How to Win an Award and Conquer the World: A Little Feminist Interview with Brittany Murlas
Imagine, if you will, a board book winning a major ALA Youth Media Award. Not a Caldecott, as you might think, or a Newbery. Not a Sibert or an Odyssey or even a Geisel. No, I’m taking you back to the early hours of January 25, 2021 when the board book We Are Little Feminists: Families went out and won an honest-to-goodness Stonewall. And not an honor even but the Award proper. It was, and I truly believe this, the only time a board book has ever been featured at the ALA YMAs. But who was this press, Little Feminists? Where did they come from? And did they have any other books?
Today it is my utter delight to bring to you Brittany Murlas, founder and CEO of a company that may have the best “Meet the Team” section I’ve ever seen on a book publisher’s website to date (scroll down on that link to see it).
Now I can praise her board books all day, but it seemed imperative to me to ask Britt some questions firsthand about the company. Fortunately, she was willing to field them back to me.
Betsy Bird: Britt, thank you so much for taking some time to answer my questions today! First and foremost, can you tell us a little something about Little Feminist
s? Where did the company begin?
Brittany Murlas: I’ve been a fan girl of yours for a long time now. It’s truly an honor to be here. I’m pinching myself!
To go back to the beginning of the idea, while I was the CMO of babylist.com, I noticed parents adding fewer and fewer baby toys to their registries and more and more children’s books. I also noticed diverse children’s books were hard to come by. Following the 2016 election, I decided to quit my job to start working on something to help diversify children’s literature. That’s when LittleFeminist.com was born!
In focus groups I held, parents were desperate to diversify their bookshelves but lost on how to start (e.g., Amazon is not good at curation). So we started with a monthly book club subscription called Little Feminist Book Club. Our fantastic book selection team (made up of seven educators) curate the best anti-racist, anti-sexist books available. They also create activities and discussion questions to go along with them.
Then, in 2019, demand for our 0-3-Year-Old Book Club was exploding. We were running out of great diverse board books to feature, and we wondered: “Could we publish the books we know are missing?” We didn’t know much about book publishing, but through our monthly Book Club, we knew what the children’s book market was missing and what families were asking for.
Little Feminist Press was born when we published three books ourselves in 2020, each book focusing on a different aspect of intersectional feminism: “On-the-Go” (mobility/ability), “Hair” (race & ethnicity), and “Families” (gender & sexuality) – which won the Stonewall award…but we’ll get to that later.
BB: And can you talk a little bit about the importance of creating board books, particularly board books that show people and ideas and images that don’t exist anywhere else in the whole of children’s literature?
BM: It’s such a shame that so few board books are published each year (compared to picture books) because research shows that 80% of a child’s brain is formed by the age of three.
Then consider the lack of diverse board books – as many board books feature animals and objects (a UK study found animals are 8 times more likely to be protagonists than BIPOC characters).
In fact, studies have found that 3-month-old babies will show a preference for faces that look like their own, Toddlers as young as 2-years-old use race to reason about people’s behaviors, and preschoolers express racial bias. So it’s never too young to start conversations about topics like racism and sexism with our children and students.
But what books are available to help educators and parents have these important conversations with children under 3-years-old?
Even the board books that do attempt to tackle topics like racism and sexism are often written with adults in mind, rather than babies and toddlers.
It’s these missing books that we’ve committed to at Little Feminist Press: books covering topics like race, gender, disability, and religion, written and photographed specifically for 0-3-year-olds.
We love featuring photographs and rhyming text in our books because babies and toddlers really relate to them. We feature as much diversity as possible in a 20-page board book so babies and toddlers start meeting folks different from them as early as possible, and see faces and families that look like their own!
We believe our future will be brighter with books like ours in libraries, schools, and homes.
BB: So in each of the Little Feminist board books, I see things I’ve never seen before. “How We Eat” is an excellent example of this. Here you have so many different ways people can eat, far beyond forks vs. chopsticks. The different kinds of ports and feeding tubes, for example, are amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about where this book came from and how you found these images?
BM: We’ve gotten such an amazing response to “How We Eat.”
