2015 Preview Interview: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Seeing as how I can get to the door of Eerdmans Books (located in Grand Rapids, Michigan) from my house in about 25 minutes, it’s a crime that I haven’t done a preview interview with Eerdmans Books president and publisher Anita Eerdmans yet. A crime! Today we rectify that with a talk about recent successes and upcoming titles.
Travis Jonker: How about those Youth Media Awards? Eerdmans had a good morning. What was it like to win Sibert and Batchelder medals and a Caldecott honor?
Anita Eerdmans: Wow, “good” morning doesn’t begin to describe what it was like! Since we publish only 16-18 new titles annually, getting three Youth Media Awards from ALA in one year was way beyond our expectations. The Right Word was much buzzed about — 5 starred reviews, lots of “Best of 2014” lists, and many Mock Caldecott lists — which creates expectations of award possibilities (which must never be spoken aloud, of course, so as not to jinx its chances; we publishers are a superstitious lot!). You are excited and terrified and gratified and worried pretty much on a daily basis. In the end, I wished that February 2 would just never end!
Everybody hears about the famous Caldecott and Newbery calls that the illustrators and authors get on Monday morning, but publishers get highly confidential advance notice too.
Oh, man – I didn’t think about that.
Then the trick is to act like everything is completely normal and you are not over the moon happy about this top-secret news you are keeping inside! It’s especially awkward when you run into committee members and chairs and you want to just hug them and thank them, but instead you have to barely acknowledge each other, so as not to give anything away.
A great 2014. Now on to 2015! What do you have for the picture book crowd?
On our spring list we have a beautiful picture book translated from Dutch called Red.
Its subject is bullying, but instead of being about the child being bullied, it is about the bystanders, the ones who choose whether to do nothing or to speak up.
Yeah, that’s is a perspective you don’t often see.
In this case, the main character is a participant — albeit on the very mildest edges — in the teasing of a classmate. As the teasing gets more intense, she comes to realize the need to speak up and help put an end to the bullying. The text is very simple, and the illustrations are very powerful, especially the one where she reluctantly comes to the decision to raise her hand and tell the teacher what has been happening.
Working in a school, I know teachers are more sensitive to this topic than ever before – this sounds like a good jumping off point for discussion.
We are also really excited about a book called Roger is Reading a Book,
also translated from Dutch, about a long-suffering gentleman whose reading is repeatedly interrupted by the little girl in the next apartment who is doing everything BUT reading — bouncing a basketball, banging a drum, juggling, and so on. There is also an extremely expressive dog in each spread who provides his own unique, unspoken commentary on what is happening. You might have guessed that Roger’s solution is to give the little girl a book, which immediately engrosses her, and stops all the noisy interruptions!
Okay, okay – so you have to set things straight on Roger is Reading a Book. What’s the connection to Horn Book editor Roger Sutton?
Ha! The world’s best kept secret! The literal translation from the Dutch of this title is “Neighbor Is Reading a Book.” In the book both the man who was reading (“Neighbor”) and his noisy neighbor (“Little Girl”) did not have names. Our acquisitions committee loved the book, but someone remarked that she thought it would be improved if the characters were not identified so impersonally. Some alliteration might be good, someone else said, and we started free-associating what names might work. Someone suggested that “Roger” would work nicely with “Reading.” When we looked again at the art, we realized that the main character looked just like Roger Sutton. (And reacted as we imagined Roger would react too!) From then on, there was no question that this book would be called Roger is Reading a Book. We were delighted when the Belgian publisher agreed to the change.
Same here – that makes for a fun side note.
Mister H is a fun little chapter book. What can you tell me about it?
This is one of those serendipitous stories that publishing is full of. I was searching for something on the internet and came across a site that described Spanish books available for translation in the UK. The description of the book was so delightful that I immediately shared it with my colleagues and we sent away for a reading copy. We loved the droll humor of the book — Mister H (the “H” stands for Hippopotamus) is such a worldly-wise, amusing character and the ending is wonderfully ambiguous, which we find is often the case in European books (and not always appreciated by American readers!). We were also pleased to be publishing a translation from Spanish, which is a language we had not previously had translations from. And the illustrations are in a fun, retro style, and all 4-color. So it was a nice whole package.
I just finished reading it the other night – it turned out great.
Okay, let’s talk nonfiction for a minute.
We have a great nonfiction title coming this spring called The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by a talented author and illustrator who are both from Austin, Chris Barton (Day-Glo Brothers and Shark vs. Train) and Don Tate (It Jes’ Happened and The Cart That Carried Martin).
It’s a picture book biography about a fascinating character in African-American history whose story is not well known. The period — Reconstruction — is also a time that has not been written about much for children (I have to say that I learned a lot from working on this book!) The book has already received two starred reviews.
On our Fall 2015 list we will be introducing a picture book biography of the man who was one of the founders of the modern zoo concept, Abraham Dee Bartlett. Our book is called Fur, Fins, and Feathers, by Cassandre Maxwell.
What’s the most unusual or unexpected book on the horizon?
We have another Belgian import on our Fall 2015 list (from the same publisher as Roger is Reading a Book) called The Little Dog That Nino Didn’t Have,
(Note: this is the original Belgian cover of the book (but you could probably tell that))
an unusual story about a boy who has an imaginary dog who can do amazing things. When his parents get him a real dog, that’s exciting too, but that dog just can’t do all those things the imaginary dog did. There is a poignant subtext about a parent who is often somewhere else. The illustrations are really different — sort of a western US 1960s feel, but by a European artist. I really love this book!
Is there a book that you think will work particularly well as a read-aloud?
Sarah Bee’s The Yes (illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura) is a great read-aloud, full of fun language and repetition.
The book’s message of perseverance and determination can happily be ignored while the reader just gets caught up in the rhythmic narrative of the story itself.
Is there anything we missed, Anita?
We have recently launched a dedicated Eerdmans Books for Young Readers blog, called “Eerdlings.”
Yes! I’ve been following Eerdlings – you guys are doing good stuff over there.
Previously our EBYR blog was combined with the blog of the side of our company that publishes books for adults, which made for some odd juxtapositions (our adult books are very academic, for the post part). We are fortunate to have a core group of talented and creative young people in our company who are always coming up with cool stuff for the blog (including a vlog that, among other things, explains the mysteries of children’s publishing!)
We are also avid followers of the wider world of kid lit bloggers, interacting with and sharing what other people are blogging about on a regular basis.
That series has been fun to watch – also, great theme music.
Much to look forward to. Thank you for sharing, Anita – a good 2015 to you!
Filed under: Previews
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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