Within the clean-lined, warmly-hued facade of a one-story building located near the bustle of Somerville’s Davis Square shines one of the brightest lights in independent publishing today. Founded by the British Walker Books Group in 1990, Candlewick Press opened its doors with only six employees. Today, that number is nearly one hundred, all working hard to produce some of the most exciting, acclaimed, beautiful, and creative work to be seen in books for children and young adults — around 3000 of them so far.
The Candlewick list started with and remains strong in the picture book field, but is now equally stellar in titles for older readers, including many award winners. A relative newcomer to the Boston publishing scene, a one-time cultural powerhouse that has been increasingly overshadowed by the New York conglomerates, Candlewick has managed to make its outsider status a strength and its independence a definite virtue. No cookie-cutter, trend-following volumes here; as Cathryn Mercier, director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College says in a Boston Globe article, “Everything they do is about what serves the artistic vision of a particular book. . . . They care about the book as an object.” And Candlewick author M.T. Anderson praises their editors’ commitment to supporting projects that may seem eccentric or unusual, but that they are passionate about.
That passion and artistic integrity really shines through in all the Candlewick books I’ve had the pleasure of reading lately. When I contacted Candlewick about my Reading New England challenge, they were kind enough to send me several of their New-England-based titles. Last week I wrote about Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, which I found a fantastic counterpoint to some of the more familiar (and one-sided) stories about the American Revolution. Both in its literary style and its visual flair, it recalls its eighteenth-century inspirations — a daring and brilliant venture into territory not usually explored by young-adult (or adult!) publishers today.
For next month’s focus on Rhode Island, I’ll be looking at Swim That Rock. This coming-of-age novel first strikes the eye with its beautiful cover and endpapers by one of the co-authors, John Rocco, who is also an acclaimed illustrator and picture book author. He joined forces with his childhood friend, first-time author Jay Primiano, and the pair delved into their experiences growing up working-class in a fishermen’s town to create an exciting and atmospheric adventure for today’s readers. I’m so pleased to see this addition to the rather limited body of Rhode Island books, written with such authenticity and heart.
And if anybody’s looking for a book for the final state in the challenge, Connecticut, Worlds Afire by Paul Janeczko is an interesting option. It describes the horrific unfolding of the 1944 Hartford circus fire, in the unlikely form of a series of first-person narrative poems. The short lines and stark images of Janeczko’s terse, poignant verses throw the tragedy into sharp and personal focus, creating a memorable picture of the event and its emotional impact.
Candlewick books are not pretty packages that are empty inside. They’re lovingly crafted in word, image, and design, bringing us remarkable voices that deserve to be heard, and perfectly suiting the form to the contents. Long may this New England star shine, a beacon of hope for all of us who care about the future of books and reading.
Today, I’m delighted to present an interview with Dede Cummings, publisher of Green Writers Press, a small publishing company based in Brattleboro, Vermont. Dede founded Green Writers Press in 2014, dedicated to spreading environmental awareness by publishing authors who proliferate messages of hope and renewal through place-based writing and environmental activism. In the past three years, Green Writers Press has expanded significantly, publishing such authors as Julia Alvarez, Neil Shepard, Syd Lea, John Elder, and Clarence Major.
So far, I have been highly impressed by the poetry collection Galvanized by Leland Kinsey, and the novel Hidden View by Brett Ann Stanciu (review to come). I appreciate Dede taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer my questions, and hope that readers will look into all that this wonderful company has to offer.
ECBR:You’ve been involved in publishing for a long time as a writer, designer and literary agent. What made you want to start yet another publishing company in today’s challenging publishing climate? How did your background inform your decisions, and where did you want to create change?
DC: The term ‘localvore’ applies to our mission, which is to publish books, eBooks, and audio books that will spread a message of hope and renewal. We strive to build awareness to stop the global climate catastrophe. (Here is a link to an article about our inception in Publishers Weekly.)
One editor, a friend of mine, who works for a big 4 publisher in NYC asked me why I wanted to “jump from the frying pan into the fire” by starting a small press. Rather than sit back and continue to be a book designer, I decided to follow my passion and start my own company after working for other publishers for almost 30 years! I took out a home equity loan for $20,000 and an interest-free printer loan directly from our favorite Vermont printer for another 20k. The printer loan is totally paid back in less than two years and we are on the way to paying back the home equity loan with monthly payments. Our press is breaking even with net sales in two years of around 155,000. I have yet to draw a salary, but in our second year, I withdrew 3,000 for living expenses to supplement my design/consulting business. It is challenging, but I feel this is the best job because it is so rewarding!
My background as a book designer/book packager made it much easier for me to launch a publishing company. I knew so much already about the business and the learning curve was lessoned by that; however, I had to face the reality of book returns (the books that the stores don’t sell can be sent back free of charge), which is the hardest part of the business because it cuts right into sales and is a bit unpredictable.
