My under graduate degree is actually in filmmaking! I loved the art of visual storytelling, but after graduating it took me about nine months of working in the industry to realize that I actually hated the hustle of trying to make it into a profession. So I shifted towards books, going back to graduate school at the University of Edinburgh for creative writing. In 2011 I was hired as the children’s book specialist, and eventually buyer, at the Powerhouse Arena, an independent bookstore in Dumbo, Brooklyn. I was really happy just working as a bookseller, I loved curating the inventory, running a middle grade book club, and hand-selling to parents and kids.
Powerhouse’s parent company, Powerhouse Books launched POW! Kids Books in 2013 under the leadership of Sharyn Rosart, who established it as a dynamic publisher of design-minded, innovative picture books and board books. When she moved on a few years later, our CEO Daniel Power already knew me pretty well, knew I had a writing background, and knew my tastes from what he’d seen in his store, so he offered me the opportunity to be the editor for the imprint. Over the years that expanded to where I am now. A lot of what I know about children’s books comes directly from the retail side, but that old filmmaking degree does help in making illustrated books!
There are a couple of recent titles that I think really represent Pow’s brand, one is Bodega Cat by Louie Chin. Louie is a tremendously talented illustrator who we’d worked with previously on Don’t Ask a Dinosaur. Bodega Cat exemplified Louie’s detailed, contemporary, urban-influenced style. His spreads are packed with so much realism, but framed in delight. I love that this book captures an iconic, yet often overlooked aspect of city life, and really highlights the joy to be found in our diversity.
Another is The Climbing Tree by John Stith and illustrated by Yulia Pieletskaya. While this story may have the feel of a classic fable (which is not something Pow goes for), what made this such a great book for us was its modern sensibilities. I loved that this is a book about vulnerability in boys, and love between brothers. In the last decade we’ve seen SO many picture books lifting up strong role models for girls, which is fantastic, but I was, and still am, eager for more books that speak to the complex emotional lives of boys. This book did that superbly. And then Yulia’s artwork elevated it to a really grand level. She captured that texture of timelessness, but infused it with so many wonderfully unexpected details that gave it vitality. They paired beautifully, it reminds me of a Miyazaki movie.
I think outside the comfort zone is where kids live. Everything is new to them, there is so much analysis and decoding that they are having to do every day. Childhood is not comfortable. And that’s why I think it’s so important to have the upmost respect for kids as readers, and to present them with books that speak honestly about their world. Of course it’s up to the parents to decide what content they are comfortable sharing with their child, and what their child is or isn’t ready for yet, but kids always rise to the occasion.
Humor, whimsy, or surprise. Not every book has to be funny, but I think every book has to make your brain tingle a little, so you need at least one of those three essential components. And that’s really the magic of the illustrator. You can take text that’s absolutely flat as a pancake, but if the art has that wink, it becomes something that grabs you. That’s why we all love Jon Klassen so much. My sense of humor runs pretty dry. I thought Esme Shapiro’s Ooko was hilarious, so surprising. And something very simple like Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani will get me. I’m a sucker for cute, disgruntled little faces.
Having a distinctive visual style is so important to us. Being a tiny publisher, it just wouldn’t make sense for us to try to go for mass-market appeal, so to that end, an illustrator either is a perfect fit for us, or just isn’t at all. Put your weird foot forward, so long as that’s genuine for you. Alongside your portfolio and news posts on Childrensillustrators.com please use Instagram! It’s a great way to show more of your talent in a looser setting, and helps me to see what you’re currently up to. The @childrensillustrators feed is fantastic!
The majority of the illustrators we work with are first-timers! Because we keep our list small, just three or four books per season, it gives me the ability to work very closely with the illustrators. I guess you could say I also wear the art director hat (did I mention it’s a small company?), as I’m selecting the artists, and giving them feedback throughout the art creation process. It’s really joyful both to give new illustrators this opportunity to lead and spread their wings, but also to offer guidance and impart what I know from experience.
Lucía the Luchadora. I feel so lucky to have had that book land in my inbox. What a little dynamo. This is the kind of book that you just hope SO much will be a hit, and then to see it take off is thrilling. The response from kids has been the best part. I’ve seen handmade Lucía costumes, Lucía birthday cakes, even a piñata! The first book did so well we made a sequel, Lucía the Luchadora and the Million Masks, which expanded Lucía’s story to include her little sister, another Luchadora in the making. And you didn’t hear it from me, but you might be seeing Lucía in a whole new format. Fingers crossed.
We’re getting ready to launch or spring titles, My Best Friend, Sometimes, by Naomi Danis and and Cinta Arribas, the team behind our 2018 hell-raiser, I Hate Everyone, as well as Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero, a book that’s so near and dear to my heart.
In production for fall we have a number of really fun, stylish board books, and a picture book called The Librarian’s Stories, which I’m really excited about. It’s written by Lucy Falcone, and illustrated by Anna Wilson, who is making her debut. It’s historical fiction, loosely based on the bombing of the National Library of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. The story is of an irrepressible librarian who continues to read aloud in the ruins of the town square to bring hope to the people, told from the perspective of a little boy who listens. At its heart it’s a celebration of librarians and the value of their work. The artwork is absolutely breathtaking.
Like so many of my generation, my career was radically shaped by the Great Recession. After grad school, I moved to New York in the fall of 2008 intending to get a job (any job!) in publishing, only to wind up being unemployed for a year. What scant interviews I was able to get resulted in nothing. It was miserable!
