Founded in 1975, Children’s Book Press is a nonprofit independent publisher of multicultural and bilingual literature by and about people from the Latino, African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American communities. Their stories promote “lived and shared experiences of cultures who have been historically under-represented or misrepresented in children’s literature while also focusing on promoting inter-cultural and cross-cultural awareness for children of all backgrounds.”
Children’s Book Press is the publisher of The Storyteller’s Candle, one of the seven books selected for inclusion in our Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set Donation Project. Dana Goldberg, Executive Editor, answered my questions about the book and other topics related to multicultural children’s literature:
PT: How did The Storyteller’s Candle come about as a project for Children’s Book Press?
DG: Our former Executive Director approached Lucía Gonzalez at a conference, and they got to talking about Pura Belpré. The idea to do a book with Lucía about Pura came from that meeting.
PT: When you acquired Lucia’s manuscript, did you expect the book to be as successful as it’s turned out to be?
DG: We did have high expectations for the book. The manuscript was just perfect — Lucía is a master storyteller, so we knew the book would be reviewed favorably in that respect. We knew there would be significant interest on the part of librarians everywhere, and from the Latino community in general. Pura was so influential to so many people, to so many generations of children. From the very beginning we had an inkling we had a hit on our hands.
PT: Did you consider other illustrators for the book, or was Lulu Delacre the most natural choice? What can you tell us about the pairing up of Lucia’s work with Lulu’s art?
DG: It was Lucía’s idea to approach Lulu, since the two of them had worked together before on the The Bossy Gallito and Senor Cat’s Romance and Other Favorite Stories from Latin America. It seemed very natural to bring those two amazingly talented women together again for this particular book. Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York, and Lucía felt very connected to her because she too is a librarian and a storyteller, and Lulu had the connection of being from Puerto Rico and having the firsthand cultural knowledge that goes along with the story.
PT: How do you think the public’s attitude toward multicultural and bilingual books for children has changed since CBP was founded, in 1975?
DG: There’s a much greater acceptance of multicultural and bilingual books among parents, teachers, and librarians. But you still find a lot of resistance (or ignorance) among some booksellers who don’t know what to do with those books, or how to categorize them or where to display them in their stores. For example, instead of putting our books in the children’s section, some stores put them in the foreign language section. And in some academic circles there is debate over whether bilingual books help or hinder children learning English as a second language. But we’ve heard very positive things from teachers who work with ESL/ELL populations; they love our books because it’s like getting two books in one. I also have to point out that although many more publishers offer multicultural books for kids, it’s unfortunately true that only a very small fraction of those books are actually written and illustrated by people of color (according to CCBC – The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin).
PT: What are some of Children Book Press’s bestselling titles?
DG: Family Pictures, by Carmen Lomas Garza, is our bestselling title, by far. It’s sold nearly 480,000 copies since its original publication in 1990, which is pretty remarkable for a children’s book. Other bestsellers include Baby Rattlesnake, The Woman Who Outshone the Sun, and In My Family.
PT: What is the most challenging aspect of being a publisher of multicultural children’s books these days?
DG: The fact that there are more publishers competing for the best stories by the best authors and artists. We’re definitely not the only publisher that puts out multicultural children’s books anymore. Which is great for readers everywhere, of course! But it can make it more challenging for us. More titles are competing for librarians’ and teachers’ and reviewers’ attention. But that just means we have to work harder to make sure we’re the best at what we do, and that each book we publish is a home run.
PT: What are your hopes for the future of CBP?
DG: We have plans to start publishing bilingual board books in 2011. And someday, we’d love to move into publishing multicultural and bilingual middle grade chapter books and young adult novels. We also hope to keep up with — if not get ahead of — the changing technology that’s revolutionizing how people read. We definitely want to be part of that conversation.
PT: Anything else you’d like to add?
DG: I’d like to finish by saying that, as a nonprofit publisher, we really do need the support of our community not only to publish the kinds of books we do, but also to keep them in print. Buying our books and/or making tax-deductable donations go a long way in helping us achieve our goals, of course, but donations of items from our Wish List, or of volunteer time, also help tremendously.
Thanks, Dana, for taking the time to answer my questions. We are very grateful to Children’s Book Press for donating some copies of The Storyteller’s Candle in support of our Spirit of PaperTigers project. We wish CBP continued success!
To learn more about Children’s Book Press and to see their wonderful catalog and free online teaching resources, visit their website. To keep up with their news, check out their blog, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.