What was the response to the launch of your first titles?
Our first list had an overwhelmingly positive response! I was able to find a distributor pretty quickly, due to the fact they already knew me as the packager for a bestselling book called Dr. A’s Habits of Health (which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies). It was our “local launch” that caught the attention of the Vermont and regional media, with TV, radio, and print interviews coming out; even the industry weekly, Publishers Weekly, did a feature on us! Our website exploded with views and submissions and emails praising us and our mission and our list of books started coming in. We have so many submissions, in fact, that we had to close for a few months (reopening August 1, 2016) to catch up.
Green Writers Press has a strong environmental mission: not only to publish authors who care about the earth, but to print and distribute books in a way that is as environmentally responsible as possible. Can you describe some of these practices and why they are important?
It is our mission, at Green Writers Press, to spread a message of environmental activism through the words and images we publish. We also publish books that segue with our mission that include other subjects that speak to quality of life and the beauty of nature. Printing on demand (POD), and using only FSC-certified papers printed at our Vermont printer, Springfield Printing Corporation, at Thomson-Shore in Michigan, Bookmobile in Minneapolis, and at our Tennessee printer, Lightning Source, we will adhere to GWP’s commitment to preserving and protecting the natural resources of the earth. To that end, a percentage of our profits will be donated to environmental activist groups.
How can a publishing company help to foster and create community?
Our vision is that, collectively, our printed and eBooks will become a chorus of voices of writers and readers, artists, and photographers, who care about the fate of the earth and want to do something about it. Though we believe our books will be interesting to Vermont residents, Green Writers Press has national and international (Gazelle, etc.) distribution and we hope to have a broad reach and impact. Our voices need to be heard, which is why we refer to our press as a global press. We are all connected on this planet we love.
It may be hard to choose, but could you pick three books with New England themes that you’d especially like to highlight for my readers?
What are some of your plans and hopes for GWP for the future?
We are excited to be publishing our own authors, and we welcome your support to help us spread the word. In today’s world of social media and online transactions, here are GWP, we remember that your head and your heart need nourishment from the natural world. With that as our credo, we embark on a journey to bring the beauty of the published book as a tactile object, into the homes and hands of our readers, and we also embrace the technology of tablet and eBook publishing. It is our hope that we can create a community around our press and the books we publish, and, once each title is released, it is yours to receive and ours to share.
Taking action requires courage and risk. Our hope is that each person who reads our books will be inspired to take action in such a way that it reverberates in the community around them. Just as a book is made up of individual artists, it is each of our individual actions, coming together, that will create the change we need to stop burning fossil fuels and look to the future with sustainable energy that will create jobs and save the planet from heating up to the point where we cannot go back.
According to Publishers Weekly, our books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction achieve and bear “. . . eloquent testimony to the mystery and beauty immanent in nature, now so desperately imperiled. Like all art, [they] ask that we look up and see.”
Thank you, Dede! Your passion is infectious, and your mission is an important and valuable one. I hope that many more readers will find their way to Green Writers Press and its books.
As I was planning Reading New England, a year of celebrating regional books, authors, and publishers, I immediately thought it would be marvelous to visit an iconic regional publisher that happens to be located half an hour’s drive from me: Yankee Publishing in Dublin, New Hampshire. Founded 80 years ago with the start of Yankee Magazine, and shortly thereafter taking on The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well, Yankee is something of a rarity in today’s world of giant media conglomerates: an independent, family-owned company that still operates out of its original, small-town premises, and continues to be firmly based upon its original flagship publications. I was curious to see how Yankee has grown and transformed to meet the readers of the digital age, even as it still honors the traditions and culture of the region that gave it birth.
My tentative email inquiry was met immediately by a cordial invitation from Jamie Trowbridge, the president of the company and grandson of its founder, Robb Sagendorph, to come by for a short tour the following week. I drove to Dublin, a charming village on the shoulders of Mount Monadnock (population 1597). Here the company’s long, low barn-red building is found alongside the church, town hall, library and other buildings from an earlier century.
The Yankee building used to house the town post office and store, though eventually the growing enterprise took over the whole space. A chalkboard outside is still reminiscent of the location’s past as the center of Dublin news and communication.
Inside, Jamie led me up to where the company’s two main publications are produced. In this modest interior, with its low ceilings and uneven floors, is found a warren of offices for many busy employees. Reference books are stacked floor to ceiling in corners and corridors, perhaps not often consulted in these days of electronic research, but holding a treasure-trove of information about New England’s towns and inhabitants.
