Last year on May 9, Rupert Murdoch summoned senior management of his News Corp. companies (including HarperCollins and MySpace) to a meeting in New York City to announce that all of his corporate holdings would become carbon-neutral. After the meeting, staffers at HarperCollins Children's Books began to brainstorm ideas about a book for teens interested in the environment, according to Susan Katz, president of HarperCollins Children's Books. A month later, Brenda Bowen was hired by the company to launch her own boutique imprint, the Bowen Press, and immediately joined the discussion.
“When I learned about this environment project, I was excited about it and requested from Susan the chance to develop the book,” said Bowen in a recent interview. Working in partnership with MySpace and with direct input from the Friends of MySpace community, Bowen, assistant editor Molly O'Neill and journalist Jeca Taudte produced MySpace/OurPlanet: Change Is Possible in less than four months. Printed on 100% postconsumer waste paper with soy-based inks, the paperback book, which is the first MySpace-branded title, offers tips, calls-to-action and everyday suggestions for eco-conscious teens. HarperCollins has ordered a first printing of 200,000 copies, and the book will be released on Earth Day 2008.
Green books are not Bowen's only interest. Including MySpace/OurPlanet, Brenda and her staff of two have developed more than 15 books (the approximate number the imprint is expected to release annually), six due out on the launch list in winter 2009. “It's tremendous to have a blank slate,” Bowen said. “I can invent the Bowen Press from scratch. I can publish traditional books and can also chase down books outside the mainstream that really interest me.” Bowen said she keeps tabs on the media and entertainment worlds, looking for possible projects, including children's animation and comics.
In partnership with Curious Pictures, Bowen is publishing Do You Love Me? by Joost Elffers, featuring new preschool characters called Snuzzles. Curious is currently in pre-production with a Snuzzles animated video special. Richard Winkler at Curious, who produced Little Einsteins for Disney TV, calls Bowen “a rare new breed. She looks at properties with a great aesthetic eye, obviously for books but also with an eye for TV, film, the Internet, etc.,” he added.
Over the past 26 years at Simon & Schuster and Disney, Bowen has published Newbery and National Book Awards winners, including Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, and more than a dozen bestsellers, such as Eloise Takes a Bawth by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight; Lynne Cheney's America; and Duck for President by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin.
Bowen was one of the first children's book editors to start attending Comic-Con, the country's largest comic book convention, which led to her creation, at Disney, of a series based on the popular Abadazad comics. While the books didn't perform as well as she'd hoped, Bowen is philosophical: “You learn from your mistakes,” she said. “It was too ambitious in terms of its design formats and storytelling.”
Also at Disney, she published a series of graphic biographies, including Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, which became a critical success, and signed C.M. Butzer, a comic book artist she met at Comic-Con, to illustrate The Graphic Gettysburg, due out in winter '09 to commemorate the bicentenary of Lincoln's birth.
Bowen has just inked a deal with Freaky Friday author Mary Rodgers to do a sequel, Freaky Monday, in collaboration with Heather Hach, who wrote the screenplay for the 2003 film version that starred Lindsay Lohan. Bowen said she was very excited to be working with Rodgers, calling her one of the pillars of Harper's backlist: “It's not often that a book remains so fresh that you can do a sequel 37 years later!”
She also has high expectations for a novel on the winter '09 list: This Full House, the long-awaited third volume in Virginia Euwer Wolff's critically acclaimed Make Lemonade trilogy. Bowen has edited all three books; the second in the trilogy, True Believer, won the 2001 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and received a Printz Honor.
“[Brenda] brings a whole new dimension to publishing, drawing ideas and projects from illustrators, screenwriters, cartoonists,” Katz said. “She sees things off the beaten trail. I hope she never fills a niche here.”
|Wisenthal writes about youth overcoming challenges and is syndicated through Street Beat News.|