The idea for this book arose because the Little Feminist book selection team loves featuring books about food in our monthly Book Club – food is such an accessible way to share one’s background and culture!
But our experience as parents told us meal time is rarely stress-free: breastfeeding can be so challenging, introducing solids can feel overwhelming, and feeding cautious eaters is hard. There can be so much disappointment that comes along with being a new parent. Feeding your kids can end up looking differently than what you expected. Plus, there are health concerns like tongue tie as a baby or allergies and GI issues. We wanted a book that said, ‘Hey! It’s okay… being fed is love!” In so many cultures, food is central to feeling loved and connected to each other, and we wanted to celebrate that – however it looks!
We searched for a book that showed all the different ways kids eat and this more complicated side of eating, but we couldn’t find anything. So (again), we committed to publishing what we knew was missing. A book about eating which we wanted on our own shelves…and dining tables, in this case.
“How We Eat” takes a celebratory, non-judgemental approach to meal time. Every page features kids/families joyfully eating in different ways. We utilized our amazing Book Club community to find families and photographers with unique mealtime stories to share. Our author, Shuli de la Fuente-Lau, is also the creator behind @AsianLitforKids and did an amazing job curating photos and mealtime experiences.
It was such a powerful experience hearing about all the different mealtime challenges out there. Our community truly helped shape this book! For example, we hadn’t originally included anything about food allergies until a parent brought this up, and now this same parent and child are featured making cookies with their epi-pen close by.
BB: Well, and what these books do so well too is just expand the definitions of what “Hair” or “Families” or “Celebrations” can be for kids. Little wonder that you won a Stonewall Award last year. How did that win affect the company and the books?
BM: Oh my, I’m going to start crying answering this one! When our first three books (“Families,” “On-the-Go,” and “Hair”), we were simply excited to send our books to Book Club members and everyone that supported our crowdfunding campaign.
Then we started hearing back from folks about how much they loved our books. So we began looking into how the books could be sold in stores. We quickly realized that as a “self-publisher” (with “only” 3 published books), we couldn’t enter any traditional book markets. It was a bit demoralizing.
To this day, I don’t know who nominated us for the Stonewall award, but I do know winning this medal turned us into a “real publisher” overnight.
Of course, we would have continued to publish titles we know were missing without the Stonewall award. But now we know the titles we publish can really make it into stores, libraries, and schools (thanks to Baker & Taylor Publisher Services as our distributor).
BB: It’s been so satisfying watching your growth. As a small publisher, what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced during these hard COVID years?
BM: Funny, we’ve never been a publisher outside of COVID! Everyone has faced increasing costs, and I think small businesses have been among the most affected. There’s just not much wiggle room for small publishers. For example, the cost of our shipping boxes went up by 50 cents per box. This seriously cuts our margins, and we don’t have as many ways to make up for this loss as a larger company.
Paper, printing and shipping costs have skyrocketed for all publishers. While I hope costs go down, I also hope these increased prices make the publishing industry more environmentally sustainable overall.
We have never done in-person events for our published titles. I’m crossing my fingers that we will be able to organize and attend a few book events this fall. Book publishing should happen in community!
BB: I’ve always said that large publishers leave lots of gaps for smaller ones to fill. This just proves it. Finally, where is Little Feminist going in the future? What can we expect to see?
BM: You can expect Little Feminist Press to bring you more amazing books that are simply missing from the market.
We will continue publishing more board books and more books featuring photos of real kids and families, and bring you untold stories from foster children, refugees, activists with Autism, grief/loss counselors, and Paralympians (to name a few).
Damn right they will.
Seriously, if you haven’t taken a look at these books then I urge you to run, not walk, to your nearest library or independent bookstore and grab yourself some copies. Any baby shower you bring these too will instantly make you the coolest gift giver in the room (not much contest if the competition is Goodnight Moon in board book form, tho).
I want to thank Britt for taking the time to talk with me today.
For more info, take a listen to this podcast recording of The Children’s Book Podcast with Archaa Shrivastav, author of the award winning book itself.
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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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