The closest I was able to get to the book world was a part-time job as a bookseller at the now-closed Scholastic Store in Manhattan, on the ground floor of their headquarters. I was among the employees who would wear the Clifford the Big Red Dog mascot costume and dance around on Broadway to lure people into the store. I still have a dollar that a guy tipped me for taking a picture with his kids. It was torn and half and held together with tape. Watching nicely dressed young women walk past me to ride the elevator up to their publishing jobs was humbling.
The GOOD part of it was that we were allowed to borrow and read all the children’s books we wanted. I had read and been obsessed with Harry Potter of course, but that was all I knew of contemporary kids books. Once I started reading more I realized how much I loved the material, and that turned into a full-fledged passion. So to try to do something in the industry, I started a blog called TheRustyKey.com, which I then ran for about four years where I would review middle grade and YA novels and conduct author interviews, and really built up a versed knowledge in new titles. It was that website that eventually led me to being hired at Powerhouse.
I say all of this to impart to your readers that just because your path is a little weird, or doesn’t look the way it’s “supposed to” look, doesn’t mean it isn’t leading somewhere! There are more doors in than you can see.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, definitely. I wanted to live inside that world so badly. It always disappointed me when the townsfolk leave in the end! What are you doing!? Pizza falls from the sky! It was absolutely the most tantalizing concept to me. I actually hated reading as a kid. I’m still a very slow reader to this day, but back then I thought that because reading was work for me that it meant I was “bad at it”. So stories like Cloudy that were extremely visual were my way in. It actually wasn’t until I read Harry Potter the summer before college that I really learned how to love to read, and then it all got easier. So I feel a lot of connection to the reluctant reader. It’s part of why I believe that there really is a perfect book that unlocks reading for every kid, and I want to help create that.
I was selling foreign rights for a local children’s publisher when a position opened up and allowed me to make the move onto the creative side. A few years later I ended up at Parragon, where I had my first adventures with licensed titles and spent many happy years in Bath before they offered me the opportunity to relocate from the UK to New York to establish a US-based publishing group–of course I jumped at the chance! After a few amazing years in NYC, and with great timing, Phoenix offered me this opportunity in Chicago so here I am.
Some of our bestselling titles are Potty Time with Elmo, a sound book including fun flushing sounds, our PAW Patrol Me Reader, an 8-book set with electronic reader which helps children to make the transition from being read to into being able to read independently, and our Disney Baby My First Library, 12 chunky board books which introduce young children to early learning words and concepts.
Sesame Street are a great partner and always tackle subjects in such a brave and touching way that we loved working with them to represent non-traditional family units for our recent picture book Big Bird’s Road Trip with its message of acceptance and understanding. We also recently launched a new imprint, Sunbird Books, as a home for our non-licensed titles and one of our first series is a range of graphic novels called It’s Her Story which features inspirational women of courage from across history, and I love the warmth of If You’re Happy and You Know It illustrated by the wonderful Julianna Swaney.
Our books are designed to appeal to the senses, they often rely more on pictorial than verbal content, and of course all the fun sounds which we compose and record in our own studios help stimulate kids to understand and interact with the books meaning that many of them work for reluctant readers. We’ve also had some touching feedback from parents of children with autism who report that the songs and music on many of our books really help them to engage and enjoy.
Hunting out the right illustrator for a project is such a privilege and one I really enjoy working on with my brilliant Art Director, Kris Dresen. We’re both pretty good at filing people away for future use, they might not be available, or quite right for the timing but we do often remember and revisit portfolios when we feel the fit is right. We like working with artists to find the best and most appropriate look for our books and having that eureka moment when you all know you’ve found it. There isn’t a blanket one thing I’m looking for, it’s more an emotional response.
All of our projects are fun and I’m immensely proud of them all so picking just one is tricky but I have to confess I loved working with the team on our Merriam Webster picture books Wild Goose Chase, and A Loveliness of Ladybugs which visually represent interesting idioms and animal nouns in fun ways. We all had a lot of fun with those.
We have offices around the world, but most of our creative comes from the team in Chicago and while our main territories currently are the English speaking, we also have fantastic teams who are driving business for us in Germany, Spain, and Latin America.
We always want to make books that make a difference in children’s lives, that always underpins everything we do. We’re best known for our licensed sound books and our amazing partnerships with the biggest and best brands in the world and those continue to be of utmost importance to us, but we also have some great momentum building behind our new imprint, Sunbird Books and I’m excited to see where that takes us in terms of publishing around new formats and topics.
We have access to a lot of data and industry reports from within publishing and the broader business world which help to guide our thinking, and we use our own experiences within our families and our extended networks for inspiration. Plus, we’re regularly out visiting retailers to see how the landscape is shifting and how each retailer is responding to market challenges.
I had a collection of Greek myths which I read and reread endlessly, they did such a great job of keeping the thrills and editing around the less salubrious problematic aspects. And when I was young I absolutely loved The Church Mice series by Graham Oakley who did such a beautiful job with the friendship between Samson the church cat and the adventurous mice by adding details that had me poring over the pages for hours looking for something I hadn’t spotted before. The warmth and gentle humor in these books are so winsome, they’re definitely worth hunting down if you’re not familiar with them, just perfect picture books.
I began my career as an academic, tutoring undergraduate students in children’s literature at Macquarie University in Sydney while I completed a PhD. Around the same time I started freelancing for an education charity that produced resources for students, including anthologies of stories and poems, and I was given the job of collecting stories from 54 countries. Although a fascinating task, it wasn’t easy to find stories from such a diverse range of countries – most in the global south – and I became increasingly aware of the gaps in the publishing ecosystem, with some voices heard but others essentially ignored or even actively silenced. This might be through a lack of resources or infrastructure, or it might be through something more insidious like racism or institutional bias.
