If, as I am, you are interested in reading picture book imports, you know precisely which publishers will take chances here in the U.S. on stories from other countries.
Get out your pencil, and add a new entry to your list of import-seeking publishers – Elsewhere Editions. It’s a new children’s imprint from Archipelago Books. They caught my attention this Spring, as they are kicking things off with three new titles – ones translated from the French (Claude Ponti’s enigmatic My Valley, about which the starred Kirkus review notes, “It must have been a challenge to translate”); the Norwegian (Jostein Gaarder’s deeply contemplative Questions Asked), and the Portuguese (Brazilian Roger Mello’s trippy You Can’t Be Too Careful!). Mello, in fact, won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014.
I talked via email with Kendall Storey, Co-director of the new imprint, about their vision and plans for the near future.
When we first started talking, one of your colleagues said that this new imprint is focused on international children's books and that Elsewhere Editions wants to build a list of books that show faith in children as enthusiastic, sensitive, and serious readers. Can you talk more about your vision?
Kendall: Jill Schoolman [Publisher & Co-director of Elsewhere Editions] and I felt that publishing children’s books was a very natural extension of our mission at Archipelago – to broaden the American literary landscape by translating visionary voices from around the world. We did recognize that the same problem exists in children’s literature that pervades the adult trade in this country, which is that very few books are translated into English.
Beyond simply finding beautiful picture books from beyond our borders, we wanted to look specifically for less didactic, more imaginative texts. We are more interested in books that ask questions rather than provide answers. Elizabeth Bird recently wrote in a blog post that kids “…are professional lingerers. Beset by boredom from every side, they can place a picture book on the floor and simply lose themselves in the art and style. They don’t get a chance all that often, but when a book like My Valley comes along, surely it’s too good an opportunity to pass up." We were delighted to read those words, because they captured our intention so perfectly. We want to publish books that let children explore, discover, and dream.
Please talk about why you chose the first three titles you did – My Valley, written and illustrated by Claude Ponti; You Can’t Be Too Careful!, written and illustrated by Roger Mello; and Questions Asked, written by Jostein Gaarder and illustrated by Akin Düzakin.
Kendall: Our first three children’s authors are already renowned in their countries of origin and elsewhere in the world. We chose them because they have each created a universe that is instantly recognizable as theirs, in their art and language, and in spirit. And we chose these three titles specifically because we felt that each of them was representative of those universes and would serve as good introductions for American readers.
We were immediately captivated by Claude Ponti when we encountered his books at the Bologna Book Fair in 2015. He was awarded the Prix Sorcières Spécial in 2006 for his lifetime achievement. Ponti himself has said, “My stories are like fairytales, always situated in the marvelous, speaking to the inner lives and emotions of children. That way each child can get what he or she wants out of the images: the characters and dreams are their own.” We felt ourselves falling into his gorgeous and immersive illustrated world, and we couldn’t wait to hand a copy of My Valley to everyone we knew – children and adults alike!
Roger Mello won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014, and we were enchanted and inspired by his wordplay, dream-like images, and playful lightness of touch, which he uses in You Can’t Be Too Careful! to ask serious questions about the dangers of greed and the importance of kindness.
Another title we discovered at the Bologna Book Fair was Questions Asked by Jostein Gaarder, the bestselling author of Sophie’s World. We were amazed as we witnessed Gaarder’s answerless philosophical questions (such as “How can I remember things that happened a long time ago?” and “Can anyone know what I think?”) merge with the beautiful illustrations of Akin Düzakin into a story of friendship, love, and grief – and about daring to think about life as you live it.
These books have been translated from the French, the Portuguese, and the Norwegian. Do you have plans to publish books from other continents as well, or will you be primarily European-focused?
Kendall: We want to publish children’s books from all corners of the world! Our next titles will be translated from Chinese, Finnish, and Estonian. We also plan to publish many more books by Claude Ponti, Roger Mello, and other authors in our new list – to be a home for them here and to continue offering their work to English readers.
What are some of the joys of being new members of the picture book publishing world?
Kendall: It’s been a joy to discover new communities of booksellers and librarians devoted to children’s literature and to build relationships within those communities. We have met so many brilliant, kind, and enthusiastic people through this new venture. And of course, watching kids and adults respond to the books as they make their way into the world has been our greatest pleasure.
What’s next for Elsewhere Editions? Will there be Fall releases?
Kendall: In September, we’ll be publishing Hans Christian Andersen Award–winner Cao Wenxuan’s Feather, illustrated by Roger Mello and translated from Chinese by Chloe Garcia Roberts. It follows a single feather, who is hopeful of meeting the bird she belongs to. In Wenxuan’s own words, “Underlying this simple story are actually the core questions of human thought: Where do I come from? Where do I want to go? Who do I belong to?”
And in November, we are delighted to introduce Mauri Kunnas, Finland’s most celebrated children’s author with his Goodnight Mr. Clutterbuck, a picture book about a goat who is blissfully unaware of his reputation as the busiest and wildest sleepwalker in town. Often the accidental instigator of chaos, Mr. Clutterbuck soon becomes the lead singer of a rock band, an entrepreneur, a disco king, and, eventually, the hero of his town. Like all of Kunnas’ books, this one has a lively tapestry of characters, including a motorcycle gang of cats and crocodiles, a hippo in charge of a sausage factory, and an ill-tempered bull at a theme park. Kunnas’ work joyfully shows what just might happen when you step outside your comfort zone into the wider world.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.