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by Porter Anderson - Publishing Perspective February 6, 2018
How is the political climate in the United States is affecting the sales of socially relevant books? One Canadian publisher says the ‘Trump bump’ is real.
‘The Trump Era Has Made It Important’
Concepts of diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism are the stock-in-trade of Canadian children’s book publisher Margie Wolfe and her team at Second Story Press in Toronto.
“We’ve done this for a very long time,” Wolfe says in an interview from her offices with Publishing Perspectives. “And we don’t do anything else. It’s taken time, particularly on the kids’ books side for people to accept—parents, educators, librarians—for people to accept that you can deal with difficult content for young people and do it in a way that’s both compelling and often entertaining.”
Near the end of January this year, Wolfe took part in the Children’s Books Salon—produced by Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurter Buchmesse New York—where international publishers met to discuss new titles and trends in the children’s book market.
There, during a comprehensive presentation by children’s books editors from HarperCollins, Wolfe asked if US publishers have seen changes to the children’s and YA book market as a result of the divisive American political climate.
‘The Response of the Consumer’
“The ‘Trump bump’ is because there’s a recognition among educators and librarians and parents that you need to have content that deals with the world around us in a way that’s interesting for the children and doesn’t frighten them.”Margie Wolfe
While there were some at the Children’s Books Salon in New York City who said that they couldn’t see a direct correlation between the charged politics of the moment and book sales, “There were at least four people,” Wolfe says, “who came up to me later” during some of the event’s networking sessions among editors, “and told me that they are seeing response.
“It’s not so much in what you’re commissioning,” she says, “that you see the reactions. It’s about the response of the consumer now. If before Trump you were doing some of this kind of books for children and you weren’t getting a response, the Trump era has made it important that there is a big consumer response, and we’ve seen that.
“Some of the rights we’re selling is because of this” political climate in which immigration has become such a fiercely contested flash point. “For example, refugees are not bad people, and the parents who want someone to explain that will look to a book like Where Will I Live? about children looking for a home. They’re seen as human beings, not as aliens or awful people.”
This is, Wolfe says, a very clear “positive impact on a publisher like ourselves. The ‘Trump bump’ is because there’s a recognition among educators and librarians and parents that you need to have content that deals with the world around us in a way that’s interesting for the children and doesn’t frighten them, a way that enlightens without being scary.
“And,” Margie Wolfe laughs softly, “more publishers—colleagues of mine, who would never have described their books as dealing with human rights in the past?—are describing them that way now.”
‘Caring and Compassionate Human Beings’
Not unlike Sweden’s Olika Förlag with its 11-year track record of working exclusively in books for children that address what’s “different” in society and the concept of “the other,” Second Story began its operation as a house dedicated to publishing feminist-inspired books.
Second Story, however, was based originally in more adult material and has been in operation far longer than Olika: this is a 30 year old house, established in 1988.
“I came from Women’s Press,” Wolfe says, “and so I was dealing primarily with adult women’s feminist publishing that dealt with a lot of the issues we’re seeing again today.
“But when we started Second Story, along with the adult program, we started developing more books for young people with the belief that if you can figure out how to tell it so it doesn’t feel like a lesson, then there are important things you can tell children from a young age. Then you’re not trying to change people’s minds as adults because they’re growing up with content that will hopefully create caring and compassionate and active human beings.
“One of the big breakthroughs for us was Holocaust books for young readers. we started doing them about 20 years ago. At first, the reaction was, ‘You can’t tell these kinds of difficult stories to children, you have to wait until they’re older.’
“But the first one won a children’s choice award. (There are several children’s choice awards in Canada, many run by libraries.) And the second one won a children’s choice award, from the library association here.
“And then, we did a book called Hana’s Suitcase.” That book, written by Karen Levine, was published in 2002 by Second Story and now proudly is displayed with a blurb by Bishop Desmond Tutu, who writes: “How extraordinary that this humble suitcase has enabled children all over the world to learn through Hana’s story the terrible history of what happened and that it continues to urge them to heed the warnings of history.”
Basically, Wolfe and Second Story had captured a mic-drop moment with Hana’s Suitcase and put to rest a lot of assertions that young readers weren’t ready for serious topics when told well and sensitively.
Hana’s Suitcase, Wolfe says, “has in the end become Canada’s most-awarded children’s book ever. Random House handles it in the United States, but we have it in more than 40 languages.” In Canada’s award program called the Silver Birch—in which librarians nominate books and children vote on them—Hana’s Suitcase holds a unique position as “the favorite of the favorites,” taking the “Ultimate Silver Birch Award” from the Ontario Library Association.