On a more personal level, my sister married a man whose parents had emigrated from Hong Kong. My little nephew Ryan, who came along some time later, is one of around 2.5 million school children in the UK who identify as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic – that’s a third of the school population. CLPE hadn’t yet produced its ground-breaking survey of BAME representation in children’s publishing with the damning statistic that only 1% of children’s books featured protagonists of colour – that was to come a good four years after I set up Lantana – but it was obvious from looking at the shelves of any library or bookshop that Ryan would struggle to find main characters who looked like him, or recognisable heroes, heroines or role models to look up to.
2014 was the year the celebrated African American author Walter Dean Myers broadcast his question in the New York Times – where are the children of colour in children’s books? – and #WeNeedDiverseBooks registered as a hashtag for the first time. And 2014 was the year I moved back to the UK and made the decision to set up Lantana. Despite never having worked in a publishing house, it was something I felt I had the privilege and therefore, perhaps, the responsibility to do – the only way I could ensure Ryan would grow up seeing himself in the books he read.
Our partnership with Lerner Publishing Group in the States came about a couple of years after we launched and was a huge boost for us since it opened up our books to a whole new, and much larger, market. Lerner take on a select few foreign publishers to represent and distribute, and we were lucky since our introduction to them came just at the point when we had been shortlisted for the Bologna Prize for Best European Children’s Publisher of the year, and when Lerner were looking to expand their picture book range and diversify their list. It has been a brilliant partnership so far; after our first season with them, we increased our revenues by 350%!
Beautiful, evocative, inclusive.
Three titles immediately spring to mind. The first is Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini, the very first title we published. It’s the story of Anyaugo, a little girl who wakes up in her home in Nigeria one night only to find a giant chicken causing havoc in the kitchen. She has to use all her wit and ingenuity, helped (or hindered?) by a nature spirit called the Wood Wit, to find out what the giant chicken wants and save the food her aunties have cooked for the New Yam Festival the next day. The book went on to win the Children’s Africana Best Book Award in the US, with an award ceremony at the Smithsonian in Washington and a book reading at the Library of Congress, and hasn’t stopped selling since.
The second is Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry’s You’re Safe With Me, followed by You’re Snug With Me and You’re Strong With Me. All three books in the series are lyrical bedtime tales about a mother and child, the first set in an Indian forest, the second in the polar North and the third in an African savannah. Both You’re Safe With Me and You’re Snug With Me were shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal (the latter is still on the shortlist so keep your fingers firmly crossed please!) which is a huge honour for a small, independent publishing house, and testament to the outstanding talent of Poonam Mistry who made her picture book debut with You’re Safe With Me.
Finally, Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mickaël el Fathi is an illustrated non-fiction title for slightly older readers following the extraordinary lives of Nobel Peace Prize laureates from 1901 to the present day, including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai. We were thrilled when Amnesty International endorsed the book for showing ‘how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place’, and the title has since gone on to sell into several languages. Look out for the second book in the series Science and Me, following the discoveries of a group of incredible Nobel Prize-winning scientists, due out next year.
Can I answer that by telling you a story? Three years ago we published a picture book called Sleep Well, Siba and Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn. The book is set in Uganda, where Nansubuga was born, and follows two young and forgetful sisters who lose pretty much everything…except each other. It’s a fun and poetic story full of sibilants, perfect for bedtime reading. We held a book launch at the wonderful Alligator’s Mouth bookshop in London and were overjoyed to welcome a packed room full of young children listening wide-eyed to the story and colouring in scenes from the book. At the end of the launch, a family of West African heritage came up to me and told me they had driven for three hours to attend the launch. I was shocked – three hours! And although I was glad they had, I asked them why, and they replied that their young daughter had never seen a Black author before and they wanted to show her that she could be anything she wanted to be. Diverse and inclusive content, and #ownvoices authors, gives little girls like the one in this family the chance to dream big and imagine brighter futures.
Independent publishers are often at the forefront of any movement towards change because they make it their mission to work from the margins, take risks and call out bad practice wherever they see it. Of course, we live or die by the risks we take; as a small publisher, finding a balance between purpose and profit – between accomplishing our mission statement and achieving commercial viability – is key to creating a sustainable business. We’re proud to call ourselves a social enterprise, and we hope to keep on pushing the boundaries for as long as we can. But to do this, we need help. And help comes in the form of persuading the many gatekeepers – wholesalers, retailers, reviewers etc. – that not only is there a strong ethical argument for buying and promoting inclusive books, but there are sound commercial reasons for doing so as well.
I mentioned some of our most successful titles in the question above, which of course are close to my heart, but there are others I also have a real fondness for because of the wonderful journeys they’ve taken us on or of the stories behind their creation. To give you just one example from our earlier titles (three would take too long!): The Ammuchi Puchi by Sharanya Manivannan and Nerina Canzi. It’s a gorgeously written, lyrical and evocative story about two young siblings who struggle to cope with the death of their beloved grandmother and find a way to turn their grief into something creative and beautiful. As soon as I read it, I fell in love with the story, but I’m not afraid to admit that for a long time I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision in publishing it since it was a difficult book to bring to market – longer than your average picture book, pitched at an older reader, with difficult subject matter etc. – and it struggled to find a readership. However, a couple of years later, I was approached by Penguin Random House India asking to buy Indian Sub-Continental rights to the title. I agreed. And to my delight, it went on to become the fourth bestselling title across the whole of India, bringing happiness to tens of thousands of children. So what I’d considered an early ‘failure’ turned into a wonderful success.
