Meet the Newest Imprint in Town: A Talk with Transit Children’s Editions
Word appears to have gotten out. Folks are under the distinct impression that I not only like books from other nations, brought here to the States, but that I also have an inordinate fondness for smaller publishers and their imprints. And when there’s a brand new imprint out there? One with an eye to international lit for children?
I am in.
Meet Transit Books. Founded in 2015, it’s just your average everyday “nonprofit publisher of international and American literature, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.” They have a tendency to win National Book Awards for fun. It’s entirely possible that last month, as you read through your Publishers Weekly, you noticed that they had just launched a children’s book imprint. It’s called Transit Children’s Editions and as publishers Adam Levy and Ashley Nelson Levy told me, they want to get kids reading beyond our borders so as to broaden their perspectives. With that in mind, they’re releasing two titles this fall with an additional book in January. When I spoke to them, they were very excited. The reason? They’d just gotten their first f&gs.
I occasionally do little publisher previews, and today’s might be the smallest I’ve done in a while.
First up? Monster-Scared by Betina Birkjær, illustrated by Zarah Juul, translated from the Danish by Katrine Øgaard Jensen and Orien Longo. Out this September, it’s by the same author as that charming (and highly awarded) Coffee, Rabbit, Snowdrop, Lost. Here’s the description:
“There’s a monster living in the attic. Not a loud monster but a quiet one. It’s probably making a kid trap. Each night, it grows in the dark. Everyone knows monsters feed on darkness.
This is Monster-Scared. With humor and charm, award-winning author Betina Birkjær and illustrator Zarah Juul show us how the things we can’t see grow bigger and scarier, how the slightest sound or shadow can send shivers down our back, and how monsters are—perhaps—mostly scary in our imagination.”
As it turns out, there are different ways to read this story. First, there’s the surface read about being scared of the dark. In this story the kid is convinced that there’s a monster in the attic. In truth? At the end you see that it’s actually a tiny little monster, and it is scared of the kid. But when you dig a little deeper you see that the book is also about interrogating the nature of our fears and what scares us most. As Adam described it, it inhabits the perspective of a child very well. For him, it’s a sign of an author at the top of her game winking at the adult reader while playing to the very real fears of the child. Adam and Ashley have also read this book to their kid hundreds of times. Ah, in-house experts. Nothing better.
Here are a couple shots of the book’s interiors:
Next up! The Tailor Shop at the Intersection by Ahn Jaesun, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell. The storyline follows three generations of tiny tailors. As the description reads:
“When Deokgu opens a brand new tailor shop in town, all of Seoul is skeptical of his modern styles. Who would want to wear such funny-looking suits? But Deokgu remains devoted to his craft, and it’s not long before the shop begins to flourish, becoming a beloved fixture in the community.
Written and illustrated by Ahn Jaesun, The Tailor Shop at the Intersection follows three generations of tailors weaving themselves and their business into the fabric of their community in a rapidly changing Seoul. Ahn’s award-winning illustrations convey with great affection a more complicated story about the pressures that rapid development place on culture, commerce, and local business.”
Essentially, we’re talking about a picture book where dogs create bespoke suits and weave themselves into Seoul culture and society. For the adult reader, as you read the book you see the generations progressing and you notice the development of the city around them. The city changes, and fashion changes. The book is a kind of statement about urban development, capitalism, and artisanal craft. And what do the kids like? Well, who doesn’t want to watch a dog in a suit peeing on the ground? Clocking in at 48 pages, this book is a little longer than Monster-Scared with a distinctive, but beautiful, quiet tone. Always fascinating to me are the elements of a book that just can’t quite translate. For example, when Transit acquired the book, it was the translator who pointed out that when you look at the city’s signs there is a subtle but significant shift over time. Initially, the signs display Chinese long words that were more common in the 20th century. Then, as time goes by, the script changes in a way that would be familiar to Korean readers. At Transit, they felt it was important to preserve that element of the book. As they described it, a publisher has as much power to erase cultural specifics as to highlight them. For Adam and Ashley, though, there’s little point in a translation unless you make sure that you’re not whitewashing or domesticating the spirit of the original.
Here’s some of the interior art:
Finally, the last book of this initial run is How Dreadful! (or, in the original,) by Claire Lebourg, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis. The story focuses on a winged insect named Patty who has an art show coming up. The plan is to paint all of her friends, each of whom are different insects. Unfortunately, as she shows each friend their painting, not a single one likes what they see. To be frank, they’re appalled, and every little comment just chips away at her confidence. Fortunately, her gallerist (not a word I often see in picture books) persuades her that the show must go on. And as you come to the gallery opening there’s a beautiful gatefold that brings you inside. Not to spoil the ending, but the critters, once they see the paintings together, are delighted by all their portraits. As Adam said, the book’s about the purpose of art and how we navigate our own self-doubts and misgivings.
Many thanks to Adam and Ashley for showing me what’s to come. Look for these books in the near future, and enjoy!
Filed under: Publisher Previews
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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