The book is Levine’s account of Japanese research into the case of Hana Brady, whose empty suitcase, dated May 16, 1931, was found marked Waisenkind, orphan, and sent to Tokyo in 2000 for a Holocaust education center’s exhibition. Levine traced the story, as told in a CBC documentary, of the Czechoslovakian Hana Brady, the impact on her family of the Nazi invasion, and the memories of Hana’s brother who, as it turned out, had moved to Canada.
“The book was a breakthrough,” Wolfe says, “for many people trying to do difficult stories for younger people. And that allowed us even more breadth. So now, we’ve done everything from euthanasia to same-sex marriage, we’ve done books on refugees, a picture book on Malawa, work with a child-abuse center. And if you read the stories, none of them are scary.
“They’re not scary stories. They’re great stories with important content. So the kid doesn’t know he’s learned anything,” she says with a laugh. “He just knows he’s read a great story that he remembers or she remembers. That’s what’s made it fabulous for us.
“In the past year, we’ve become the first publisher to get an award from the Civil Liberties Association” of Canada. And people who are foreign publishers looking for a certain kind of book have learned to come to us because they know this is the kind of work we do.”
And Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, Wolfe says, has selected Second Story over the major houses to have the North American rights to its own upcoming book, All About Anne, coming later this year with illustrations by Huck Scarry and a special set of responses to questions asked by children in many countries about Anne Frank’s story.
Image is of Margie Wolfe. Image: Second Story Press
Have you ever been an inspiroror? Are you unsure what one is? Well, my almost-nine-year-old niece Marie seems to know. We share the exact same February birthday along with an affinity for writing stories. A few months ago, when Marie’s mom attended Back-to-School Night, she spotted this and texted it to me:
“My aunt Cathy is the writer of: the art car. She is an inspiroror. I love love her, and her writeing.” — Marie.
Come on! It would be hard to feel rejected after that kind of praise. Marie loves me; she was spot-on drawing my poofy brown hair and art car t-shirt. And after seeing this mini-article she wrote, I was motivated to write my own blog post (this one!) after a long dry spell.
Inspiroror-ation comes from unexpected places. I’ve never drawn a comic strip, but in October, I was motivated by the morning news of all things. I watched Chris Cuomo and Carol Costello on CNN as they reported on several random stories. My brain strung them all together, and I drew a cartoon to illustrate what the news felt like that day.
I’m not going to post my lame drawing, because I prefer to avoid politics. Plus, it’s just really embarrassingly bad! At the time, I thought it was the CNN anchors that inspired me, but I now believe it was one of my writer friends, Lisa Sinicki. Lisa is a public relations professional in Atlanta, and author of My Mother Served Gouda When Company Came: Scenes from a cheese-lover’s life. You can find it on Amazon.
We became friends through an online Mastermind facilitated by Dan Blank, founder of WE GROW MEDIA. Lisa and I, along with a few others from that Mastermind group, have kept in touch and continue to support each other. Lisa draws playful cartoons, which she regularly posts in her newsletter. I recommend you buy Lisa’s cheese book (it’s gouda!) on Amazon and that you subscribe to her newsletter: Queen of the Chronic Overthinkers.
One of Lisa’s recent comics called “A Visit From the Idea Fairy” had my husband and I cracking up. I wrote to tell her the good news: “Lisa, it made us spit soda out of our noses! Someone needs to buy them!” She replied that she submitted some of her cartoons to The New Yorker: “I sent a couple of early one-panel things that got rejected. I recently sent in five better ones. I imagine that IF I keep submitting eventually something will stick.” I admire Lisa’s positivity, because I’m sure she’s much like me and other creative professionals who struggle to stay confident in the face of rejection.
For me, I think it was a large dose of false confidence that propelled me into action on my CNN/Lisa-Sinicki-inspired comic-strip-drawing day. I finished my masterpiece, and I should have quietly filed it away; instead, I sent it to The New Yorker. Wait, what? Yeah, I did. I guess I wanted to be like my inspiroror—Lisa! Then, I waited. And waited. And then, I got rejected!
Are you familiar with a site called SUBMITTABLE? It’s an app where writers and artists can submit their works for possible publication. Check it out and you’ll find yourself going down a literary rabbit hole. Before I could mutter “submittable,” The New Yorker rejected my first-ever political cartoon. Undeterred, I submitted a few writing samples to other publications. As a result, an online site called Parent Co. accepted my personal essay called “If These Scars Could Talk.” It was published on Nov. 4, 2017 as a part of their November writer’s contest based on the word prompt: gratitude. YOU CAN READ IT HERE!