I’ve always admired Verna Wilkins who founded Tamarind Press over 30 years ago, who did so because her five-year old son came home from school having coloured a picture of himself pink because it was ‘meant for a book’. Her determination to make a change and show children like hers their own image in books made her a pioneer in this field; what’s so sad is that it was a version of that same determination that made me start my own press, showing how little has changed thirty years on.
I’m always gratified when we receive wonderful reviews of our books, and more often than not, these reviews centre on the illustrations. We’ve been lucky to have been gifted with words such as ‘stunning’, ‘beautiful’, ‘enchanting’, ‘dazzling’, ‘breath-taking’ and more, and I think this sums up the styles that appeal to us: artwork that has texture and depth, beautiful use of colour and light, excellent composition, and images that just in general help you float away into a fantasy world of your own imagining.
We’re at a difficult and unsettling period in history and all of us are doing our best to weather the storm and keep children reading. Our vision for all children to see themselves in the books they read hasn’t changed, and our hope is that we can continue to publish inclusive stories from around the world long into the future. We have widened our mandate to encompass diversity and inclusion, social equality and environmental sustainability as our core pillars, and we hope to move up in age ranges to include early fiction and middle grade as well as picture books. So while the world is trying to right itself, we are using this period of reflection to discover new ways to reach readers and new distribution channels. Do check out our website to discover our free eBooks, activity worksheets and teaching resources to help our readers stay entertained, informed and connected while we wait for happier times, and do stay safe everyone.
I started out doing work experience at Granta Books in July 1998; my first ‘proper’ job was as editorial secretary – yes, secretary! – starting in Oct/Nov 1998 at Yale University Press (London). I learned an enormous amount about the business from my first boss John Nicoll, MD of Yale UP, who was hugely generous in sharing his experience with me; he was an important mentor and we’re still friends more than 20 years later.
I started Pushkin Children’s Books almost immediately on taking over the business in spring 2012, and the first books in the imprint appeared in April/May 2013. Today, books for the list are acquired by me, commissioning editor Daniel Seton and editor-at-large Sarah Odedina. Sarah focuses on English-language titles, mainly middle grade and YA, while Daniel and I mostly acquire books originally written in other languages for all ages.
This year’s children’s list includes books originally published in Japan, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Finland, which I’m hugely proud of! We are always looking for the best stories from around the world and constantly discovering gems of all kinds. Perhaps the book we’re most proud of at the moment in this content is Lampie written and illustrated by Annet Schaap. This award-winning book in the Netherlands – where it was a huge bestseller – has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and is the first ever book in translation to be shortlisted for the Carnegie! Other titles include The Beast Warrior – sequel to The Beast Player – by Nahoko Uehashi. And one of our first picture books is the extremely funny The Secret Life of Farts from Finland!
Personally, I love original, voice-led middle grade fiction. And though we publish some books with sequels and a couple series, I’m most drawn to stand-alone books. I also love original illustrations, and this autumn we have a gorgeous wordless picture book from Holland – The Wanderer by Peter van den Ende which may be the most beautiful book we ever publish on any of our lists!
Originality combined with accessibility.
Well, it varies between English-language originals and translations. With translations, we work hard to find the perfect translator and then the translation has to be carefully edited, and we often use the original foreign-language cover or adapt it. Though sometimes we do commission our own original covers even for books published elsewhere (as with The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior). English-language originals usually go through more than one draft before being copy-edited. There are many people involved in every book – editor, assistant, cover designer, managing editor, translator, etc.
I’m going to say Sarah Odedina our Editor-at-Large, Beverly Horowitz at PRH Children’s Books in NY and the recently retired editor Gallimard Jeneusse co-founder Christine Baker.
Too many to count! But I’d pick out From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler which I loved as a kid and still can’t believe was able to bring back into print in the UK a few years back – and it continues to sell and sell and reprint; a wonderful book! I loved all of Lloyd Alexander’s books, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, Watership Down, Charlotte’s Web. I could go on and on but hope that gives some idea of what I was reading as a kid – and Tintin too of course!
As a children’s publisher publishing The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt in English for the first time. It was one of our very first acquisitions for the list in 2012 – it came out in 2013 – and it continues to be our bestselling children’s book to date. It just came out as a Netflix series this spring too, all thanks to our edition. This would never have happened without Laura Watkinson, translator extraordinaire who drew it to my attention in the first place. Thank you again, Laura.
More of the same plus we are adding a small line of picture books – from abroad and originals – starting this autumn. And we’re also introducing a new series of originally commissioned non-fiction adventure stories called True Adventures. We’ve commissioned 8 titles so far and the first are out later this year.
Looking back, there were signs, but it definitely didn’t feel that way when I was trying to get my first job in the industry. I enjoyed making my own books as a child and I used to write personalised stories for other kids. (I added the imprint information to the inside front cover and got the pages bound at a local stationery shop.) I guess I was a junior publishing nerd – but it’s come in useful!
