjoying the books we publish. Another time, at a trade show, a youngster picked up a book from our display and refused to put it down. Her mother explained that she rarely sees books that portray characters with brown skin, like hers. It made me proud that children are able to see themselves in the books we publish.

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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:

Fake

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.

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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.

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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....

King Mouse

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.

Skinnamarink

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.

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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
Smithsonian.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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