I got to peek into the office of editor-in-chief Judson Hale (with Yankee since 1958), who unfortunately was not present to show me through his collection of fascinating clutter that includes a stuffed bird and Napoleon’s handkerchief. I did have a look at some old issues of the magazine, which started out letter-size, then was diminished around the time of World War II partly due to paper shortages. It kept that dimension for many years until it was recently redesigned as a full-color, standard-size magazine for today’s more visually oriented readers.
In a conference room across the hall the mockups for the January/February issue had just been taken down, but Jamie showed me some sample spreads for a story on White Mountain tourism that had been created for another project under Yankee’s umbrella, New Hampshire magazine. The NH tourism folks were dissatisfied with the somewhat misty, atmospheric images — which I personally thought were stunning — and opted to replace them with their own posed models on bicycles under blue skies. That’s life in the media these days, it seems.
On the third floor, we looked in on the offices where digital content is created: the “Jud’s Journal” podcast, mobile-friendly versions of the magazine, and the new digital “Yankee Plus” enhanced with video content and other original features. Glimpsing a cover story on “New England’s Best Winter Towns,” Jamie joked that he thought the word “winter” had been outlawed since whenever it appeared sales seemed to go down. He noted that when New Englanders were polled on what they liked best and least about our region, the answers were “The seasons” and “Winter.” Alas, we can’t have four seasons without it.
Coming back down, I paused to ask about a curious chart on the wall, which does not come across well in my photo, I’m afraid. Turns out this was part of Robb Sagendorph’s method for creating the weather predictions in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which he did himself for many years. (Now it’s based on Accuweather.) He meticulously graphed sunspot activity and all kinds of other data, leaving a graphic record of how a scientific mind grappled with New England’s weather obsession. What a remarkable person this multi-faceted founder must have been.
After my brief visit, I left with a new appreciation of the hardworking, dedicated folks who continue to uphold the standards of their founding principles, while adjusting to meet today’s readers. Many thanks to Jamie Trowbridge and to everyone at Yankee Publishing for all they do, and for letting me have a glimpse behind the scenes.
Today, when giant mega-conglomeration is the rule in publishing (as in so much else), it’s heartening to find that some independent publishers still continue to foster the individual spirit in the face of the pressures of mass production.
One of these — perhaps one of the best — happens to be just around the corner from me: David R. Godine, Publisher, operating out of offices in Boston and Jaffrey, NH. I’ve been a fan of this house since my high school days, which is when I first began to order and pore over publishers’ catalogs. High standards of design and production have always been a Godine hallmark, and surely played a role in shaping my taste for beautiful books and my late-blooming interest in graphic design.
Godine started out in 1970 printing letterpress, limited-edition books in an old barn in Brookline, Massachusetts. Though that endeavor grew and expanded into a more conventional publishing house, it has remained idiosyncratic and individual in its vision. I can’t say it better than the Godine website:
The list is deliberately eclectic and features works that many other publishers can’t or won’t support, books that won’t necessarily become bestsellers but that still deserve publication. In a world of spin-offs and commercial ‘product,’ Godine’s list stands apart by offering original fiction and non-fiction of the highest rank, rediscovered
masterworks, translations of outstanding world literature, poetry, art, photography, and beautifully designed books for children.
The Godine books I have acquired over the years are well-loved favorites, including The Chronicles of Pantouflia, a lost classic by Andrew Lang, editor of the Rainbow Fairy Books; an exquisite illustrated edition of Anne of Green Gables; and The Alphabet Abcedarium by Richard Firmage, a fascinating history of the alphabet as well as a gorgeous gallery of typography. All of these are sadly out of print, but the current Godine list includes many new and rediscovered treasures that are well worth a look. They were kind enough to send me a couple of titles from their current children’s list, both of which which represent their dedication to publishing uncommon and one-of-a-kind works in beautiful, lasting editions.
One of these is The Adventures of Uncle Lubin, a nonsense tale from the Edwardian age, with exuberant, fantastical illustrations by W. Heath Robinson. As the oddly garbed Uncle searches for young Peter, who has been stolen away by a wicked Bag-bird, his adventures over land and sea, and even into outer space, are told with a deadpan humor that will tickle young children. Meanwhile, the ornate, detailed Art Nouveau illustrations with their masterfully sinuous lines can be pored over for hours. The playful interaction of text and images is part of the fun, and this edition painstakingly recreates the typesetting of the original.
A very different aesthetic is displayed by a thoroughly modern picture book, The Lonely Typewriter, written by Peter Ackerman and illustrated by Max Dalton. Poor Pablo has to write a paper on penguins, but the computer is broken. What will he do? His mom’s typewriter, that has been stashed in the attic for years, comes to the rescue! An alliterative text and quirky color-block pictures will capture the interest of young readers, and very possibly pique their interest in antiquated office machines.