I studied for a music degree at the University of Southampton and afterwards wondered what to do. I worked at a children’s nursery, which was invaluable for an insight into the power of stories. I then landed a few unpaid internships, where I fell in love with publishing as an industry. It took me a year to get my first job at an educational publisher, Schofield & Sims, where I was mentored by some amazing women. I was then lucky enough to get a job with Rachel Williams and Jenny Broom at Quarto who launched the Wide Eyed Editions list. They have since moved on to new ventures, but have shaped my career with their influence and creativity around what a children’s book can be.
Little People BIG DREAMS David Attenborough has to be up there! This is for ages 4–7 technically, but I think all adults deserve a copy too.
Big Ideas for Young Thinkers, by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins. This is a recently published gem, which reimagines philosophy for 8 to 12-year olds. It’s perfect for everyone staying home whose kids are asking hundreds of questions. Who gets to have big ideas? Why do we hold them up? Who has all the answers? What happens when my pet dies? And so on. It gives them licence to ponder life’s big mysteries.
Another book I love is Music Is My Life by Myles Tanzer and Ali Mac. It teaches children about the link between emotion and music and allows them to dip into the library to discover songwriters who’ve been there before. Got your heart broken for the first time? Adele will sort it. Soundtrack your mood with 80 artists and while away the hours discovering songs and artists together as a family. (It’s sure to cause disagreements, too). It’s brilliantly creative and I haven’t seen a book like this elsewhere.
First of all, be discoverable. Don’t lose out on that commission because someone couldn’t find the email or your contact form wasn’t working. Test it.
Make sure you have a variety of subjects in your portfolio: scenes, people, animals, nature. If you don’t have one subject then I will assume you can’t do it. That is unfair, but again, don’t lose out.
If you can, create live Instagram paintings or drawings and boost yourself through social communities. Things like that really do help.
Be unique and be authentic. Don’t try to copy anyone. This is something illustrator Aurélia Durand said to me and it rings true. It’s fine to have influences but what will get you that commission is your own unique style and message. Have a personal brand or ethos and think how publishers will pitch you to their book buyers.
Don’t wait for the job, do it now. For example, if there’s a classic book you really want to do a cover for, draw it. Add it to your portfolio so publishers can see your skills.
Have staying power and be adaptable. It’s hard to get published, projects are sometimes cancelled, and publishers are often too busy to give feedback. It’s a tough industry but don’t give up. Be willing to mock up different options (whilst silently screaming in your head about it.)
When the time comes, make sure you negotiate a good fee and read your contract.
Like all great books, they were born out of a need. The author and creator of the series, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, wrote the books in 2014 when her nieces were born. She wanted to find books for them about great women who inspired her, but back then – can you believe it?! – there were none.
There was then a massive boom around feminist kid lit, with Fantastically Great Women and Rebel Girls all launching at a similar time, and we all uplifted each other I think, creating that specific shelf in store for the genre. If you tried to make a series now with this theme I think you would struggle – there’s enough out there and the shops are saturated.
I think specifically people relate to these books as they are so gorgeous. You can display them on the shelf and they are a great new baby gift to inspire little ones about who they can be. The author is innovative in picking illustrators. Each book has a different style, that sometimes matches and sometimes creatively clashes with what you think should have been done. (Think Rudolf Nureyev with the cute rounded bodies and Frida Kahlo with the strong, quirky style.) I just love how they are all so engaging, and children can really see themselves in the books.
World Book Day is a highlight! I love seeing kids dressed up as the characters we commissioned for Little People, BIG DREAMS. My favourite thing is seeing readers be inspired. Sometimes people make cakes, dolls, outfits of the books – it’s wonderful. They inspire me and inform my future decisions.
Other than that, it’s nice to get big wins with review coverage you value. This Book Is Anti-Racist won a starred review from Kirkus, and Young Gifted and Black was featured in the New York Times review of children’s books.
It’s a dream to work on this series! Each book has 10 sound buttons with real music from a classical orchestra. At the time they came out, no-one else was doing that.
The story links to the music and interacts in a gorgeous way. It’s a perfect primer for getting your kids interested in music.
Jess Courtney-Tickle, the illustrator, makes it a beautiful gift-package too. I write the story and brief her with the design team, but she will often put little clues into the illustrations that I then pick up on and weave into the text. In that way, it’s very collaborative.
I greatly admire people in the industry who are shaking things up and doing things differently: Knights Of and the whole team and Round Table Books are doing amazing work.
Rachel Williams, Jenny Broom and Nicola Price, all previous colleagues who have gone on to launch female-led indie Magic Cat.
Katie Cotton, publisher at Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. Katie writes her own books and manages to bring picture book magic to everyday life. You couldn’t ask to work for someone who is kinder or fairer than Katie.
And finally, all the authors and illustrators I work with who take this craft so seriously and are so fun to work with. Sometimes I come to them with a hardly formed idea and they make it real.
Probably when David Attenborough went straight to the top of the children’s non-fiction TCM in the first week of publication. This was the first time a title had charted for me and a big moment for the list. (I also got a letter from the man himself, which I will be keeping forever.)
Greatest challenges are numerous! This is something you have to get used to in this industry. Things change all the time and often very quickly – and people always want books made quicker and quicker.
However, the greatest challenge is the one coming up: how we respond to the loss of trade from the lockdown. Health and safety is a priority but next is income, i.e. jobs and work. I know everyone will pull together to be creative and resourceful. Books are evergreen and we will come back stronger.
Anything that plays with the book / game format: The Jolly Postman by the Ahlbergs, Annabel’s House by Norman Messenger. I always go back to my own childhood when I’m thinking about commissioning.
There’s something nostalgic about the style of Old Bear by Jane Hissey that makes me want to hug the page.
