Fantasy Publishing Company Sequence: An Introduction to Bird Books Unlimited
I live in a pretty neat town. For its relatively small size (approximately 74,000 people) Evanston, IL has two used bookstores, a children’s bookstore, and an adult bookstore. That’s fairly remarkable, but it does mean that I’ve had to adjust my dreams a bit. You see, some people daydream about the fantasy bookstores they’d like to run. Ever had that one? Your own little bookstore. You’re at the helm. You can make it as cozy or cool as you like. Maybe put a little coffee shop in there. Have author readings regularly. Maybe a cat. Cute, right? Popular authors like Louise Erdrich or Jeff Kinney do it all the time.
But with four bookstores in my town, that’s just not a practical daydream for me to have. So, instead, I fantasize about the publishing companies I’d like to found.
Ever had that fantasy before? It’s the one where you establish your own publisher. You put out the books you want to see on the market. You get to do whatever you want (because this is a fantasy and investors don’t exist). And it all begins with a brand. Something like . . .
Bird Books Unlimited
Welcome to Bird Books Unlimited! The children’s book publisher so incredibly self-indulgent that it made its founder the logo.
Here at BBU we strive to give the child reader only the rarest kind of best. To do so, we have a number of imprints, each churning out books that we know people want and need, as well as titles they don’t even know they want or need yet.
Please be so good as to check out the following lines:
The imprint for board books
If there’s one thing we don’t see enough of these days, it’s high contrast board books. That’s why here at the Peepers imprint we make sure to create a rotating line of tummy time, accordion, and photographed baby face books on a regular basis.
But let’s get even more creative. How would you feel if I could offer your new baby some high contrast books where the text was nursery rhymes you could sing along with? And what if the art in each book was created by an award-winning illustrator? Getting the artists to try their hand at the board book format is definitely a challenge. Not because they don’t want to, but because even in my fantasy this is a small publisher so we can’t offer them the rates they’re used to. Even so, each book in this series is like a little puzzle waiting to be unlocked. What illustrator could resist?
The import imprint
There are a number of small publishers already established in America that specialize in children’s book imports. Generally speaking, international children’s books can be a hard sell to Americans. Folks here in the U.S. get a lot more excited about homegrown fare than anything from overseas, particularly if the art strikes us as “weird”. That’s why you have to respect those publishers that take a chance on imports.
Now I’ve no wish to compete with an Eerdmans or an Enchanted Lion. Even so, I’ve noticed that there are particular kinds of books not reaching American shores very often. I am speaking, of course, of imports from Africa and South America. A great number of the Spanish translations we see these days come to us from Spain. Meanwhile I think people here in the U.S. are hungry for stories from different nations and tribes in Africa written by the people who actually live there. With the Vögelchen imprint we’ll aim to scout out and find the very best of these international titles.
In conjunction with the Kookaburra imprint (see below) we’ll also make an effort to find international stories that are genuinely hilarious as well.
The reprint imprint
Not a wholly original name considering we already have a Phoenix Award out there, but it’s still a perfect name for a reprint imprint so I’m sticking with it.
The Phoenix imprint is one of my particular darlings since I’ve been around long enough to remember fantastic books that never really got their due. A person could really go crazy with all the options out there. For example, on the picture book side one of the premiere books on my list would have to be a newly reprinted edition of Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies (though maybe we’ll keep the original U.S. ending rather than the shocking-to-American-eyes one from Sweden). I even have a wiki of all my old book reviews that I could go through to find more titles.
But the thing about Phoenix that will keep it interesting is how it approaches old children’s books by a wide array of voices from the past. I think that there’s this impression that the publishing market was 100% closed to people of color in the past, when we know that this cannot be the case. After all, the Newbery and Caldecott have been handed out to Asian-American, Native American, Latinx and other creators.
One thing I’d really love to do, actually, would be to get Pura Belpre’s books re-illustrated and brought back into print. And when I say “re-illustrated” I mean by contemporary artists. Imagine Dance of the Animals by Raul III, Once in Puerto Rico by Carlos Aponte, and, of course, Yuyi Morales would be the only person I’d hand Perez y Martina to.
There are actually classic LGBTQIA+ books that deserve recognition as well, by the way. Books that came out with very very small publishers in the 60s and 70s. Obviously some have not aged well, but some might be worth rediscovering.
The humor and graphic novel imprint
Ah. The jewel in the crown. My favorite imprint of them all. Humor and comics. Heck, if I’m going to be honest, I could just do this particular imprint alone and we’d be good to go.
And when I say humor, I’m covering new books, old books, international books, board books, you name it. I’d be sure to include titles like Can I Build Another Me? by Shinsuke Yoshitake (which, bafflingly, has yet to make it to American shores).
And on the comics side, I’m intrigued by a new trend I’ve noticed. Did you know that they’re turning the Jack Gantos “Joey Pigza” series into graphic novels? This, it seems to me, is yet another great way of taking past books and making them pertinent to kids today. You know who I’d want to republish in a comic format? Virginia Hamilton. You could get a brilliantly creepy The House of Dies Drear in a graphic novel. Or what about Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush? And there are all these fantasy novels from the past that would adapt SO well. Remember Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder? Oh, the possibilities are endless!
The math imprint
I went with pigeons on this one since they’re reportedly the best birds at math.
This final imprint could easily turn out to be the least popular of the bunch, but it’s also one of the most necessary. If I’ve learned anything from my time serving with Mathical it’s that there is a great grand swath of math-related literature out there, and only a tiny segment is accurate and interesting. The Squab imprint would vet every title with trained mathematicians who could check the works for accuracy and speak to further resources. Mind you, the Charlesbridge’s “Story-Telling Math” imprint already does some of this really well, so we’d need a slightly different angle. As such, this would be the one imprint that looks at middle grade and YA math titles. Not in a didactic boring way, but with a lot of creativity and interest in mind.
If you build it, they will come.
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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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