2015 Preview Interview: Enchanted Lion Books
I’ve been doing Preview Interviews for a while now, but one thing I’ve never done is conducted one over the telephone. This phoneless streak cannot not stand, I say!
So a couple weeks back, I called publisher Claudia Zoe Bedrick to chat about the fall/winter releases from Enchanted Lion Books, purveyor of some of the most interesting children’s literature around.
Travis: Hello Claudia! Looks like we have plenty to talk about.
Claudia Zoe Bedrick: The fall list is a twelve-book list. It’s really kind of a crazy list for a small independent company.
Travis Jonker: Is twelve books the most you’ve ever had, then?
C: In any one season conjoined to another large season, yes.
One of the books on it came up really suddenly, and it was so clear it had to be on the list. And then there was a book that could have come out a couple years ago but the illustrator’s work style is to do sensory experiential research during the proper season in which the book is set. He missed the boat for doing that reasearch for one year so we had to wait until the next year. And there’s another book which I contracted four years ago.
The one that came up quickly is Where’s the Baboon? (October 6). Enchanted Lion published Take Away the A by Kris Di Giacomo, then we did Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings.
After that we needed to not think about a book, or we thought we needed to not think about a book.
T: That’s the time when you think about things – when you’re trying not to.
C: Exactly! And then suddenly, there was Kris (who lives in France) on the email going, “Well, you know we could do this other language game book.” But it was so late, I was thinking, “How are we going to do this?” And Kris said, “You know me, I work fast.”
And it is true that illustrators outside of the US do tend to work fast. They don’t get as good of advances [as in the US] and if they are to work solely as an illustrator, they have to be delivering regularly, they have to be doing books in three months. If they took a year on one book they would have to hold another job. They’re used to another pace of creation. It doesn’t mean they’re sloppy or doing shoddy work obviously, it just means they’re very adept at moving through the process. So Kris said, “You know I can do a book in three months.” And I said “Yes, I do.”
So suddenly, we were doing it – right at the last minute even though I had a list of eleven books already.
Since it’s a companion volume to Take Away the A, it made sense not to let to much time lapse between the two books. So they could play off each other and be in the classroom at the same time.
T: That makes sense. What was the book where the illustrator had to experience the season in which the book was set?
C: It’s called Into the Snow (January 16). The illustrator is Masamitsu Saito, you might remember him from Beach Feet, which we published in 2012.
C: A lot of people really loved that book. Beach Feet was a book in translation. I went to his Japanese publisher and said, “I really love Masamitsu’s work and it seems like it’s getting a good response here, would you mind if I contacted him about doing a book directly? They said, “Not at all, but he doesn’t speak English.” So I contacted him through the translator of Beach Feet, Yuki Kaneko
We learned early on that Masamitsu is very intense about his process and Enchanted Lion should be prepared to see a book run late and understand that he can’t necessarily deliver at deadline.
T: No three-month book for him.
C: Exactly! But it was fun. Yuki Kaneko, who had translated Beach Feet, wanted to be the author of the text for this snow book. Her work on the translations [of Masamitsu’s previous work] was so thoughtful and sensitive that it seemed completely evident she could author a book. And in fact had almost done that with her translation of Beach Feet.
Japanese books for young children often have a lot of onomatopoeia – they’re told from the first-person point of view and they are about the child’s experience and perceptions of being in the world. The onomataea often connects to that feeling of being in the world. But we don’t have the full vocabulary of onomatopoeia [in English] that they have there [in Japanese], and it’s not our tradition to make a book of sounds, so we had requested permission to create a little more text. To work with the author of the existing Japanese book and create a little bit more of a story for the english language edition. So Yuki as translator had already worked as a co-author.
For Masamitsu to create a good book about the snowy world, he had to experience it firsthand, sort of like a child. To take it all in and find that place of wonder. That meant he had to catch the season. To be out on the slopes, sledding with the kids and out in the world, looking at the icicles. Time passed. He did a certain amount of work one winter but it didn’t result in the completed book, so we had to wait until the next winter.
T: And that was the winter.
C: That was the winter, but then we had to wait until the next winter to publish it.
T: So that was the book that was a long time in the making?
C: Yes. The other book that I contracted for a while ago, publishing in March is a book by a very well regarded German illustrator named Einar Turkowski. He is not well known here and this will be his debut book in the US. It’s called Houses Floating Home (March 16, 2016).
Houses Floating Home is all black and white and it’s conceptual.
The American children’s book market is a lot more sophisticated and expansive now than it’s ever been, or it’s been since maybe the 60s. Even a few years ago things were feeling like much bigger risks than right now.
T: That’s a good thing.
C: That is a good thing. There’s a sense of openness. Some of my colleagues at Flying Eye and TOON Books, publishers doing really different kinds of thing are receiving great attention. Their books and vision are being appreciated. So it feels like the world is expanding. It’s a good feeling. And then there’s Groundwood and Eerdmans – places who have been doing amazing stuff for a long time. It’s out there and visible and appreciated. So you’re feeling it too? People in the world of education, libraries, blogs, are feeling this expansion?
T: I do. It seems like people are coming to stuff with more of an open mind. And it seems like people are really seeking out things that are different. So that’s good – Enchanted Lion is in a good place then, huh?