Finally, I have an old treasury of Paddington stories that my brother read to me when I was a baby. The book was bigger than me. It’s memories and associations like this that make books truly special. It’s my aim to create that for someone else one day.
It’s always exciting to look ahead to the next Little People, BIG DREAMS characters. We have LPBD Greta Thunberg coming out in May, which is sure to be popular with our audience. I am excited about our 50th title in the series in October: Elton John. We are picking out special finishes for it as I speak…
Natural History of Fairies by Emily Hawkins and Jessica Roux is coming out in September 2020. It looks at the secret lives of fairies and their important roles in the natural world. Learn anatomy, life cycle, habitats and more. If there’s one book I wish I’d commissioned… it’s this one! It’s everything I love about children’s publishing, in one cloth bound, sprayed-edge, gold-foiled package.
I started as an intern in the Foreign rights department 20 years ago. Then I worked on design and editorial projects in the picture books department, under Arthur Hubschmid's direction, and now I’m the picture books AD and publisher.
I’m in charge of the picture books catalogue (about 40 new titles every year), which means French creations as well as translations from foreign countries. I tend to receive over 10 projects everyday, from unpublished, published, French or foreign authors, and I have to choose which project will be the best for our list.
French children’s books seem to be more varied than other markets, you can observe it in Montreuil Book Fair: there is a lot of diversity in stories, design, themes, and it’s more daring (than Anglosaxon books for example).
There are so many! Every project is special and intense for me, because I put my very best effort into it. Working on the translation of Tomi Ungerer’s last picture book « Juste à temps! » was very moving. Discovering Claude Ponti’s original artwork is always incredible... I laugh out loud in my office when I have received Adieu odieux dîner by Delphine Bournay and Les chiens pirates by Clémentine Mélois & Rudy Spiessert. I was touched with Catharina Valckx's last project... And I really felt being an outlaw in the Far West working on Mini Cowboy by Daniel Frost!
Focus on characters (not on environments), practice making complete storyboards (not only one drawing), find your own unique style (do not copy others) and think about children while drawing children’s books (not about adults).
Hard to say… All of them!
Jules et le renard by Joe Todd-Stanton, Palomino by Michaël Escoffier & Matthieu Maudet, Le sapin d’anniversaire by Delphine Bournay, Les chiens pirates by Clémentine Mélois & Rudy Spiessert, Moi veux ça ! de Stephanie Blake, Non cornebidouille, pas mon doudou ! by Pierre Bertrand & Magali Bonniol, Mouha de Claude Ponti, La mystérieuse baleine de Daniel Frost...
I didn’t have a lot of picture books when I was a child. But I remember spending hours in libraries, reading everything, forgetting time...
In the company's early days, our biggest hits in France were mostly translations from foreign bestsellers: Les trois brigands de Tomi Ungerer, Max et les Maximonstres de Maurice Sendak, Petit-Bleu et Petit-Jaune de Leo Lionni...
And then: Pétronille et ses 120 petits de Claude Ponti, Caca boudin de Stephanie Blake, Grosse colère de Mireille d’Allancé, Cornebidouille de Pierre Bertrand et Magali Bonniol, Haut les pattes ! de Catharina Valckx...
International success stories are: Je ne veux pas aller à l’école de Stephanie Blake, Papa ! de Philippe Corentin, Nous, notre Histoire de Christophe Ylla-Sommers et Yvan Pommaux, Ça pousse comment ? de Gerda Muller, Je mangerais bien un enfant de Sylviane Donnio et Dorothée de Monfreid, Le prince tigre de Chen Jiang Hong...
All good stories are missing, not one kind in particular.
Perfect story and perfect drawings, loved by children...
Cover headshot photo © Guillaume Murat
After college, I worked at a few internships, including one with a publisher called Marshall Cavendish. After a few months, I got hired as an editorial assistant for two of their imprints. It was in this role that I fell in love with a career in children’s publishing and knew it was what I wanted to pursue in the long term. The company was small so I was able to work closely with the whole team and gratefully received a lot of mentoring. We also worked out of a cool old mansion in the suburbs, which felt very literary! From there, I worked my way up to Editor in the trade children’s imprint. In 2012, I was hired by Amazon and shortly thereafter, Amazon Publishing established Two Lions, an imprint for children’s books. In 2019 we launched another children’s imprint, Amazon Crossing Kids. I acquire and edit for both imprints and feel very lucky to have landed in children’s books and to work at Amazon Publishing. I think my eight-year-old self would have approved of my career choice!
We look for artists who have a unique point of view and will stand out in the marketplace and within our own list. The art has to be a good match in tone with the manuscript, and we always make sure our authors are happy with the artistic vision too! We look for a range of art styles, so you’ll see everything from traditional paintings and cut-paper artwork to digital and graphic styles on our list. In a portfolio, I’d suggest that artists include a mix of perspectives, characters, and environments. I am keen to see personality reflected through the characters and will also look for visual storytelling within the artwork. All of these factors are so important to creating a successful picture book.
We’ve played around with a lot of ideas over the years. We filmed kids who had read our titles and captured their “reviews” of the books. It was pretty fun to see ratings like “a gazillion stars” for our books. We created short animated trailers for our books and series. Some of our titles have also been included in Amazon First Reads, which offers Amazon customers early access to a curated monthly selection of new titles from across various genres; there’s a little something for everyone.
