Celebrating Small Publishers: An Array of Remarkable 2017 Titles From the Smallest Houses
When I was getting my library degree in grad school I remember quite clearly a class where we were told about the various publishers creating children’s books. At the time The Big Five (Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Harper Collins, and Little, Brown) were still The Big Six (before Penguin and Random House became as one) and my professor even went so far as to explain which publishers were owned by companies in other countries. It was information that, at the time, I wasn’t sure I’d have much use for. Now I’m grateful beyond measure for the heads up.
Recently Monica Edinger decided that if we are truly dedicated to the notion of diversity, #ownvoices, and equity in publishing then we need to start looking beyond The Big Five. While they have the capital and resources to wine and dine the masses, loads of independent presses are out there making a living, scrambling about, and generally filling in all those gaps the biggies ignore. In her post Amplifying Diversity: Independent Presses she even goes so far as to create a comprehensive linked list of these companies (leaving out the bigger ones like HMH or Candlewick). That accomplished, she went on to create some posts highlighting books from the indies. Indie Press Spotlight #1 and Indie Press Spotlight #2 to kick it all off.
Now for my part, I’ve always loved the smaller presses too. In fact, if you’ll notice I always alternate my picture book reviews between The Big Five and the independents. This coming Thursday I’ll be speaking at the 2017 IPG (Independent Publishers Group) Summit here in Chicago. My topic is The Indie Necessity: Why Smaller Presses Are Essential. In the course of my talk I’ll be discussing a variety of books out in 2017 that fill gaps and generally make the world a better place with the books they produce. In conjunction with this talk, then, here is a selection of some of the finest 2017 books by independent presses that probably couldn’t have been published by the Big Five due to a variety of different reasons. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of smaller publishers and, like Monica, I’ve purposefully left off the bigger folks like Abrams, Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Lerner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Holiday House, Scholastic, and Chronicle. This is just a smattering of some of the titles that I’m grateful exist on the globe today.
2017 Independent Press Titles You Really Shouldn’t Miss
Title: Baby’s First Words by Christiane Engel
I probably mentioned this board book once before, but here’s the rundown. This is a really good first word book. It also happens to have a home with two dads, but as cool as that is, it’s a lot cooler if the book itself actually works. And it does! Word books are forever. They never die. And the fact that this book is also available in Spanish? Icing on the cake.
Publisher: Phaidon Press
Title:What Does Baby Want? by Tupera Tupera
This is the book that you read and think to yourself, “This isn’t American, is it?”. Note the lovely round shape. Note the unhappy baby face. Interior:
Oh. You see where this is going, don’t you? And voila:
I sort of adore this book. Because for many older siblings, this image above is a daily reality. One they’ve undoubtedly never seen replicated in their literature before.
Title:Canticos: Ratoncitos / Canticos: Little Mice by Susie Jaramillo
There is a chance that you’ve not discovered this remarkable little Spanish/English bilingual series by now. They’re practically custom-made for bilingual storytimes, and I’m particularly looking forward to the skeleton-related Day of the Dead-esque book coming out this fall.
Title: My First Baby Signs by Phil Conigliaro, ill. Tae Won Yu
This is not the first baby sign book for kids, but it is a very sturdy one. Will the tabs stand up to repeated use? Yes, as it happens. I’m not saying they’ll never break. I just think that they can take a much bigger beating than some of the similar titles out there in the same vein.
Publisher: Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow)
Title:Boo! by Ben Newman
You know a book’s a hit when librarians steal it off of your desk (pre-pub, no less) to use in storytime . . . and you never see it again. This is one of my favorite readaloud picture books of the year. Can you see how the images just pop off a page so that even children in the back of the room are able to make out what’s going on?
Publisher: Enchanted Lion
Title:Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn
A death book, yes. But a rather fascinating one. Bertolt loves a tree, but when a tree dies it doesn’t announce the fact. Even a dead tree is still highly visible. And the way in which Bertolt chooses to honor it is touching without traipsing into cheesiness. I love the fact that the artist’s style looks so much like the work of Sempé as well.
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Title:A Different Pond by Bao Phi, ill. Thi Bui
I mentioned this book in an earlier post on economic disparity and how it’s presented in books for kids. This book not only looks good and reads beautifully but it shows the practical day-to-day solutions of surviving in America for some families. For whatever reason, larger presses tend to avoid books about working class families. I see a greater number of these titles from the little guys.