C: But it’s always hard. [laughter]
C: Some of the choices are good and some of the choices just don’t play that well. Not every book is a success, but it’s a good moment.
I wouldn’t be looking to put a book in children’s hands if it wasn’t worth their time. I have the highest regard for kids and their time. They’re so alive with curiosity and wonder that they should only be giving that to something that’s worth it. They can be looking at our world and having an amazing experience, they don’t need to be looking at a mediocre book.
We have a book on our list from Princess Camcam, under her name Camille Garoche called the Snow Rabbit (November 3). I think she’s hugely talented. This book is similar to Fox’s Garden in some ways, but they are very different too.
T: The artwork looks incredible.
C: Right on! Her original art comes as boxes. She does the cut paper, then paints it and places it inside. She then lights and photographs it to put it into book form. It’s painstaking work, all done by hand.
T: I can’t imagine.
C: To be able to put the three-dimensional perspective in the form of a two-dimensional book. It’s deeply skilled work.
T: Does The Snow Rabbit have text?
C: No, it’s wordless.
T: Is this part of your Books Without Words series?
C: No, it’s not. It’s a different format. The Books Without Words were all oblong, this one is vertical. It’s about the relationship between two sisters and there’s a real intimacy between them. The format of the book is more intimate as well. The expansiveness of the oblong feels like the adventure and journey into the world – propulsive movement forward. This one is more vertical. Each side of the page, the right and left are closer together, so you feel that intimacy.
T: Is the Books Without Word series ongoing?
C: It could be, but nothing planned at the moment.
T: Looking at the covers here one that jumps out is Cry Heart, But Never Break (February 9, 2016).
C: That’s another book that has been in the works for a long time.
T: How so?
C: I met the agent who was representing the book at BEA in maybe 2012 or 2013. In 2002 the author wrote the text. It came out of his mother’s death, and having young kids and wanting to find a way to talk with them about her absence.
So over a night or two he wrote this story. It’s about how we accept death. We cry and mourn and feel the loss, but don’t go to pieces because it’s part of the whole circle of life.
In the book, Death shows up at the house of four children who have been raised by their grandmother. Now she’s dying. He doesn’t want to frighten the children and he comes inside and sits down with them at the kitchen table. The kids understand he’s come for their grandmother, and they’re more sad than frightened. Without speaking it, they make a plan to occupy Death all night so he can’t reach their grandmother. Then morning will come and he will have to race away.
It’s a different illustration style than much of what Enchanted Lion has published.
T: I can see that a bit.
C: It’s very much in the danish visual style. Together with the strength of the story, I’m really excited about it.
T: One that I read recently and enjoyed was Scritch, Scratch, Scraww, Plop (September 15). The ending was a bit unexpected to me.
C: That’s our first book with Kitty Crowther. Now that I’m thinking about it, this list seems to be filled with books that all have kind of older root, because Scritch, Scratch is a book that I bought for my own child in Paris around 2003. I read it to him for years as bedtime reading and he loved that book.
It was always on my shelf and someone finally said, “Well why haven’t you published that book? You’re always talking about it.” So, finally I took steps to do it. Kitty Crowther is an Astrid Lindgren award winner and she’s really known throughout the world.
T: That’s big.
C: But most of her books haven’t been published here.
I love the ending as well. The end almost becomes scientific. Empirical. “Let’s go investigate.” Because maybe being scared of things isn’t just about the realm of the imagination. Maybe there is a source. Maybe there are things out there that kids don’t know how to decipher yet. And even as adults we don’t know and we don’t investigate. Because we’re scared. We say “Is it a ghost? Or is the water dripping?” It’s subtle. I don’t think every reviewer will pick up on that, but when I read it I saw it as this ode to empiricism – of saying let’s go out there and take in our world and not be afraid of it. And that feels fresh to me.
T: I’m looking at The Tiger Who Would Be King (September 15) right now, and you’re right about this season being about books with old roots, because this one has very old roots, right?
C: Yes, yes. The text is post World War I, pre World War II.
T: The illustration style is a good match for this text.
C: I’m glad you feel that way. The Thurber Estate are really supportive of JooHee. They really like her work.
T: Also, I don’t know if you used some different kind of paper for the jacket, but it’s the best feeling book.
C: Yes! That’s a really special paper. I went on a big hunt to find it. It’s the same paper we used for Beastly Verse, but this batch feels even more toothy. It’s from a Swedish mill, and it’s almost like fabric.
T: When I got it in the mail I took a picture and sent it to my friend and said “This is the best feeling book of 2015.”
C: It’s great to hear that there are people out there texting about paper. That’s great!
I think there’s a whole world of all of us out there who care about this kind of stuff. My son hears me going on about it [laughter]. Just the other day I was ranting about paper and he looked at me and said “You must be really fun at parties, mom.” And I said “Well, you know what? It’s just a matter of going to the right party.”
T: Exactly! [laughter]
Thanks for the chat, Claudia!
Here are other Fall/Winter releases from Enchanted Lion books we didn’t get a chance to cover:
The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy (September 1)
Louis I: King of the Sheep (September 1)
The Story of Snowflake and Inkdrop (November 10)
Marguerite’s Christmas (November 3)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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