In 2019 we launched a new imprint called Amazon Crossing Kids, which publishes translated picture books from around the world. When we made the decision to launch the imprint, I had to quickly connect with publishers, agents, and translators from around the world. I leaned into the knowledge and connections of my colleagues, including our rights team and the editorial team for Amazon Crossing, which is Amazon Publishing’s translation imprint for adult fiction and nonfiction. I was also lucky to work with amazing translators, who have taught me so much about this particular creative process. There is a whole world of books out there to discover, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to find these gems from around the globe to share with a new audience.
I am proud to have worked on an Amazon Crossing Kids book called BEAR AND FRED: A WORLD WAR II STORY, by Iris Argaman, illustrated by Avi Ofer, and translated by Annette Appel, which releases May 1st, 2020. Originally published in Israel, this book takes place in Holland and is told from the point of view of a Jewish boy’s teddy bear. In order to stay safe, the boy has to move around and live apart from the rest of his family—even with strangers. Through it all, Bear and Fred have each other. Not only is it an incredible story of friendship and hope, but it’s based on the real-life experience of a man named Fred Lessing. Fred didn’t separate from Bear until long into his adulthood, when he (and Bear) agreed to loan Bear to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel. We’ve included Bear’s real picture in the book. For our edition, we also added a publisher’s note with some background information for young readers. It felt a bit surreal when I mailed an early advance copy to Fred Lessing. I’m so honored to have been trusted with his story.
I have learned to embrace change and to keep looking ahead to the future. Watching the publishing industry evolve to include digital formats, make changes as a result of the #MeToo movement, and shift to become more inclusive, it’s clear that change can be really uncomfortable but is a natural and necessary part of any industry’s growth and success. I think it’s important for all content creators, especially those who work on children’s content, to use what power we have to effect positive change in whatever small way we can and adapt to the changes.
These were probably the same moment: when I found out that I was getting a job at Amazon! Nevertheless, I also have a lot of small everyday thrilling moments that I am very thankful for, like when I get to sign a new book that I can’t wait to edit, or when that first bound copy of a book comes in. An author once told me that my editorial comments and encouragement on their manuscript helped them through a very tough personal time in their life; that’s definitely a moment that sticks with me.
For Two Lions, I am on the hunt for fictional picture books that have a strong emotional arc to them. I also look for memorable character-driven stories and seasonally themed titles. I would love to find more books from diverse authors and illustrators.
For Amazon Crossing Kids, I look for books that reflect the culture of origin—whether that’s through the storytelling, the artistic style, or the actual content. I also look for books that have universal themes such as friendship or the connectedness of generations as well as celebrate our shared humanity. I would love to find books from regions and languages of the world that are not as widely translated.
Well, thanks! I wrote a board book called SWIM!, which was illustrated by Eric Velasquez. It follows two children and their mother as they spend a day at the pool. The illustrator didn’t know it, but the two kids in the book look a lot my niece and nephew! I was also commissioned to write a nonfiction animal book on an incredibly adorable antelope called the dik-dik. It was part of a series called “Even Weirder and Cuter,” which featured the weird and wonderful creatures that can be found in nature. Every once in a while it’s nice to see my own name in print!
I knew when I was living in Boston, working in a different field. I was feeling restless and decided to go to grad school and that’s when I came across the Simmons University program. My first break was when Julie Bliven hired me as her intern at Charlesbridge.
We’re all women at Roaring Brook and of course, we talk about the political climate we’re in a lot. It’s hard not to. I think all across the industry editors are looking for books that help balance the nonstop deluge of news we get around the clock. For me, that’s manifested in the form of feminist books, from Jane Against the World, a nonfiction history of reproductive rights in America (Feb 2020) to Go With the Flow, a middle grade graphic novel about four best friends protesting menstruation stigma.
It’s a pretty long process and for picture books, it usually takes between 2-3 years. An agent will submit a dummy (or a text) to me and if I absolutely love it, I’ll take it to my weekly editorial meeting and share it with my team. They’re all brilliant editors and it’s good to get those different perspectives right at the beginning. If it passes through edit meeting, I’ll do a bunch of behind the scene paperwork (profit & loss statements; comp title (market) research, etc.) and send it out to our acquisitions board which consists of our sales, marketing, publicity, school and library marketing teams, as well as our president, head of finance, and my publisher. We have an acquisitions meeting every week and if it passes through that meeting, I call the agent and make an offer. After that, we get to work on a particular schedule. It will take the illustrator longer to make art than it will the writer to make revisions so I want to get them started as early as possible. I’m a fairly hands-on editor so I like to get in there at every step. I work with an art director and we go back and forth until we get the sketches to where everyone is satisfied and then send the artist off to make final art. Once that comes in, we go through the proofing process, which is where you get to see the book laid out on the exact paper it’s going to print on. This usually takes 3-4 tries but once the book is ready, we send it off to the printer!
Time is probably the biggest one. I think people think editors sit in a bubble all day, quietly editing with a red pen but the majority of my work day is not spent editing at all. We have a lot of meetings, and a lot of books in the works at different stages at all times. The editor is also like the project manager—you manage every part of the process for each and every book and that work can build up. I often do my editing at home on my free time.
Another pressure is the amount of public speaking editors have to do. I always thought it was funny that they expect a bunch of nerdy book readers to speak in public and command rooms with tons of people. But they do! And it’s a lot of pressure but you kind of get used to that.
Make sure you show a range - you never know what an editor is looking for but if you show a range (animals, people, atmosphere, etc.) and give an editor more options, they'll remember your portfolio when they're looking for different types of books.