I hope that I have piqued your interest as well, and that the next time you’re browsing in a bookstore or library you’ll look for that DRG calligraphy on the spine or title page. It’s a sure sign of quality.
Isn’t it frustrating to hear about a book that sounds fantastic but is out of print and hard to find? Such is the case with The Winged Girl of Knossos, which Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production just put at the top of her list of “Underrated Middle School Books.” This 1934 Newbery Honor book, which posits that the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is based on true events, that Daedalus had a daughter who was pals with Ariadne, and that the legend of Atlantis is actually about ancient Crete, sounds like too much fun.
Alas, it also costs upward of $150 when searched for online, and is not available in my library. What to do? I can only hope that it gets picked up by one of the publishing houses and imprints that specialize in bringing back out-of-print children’s books. These seem to have been cropping up more and more these days, for whatever reason. Here are a few that have come to my attention, and please share any others that you know of.
The New York Review Children’s Collection was created in 2003 by the venerable New York Review of Books, “to reward readers who have long wished for the return of their favorite titles and to introduce those books to a new generation of readers.” Readers can submit titles for consideration on their website — guess what I suggested. One of their recent releases is Leon Garfield’s Smith, which I reviewed last week; other favorites of mine include James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks and The Wonderful O; John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights; the D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths; Esther Averill’s Jenny and the Cat Club; E. Nesbit’s The House of Arden; and Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War. They have many other titles I haven’t read but that sound wonderful — like their newest offering, The Glassblower’s Children. Produced as sturdy hardbacks with attractive covers and distinctive red cloth spines, these are books to keep and love for many years.
Purple House Press is a more grassroots effort, started by Jill Morgan and Ray Saunders in 2000 specifically to bring Jill’s favorite children’s book, Mr. Pine’s Purple House, back into print. They have since published more than 35 titles and sold over 350,000 books. Some of my personal favorites are David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd, which I first encountered as a read-aloud book for my third graders when I was a student teacher at the Smith College Campus School; Time at the Top and All in Good Time, also by Ormondroyd; and Mio My Son and The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren (alas, these have gone out of print again). Many other quirky and nostalgic treasures are to be found; browse their list to see if any of your childhood favorites have made it there.
Jane Nissen Books is a UK imprint that was created by a former associate editor of Penguin Books upon her retirement (according to this Guardian article). Now, that’s how I’d like to retire! One of her launch titles was Mistress Masham’s Repose, T.H. White’s engrossing tale of Lilliputians in England; other favorite English classics she’s brought back are Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince.If you’re not in the UK it can be tricky to find the books, but some are available from The Book Depository; there’s also some overlap with the NYRB list (which includes Mistress Masham’s Repose and A Traveller in Time). With an emphasis on historical fiction, fantasy, adventure, and whimsical humor, there’s lots to covet on this list.
from Period Piece
Slightly Foxed Editions is not mainly a children’s list, but specializes in memoirs; these naturally often include funny, lyrical, or dramatic evocations of childhood. I’m a proud owner of SF Edition #16, Look Back with Love by Dodie Smith, author of the splendid I Capture the Castle, and as you might expect it’s a hilarious account of an eccentric upbringing. Others I have my eye on are Period Piece by Gwen Raverat, Darwin’s granddaughter and a renowned artist in her own right; and Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliff, the acclaimed historical novelist. Each numbered Edition is printed as a finely produced small hardback with a different solid-color cover, in a limited run of 2000 copies. When they run out some have been reprinted in paperback, but otherwise, when they’re gone, you’re out of luck. A new line of Slightly Foxed Cubs has been added, which at the moment consists of a series of historical novels that follows the same British family from the Crusades through the First World War. None of these offerings are cheap, but if it comes from Slightly Foxed you know it’s of the very highest quality.
Lizzie Skurnick Books is the newest entry on this list, started last year by one seriously cool blogger, writer, critic and teacher who loves vintage YA books. She wrote a column for Jezebel.com, then a book, Shelf Discovery, then launched her own imprint, proving that publishing is NOT dead; can you imagine this happening prior to the 21st century? I have yet to read a single one of her selections, but they look like a fascinating and eclectic bunch. They range from the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series that chronicles the story of a Jewish immigrant family on the Lower East Side, to And This Is Laura by Ellen Conford, about an “ordinary” girl in an overachieving family who discovers she has the not-so-ordinary ability to see the future, to A Long Day in November by Ernest J. Gaines, about life on a sugarcane plantation in the 1940s through a child’s eyes. Ms. Skurnick clearly has a very slick visual sense as well, and it was interesting to read her blog post about the design decisions made in creating the imprint. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
Do you have other lost classics or other publishers who reprint them (either for children or adults) to share? Please do tell!