Winged Chariot Press OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love iPod eBooks
It’s remarkably easy for a small publisher to fail to show up on the average American children’s librarian’s radar. Here in New York the big boys flex their muscles, puff out their chests, and engage in fisticuffs over who has the most film adaptations/the most titles on the New York Times bestseller lists/the most Twitter followers, etc. Peek around a little and you begin to notice the smaller pubs that spend most of their time making the best possible children’s books out there, particularly if they are of a foreign persuasion. Your Enchanted Lions. Your Kane/Millers. Your Winged Chariots.
Neal Hoskins of Winged Chariot Press asked if he could meet with me the other day. I like Neal. Neal’s a nice guy. He never pushes me to buy stuff or wants to make me blog information. If he says he wants to speak then that usually means he has something he want to say. And more often than not, it pays to listen.
Primarily a UK publisher of children’s books in translation, Winged Chariot has slowly been bringing their specific brand of literature to the States over the last year or two. When Neal met with me he brought two books, both surprising but in entirely different ways. They were:
Sweets by Sylvia van Ommen
The Duckling Chronicles by Emilie Christensen
First, Sweets. It’s like The White Album in children’s picture book form. Almost all white with just the thinnest of thin black lines to tell its tale. Sylvia van Ommen’s name, or at least her style, may trigger a vague memory of some sort in your brain. There are two possible reasons for this. Perhaps you are familiar with The Surprise, which is Dutch and lovely. Or maybe you know her from illustrating Marleen Westera’s strange and sweet Sheep and Goat. Sweets is one of those books that you just couldn’t see it published first and foremost in America. In this, van Ommen’s first picture book, a cat and rabbit, named Oscar and Joris respectively, decide to meet in the park to eat some sweets and drink some coffee. They text this info to one another, then meet. While there they discuss the idea of heaven, and how they would go about meeting up there again (the best answer is to just wait by the entrance in case it’s too crowded or big). Like I say, not your typical fare, but it has that strange sweetness to it that, by rights, should overcome American squeamishness to the subject matter. Mind you, Yank parents don’t tend to like to discuss speculations on the afterlife with their kin as often as all that, so this is probably for the more free-thinking parental units out there. The ones who aren’t afraid of kids who ask questions. Hear it here in Dutch for a larf.*
The Duckling Chronicles is a strange little creation, but I rather like the idea of it. It’s a small book. Very small. Written for teens, but only 5.8 inches by 3.4 inches. Neal pointed out to me that it would fit in your back pocket if you wanted it to. It got me to thinking. Teens love their handheld electronic devices. They’re in love with the small right now. How clever then to come up with a book that is inherently tiny. It would be the easiest thing in the world to just pluck it out, read it, and put it back again. I imagine a whole line of such books would work wonders with teens today. Kids are forever telling me they want small paperback books to read on subways or buses, that are easy to carry about. Imagine little pocket-sized teen novels like this one. This one’s practically a free verse story so there isn’t a high page count. Makes me wish I knew a teen to try it out on. Maybe I’ll hand it to one of the kids in my bookgroup and see what they make of it. It’s a handsome little thing.
After showing me these books Neal then showed me how Winged Chariot Press has recently been making strides in the electronic book world. Like many a librarian my eyes get all squinty when people try talking up e-books to me. Since the only handheld electronic device I have in my possession (aside from my iPod) is an archaic Samsung phone with only the vaguest texting capabilities, I look at iPhone apps with a mixture of horror and fascination. I can see their uses but until now I’ve never quite bought the notion that picture books would have any use in that format. I snort at the Curious George app and its kin. I mean, really! Picture books are meant to be big. What possible use could something small and petite be?
The answer: Red Apple. Neal placed the iPod on the table between us. He brought up Red Apple, a story you can buy as a 99-cent app. The tale is sweet enough and the pictures pretty, but the real lure for me here was the language feature. When you place this book on your iPhone you can have it read to you, with the words on the screen, in all kinds of languages. French. Spanish. German. Imagine you’re a student attempting to learn a new language. You comprehend the words but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how something is pronounced. If books like this one were on your iPhone, you could follow along, listen, and learn. On the flipside, it’s a nice way to allow a child the chance to hear a story when the guardian is inconvenienced at the moment (say, driving the car). The child listens to a story and watches the words and pictures all on their own.
So, I admit, maybe there is room enough in the world for picture-based stories in an online format. I don’t think they’ll have a chance of replacing paper books, but if they kind find unique niches like this one, that’s pretty interesting. Thanks again to Neal Hoskins for giving me a peek at the different kinds of books being put out there for kids today. It’s nice to see someone taking a chance on a new format, whether it’s paper or digital bits and pieces. Can’t wait to see what they have on their plate next.
UPDATED TO ADD: I have just found out that Sweets was published as Jellybeans by Roaring Brook Press, which delights me. It was not, however, black and white.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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