If Sharks Disappeared (series) by Lily Williams
Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights (YA nonfiction) by Karen Blumenthal.
Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet by Curtis Manley and Jessica Lanan
(I want to name like 20 more but you said only 3.)
A) Daunting: When my former boss Neal Porter moved his imprint to Holiday House. Overnight, I went from being an assistant to being a full editor without assistant duties and it was terrifying but I ultimately learned so much about the business and myself and I’m very grateful for that.
B) Exhilarating: When Big Cat, Little Cat won the Caldecott Honor. I’m not sure I have experienced pride like that before and it was marvelous and scary all at once.
Right now I’m looking for character-driven, off-beat picture books and solid, risk-taking nonfiction.
- Starla Jean by Elana K. Arnold and A.N. Kang (a new chapter book series!).
- A History of Underwear (with chickens) by Hannah Holt and Korwin Briggs (nonfiction/chickens).
- Two Many Birds by Cindy Derby.
I trained as a journalist and initially worked in children’s comics and teenage magazines. That was at IPC Magazines where my most senior position was editor on Oh Boy! Magazine. I left IPC to go freelance (writing and editing) and to have children. When my eldest child started school I went back to work at Penguin Children’s Books (later Puffin) as their Reader. A job I held until I decided to set up my own publishing company in 2015.
Alongside my work as Reader at Puffin I also ran a consultancy service for children’s writers, The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books. I launched the Advice Centre in 1994 and initially we had a fairly high success rate of placing books with various children’s publishing companies. However over the years more and more companies took the decision not to accept unsolicited manuscripts. Which was frustrating for me as I was still seeing talented writers coming through the Centre. So, I decided that if no-one else wanted to publish those authors then I would, under my own imprint. We launched Wacky Bee with early reader Geronimo, The Dog Who Thinks He’s a Cat by Jessie Wall and picture book The Great Farty Slob Beast by Charlie Farley. Both books were by authors who had come through The Writers’ Advice Centre.
When I first started thinking about setting up my own publishing company, I decided that it should be connected in some way to The Writers’ Advice Centre. So, I took the Centre’s initials – WAC – and came up with WACky Books. However, that seemed a little bit on the dull side and when I came across a quote by Philip Pullman – ‘Read like a butterfly, write like a bee’ – I just knew that Wacky Bee Books was the name for us.
I decided early on that all our books would be illustrated, no matter the target age range. And I also decided that I wanted to publish books that made you laugh and cry all at the same time! So, I suppose the two books that best exemplify that ethos are our two middle grade titles in translation – Elise and the Second-hand Dog and A Postcard to Ollis.
Mustafa’s Jumper by Coral Rumble has an interesting story behind its creation. Coral is my poetry editor at The Writers’ Advice Centre and is a successful poet in her own right. In 2018 she won the Caterpillar Poetry Prize with her poem Mustafa’s Jumper. It’s a touching poem about the friendship between two boys, one of whom is a migrant. The title relates to the jumper that Mustafa leaves behind when he has to return to his own country. At the time we were looking to build our series of early readers, Buzzy Reads, and as soon as I read Coral’s poem, I knew it would make a perfect Buzzy Reads. I also already had a picture book on our list written by Coral and illustrated by her daughter, Charlotte Cooke and I was keen to publish another book by the same mother/daughter team. Coral agreed to turn her poem into an early reader and Charlotte agreed to illustrate it. The rest is history!
As it says on our website, Wacky Bee is a very small company with very big ideas. Because we are small and independent, we can publish exactly what we want and don’t have to justify our acquisitions to anyone. If I like a book enough and I want to publish it then I do. It’s as simple as that! However, the downsides of being a small publisher are huge. Retailers in the UK tend to focus on what my old sales team used to refer to as ‘The Cosy Club’. These are the large children’s publishing houses who have the money and profile to market and promote their books in a big way. Us small publishers don’t really get a look-in which is very sad and, we think, very short sighted of retailers.
Elise and the Second-hand Dog was one of BookTrust’s 100 Best Books in 2018 and was also longlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the same year. The Great Farty Slob Beast was a finalist in the British Book Design & Production Awards. Double Felix made the Reading Agency’s Reading Well for Children 2020 booklist and has also done well for us abroad, with rights being sold to the US and Latvia. And our third Dougal Daley title, I’m Phenomenal! is one of the books in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.
That’s a tricky question to answer as it really does depend on the book. As a small independent publisher, we are open to working with emerging talent and while our budgets are sometimes modest, we feel the input and support we offer can help to propel and kick-start new illustrators’ careers.
Philippa Milnes-Smith was one of my first bosses when I started work at Puffin and I still have a lot of time for her. She is now an agent (The Soho Agency) and speaks a great deal of sense. Not to mention the fact that she has two previous Children’s Laureates as clients, Chris Riddell and Lauren Child. I also admire author, Malorie Blackman, and used to attend a writing workshop with her back in the day. And a shout-out for Klaus Flugge who championed a book I wrote while attending that writing workshop. It never actually made it to publication with Andersen Press in the end, but I will always be proud that it very nearly did! And I got an agent off the back of it – the much loved, late Rosemary Canter who, at the time, was with Peters Fraser and Dunlop. Lastly, I should mention David Rose, publisher at Red Robin Books. Starting up my own publishing company has been a HUGE learning curve and, without his help and advice, I don’t think I would have made it.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, the original Mary Poppins books by P.L.Travers, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, Winnie the Pooh, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, all the Babar books by Jean de Brunhoff, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Little Women….heavens, you’ve got me remembering now!