Publisher: Gecko Press
Title:Gus’s Garage by Leo Timmers
My son is currently enamored of Leo Timmers and who can blame him? This book is ten times more clever than you’d initially give it credit for. I love the shine and practical dirt of a Timmers title.
Title:I Like, I Don’t Like by Anna Baccelliere, ill. Ale + Ale
Another book mentioned in the economic disparity post. Beautifully rendered too. It draws a very nice and clear cut line between the activities that kids from stable middle to upper class homes enjoy and similar activities that make up the daily lives of other less privileged children.
Title:Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, ill. Alyssa Bermudez
I reviewed this one less than a month ago, and I stand by that review all the way. In this book you have a girl confronting sexism head on while, at the same time, discovering her heritage and growing closer to her grandmother. Plus you get interior shots like this one:
What’s not to love?
Publisher: Elsewhere Editions
Title:My Valley by Claude Ponti, translated by Alyson Waters
I can say with great confidence that only a small press would have been capable of translating and bringing to the States this sumptuous visual feast of a book. One word: Vistas. You’ll see what I mean.
Publisher: Child’s Play International
Title: Ossiri and the Bala Mengro by Richard O’Neil and Katharine Quarmby, ill. Hannah Tolson
Children’s literature has a dire relationship with the Romani (often referred to as “gypsies” in various books). For whatever reason, they are the forgotten people. No one ever worries what they’re going to think of a book when that book includes gypsy fortune tellers and the like. Enter Romani author Richard O’Neill and a story that I absolutely love. It’s kind of about being true to yourself and kind of about getting eaten by giants. What’s not to love?
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co.
Title: Please Please the Bees by Gerald Kelley
You know how crazy some people get when there’s even a hint of unionism in a book? I remember all too well the opinions on Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. Now we’ve a book that’s just as upfront as Cronin/Lewin were in their own. Love that union organizing!
Publisher: Peter Pauper Press
Title:Rosie and Crayon by Deborah Marcero
I once did a freelance job for a big publisher where we were supposed to come up with lists of titles in different categories. One category involved dead pets. At the time, I was completely incapable of coming up with a single book featuring a family of color in the category of deceased companions. Now we have one and it’s exquisitely rendered.
Publisher: Tara Books
Title: This Truck Has Got to Be Special by Anjum Rana, ill. design by Sameer Kulavoor, truck art by Hakeem Nawaz & Amer Khan
One of the smartest books out there. This book not only employs an actual painter of trucks for the art but also discusses the daily life of a Pakistani truck driver. Great learning tool!
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Title:The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi
Who amongst us can’t relate to the bunny being carried? Did you ever fake sleep so that your parents would pick you up when you were younger? I know I did.
Publisher: Peachtree Press
Title:King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats by Dori Hillestad Butler, ill. Nancy Meyers
The third King and Kayla book actually arrived on my desk today. My co-worker prefers the one with the codes. I like this one more. The dog p.o.v. is particularly inspired.
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Title:Grandfather and the Moon by Stephanie LaPointe, ill. Roge
I reviewed this one. Sure I did. But I’m still trying to figure out what it all was REALLY about. Contemplative, sad, and yet ultimately kind of uplifting.
Publisher: Persnickety Press
Title:Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp
Three words: 3D. Printed. Beak.
Oh, COME ON. You aren’t impressed? Well check out the backmatter on this book and you will be. It’s insane!
Publisher: Readers to Eaters
Title:Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, ill. Man One
It appears to be difficult to render the cover of this book online. Observe how hard it is for the colors of the cover to pop correctly.
And yet this is one of the most exciting picture book biographies of the year. Come for the ramen endpapers. Stay for the killer story and art.
Title: Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas
Look upon Owlkids’ work ye mighty and despair. And then let out a great big AWWWWWWWWWWW because you know you wanna.
Publisher: Feminist Press
Title: Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higginbotham
Best. Book. Ever. With the possible exception of its predecessors Divorce Is the Worst and my personal favorite Death Is Stupid. This book does not disappoint.
Filed under: Best Books, Best Books of 2017
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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