ME: I’m on a roll! That thinking led me to submit some more. I’ve had a short story called “Yellow” sitting in my computer for about a year. I sent it out to a few publications, and an online literary magazine called STORGY accepted it (to be published on Feb. 16). In both instances, I chose to adopt Lisa Sinicki’s mantra: “If I keep submitting, eventually something will stick.” (This should be a meme for creative professionals).
“Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car” is my first children’s book.
My first—and last!!—political cartoon wasn’t published in The New Yorker, and I don’t know what sort of response I’ll get for my short-story “Yellow” once it appears on STORGY. But some positive wins have happened since I launched my children’s book last year. Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was awarded first place by the Texas Association of Authors in the category of Children’s Picture Book—All Ages for 2017. I’ve also spoken/presented at more than 35 elementary schools since launching my book. And the biggest win happens at that sweet moment when a student tells me, “You inspired me! I can’t wait to get home and write my own book.”
So, who is your inspiroror? Are you inspiroror-ing anyone? And as always, Be Amazing!
By: Laura Oles | January 19, 2018 Originally published in Writers Digest
For the last twenty years, Port Aransas, Tex., has served as my weekend retreat. When life gets hectic, my family leaves the hill country for the Gulf coast. I know where to find the best coffee, the freshest shrimp and chicken tortilla soup so flavorful that it has its own fan club.
Over the years, I began to imagine an alternate universe to Port Aransas. Stories surfaced in my mind like dolphins dancing between the ferry boats in the nearby ship channel. I took my beloved family-friendly beach retreat and created Port Alene, a fictional sister town with a darker side. As I watched my kids fishing in the ocean, my mind built a new world filled with characters making deals, sharing secrets and selling something extra at the local bait shop.
I realized that my coastal hideaway was the perfect setting for my new Jamie Rush mystery series. Jamie is a skip tracer—someone who tracks the missing and those who wish not to be found. DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN found its story anchored in Port Alene’s dual personality, one that combined a tourist destination with a grittier underworld. While I didn’t have a master plan, I did establish a few guidelines.
NOT A TWIN, BUT A SIBLING
When creating Port Alene, I decided it would not be an exact replica of the locale I loved. It was important that Port Aransas not be merely plucked out of real life and dropped into my mystery with little more than a name change. Instead, I took key areas—the main road running through town, a neighborhood I know well, and the beach area by mile marker 77—and played with them until they fit into the story. I drew my own maps of Port Alene, fashioning roads and landmarks, bars and restaurants, bait shops and trinket traps. My protagonist needed these locations because they would prove important in her life. She just didn’t know it yet.
SETTING AS CHARACTER
The sensation of beach life is something that lingers long after your toes leave the sand. I wanted to capture the town’s essence. The humidity follows you like a jealous boyfriend, even moments after you’ve walked into an air-conditioned room. There’s no such thing as a good hair day, and you couldn’t care less. And most everyone wears flip-flops and shorts, even in the winter. Port Alene is as important a character as any other in my book.
The term “island time” is meant to remind guests to relax, to not be in a hurry unless there’s a fire or happy hour at Trout Street is about to end. The only people in a rush are the fishermen up long before sunrise to claim the best bait. It takes twice as long to drink a cup of coffee than it does on the mainland; locals get work done without racing the clock. The challenge was to honor the concept of island time while keeping the story moving at a quick pace. The action needed to escalate while the town took its own sweet time.
Several of Jamie’s preferred places are inspired by my own, including the best Tex-Mex restaurant south of San Antonio. Hemingway’s Pier, Jamie’s favorite haunt and also her home—her apartment is located in the bar’s loft—is my way of giving the characters their own version of Cheers, but with lousy lighting and a beloved bulldog named Deuce. He loves the jalapeno poppers.
While Port Alene remains as I left her, Port Aransas, her inspiration, has not been so fortunate. On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey tore through the heart of the town, the eye hitting with such force that little remains. Harvey scattered boats like leaves—in front a beloved coffee shop, in a nearby neighborhood, beached on a random patch of grass. Homes and businesses remain damaged or destroyed, and the community has been left to rebuild without the benefit of media attention. Those who claim Port Aransas as a second home know it will return stronger than ever, with the help and support of locals and volunteers from near and far. But it will take time.
For now, I’m keeping the coastal refuge I love alive through Jamie Rush and her dangerous calling. It’s my way of celebrating Port Aransas until it can once again welcome its residents and guests with open arms and open businesses.